By Bruce Craig

A number of modelers have asked how I paint my "bare metal" finishes. I experimented with many different combinations for about eight years. These included Bare-Metal Foil (and other brands of foil products), SnJ, Testers Metalizers, Alclad (I have not yet tried Alclad II), several variations of SnJ over clear bases, different primers under most of the above, and several combinations of the above. Some worked fairly well, some were outright disasters, but none were good enough to cause me to adopt them as my "standard." Then, about two years ago, I settled on a method that has been reasonably easy to use, which is predictable and provides a consistently good result for me, and which many modelers have said has a very "realistic" appearance. So, here's how I do my bare metal finishes.

I have used six different airbrushes over time, including Badger's 150 and 200, and the Aztec with each of the four tips. I now have and use a Central Pneumatic 6131 airbrush that is similar to the Badger 150, and which cost $8.99. Strange as it may seem, I have had better results with this airbrush than the others, although the Badger 200 worked very well until I dropped it. I installed a repair kit, but it has never worked well since. Contrary to most other modelers I know who have raved about the Aztec (which is why I bought it) I have had very poor results with it. When a fellow modeler -- Harold Offield -- told me about the Central Pneumatic 6131 over a year ago, I bought it and have not used the others since.

Before starting any painting, I mask the prepainted cockpit, wheel bays, etc. I almost never try to paint with the canopy in place, rather, painting the canopy separately and adding it to the finished model at final assembly. Also, if there is any reasonable way to paint a part or sub-assembly, I do so, then put everything together at the final assembly stage. For example, on F-84 models, I paint the fuselage, wings, horizontal tails, gear doors, canopy, etc. as separate parts, and only put the pieces together as a final step. It requires careful alignment to minimize gaps, and care to prevent glue from marring the painted surfaces, but I have had much better results with this method as opposed to assembling the parts and painting the model as a whole.

I use Testors Gloss Black for all "primer" coats, sanding and repeating as necessary until I have a final overall gloss coat that is free from blemishes. I use 600 "wet or dry" as needed. If I use it "wet" I rinse the part thoroughly then wait for several days after sanding before applying the next Gloss Black primer coat. The only "problem" I have with the Gloss Black is that it takes several days to dry after application of each coat before I can work with the parts. So, I plan my modeling activities around the "time to dry" by working on other projects.

Non-metal Colors
Next, I apply all non-metal colors, generally using Testors enamels, and masking as needed.

SnJ as Base for Bare Metal
After appropriate masking of the non-metal colors, I apply two "dry" coats then two "wet" coats of SnJ Aluminum as the "base" bare metal. I do not wait between coats, only cycling all parts to paint as I spray the four coats. I do not use the powder to polish the SnJ, rather using only a 100% cotton T-shirt to rub the SnJ out, and I do this within 15-20 minutes of applying the last coat.

Testors Buffing Metalizer for Bare Metal Shades
Finally, I use Testors Buffing Metalizer, starting with the dark shades and working to the light shades, to "panelize" as needed. I may or may not leave panels of the SnJ exposed as one of the shades. I generally use the liquid latex Mold Builder to mask my panels, using a wedge-tipped toothpick to apply the liquid mask. As with the SnJ, I apply two "dry" coats then two "wet" coats, one right after the other, cycling the parts through the four coats. I complete each shade by buffing with the 100% cotton T-shirt, waiting only 15-20 minutes after applying the four coats of that shade. If I happen to peel edges or whole panels of the masking off during buffing, I apply more of the liquid mask as needed at the same time I mask additional panels for the next shade. I repeat the masking, painting, and buffing for each shade until all shades have been applied. I then remove all the masking and buff the whole part, then do final assembly of the model.

Panel Lines
I use a mechanical pencil with fine lead sanded to a wedge to give subtle emphasis to the panel lines.

Dusting and Handling
I do not add any kind of clear coat to protect the Buffing Metalizer. I handle my models carefully, either by portions of the model that are not metal finshed, or by using either a cotton glove or a sandwich baggie over my hand. Until about a year ago, I used an automotive striping brush that I bought in 1958 to dust my models. I lost that brush at a model contest about a year ago. Now, I use a Windsor Pactra #1 brush that I bought at an artists supply store.

Credit Where Credit is Due
I don't take credit for all the procedures I use to paint bare metal finishes. One of the other modelers in our club -- Hans Beernink, if I remember correctly -- mentioned he had excellent results with the Testors Gloss Black as a primer, and modelers' hints in Fine Scale Modeler mentioned the 100% cotton T-shirt for polishing, the "four coats" method for the Testors Buffing Metalizer, and for using the mechanical pencil to emphasize the panel lines. All I did was combine the several hints, and the combination has worked great for me.

Written September 20, 2000

Contents Copyright 1997-2000 Bruce Craig -- All Rights Reserved