The “Finish Chain” Concept

First and foremost, I build models with the minimum of airborne materials. That’s the Prime Directive. No fumes or smells or vapors or aerosols if I can help it. My first, last and only rule is to keep the air clean. I have good, solid medical reasons for wanting the air to be clean, and I will not wear a mask or build a spray booth that pumps indoor air outside or “cleans” the indoor air. Not everyone shares my approach to model building, but The Prime Directive isn’t negotiable. This can make discussion problematic. Sometimes I can communicate the “how and why” of my methods clearly, and at other times I fail.

In order to facilitate communication, then, I’d like to introduce the concept of the finish chain. The finish chain is the combination of solvents, paints and finishing products used to complete a scale model. It includes the filler putty, the cement, the adhesives, masking materials, the paint, the paint applicator, the clear finishes, the decal solvents, decal coatings, the decals themselves, all the applicators used to apply all the other products, and all of the weathering materials.

All of the products in the finish chain must be compatible. If any part of the chain breaks, the whole thing breaks. My goal is to have a strong and healthy finish chain. This has to be built, part by part, over time. I can’t go out and try the latest fad on a “real” model, but I can experiment on a “test dummy.” This is a kit that I’ll never build, or did build and then threw on the scrap pile.

Test dummies are not unimportant. They are the bedrock–the foundation of the finish chain. Once I know which materials are compatible, I can incorporate them into the finish chain and get good results consistently. I do the same thing every time if I can. No swerving left or right, playing with new products or trying new things. On a serious model, I need to know, up front, that the entire finish chain is strong and will not fail under stress.

Because stress happens. Things go wrong. When the decals curl or the filler crumbles, it’s important to be able to know what’s going wrong and how to address it. If a lot of new materials are introduced at once, you can lose track of where the problem is coming from.

But this idea of dependable quality is just a part of the finish chain concept. Just as important as chemical compatibility is process compatibility. By this I mean that if I mask, my paint must have excellent adhesion, not dissolve the masking agent, and not creep or crawl under the mask.

If I choose not to mask, the paint I use must allow me to draw straight lines, be compatible with being painted on decal film, and have good touch-up qualities, and I want to know about these qualities in advance. A finish chain is a complex thing. If I expect to get a good result, I have to “factor in” all aspects of the finish chain and take them into consideration before I start building a model. Often, a part of the finish chain is an “either/or” situation–like the masking question. Either I mask or I don’t. Acrylic paint, in general, has low adhesion. Personally, I choose to never mask in order to avoid ripping up paint and leaving ragged lines. But in order to do this, I need paint that I can flow on in straight lines and which lends itself to touch-ups, as well as reacting favorably to being painted on decal film for really fine lines (I paint and cut decal film for the really super-fine lines).

I use a filler, glue, paint, clear finishes, brushes and decals that all work together and are fully compatible. My methods produce good results because each part of the chain interlocks with every other part like gears in a clock. I don’t use this or that product because it’s cheaper or easier to get. I use the parts that work for me based on experience. That’s a why I endorse a certain type of paint–because it can be fitted (sometimes with modification) into my finish chain. If a paint, no matter how good it works for airbrushing or miniature painting, doesn’t fit into my finish chain it’s absolutely no good to me.

Some parts of the chain don’t seem to be parts of the chain at all. For example, my habit of gluing the “wing tops” to the fuselage is a part of the finish chain. By gluing them in place first, and avoiding filling and sanding, I avoid damage to the finish. Restoring the damaged finish is a difficult job, and is best avoided. I use solvent cement (Micro Weld) that dries slowly to allow me to adjust the alignment of the wing tops to ensure a perfect seam.

If I were to throw over this concept, and replace it with “I’d like to finish this model as quickly as possible with the least amount of work” and acquire each and every “labor saving device” and throw them at the project with no regard for the finish chain, I’d expect to fail. I would fail.

Hopefully, as I continue to build this blog, I’ll be referring to the finish chain more and more. The interlocking nature of the finish chain explains, describes and defines what I do. Hopefully, I’ll be able to communicate more effectively by referring to the finish chain. For example, paints like Vallejo Model Color are not inherently evil, poisonous or defective. But Vallejo Model Color breaks my finish chain because it can’t be used to paint nice clean lines, and it can’t be masked without some kind of primer. All spray painting is prohibited from my finish chain, so Vallejo Model Color is unusable, not because the paint is “bad” but because it breaks my finish chain.

I hope I’ll be able to avoid giving the impression that I’m constantly judging how other people build models. I don’t care how they do it, but if a product that they use, and happily fits into their finish chain breaks my finish chain, then it’s no good (from my perspective). I believe that a strong finish chain is important no matter how you apply paint, but it is especially important if you brushpaint. Brushpainting, far more than airbrushing, requires a strong finish chain because the “forgiving” nature of spray-painting can cover a multitude of sins. If something goes wrong, you can sand it off and re-spray. Brushed-on finishes must “set” properly or the whole model must be completely redone, and I don’t have time for that. Real-time, on-the-job learning is an airbrusher’s luxury. In the brushpainting army, we need to plan our work and work our plan. No shooting from the hip.

Of course, what really makes building my finish chain difficult is that it may not violate The Prime Directive. Ah yes, there’s the rub. I could easily get a “suite” of products from Humbrol or Testors but somewhere along the line, some part of the “chain” would break– or put dangerous fumes in the air. What I have, and offer to describe on this blog (for free) is a finish chain that does both–it works and maintains The Prime Directive. That, simply put, is what I do.

I hope that’s clear. Interlocking methods, tools and materials–joined together like a chain–incorporating The Prime Directive. That’s the finish chain.

2 Replies to “The “Finish Chain” Concept”

  1. You have been building for years, did you ever handbrushing Testors Enamels back in the day? If so did you use the same techniques as you use with MM acrylics?

    1. I reprinted an article from Air-Space Model Magazine that explains the basic technique that I used now. The article came out in 1969 was applicable to Testors enamels as well as Pactra Scale Model Flats. I have to admit that I used the Pactra paint mostly. Humbrol made wonderful paint but it wasn’t available in Hee-Haw Hell, Oregon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.