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Natural Metal Finishes
Part 1: The Basics

by Chris Bowie



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Natural Metal Finishes


Natural metal finishes (NMF) are typically avoided by most modelers.  But the reality is that new paint technology has made these finishes much easier than in the past—and in fact,  I’m coming to believe that NMF may in fact be easier and faster than traditional camouflage schemes.  I can typically build, paint, and decal a NMF aircraft in 3-4 days, working about 2-3 hours total a day.  So take heart and tackle that shiny jet from the 1950s!



Kit Selection


NMF show all flaws and imperfections. 

There are tricks you can use to minimize the preparation time (which I will discuss below), but the most important thing for your first effort is to start with a good kit with recessed panel lines.  For example, in 1/48th scale, the Revell/Monogram F-86D is a reasonably-priced kit that fits great, as is the Tamiya F-84E or P-47.  Basically, start with a good kit and you don’t need to spend as much time sanding and polishing.  After you’ve got a little experience under your belt, you can try doing that natural metal Monogram B-58 Hustler that needs to be completely scribed! 

Also, the important thing is to try this and not achieve NMF nirvana on your first attempt.  The key thing is to accept some flaws here and there—and I think you will find in the end that most other people really can’t see them.  So avoid advanced modeling syndrome!





With a good kit, you can really minimize the amount of seam filling you need to do.  For example, I’ve built the Tamiya P-47 (a truly outstanding kit) without using any filler at all. 

When dealing with seams, I use sanding sticks (either purchased or made from basswood covered with wet-dry standpaper).  You must back the sandpaper or you will create dips in the plastic through uneven pressure (which will show up when you apply the natural metal finish).  I always wet sand to take away the grit and avoid clogging the sandpaper. 

I spend time dry fitting and sanding where necessary.  Basically, time spent here saves lots of time later.  I will often flat sand the mating surfaces of two parts (say fuselage halves or drop tanks) to ensure that I get a solid joint. 

I assemble my models using Ambroid ProWeld or Tenax 7R liquid glue.  These glues dry very quickly.  I will fit, for example, two fuselage halves together, brush the glue on, and then squeeze.  Plastic melted between the two halves squeezes out.  After this is dry (typically about 5 minutes), I then sand off the excess using a sanding stick with 220 grit, followed by 400 grit. 

After I have the whole model assembled and the seams sanded, I will brush on each of the seams a coat of Tamiya flat aluminum, which dries in a matter of minutes.  This highlights any flaws.  If I spot a problem area, I use a toothpick to apply some gap filling superglue, which I then brush with accelerator.  As soon as it is hard (10 seconds), I sand off the excess.  If you wait more than an hour, the superglue goes very hard and is more difficult to remove.  With a good kit, you should be able to assemble and finish the seams in an hour or so. 

You can use putty if you insist with Alclad II or Floquil.  It does not work with Testor’s Metalizer and SNJ.  With these products, the only filler you can use is superglue. 

One key thing is to take advantage of natural seams to minimize the amount of filling you need to do.  For example, at a wing root (assuming I have a good fit), I will just brush on the liquid glue (but not apply any pressure, since that would cause plastic to squirt out).  If I have to apply, say, a nose to a fuselage, I will double check the fit, take off the edge off the nose and the fuselage joint by scraping the corner of each surface with a hobby knife (so that it looks like a panel line—see Figure 1), and then hold the two pieces gently together and apply the glue.  Again, you don’t want to apply pressure or you will fill in the seam—and then have to scribe it out.  For scribing, I use my X-acto knife or my Bare-metal scribing tool.

Figure 2:  Creating a panel line:




Options for Creating a Natural Metal Finish


I am first going to take you through the steps of my recommended approach using the latest paints (Alclad II), since I think this is the easiest and best approach.  But I have tried every technique under the sun and will discuss the others later—I often combine all of these options in one model to achieve a truly variated metal surface. 

All of the paints used are highly toxic and must be sprayed using an airbrush.  To clean up the airbrush, I use laquer thinner, which is also highly toxic.  You really need to use a spray booth when shooting these paints (and/or wear a mask and work in a well ventilated area)—otherwise you will put your health at risk

Alclad II 

Wet sand the seams with 600 grit wet-dry sandpaper.  Wipe off the residue and prepare the model for painting.  Shoot a coat of primer over the entire model and subassemblies.  One of the key advantages of Alclad is that you can use a primer;  with the other metal finish paints, you can only apply to bare polished plastic.  Primer is your friend, since it fills in lots of those minor flaws and scratches that otherwise would be highlighted by the silver finish. 


Figure 3:  Examples of the four NMF alternatives in 1/48th scale.  The F-80 was done about 20 years ago using Floquil Platinum Mist.  The Lightning was finished using SNJ metalizer and Testor’s Metalizer.  The P-47 was covered with Bare metal foil (lots of work).  The F-104 was finished using Alclad II Chrome as the base and other Alclad II and Metalizer shades for the individual panels.

I typically use Floquil grey primer, but more recently have been using Gunze Sanyo Mr. Surfacer or Alclad Grey Primer.  The advantage of the Alclad primer is that it is laquer based and dries very very quickly.  So instead of having to wait a few hours (or overnight), you can fix flaws and then reprime.  

When the primer is dry, inspect the model closely.  Use the 600 grit wet and dry to do touch ups.  Use the superglue with accelerator on areas that need filling and sand as necessary.  Then reprime and let dry. 

I usually then give the model and subassemblies a light wet sanding with 1800 grit from my paint polishing kit—you can get these sanding pads (item number 81601 soft touch pad set) from the Micro-Mark web site.  When cleaned up, spray the entire model and subassemblies with Tamiya Gloss Black acrylic paint (X-1).  Yes, this is correct:  gloss black.  To get a good glossy finish, I thin the Tamiya paint with rubbing alcohol at a 1:1 ratio (that is, one part paint to one part rubbing alcohol).  Mist on a very thin coat over the entire model—it will dry in a minute or so.  Then mist on another thin coat.  These coats will not cover the model evenly—the idea is to gradually build up the layers.  Keep misting on the coats.  Then put on a slightly heavier wet coat or two and let the model dry overnight.  It should be glossy black.  When the model is dry, inspect it closely.  The glossy finish will reveal flaws and such and you can repair these (using the sanding pads) and then respray.  Typically, I try to keep my patience, sand out flaws in the color coat,

and then respray.  Basically, it depends how much work you want to put into it.  I eventually reach a point where I say good enough.  You are now ready for the metal coat. 

Alclad recently put out a gloss black undercoating, which I assume is laquer based.  So it would have the advantage of drying very quickly (like a few minutes) so you don’t need to wait overnight between coats.  This way you could do more touchups in a shorter period.  I guess in theory you could prime, sand, spray with the black undercoat, and then paint the metal coat all in one night.


Figure 4:  A Mirage III model after the gloss black base coat.

Alclad II comes in a wide variety of shades.  I recommend using one of two colors for your overall base coat:  Chrome or Polished Aluminum.  These really look like you have dipped your model in a thin coat of metal.  The other finishes (aluminum, white aluminum, dark aluminum, steel, etc) are fine, but I don’t think they look quite as cool as the Chrome or Polished Aluminum for the base coat.  These two paints create a finish similar to that from a brand new aircraft or a recently restored one.  For example, at the USAF Museum at Wright Patterson AFB, they restored the B-58 Hustler about a decade ago and polished the entire surface of the aircraft using a powdered cleanser to clean away all the years of grit and grime.  The shiny aircraft looks absolutely spectacular now (particularly since they are keeping it inside out of the weather). 

To apply the Alclad II, apply several thin coats with your airbrush using about 12-15 pounds of pressure.  You will witness an amazing transformation.  Some fine pigment or mica is in the translucent Alclad II paint and it interacts somehow with the black to make the finish look like metal.  It is really truly amazing.  The Alclad II is ready for masking about 15 minutes after you airbrush it—the advantages of a laquer paint.
To be continued in Part Two


Text & Images Copyright © 2005 by Chris Bowie
Page Created 19 January, 2005
Last Updated 19 January, 2005

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