Keeping in Scale


“Do not let one negative carry the same weight as ninety nine positives.”–Kamil Ali

My grand scheme was at a crossroads and it wasn’t going well.

I knew I wanted windows in the fuselage of my model, authentic looking porthole windows, not just tiny holes drilled in plastic. At 144th scale I could get by with open holes, after all many airliners in that scale use decals or just molded depressions in the plastic styrene.  But oh no, I had to have minuscule, barely noticeable, faux glass windows in mine.

The devil is in the details after all.

My plan was to glue clear plastic strips inside the two separate pieces of the fuselage, just behind the portholes, so that I could drip a drop of clear glue into them without it spilling through to the inside, leaving behind a ragged mess. But I realized that after I glued the fuselage halves together that I would then have to mask all those myriad little portholes to keep the spray paint out of them. So I decided to paint the fuselage hull pieces first, leaving some bare plastic at the edges so I could later glue them together, fill the seam and sand it smooth.  Next, I would mask the entire area around the portholes with tape, protecting them and the white paint on the hull.  Then I’d airbrush paint along the top and bottom seam, laying down a wide red stripe, just as the design called for.


But a voice in my head cautioned, “Better test it first!”

It’s difficult to stop the flow of a project for testing if you are on a roll and you want to see it finished, but its a case of fools rushing in where angels fear to tread if you don’t.  So I drilled some porthole size holes in scrap plastic, backed them with clear strip and applied a drop of clear glue into the portholes to see what would happen.

When the drop entered the hole it trapped the air beneath it. Soon a bubble rose up through the drying glue, leaving behind visible evidence of where the air used to be. It didn’t look like a smooth clear glass porthole at all.

Now what? I had gone so far as to primer the fuselage, leaving an edge near the seam for gluing, and now my plan wasn’t going to work!  Frustrated, I had to think to myself, I do this for fun right?

Modelers_Creative_Process 2

Why do people put themselves through this agony? What are the benefits to making models? Are there any?


Scale modeling is an excellent hobby,” agrees Andrea M. Macari, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Suffolk County Community College in Long Island, NY. “Not only does the activity provide much-needed leisure, which is beneficial in alleviating anxiety and depression, but it also enhances certain cognitive skills such as concentration, visual-motor skills, and executive functions [processes the brain uses to plan, organize, strategize, and pay attention to and remember details].” Macari explains that the skills used in scale modeling are the same ones that often decline with age. “So by practicing scale modeling, your actions are mitigating any decline of those skills,” she adds.

So if scale modeling helps boost skills that decline with age, what about forming those skills to begin with?

Boy and ship paint

Whether they’re constructing a WW2 warplane, 17th century ship, RC car, or the Millennium Falcon, there are countless assembly techniques that your children can learn while building a scale model. Each new technique helps develop their hand-eye coordination and dexterity – vital for other early learning areas such as handwriting. In addition, with so many different pieces and stages in a given build project, there are ongoing opportunities for you and them to problem solve. What piece goes here? How much glue do I need? Which paints should I use to match the original colors? By introducing basic problem solving at a young age, you set them up to be excellent critical thinkers in the future.


Patience is a virtue and virtue is often tested. Attention spans are shrinking in our fast moving digital world and scale modeling can teach a youngster that there can be rewards for committing to a project over time. By building the pieces of a model into a substructure and then assembling those into a larger structure, young builders can see the fruits of their labors growing right before their eyes, in manageable steps.


So what’s the take-away?

“Building models helps my hand-eye coordination, and following instructions and reading specifications sharpens my mental powers,” —Kevin Gray

“Our Brains Love the Work. According to Professor Kelly G. Lambert of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA, the brain is programmed to derive pleasure and satisfaction when efforts produce something “tangible, visible, and—this is extremely important—meaningful in gaining the resources necessary for survival…….A lot of our brain is devoted to movement,” she says. “So hobbies and activities that use our hands are engaging in more of our brain’s real estate. Gardening, building model airplanes, and knitting could be the key to mental health because they activate a lot of our brain.

But scale modeling is also a solitary activity, couldn’t a person derive more pleasure from another activity?

Summer Activities

A more social activity perhaps?


As the saying goes, “Misery loves company,” and scale modelers flock together to share their creations and experiences. The sport of friendly competition is very much alive when modelers gather at annual modeling shows to show off their works. Besides a love of the craft and the “Gee how did you do that?” factor, modelers often share an interest in history and popular culture.

A Scale Model show in Shropshire

Even scale models themselves have become a part of our historical cultural experience. Consider the Smithsonian’s recent restoration of a prop from a popular television series:

Original filming model of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise restored at the Smithsonian

What it gets down to is that storytelling is at the heart of scale modeling. Model makers are by nature story tellers, their creations are sculptures meant to convey a tale, sometimes based on fact, sometimes based on fable.


The subjects the models portray often inspire their builders to learn more about its history, its story.

Sherman take in water
Sherman Tank in a lagoon off the shore of Saipan
“Rough Seas”
WW1 “Albatross” by Marc Guerrero
Luna_1-250_Diagonal-Web copy
The “Luna” from Destination Moon, 1/350th scale

Model builders place their models in still life scenarios or dioramas, inviting the audience to participate in the telling of the story by having them interpret the scene for themselves. Dioramas encourage not just “looking” but truly “seeing” and critically evaluating the action placed before them. People enjoy participating in the telling of a tale, even if just to and for themselves. A diorama is a treasure hunt in which the observer reads the scene and searches for clues as to what is happening before them.

So scale modeling has a social element, and it’s good for training the brain and developing fine motor skills. Besides the frustration factor, when things don’t go as planned, is there any other down side?

Turns out there are a few things to watch out for. Namely your eyes, lungs, appendages and even the risk of fire.

Much of scale modeling involves the use of the scalpel like tool known as the X-acto knife. Yes, you can cut yourself. If the knife rolls off the table don’t try to catch it! The blade may end up in your hand. Rotary power tools also demand caution and protective eye-wear.

Safety First!.JPG
Safety First!

But the danger that most of us ignore is the poisonous nature of our hobby. The vapors from glues, paints and resin plastic are poisonous and will harm our bodies overtime, harming our brain and lungs, even giving us allergies in the long run. The fumes are often flammable too. One method for creating the thin “wires” for rigging ships and biplanes, is out the plastic sprues that the parts come attached to. You heat the plastic over a low flame like a tea candle and stretch it to make the wire.


So, do you have any solvents, thinners or liquid glues open on the workbench? Do you have a fire extinguisher handy?

Work in a well ventilated space with an electric fan or wear a mask, but be aware and protect yourself!

Hobbyshop Diorama

Back to my porthole dilemma.

Another skill you learn when building models is when to walk away for awhile. As hard as it is, as frustrating as it can be, sometimes taking a break from the frustration is the best course of action.

I made a new plan and a new test. I drilled more holes in the scrap plastic, and wanting to see if the clear glue would drop through the portholes or not, I dripped a drop of glue into the open hole. The glue attached itself to the sides of the hole (capillary action?) and stuck there, drying into a “glass” porthole window.

Problem solved, for now. Note to self, do not overthink the situation. Try to keep it simple and above all, relax and enjoy yourself.



1 thought on “Keeping in Scale”

  1. Hilarious! Heartfelt! Heaven to read! Wayne, you have truly expanded your writer’s voice over the 10-week quarter. You are styling like Homer now. I really enjoyed reading the paper copy of this, but the visuals make it even better — as we have learned this term. Thanks for everything! I appreciate the professional way you manage the requirements of blogs and blog-writing.


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