Monday, 7 June 2010

De-Freudianizing Teensy-Tiny Tanks

As some of those who have read the wargaming section of my website will be aware, I like to replace the barrels of my microarmour with sturdier wire replacements. With simple barrels, lacking barrel-sleeves or muzzle-brakes like the 3-pounder of the Vickers Medium Mk.II it's no big deal, but for more complex barrels like the 88mm of the Tiger I shown here, things get a bit more involved.

The photo to the right shows a 1/285 scale Tiger from C-in-C. The one to the left has had its barrel replaced, and the one to the right shows just why I like to go to all this trouble to do so — the metal these miniatures is cast from is very soft, and gun barrels are very vulnerable to damage. A soft, bendy, drooping gun barrel is just too Freudian to be permitted anywhere near a wargames table.

My favourite barrel material come in the form of 16mm brass sequin pins, about 0.65mm thick. They're soft enough to be able to work easily with files and wet-&-dry emery paper, but stiff enough to be reasonably resistant to inadvertant bending. A 16mm pin is just long enough for a Tiger I's 88mm, which is about 11.5mm long in scale; I'd have to source some longer pins for guns like the 88L71 of the Tiger II or the Elefant, or the long 122mm guns of the later Soviet tanks.

I start by mounting the pin in my Dremel and working the head down to a square ridge with a fine-toothed file. The muzzle-brake is built up by wrapping a piece of fine wire around the pin and sticking it in place with super-glue gel.

The muzzle-brake is more of an indication than an accurate portrayal of the specific type used on this gun; now that I come to look at it, I could probably get away with taking the pin-head right down flush with the shaft of the pin and building up the cone of the brake with a ring of wire and gel glue.

The sleeves are made from lead foil salvaged from a wine bottle. The foil is wrapped around the pin and secured with super-glue — the hardest part about it is getting a close, even fit; I expect it's something that gets easier with practice. At least, I hope so. You do have to be a bit careful to make sure that the seams are hidden away on the bottom, where nobody will see them.

Note: I've seen this done with cut-down hypodermic needles; they come in a pretty wide range of gauges, and its possible to get tubing that fits together like these foil sleeves. The effect is very good, and being tubing there's no seam. Unfortunately I have no idea where I'd go to get them, nor how much they'd cost.

The resulting gun replacement is a little more massive than the original, which was modelled closer to actual scale. However, in this case I think that's an advantage — it makes the gun look more impressive, as an 88mm should be.

This first one took a while — maybe an hour. I expect that time will drop with practice and some sort of production-line process, but even so it's not a quick-fix job. Nevertheless, I think the effort is worth while.