This month, the subject is "kit bashing."
Our guest is collector and custom modeler
Mike L: Mike or Michael?
Mike A: Call me
Mike A. or Mikey for this column, so readers don't get
confused. Or just KB for Kit Butcher.
ML: Mike A. or Mikey, what is kit bashing?
bashing is basically customization of an already released kit
or model. It can range from a simple "wipe," where
decals are removed and replaced, to an elaborate "cut and
paste" job where two or more models are combined into a
third. The latter, which can include scratch-built parts and
custom decals, is just one level down from true
"scratch-building." In that case, the majority of
the model is hand-fabricated and hand-built. Some of the most
elaborate scratch builds that I have seen are virtually 100%
fabricated, with only the steering wheel and tires being
"store bought." And I know some folks that even cast
their own wheels!
ML: How hard is kit bashing?
bashing can be as easy or as hard as you make it. Like I said
above, it ranges from simple "decal jobs" to
elaborate multi-piece projects. I started out as a plastic
model kit builder in my youth, and enjoyed adding "custom
touches" or combining two or more kits into one. I
returned to the hobby about seven or eight years ago and
started kit bashing fire apparatus about ten minutes after
buying my first Code 3. Now, I'm more of a kit basher and
custom-builder than a collector. I have roughly 500 fire
pieces in my collection, but consider it all raw material for
ML: What does someone need to begin kit
Imagination, patience, a good eye, patience, a steady hand,
patience, a desire to learn new techniques, and patience. Did
I mention patience? A background in model kit building helps
but isn't necessary. An engineering degree may be a handicap.
ML: And what tools are required?
MA: The basic
tools include a cordless drill and bit assortment; a Dremel-type
tool with accessories; tweezers, clamps, and small pliers;
files and extra-fine sandpaper; X-ACTO knives; small and
medium-sized screwdrivers; scissors of several types; masking
and painting tape; paint brushes; old toothbrushes; paint, of
course, both canned and bottled; stripers for metal and for
plastic; rulers, both 6- and 12-inch; various used dental
tools; rags, towels, tissues, and Q-Tips; various adhesives,
e.g. epoxy, plastic cement, white glue, etc.; and decal
setting solutions. And that's just a start! For a far more
comprehensive list, check out Hot World Customs.
The tool section alone could be an entire second column!
ML: How much does kit bashing cost?
MA: Cost is
generally a function of how many tools I want and need and the
expense I'm willing to incur for "blanks." That is,
vehicles to be kit bashed, such as a Castle Shannon Pierce
Dash platform that I once converted into a Mesa, Arizona Pierce Quantum
aerial tower. I probably have $14,000 in vehicles and
$2,000 in tools, not to mention a ton of parts and a
file drawer full of decals. But I didn't start that way! Give
me a bottle of non-acetone fingernail polish remover, a soft
cloth, a bowl for soaking decals, a pair of tweezers for
applying decals, and I'm ready to kit bash. Generally, a
person should start out slow and simple and gradually work up
to difficult projects, buying tools and supplies as needed.
Not everyone needs a five-gallon bath of lacquer thinner!
ML: What happens when you, uh, mess up?
MA: When I
make a boo-boo or screw up a paint job or decals or details,
the only thing to do is start over. I've often said that every
project of mine has been done twice to get one good model.
Small details can be fixed or altered, but I've found that
fixing a small mistake results in a bigger mess and larger
mistake. It's best just to start over, particularly with
painting or decaling. It saves time in the long run and you
get better results on the second or third time around.
ML: Do people sell kit bashed models?
including Yours Truly. A quick eBay search of "Code 3
FDNY" reveals a number of kit bashes-- some good, some
not so good; some fairly accurate and some pure imagination.
And that's just a drop in the bucket. On my end, I'm presently
working on about a half-dozen separate projects commissioned
by other collectors. There, accuracy is all-important and can
make the modeling a real challenge. When buying a kit bashed
rig on eBay, check out the seller's feedback. Also do a little
research on the piece you are looking to buy. Too often, you
might end up with a wildly speculative pumper or ladder that
never existed or never will exist. Also examine the model
photos. Some departments, like FDNY, can be easy kit bashes
because they all use the same specific colors and same-type
lettering and striping. There are variations in the fonts used
for numbering, though, so check before buying!
ML: How long did this FDNY Ferrara conversion take?
MA: Not as
long as you might think. The body was painted and decaled long
before the cab, which had to be lowered. I actually
re-did it twice before I was satisfied. I've done a total of
four Ferrara cabs including one extended cab, but the first
was the toughest. It took about three weeks total and most of
the time was spent waiting for the body filler to dry enough
so I could begin sanding.
ML: What does Code 3 think of kit bashing?
MA: I get the
sense that Code 3 is tolerating kit bashing where they once
ignored it. I am very careful to never call any of my kit
bashes a "Code 3," although I may mention that it's
made from a Code 3 product. To be honest, the number of fire
apparatus kit bashers is quite small when compared to the
number of Code 3 collectors. Nor do I think that Code 3 will
ever enter the market of selling parts for kit bashing, though
there's certainly a huge market out there for small parts for
repairs. But I look at it this way: every Code 3 model that I
destroy only makes your item more rare! LOL!
ML: Are there such things as...
counterfeit Code 3 kit bashes?
MA: Yes. I've
never done one, but it can and has been done. Especially with
the proliferation of after-market decals, so collectors should
be careful! Caveat emptor or something like that. A couple of
years ago I did an FDNY tiller for a friend, but only with
numbers that had not been used by Code 3. He was still
delighted. And two years ago I received my only negative eBay
feedback on a kit bashed Code 3, a model of a single-cab,
single rear-axle Seagrave rescue lettered for LA City R-39.
The buyer said it was only a "cut-up Code 3." Well,
ML: Where do you get parts?
come from a variety of sources, starting with your
neighborhood toy store. You can always tell the kit bashers
because they'll buy a model just for the wheels! Many of my
parts come from Code 3 items that I bought cheap, either
damaged or without the packaging. Loose, if you will. K*B Toy
outlet stores have proven to be a gold mine for spare parts,
as well. At toy stores, an investment of $2 yields enough
molded plastic tarp to do a dozen hose bed covers. Everything
is a parts source, from toy stores to hardware stores. Big
Lots had a really cheesy Mack quint for $4.99, but the parts
were perfect for 1/32 or 1/43 scale. The bucket alone was
worth the $5. Look everywhere!
ML: What projects are you proudest of?
MA: I am
proudest of whatever I did last! Kidding aside, my 1/35 scale Oshkosh TFFT is one. In
fact, I just spent $7 on a set of 1/35 scale military
accessories to detail it some more. And a tank trailer is in
the plans. My other choice is a 1/64
scale Chicago Truck 17, a Mack center-mount 100' ladder
from the sixties. It is the ugliest rig I have ever done and
one of my favorites. What a pain to build! I had to redo the
box completely and find a way to remount the ladder. It
started out as a Patriot ladder and then I replaced the cab
with a Mack CF. Look for yourself! That ladder overhang is a
ML: Will you return for a future column?
MA: If we
survive the heat from this one, I'll be back.
Mike Adams can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He welcomes your questions.
Mike Legeros can be contacted
He's not very good at kit bashing.
A version of this column originally appeared at
Code 3 Collectibles.
Copyright 2017 by Michael J. Legeros