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Paying it forward

Dad teaches son modeling skills … patiently. Here’s how you can do it, too!
Celebrate Father's Day with this heartwarming feature about a dad teaching his son how to build Tamiya's 1/35 scale M4A3 Sherman.
Let your child choose the kit and skill level that will allow him or her to be successful; use standard simple tools to teach the basics.
Explain the tools’ uses and pick materials that your experience has proven will be simple for the youngster to use.
My son Max cuts parts from a sprue tree. We found that if Dad helps hold the sprue tree, Max can more easily trim the parts.
Once we had the parts separated, Max could slip the hull’s halves together, a big step in making the model look like a tank. That helps maintain a child’s interest.
Small hands are a benefit when piecing together the tank’s hull, while having a well-defined workspace helps a youngster concentrate on each task.
Once assembled, the Sherman tank stirs more questions from inquisitive young Max. Plus, it’s ready for airbrushing, a great teaching opportunity and something most kids will look forward to.
Just prior to painting, Max uses a pin vise, a tool that he’ll be happy he learned to use when working on future projects.
I added strips of styrene weld beads to the tank’s sunken weld troughs.
We discovered that it was easier and we got better results (the ultimate goal) when I moved the model continuously while Max held the airbrush steady.
I applied a panel fade to the upper hull surfaces by adding a few drops of Tamiya’s XF-59 desert yellow paint to the base olive drab.
Max highlights the tracks with a Prismacolor pencil. It’s a good skill for youngsters, one that they feel they can easily control and which builds confidence.
Our glossy Sherman is now ready for decals. Again, it’s time to let Max choose what he wants, no matter what the “official” look should be.
Max really liked the “cool” blacked-out stars, so on they went, along with the nickname he chose for his tank.
After using Solvaset on the decals I airbrushed a layer of Model Master acrylic clear flat over the decals, which created a slightly frosty finish.
Max takes care of the frosty finish by brushing on a wash of 502 Abteilung dark mud oil paint thinned with mineral spirits.
The weathering, scratches and chips brought the tank to life. We’re just about to the really fun part, again where Max gets to make choices.
First, Max adds a plank to the weathered tank before I give him a variety of leftover stowage I created for him. Max loves jerry cans!
We put some of the stowage in place and I explain why this was a necessary way for the troops to carry their gear while on the road.
Max adds a small teddy bear to the tank’s nose, which gives it some real personality and drives home that this is a kid’s project.
Stowage in place, we wrap up our joint build. Now all Dad has to do is help repair the Sherman as Max and his friends handle and play with the tank.
Figures in place, stowage strapped down, weathering completed with a dark mud wash, and Max and I were finished with a fun build where we both learned a few lessons. You can mentor a youngster, too!
Model building is a hobby that most of us picked up as kids from our fathers, uncles, older brothers, or friends.

While adults are the biggest patrons of the hobby these days, we should be sharing our love of all things styrene with kids — even if we are combating short attention spans, TV, iPads, video games, and myriad other distractions. No matter the modeler’s age, nothing beats being able to say, “I made that!” when showing off the latest build.

It’s not that hard to get a young person interested in modeling. But some careful first moves will increase your likelihood of planting a lifelong interest.

Choosing the proper kit
Choose a kit appropriate to a beginner, not the latest 700-piece armor kit that has been calling to you from your stash.

Pick a basic model to keep the build as simple as possible, reduce frustration, and actually reach completion, 1.

Consider these two key points:
  • To snap or not to snap? Going with a snap-together kit may be a shot to the pride of an experienced modeler, but snap kits are great starter kits for young modelers learning the basics. And they are akin to Legos, which many kids already have experience with. Models just look way better!
  • Letting the young modeler pick the kit instills a sense of ownership and will help maintain their interest.
My 7-year-old son, Max, has built eight snap kits, so we graduated to a traditional glue and styrene kit. From my stash of vintage Tamiya kits we picked the 1980s-era Tamiya M4A3 Sherman (No. 35122) in 1/35 scale. It has a relatively low parts count, larger components, and “old school” rubber-band track — perfect for a young modeler and his dad to tackle.

Keep in mind that the youngster’s choice might not line up with your current modeling interests. But this is a team effort, so if the modeler picks a Lamborghini Gallardo or the space shuttle, just go with it!

This also is a great excuse for you to work outside your modeling comfort zone. 

The tools
Choose safe, simple tools: a sprue cutter, hobby knife, tweezers, files, emery boards, and glue, 2. Play clothes are the uniform of the day, as the last thing you want to be explaining are olive drab splatters on your kid’s school clothes. Also, be sure to use a drop cloth to catch the inevitable spills.
You can keep the sharp end of the hobby knife’s blade stuck in a wine cork to keep it sharp and safe. I also white-glued my Tamiya Extra Thin Liquid Cement bottle to a plastic lid so that it is less likely to be knocked over.
Always supervise and emphasize respect for the tools to avoid injuries. Same for keeping the window open when using traditional hobby glue, as we did. Non-toxic tube glues are available at hobby shops as well.

Getting started
Pace yourself. Break up the project into several half-hour sessions to keep it from becoming laborious for the budding modeler. Be sure to show patience — your young modeler is just starting and will be learning new skills like reading and following printed instructions, identifying parts on sprues, using tools, and putting together the model, essentially a 3-D puzzle, 3.

This is a joint project so educate, advise, and help when necessary, working together to correct mistakes as the build progresses — but try to resist redoing the kid’s work. Familiarize the youngster with the process and enjoy the build together. The idea is to help build interest and confidence, not to take a first-place trophy at the next big modeling competition. (At least not yet!)
Patience will be harder than you might think — big globs of glue, pools of paint, and fingerprints, not to mention upside-down parts, etc. are like fingernails on a chalkboard to experienced modelers.
For us, the build worked best when Max handled assembly of the larger components, such as the turret, hull, and running gear, 4. I took on the smaller parts, such as headlight guards, machine-gun mounts, and lights. Even the simpler kits (yes, even snap kits!) can provide challenges for beginning modelers and those of us with aging eyes.

The excitement will no doubt grow as the model begins to take shape, transforming from a “plastic puzzle” on a sprue tree into a 3-D miniature, 5.

Every step is an opportunity to teach about working with tools, assembling parts and subassemblies, sanding, painting, and weathering.

Explain, explain, explain!
Aside from talking about the mechanics of model building, there will be plenty of opportunities to point out the history and details of the subject.
Take time to point out what the parts do: turret, tracks, main gun, coaxial machine gun, etc.
Kids really want to know what this is and how it works.
As our build progressed, we did additional “research” by watching “Girls und Panzer” a Japanese anime TV series. Max became curious about armament of the Sherman, and that led to a lengthy discussion of the armament and effectiveness of U.S., British, and German tanks, 6. Fun stuff for an armor-building dad!

Again, let them build as much of the model as possible. Kids learn by doing, and that includes making mistakes.
Don’t be frustrated if your youngster doesn’t get it right at first. This is intended to be his or her model. The child needs to build confidence and “own” the project.

Keep the project simple
I chose not to fill in the open sponsons or replace the one-piece grab handles with brass rod. That said, there were a few little things that I did do for my own modeling enjoyment, like adding texture to the turret with liquid glue and putty and using my pin vise to drill out the .50- and two .30-caliber machine gun barrels, 7. I also added weld beads made of styrene rod, filling in the sunken weld troughs on the model and texturing with a small file, 8.

Brush-paint? Spray-paint? Airbrush?
As an armor modeler, I have a lot of olive drab spray cans around. I gave Max the choice of a rattle can, brush or airbrush to paint the Sherman. Without missing a beat, he responded, “Airbrush, Dad!”
If you’re spraying or airbrushing, adjust your respirator for small faces, 9. Always work in a well-ventilated area and make sure that the young modeler thoroughly washes his or her hands afterward.

Skipping priming, Max base-coated the Sherman with thinned Tamiya olive drab (XF-62), sprayed at 30 psi with my Tamiya HG trigger-type airbrush.

While I encouraged my son to always keep the airbrush moving, painting worked best if I maneuvered the Sherman through the paint that Max was shooting, 10. Of course, I ended up looking like the olive drab version of Blue Man Group, but you have to start somewhere!

With the base coat dry, I applied panel fading to the upper hull surfaces, lightening the base with a few drops of Tamiya desert yellow (XF-59) and getting in some airbrush time of my own, 11.

Prior to me joining the “old school” tracks with a heated nail clipper file (definitely a dad task!), I taped the tracks to a piece of cardboard so Max could airbrush them with Tamiya NATO black (XF-69). When it was dry, I airbrushed Mr. Metal Color stainless steel (No. 212) to give the tracks a metallic look. Max followed with a brush-applied wash of Tamiya flat black (XF-1) to call out the details, 12.

Decals provide more choices for the young modeler.

The kit-supplied decals were trashed after years in the box, so I pulled out an out-of-production decal sheet from Third Group that I had been hoarding for years. I gave Max the choice of the standard white stars or the blacked-out versions, explaining why the white stars were sometimes blacked out in combat, 13.
He chose the blacked-out stars because “They look cool!” So much for history.
I also gave him his choice of tank nicknames on the decal sheet. He picked Derby, so after a quick coat of Pledge FloorCare Multi-Surface Finish (PFM), the decal went on the tank, 14.
Decals can be a little fiddly, so we worked together to apply them — my son soaked them and slid them onto the vehicle, and I straightened them.
Next, I hit the decals with a little Solvaset. When they were dry, I airbrushed a protective layer of PFM, followed by Testors Model Master acrylic flat. The idea was the additional coats would not only seal the decals but also protect them from little hands. The flat coat added a slightly frosty appearance to the olive drab, but I figured the pending oil wash would solve that, 15. It did.

I explained to Max how oil washes help define the model’s detail. I tackled the turret and he handled the hull.
I suggested adjusting his technique: Instead of dragging the brush front to back, try dragging it from top to bottom to simulate rain streaks. We used 502 Abteilung dark mud oil paint (ABT-130 ) thinned with mineral spirits for the wash, 16.
The wash added irregular smears and stains on top of filling in some details, and also served to break up the monotonous olive drab finish. I also added a few irregular splotches of greens and other colors from my oil paint supply, doing my best to break up the hull and add dust and dirt to the upper hull and turret.
Max enjoyed applying the Mig Productions European dust (P028) pigments wet to the lower hull and tank’s running gear with a paintbrush. We thinned it to a muddy consistency with Tamiya acrylic thinner (X-20A). I stippled and dry-brushed some of the same pigment around the hull and turret.
Prismacolor silver and dark brown colored pencils were used to add random scratches and chips to the vehicle paint, 17.
When we were finished, the tank looked as if it had seen combat.

By the time we had the tank assembled, decaled, and weathered, Max was starting to lose interest. Time for some quick thinking.

I ran to the garage, painted some resin stowage, and presented my son with his choice of boxes, tarps, buckets, baseball bats, and even a teddy bear, 18,19, 20.
“Ooooh, jerry cans!” he chirped. Max immediately perked up and wanted to load so much stowage that the AFV looked more like the Clampett family truck from “The Beverly Hillbillies” than an ETO Sherman.

Once he narrowed his choices down, I white-glued the stowage to the vehicle, explaining to my son that tie-down ropes — represented by the string from tea bags stained with tea — were used to keep extra equipment from falling off, 21.
We kept it simple and used the basic crew figures supplied with the kit. I airbrushed the figures Tamiya khaki (XF-49), desert yellow, and olive drab. Max ran a dark mud oil wash over them to pick out the details, 22.

... and then repairs

Kids are inclined to try rolling a model tank on its treads, spinning the turret while raising and lowering the gun and opening and closing the hatches.
Just like the real thing, your kid’s model tank will likely require ongoing repairs. So be prepared with a smile and your favorite glue and paint.

We had to reglue a couple of bogie trucks, the mantlet, and the driver’s hatch, which was snapped off more than once. I also had to pull out the super glue, brass rod, and pin vise to fix the rear idler, which broke off from too much handling. Remember, these are kids!

We also had our share of lost or broken parts along the way: lift rings, headlights, and other small parts. It was fun explaining the concept of “The Carpet Monster” and that, “No, it’s not a real monster, Max, just a mythical beast that only eats stray model parts.”

I scrounged the missing parts from the venerable Italeri M4A1 Sherman, lift rings from a Dragon PTO M4A2 Sherman, and more stowage from whatever was lying around.

Final thoughts
By choosing the right kit, using basic tools and techniques (and trying a few advanced ones), any adult can partner with a child to share model building and create a model that you both can be proud of!
Max’s take? “I like building models with my Dad because you get to do all of this fun stuff, add all sorts of things. It is like making 3-D art. I also like the behind-the-scenes of it all, learning how tanks work and what kind of mileage a Sherman tank got.”
There you have it! With a little patience, picking the right kit, and letting the young modeler own the project, you can both have a great time building a model together.
Today’s young scale modelers are tomorrow’s fine-scale modelers!

List of materials
Kit: Tamiya M4A3 Sherman (No. 35122)

Putty: Tamiya gray (No. 87053)

Glue: Tamiya Extra Thin Liquid Cement (No. 87038)

Tools: Tamiya and Xuron sprue cutters; hobby knife with No. 11 blade (stuck into a cork for safety when not in use); StepSander (No. SS320); sanding sticks; tweezers; files; pin vise; nail cutter.
Airbrush: Tamiya Spray Works HG airbrush.

Base coat: Tamiya: olive drab (XF-62 ) for hull; desert yellow (XF-59) for fading color; NATO black (XF-69) for base-coating tracks.

Weathering: Mr. Metal Color stainless steel (No. 212) for track highlights; Tamiya flat black (XF-1)for track wash; Abteilung dark mud oil paint (ABT-130 ) for overall wash; Mig Productions European dust for mud on the lower hull; Prismacolor brown and silver pencils for applying paint chips and scratches.
Figures: Tamiya khaki, desert yellow, and olive drab; Abteilung dark mud oil paint for overall wash.

Extras: Evergreen styrene rod for the raised weld beads and sheet stock for fender supports; brass rod to pin broken idler wheel; lead foil for tarps; tea bag string for tie-down ropes; various plastic jerry cans, helmets, bucket, resin tarps, crates, and other stowage items sourced from the spares box.

Meet John and Max
John Brosnan is a salesman living in Southern California with his wife, Pam, and son, Max. He has built armor and sci-fi models since childhood and enjoys hiking and traveling. Max was in second grade during the build and has been building models ever since. He loves exotic cars, cool gadgets, and playing soccer. The Brosnan boys attend meetings of the Los Angeles Miniaturists Society.


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