Rebuilding an old Model (part 1)


With the rising prices of old kits in unbuilt condition (meaning still in box) one way to have an original 60's issue model is to find one already built, take it apart and rebuild it. Not only will it cost you more like $30.00 rather than the $300.00 asking price for an old Aurora model, but you've rescued something and given it a new place of honor on your shelf.

When you find, are offered, or stumble across an old model the first area of concern is completeness. Quite often these are bought sight unseen through the net, acquired from people who often don't know just what parts should be on the model. "Looks complete" means no obvious missing head, but you'll have no way of knowing short of pictures if the tiny little parts are gone.

When you finally get the model, examine it carefully. How bad is the fit? What parts are you going to have to take apart to do a good job with putty and painting, and above all what's missing?  Missing parts are common in old models, I cover this area in the second part of the restore series.  The entire job of restoring an old model can be divided into three steps: Remove old paint and disassemble the model, restore and replace the parts, then reassemble.

Remove old paint:  The first step is to remove old paint.  I place this one before taking the model apart since often the previous builder glued over the paint, and this step will loosen the parts and make the next step easier.  DON'T use regular paint remover on the model, you don't want to use anything that will soften or melt the plastic.  If you want to experiment, take a small amount of the remover and soak a scrap piece of plastic in it overnight.  If it eats the plastic, don't use it!  Among the products I don't recommend is Pine Sol, I've gotten many reports of models eaten up by trying the stuff.  One particular product might not work on all types of paint, try several until you find what's right for your particular model.  The most common household products used and recommended are:  

Easy Off oven cleaner.  Won't hurt the plastic.  Use a container that can be sealed, or double wrap in plastic bags, and spray the stuff on.  Leave for a couple of hours, then scrub with an old toothbrush.  Wear rubber gloves and eye protection, make sure you don't get this stuff on you.

Castrol Super Cleaner:  I've gotten good reports on this stuff, especially with heavy gloss enamels.  Read and follow the instructions, of course.  

Brake Fluid:  I've used this stuff before, it seems to work about as well as oven cleaner.  It will discolor the plastic, but doesn't seem to harm it.  Soak the model in a container of the stuff.

Taking the model apart: Before doing anything else, simply try snapping the joints apart, often with a small amount of pressure the arm will come right off, etc. You see, the glue gets brittle with age. Combine that with what is often a poor glue job to begin with and you'll have a good start.  That's why there's so many missing pieces to begin with.   
Next try the "shock treatment".  Put the model in a thin plastic bag, find a hard floor, hold the bag out at arm's length, and....drop it!  You'll be surprised how many seams will come apart.  The physics behind it is simple: the glue is hard but brittle, while the plastic is flexible and elastic.  The shock of being dropped is transmitted through the plastic and stresses the glue joints, causing them to fracture and separate.  

Finally, you'll have to scrape and grind through the old glue, using the TIP of the exacto knife and a Dremel type grinding tool.   IMPORTANT SAFETY POINT!  When you're cutting apart the seams of the model with a razor sharp blade, always be aware that when the plastic finally separates, that knife is going to keep on going!  When I cut a model apart, I'm not actually using the cutting edge, I'm scraping with the tip of the blade.  You can slip the blade into seams and twist to help separate them, but if you end up in an emergency room having your thumb stitched up, don't say I didn't warn you!

There are going to be parts that seem welded together and you'd just about have to destroy the model to get them apart. It's not always necessary to get every part apart, some you just have to work around.  As a last ditch effort, you can chop the part off with a Dremel blade or by scraping over and over with the tip of the exacto until it cuts through.  Then you only have a small putty and repair job to do when you put it back together, but this final solution doesn't occur to some people.

The next page will deal with replacing or repairing missing parts.

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