Category Archives: Model Building

Testors model paint dried out? Here’s what to do.

If your old bottles of Testors model paint dried out, you’ll have trouble getting the jars open and there’s no guarantee what you’ll find inside. But it’s definitely worth a try.

Here’s how to get the lid off, what to do with the separated paint, and what you can do to keep it from happening again.

Continue reading Testors model paint dried out? Here’s what to do.

What scale are Hot Wheels cars?

What scale are Hot Wheels cars, you ask? Unfortunately it varies a bit. They tend to be a bit less than 1:64. But scale isn’t Hot Wheels’ objective. Fitting in the package is. That means the size of Hot Wheels cars is between 2.5 and 3 inches, depending on what looks right for the prototype model. That’s when a prototype even exists. So it can take some homework to figure out the actual scale of any given model.

Or you can just not worry about it, assume they’re more or less 1:64, skip the next section, and get on with things.

Determining actual scale of Hot Wheels cars

To do the math, find out the length of the real thing. Usually a Google search takes care of that. Then convert the length to millimeters. If you can’t find the length, get some other measurement from the real thing, like the width or the wheelbase.

Sometimes there is no real thing, so you have to approximate. Pick the real car that most closely resembles the Hot Wheels model in question.

Then measure the same thing on the Hot Wheels car. In millimeters, ideally, but convert if you have to. Then divide the measurement from the original by the measurement you took from the Hot Wheels car.

Here are some measurements I took from the Hot Wheels on my train layout:

Model Actual wheelbase (mm) Hot Wheels wheelbase (mm) Scale
1935 Duesenberg 3899 49 1:79.57143
1932 Ford Delivery 2845 43 1:66.16279
1940 Ford Woodie Wagon 2845 44 1:64.65909
1941 Willys Coupe 2642 38 1:69.52632

Let’s estimate a Ford Focus. We’ll assume the Hot Wheels version is 2.5 inches long, 63.5mm. The prototype is 4369mm long. If these assumptions are correct, it will work out to 1:68 scale.

With other makes of diecast cars it’s often possible to cheat, but if there’s something out there that lists the scale of particular Hot Wheels models, I haven’t found it yet.

Dioramas for Hot Wheels

I assume the main reason you want to know Hot Wheels scale is to make dioramas. Rather than duplicate a bunch of content, I recommend you check out my entry on Matchbox scale. The materials that work for Matchbox are perfect for Hot Wheels as well. Fortunately there are plenty of sources of good material, thanks in part to the hobbies of model railroading and holiday villages.

To rehash, I recommend 1:75 architectural figures. A bag of 100 figures costs around $5. They come painted and unpainted and you can paint them yourself fairly easily.  You can also use dollar-store holiday village figures.

For buildings, I recommend O/S-sized Plasticville buildings or Department 56 and Lemax buildings. For roads and sidewalks, you can use road pattern tape and HO scale sidewalks meant for model trains.

What scale are Matchbox cars?

What scale are Matchbox cars, you ask? Unfortunately it varies a bit. Nominally they’re around 1:64 scale. But scale isn’t Matchbox’s objective. Fitting in the package is. That means the size of Matchbox cars is between 2.5 and 3 inches, depending on what looks right for the prototype model. So it can take some homework to figure out the actual scale of any given model.

Or you can just not worry about it, assume they’re more or less 1:64, skip the next section, and get on with things.

Determining actual scale of Matchbox cars

To do the math, find out the length of the real thing. Usually a Google search takes care of that. Then convert the length to millimeters.

Then measure the Matchbox car. In millimeters, ideally, but convert if you have to. Then divide the length of the original by the length of the Matchbox car. Don’t be surprised if the number deviates from 64.

A large 4-door car, like a Ford Crown Victoria, works out to 1:70 scale.

A small car, like an original VW Beetle, works out to 1:58 scale.

Standard pickup trucks, like most of Matchbox’s F150 models, work out to about 1:64 scale. Matchbox’s Chevy Silverado extended cab worked out to 1:76 scale.

You can cheat a bit with Matchbox, fortunately. The fan site matchbox.wikia.com lists the scale for most Matchbox vehicles, so you don’t necessarily have to measure and calculate yourself.

Dioramas for Matchbox

I assume the main reason you want to know Matchbox scale is to make dioramas. Fortunately there are plenty of sources of good material, thanks in part to the hobbies of model railroading and holiday villages.

Figures for Matchbox dioramas

If you want to populate a diorama with figures, your cheapest bet will be 1:75 architectural figures. A bag of 100 figures costs around $5. They come painted and unpainted. I’ve written before about painting figures. Some pre-painted figures are fine as-is. But expect to find some painted strangely. I don’t normally see guys walking around in pink or bright green pants, except maybe on a golf course. But you can expect to find some in a batch of prepainted figures.

If you want a little bit of a closer match and don’t mind winter dress, look for Cobblestone Corners figures at Dollar Tree. Dollar Tree generally gets them in the fall and they tend to sell out fairly quickly, but the figures come 4-5 in a package for a dollar and the quality is reasonable. The buildings are undersized for Matchbox but the figures and streetlights work pretty well.

Buildings for Matchbox dioramas

If you want to build a town for a Matchbox diorama, a non-obvious option are Plasticville buildings intended for 1950s Lionel and American Flyer trains. Be sure to look for the larger-sized buildings marketed for “O/S scale.” The smaller HO scale Plasticville buildings are too small–they’re 1:87 scale.

They aren’t the best match for contemporary architecture like Colonial-style 2-story houses and big-box stores. But the diner, motel, grocery store and drugstore all resemble what you would have found along Route 66 in its glory days and some traces of those types of buildings are still there today.

For that matter, the buildings still resemble what you’d find in a middle-ring suburb or a small town.

Vintage Plasticville buildings are generally about 1:64 scale, which is pretty close to the scale of an average Matchbox car. Look for buildings without their original boxes. Vintage boxed Plasticville buildings can be rather collectible, but the loose buildings are pretty cheap. Glued loose buildings are very affordable. Don’t be afraid of beat-up buildings. Cleaning them up is easy. You can paint them to make them look more realistic.

If you don’t mind a winter scene, Department 56 and Lemax buildings are a reasonable match, scale-wise, for Matchbox. Their scale varies too, but it varies along the same lines as Matchbox.

Roads and sidewalks for Matchbox dioramas

These days you can buy road pattern tape suitable for Matchbox. I wish they’d had that when I was a kid. The tapes available online don’t always match perfectly but the one I linked above fits fairly well.

If you want sidewalks, step down to HO scale sidewalks meant for model trains. They’ll be a bit undersized but will look the part.

Spray painting tips to paint like a pro

I’ve gathered a lot of spray painting tips over the years but I’ve never seen more than 10 collected in one place. Spray paint is a tool, and using it is a skill you can learn. With a bit of practice, you can get enviable results and make the object you’re painting look better than new.

Whether you’re painting something for your house or for your hobby, here are more than 20 spray painting tips to help you paint with the best of them–in the order you’re likely to need to use them in your projects.

Continue reading Spray painting tips to paint like a pro

Department 56 scale: The definitive guide

The Department 56 product line is rather extensive, but there are items they don’t produce and likely never will. If you want to complete your village with other items, or use Department 56 in other settings, such as a train layout, then scale might matter to you—and “Department 56 scale” is undefined. Here’s how to make sure the things you want to use together will go together, size-wise.

The answer, by Department 56’s own admission, is that it varies. But since I see the question come up again and again, I’m going to tackle it. It varies, but there’s a method to it the madness.

Continue reading Department 56 scale: The definitive guide

A collection of old photographs to help your model-making

It’s hard to make models of old buildings without knowing what they looked like in the past. Over a period of about 30 years, Charles Cushman, an exceptionally gifted amateur photographer, took about 14,000 slides of everyday life, mostly in color. After his death in 1972, his family donated the slides to Indiana University, which digitized the collection and put it online. Key in what you’re looking for–buildings, automobiles, people, whatever–and you can study photos taken from 1939 to 1969. Then you can make your people, buildings, or cars look like they did during the time period you’re after. If you like a particular city, you may even be able to find pictures of that city in the collection.

I love driving through the older parts of St. Louis and imagining what the city looked like in the past, but sometimes it’s not easy to imagine what’s behind the boarded-up windows, and what the streets and sidewalks would look like with people milling around. Seeing the Cushman photos makes it easier to imagine what the buildings that survive today looked like in their glory days.

The best glue for paper models

If you’re looking for the best glue for paper models, you’ve come to the right place. To build a paper model that lasts, use a pH-neutral PVA bookbinder’s glue. My wife, who has a master’s degree in art education, specifically recommended Books by Hand PVA Adhesive. Although it looks and smells and feels like regular white glue, I find it does a better job of not warping the paper and not bubbling. And for longevity’s sake, you want something that doesn’t change the pH balance of your paper. Books by Hand glue is pH neutral.

I started building model structures with Books by Hand glue in 2004. Those miniature buildings still look like I built them yesterday. Continue reading The best glue for paper models