Model Builders’ Manual by Mat Irvine (book review).

October 18, 2019 | By | Reply More

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a book by model-maker Mat Irvine, thinking it might be showing me how to make models. It does but the ‘Model Builders’ Manual’ starts with a history of model kits, mostly in a variety of plastics, before going into various techniques. If you ever wondered why different parts were bagged separately, even in the boxes, it was because some plastics reacted with each other.

For those of you who don’t know Mat Irvine worked for the BBC creating models and dioramas for the likes of ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Blake’s 7’ amongst others.

I suspect if you’re reading here then you’re a card-carrying geek and would have at least made or tried to make a plastic model from time to time. My late Dad, before plastic kits, made good versions of aircraft out of crate wood. We do have a tradition of making models in our family from time to time He even hi-jacked my own model-making from time to time although I think he approved of my wiring them for lights when that wasn’t clearly an option in the instructions. There’s a certain satisfaction from completing a model.

There are lots of photos of models here, including from SF. Mat Irvine draws you into all the processes involved in making the parts, including the technical names for things like runners, gates and sprues that surround the parts. Already I was feeling more expert. Reading about the various scales for these kits meant to fit in some boxes, does make it a bit more difficult to put different kits into the same panorama. When it comes to SF model kits, their scale was only worked out based on the size of humans. As Irvine points out, when he was making the likes of the Liberator for ‘Blake’s 7’, there was more regard to making a viable interesting model than scale.

With chapter 5, Mat Irvine gets down to the nitty-gritty of model-making and looks at the equipment. I like the fact that he covers small-time to moderate workshops, as well as pointing out the problems of not being able to carry equipment if you want to model-make while away any more, at least by aeroplane. I did puzzle on that one in how do you bring a completed model back without wrecking it. He does cover transportation of completed models in a later chapter but it does seem odd as a travel hobby to fill the nights.

Although I don’t do as much modelling as I should lately, I found myself making a checklist of things that should be useful to, well, you know, to have just in case. What modeller doesn’t say that? It was interesting to note that I should use less superglue than more when using it. I had to wonder about tradenames for ‘watchmaker’s glue’ used on clear parts and found it under ‘crystal glue’, often used to set paste jewellery. It does explain why the clear plastic on my Robby the Robot might have clouded over in sunlight. I also learnt a lesson to improve my spraying technique. I was surprised Irvine didn’t cover using rubber masking. I’ve found it useful for anything except the edges occasionally. Maybe I ought to look more intently at the masking tape.

Irvine points out that he isn’t going to go into the specifics of making individual models but was surprised that he didn’t cover washing manufacture residue off the parts while still on its runners. As to other uses for the runners, testing if the paint is compatible is something I use it for when needed. As you can tell, this book will make you think about your own modelling practices which is always a good thing. I had to struggle a bit to think of anything missed. Maybe the problems of aging and the adhesives dropping off the parts although I think, after reading here, it might have been the wrong glues.

There is so much in this book for all sorts of things from displaying and dioramas and a lot of vital information about current manufacturers and who owns who these days and Internet links. I do understand the problem of people buying model kits merely to collect them. I’ve got more model kits than I’ve made but seeing how their price has inflated, it’s made me nervous in making them. In the meantime, it has encouraged me to get back into thinking about completing my ‘Babylon 5’ Starfury that I’ve got LEDs in the engines.

This is a great bible on the subject and if you’ve considered model-making but never tried, this will help you avoid some of the pitfalls. For the younger readers we have, it’s a useful hobby to have on your CV. I know with my second job interview, they were asking me about it to see if I followed instructions. It’s useful skill and makes building bigger things just a matter of scale. Not all kits are expensive but making them correctly or knowing when to deviate to make something to how you want to see it is just as important. Don’t lose out by not getting a copy. I hope Mat Irvine does a follow-up book on scratch-building models.

GF Willmetts

October 2019

(pub: Haynes. 188 page illustrated indexed large hardback. Price: £22.99 (UK), $29.95 (US), $35.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78521-555-1)

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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