How To Build Vacuform Model Kits

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Many customers have written emails asking how to build vacuform kits. My skills in this area are lacking – which is a nice way of saying that I have ruined most of the vac kits that I have started. But I noticed several customers – like David Miller – who purchased vacuforms repeatedly. I asked, and he sent me photos of his completed models. They are incredible! He was kind enough to write this article. I hope you find it as educational and enjoyable as I do. Alan Bussie

By Dave Miller

“Significant modeling skill is required to build vacuform kit. Not recommended for beginners.”

This statement is contained in the description of many vacuform models offered through Old Model Kits ( It is intended to inform potential buyers that a vacuform kit is substantially different from the injection-molded kits offered by major brands such as Airfix, Revell, Tamiya, Hasegawa and Monogram. Generally, major brand injection molded kits have detailed instructions, painting guides, good to excellent part fit, and require minimal preparation prior to painting. Vacuform kits may also share some of these characteristics, but generally do pose their own unique challenges. Having said this, however, building a vacuform kit gives one an opportunity to develop some new modeling skills. If you’ve built several injection-molded kits, then you may already have experience with filling seams, re-scribing panel lines and adding aftermarket or scratch-built details to models. These same skills are needed when building a vacuform model. Most importantly, with some care, a beautiful and unique model can be built from a vacuform kit.


1/72 B-32 Dominator
(Click photo to enlarge)

Probably the chief reason that builders contemplate the purchase of a vacuform model is that the subject is not available in Continue reading “How To Build Vacuform Model Kits”

Early Plastic Model Kit Development in the USA

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Editors Note: every once in a while you run across someone with exceptional knowledge in a certain field. During an email exchange about older kits, I asked Dave if he would mind writing an article about early kits in the US. Dave’s knowledge has been an education to me, and I hope that you enjoy it as well. Alan Bussie

By Dave Fischer

Who made the first plastic model kit in the USA? One of these three companies- VarneyHawk or Empire- was the first. A later company, O-lin, was significant in early production. We will probably never have an accurate view of the pioneer or the earliest history of the plastic model industry in the U.S. because there was no one innovation that could be described as a starting point. Ideas merged and evolved and eventually came to appear as progress.

The plastic model was not a new idea. In 1934 Dick and Phil Mates, founders of the Hawk Model Company, displayed and sold finished (not kits) plastic models at the re-run of the 1933 Chicago Worlds Fair. In the mid to late 1930s and into World War II, FROG in England had made 1/72 plastic kits cast in acetate plastic and usually including some metal parts. At that time in the U.S., plastic casting was expediting the production of many items necessary to fighting the war, including constant-scale aircraft identification models. These models were originally made of wood, each hand-crafted in high school and trade school workshops across the country. These ID models were distributed in great numbers to training and operational bases world-wide. Casting the models in plastic produced larger quantities in less time and with greater uniformity in appearance. Several companies that marketed balsa models before the war were asked to produce ID models in plastic, Hawk Models among them. The Mates brothers quickly adapted casting technology beyond their war production, creating generic propellers for their famous line of solid wood models.

Gordon Varney produced wood and metal model railroad equipment before the war and may have been another business drafted into wartime production. In 1944 Varney produced a wood, cardstock and metal PT boat kit that featured detail parts cast in tenite, an injection molded acetate most often used for tool handles and control knobs of all sorts. At the end of the war, Varney introduced an LST model in the same mixed materials.


First issue Varney mixed-media LST kit @ 1944

Continue reading “Early Plastic Model Kit Development in the USA”

The Elusive Revell Electra…will it ever return?

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Editors Note: I came across this article tucked inside an old Revell Electra kit. It tells the history of one of Revell’s rare and more desirable model kits as well as shedding light on mold modification. The photos have been added. I do not know the original publication source, although it may have been an IPMS magazine. Enjoy – Alan Bussie  Google+ profile

By Lloyd Jones


The first issue of the Electra, the “S” kit H255-98 from 1957

When Lockheed unveiled their model 188 Turboprop Electra airliner, it was heralded as America‘s entry into the jet age and was certainly destined to be an aviation classic. Among those enticed by Lockheed’s promotion was Revell, Inc. of Venice, California, a small company which was known to dabble in plastic models on occasion. With boundless enthusiasm plus the blessings of Lockheed and American Airlines, Revell set about producing a 1/x scale model of the fabled Electra.

Continue reading “The Elusive Revell Electra…will it ever return?”

The Life of a Plastic Model Kit Designer By Bruce P. Byerly

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Editors Note: The appearance of the great AMT XB-70, F7F Tigercat and XB-35 Flying Wing kits was always a surprise to me. They seemed to appear from nowhere – from a company that almost exclusively made car models. Many years later I was fortunate enough to receive an email from Bruce Byerly, the designer of these and numerous other kits. He has been kind enough to write his bio and it is my pleasure to print it. Model designers are where it all starts – and Ihope that this story adds as much to your depth and appreciation of the modeling art as it has mine. AB Google+ profile

I’ve not written this story to brag, not by any means. I’ve had a very wonderful life because of models and you fellow modelers. I thank GOD everyday for the road I’ve traveled. I’ve gone through a lot of would’ve, could’ve, should’ves, but when I do, I look back on all the adventures I’ve had. I’ve been very lucky and blessed.


I was born very young, I’ve been told. It’s been said I saw the first light of day with a hobby knife in my hand. I truly don’t remember.

My father had been a fighter pilot in World War II flying PT-17s, Corsairs and Hellcats, so I was born with a love of aircraft. My Dad got me started building models when I was about 5. One day he brought home an airplane kit and some glue and we jumped in. He saw that I showed an interest, so he took a chance I could build a model and wouldn’t cut my finger off. There were no “snap-together” kits back then but most kits were pretty basic. My first kit was a disaster…the canopy had enough gluey fingerprints on it that you couldn’t really tell what it was. My skills soon improved as I recall a Revell box-scale B-52 that didn’t turn out half bad. The joy of having all these winged things around the house took hold deep inside me and I was hooked. My best friend Gary and I would take weekly trips down to our Ben Franklin store to see if anything new had come in. We grew our thumbnails long so we could slice open the taped boxes, revealing the goodies inside…always careful that ‘ol man Penner didn’t catch us. We’d look inside and if the clear parts were decent, the rest of the kit would be. We had standards, you see.


Revell Box Scale B-52

I remember many a shopping trip to Cedar Rapids, the next biggest town from ours. Continue reading “The Life of a Plastic Model Kit Designer By Bruce P. Byerly”

More on Using or Restoring Old Decals

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by Alan Bussie Google+ profile

  • Introduction
  • How are decals made?
  • How can old decals fail?
  • Common problems and solutions
  • Making new decals

With fewer molds being run by fewer manufactures, many modelers are turning to the older kits to find desirable subject matter. The plastic usually ages well, but the decals can become troublesome. Most decals were not designed to last and time and environment can take their toll. Luckily, many highly experienced builders and collectors have been willing to share their hard-earned knowledge on saving old decals. I would specifically like to thank Jim Allen, Ken Friend and Larry Johnson for their contributions.

How are decals made?
Decal paper then and now is composed of a thin, strong paper with a thin clear film and water-release adhesive. The vast majority of decals from time immemorial were silk-screened. Silk-screening utilizes different screens for each color starting with the lightest and finishing with the black. The major reason for misalignment was always the backing paper which would begin to expand with each color. The rapid improvement of screening materials, backing papers and inks bring us the great decals we enjoy today which are still silk-screened.

Commercial Silk Screen Printing Press

Commercial Silk-Screen Printing Press

The wax-based toner printer ALPS is used by some specialty decal providers but the technology has been discontinued by Continue reading “More on Using or Restoring Old Decals”

A Pigeon Called Doolittle

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By Jan R. Bussie

As much as any nine year old boy could, I loved the seemingly endless days of summer fun while living at Koontz Lake. The sad days of the war years were coming to an end and there was a marked improvement in the post-war economic outlook. The war effort had kindled an interest in world military aircraft, and savvy manufacturers like “Bild-A-Set” in Chicago, with their ace designer Joe Ott, saw a profit potential in model airplanes and began producing kits. These kits were very expensive so my brothers and I began collecting a war plane glider series that came in every box of a popular breakfast cereal.

Joe Ott “Bild-A-Set” P-51 Box and Contents

Joe Ott “Bild-A-Set” P-51 box and contents

These models consisted of a thin sheet of cardboard about nine inches square. Continue reading “A Pigeon Called Doolittle”

Modeling in a Vacuum

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by Jan R. Bussie

As a young boy I was fascinated by the WW2 war news coming out of Europe. The bravery of the bombers and fast fighters pilots made them my heroes both then and now. In an effort to emulate these men I would fly my balsa glider in my backyard and pretend to be a dashing British pilot flying the silvery Spitfire fighter that dominated the skies over London and the English Channel. My favorite targets were the “Buzz Bombs”, Bf-109s, and the slow Stuka dive-bombers. I would often try to scratch-build a model of an airplane, but I did not possess the materials, skill or knowledge to do so.

The first years of my life were spent living in a remote lake community in northern Indiana called Koontz Lake. The lake and surrounding area covered tens of thousands of acres, and was thinly populated by no more than 250 hearty souls year round. During my many hunting and fishing outings I can remember going for days on end without seeing any one other than my immediate family.

Even after the war our solitude was destined to remain unbroken for many years due lack of newspapers, telephones, or reliable transportation. Our most important link to the outside world was via short wave radio…and later on for me, ‘Model Airplane News’ magazine.


Early to mid 1950’s Model Airplane News Magazines


Every summer I would travel to LaGrange, Indiana to visit my Grandmother for two weeks. During one such visit Continue reading “Modeling in a Vacuum”

The HO Scale Model Railroading Revolution of the 1940s

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By Alan Bussie Google+ profile

Few realize that changes near the end of 1930 in model railroading would preview the creation of the modern hobby industry in the 1950s.  It may seem obvious now, but it was impossible to predict in 1938.  My thanks goes to the editors and contributors of early Model Railroading and other early train modeling magazines.  This article could not be written without their historical records.


Late 1940s assembled wood/metal HO craftsman kit

In the 1950s, “Consumerism” revolutionized the United States economy and social life. Two main items pushed the consumerist movement: discretionary income and free time. There had always been leisure time, but the activities that filled it varied. In the 1800s families might play instruments and sing after dinner. In the 1930s, they could gather around the radio for the latest drama series or news. But the changes in consumer buying power would revolutionize the USA in the mid 20th century.

In the 1930s “model building” as a hobby did not even make the top 10 list of boy’s activities. Hobbies were nothing new to America in the 1940s, but they were not mainstream. As early as the turn of the century, many dedicated modelers built flying or static airplanes, ship, train, automotive or other subjects. Basic kits existed, but the majority of these models were built from scratch, which demanded a high talent level developed from years of experience. That changed in the early 1950s. The phenomenon of Continue reading “The HO Scale Model Railroading Revolution of the 1940s”

Foiling Plastic and Resin Model Kits for Realism by Ken Friend

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There have been several really good modeling articles written about using aluminum foil and hobby foil to generate the natural metal finish (NMF) of unpainted aircraft. The photographs of the finished product(s) show exquisite detail and realism that can’t be matched by any other method. While these articles focus on the technique of applying foil, there are some details I think could be added to create even more realism. This article will focus on “paneling” and effects that can be used prior to applying foil to a model. Most of the topics presented are the result of much trial and error and are conveyed to simply add to the information that others have already provided.

I’ve had many jobs over the years that required working with aluminum castings and aluminum sheet. One of those jobs was as an Aviation Metalsmith in an A-4 squadron in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s. As an avid, casual modeler, I have always wanted to recreate some of the unpainted planes of the same era. Until about five years ago I used buffing and non-buffing metalizers with varying degrees of success and satisfaction. One day I opened a Nestlé’s Crunch bar and suddenly realized that I had a better solution right there in my hands. I found some foil glue at Wal-Mart, an Italeri F-104, and some available time. I was very pleased with the outcome and hopelessly hooked….


Continue reading “Foiling Plastic and Resin Model Kits for Realism by Ken Friend”

A Brief History of Revell Plastic Model Kits

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By Alan Bussie Google+ profile

I would like to thank John Burns and numerous KCCers. Without them, it would have been impossible to compile this information.

In the early 1940s, Lou Glaser, a California entrepreneur, founded an injection molding company. Precision Specialties performed contract work for other manufacturers. In the early 1950s Gowland and Gowland designed the famous 1/32 scale “Highway Pioneers” line of 30 cars, which were the first mass-produced plastic automotive kits. Glaser marketed these for 69 cents through Woolworth Dime Stores and they sold well. Glaser realized that Revell should sell children’s toys, specifically plastic model kits.

The first Revell-made mold was the 1953 USS Missouri, first issued in the narrow box.




The first three aircraft kits followed quickly in one-piece boxes. The F-94C, F7U-1 and F9F-6 were molded Continue reading “A Brief History of Revell Plastic Model Kits”