December 8, 2011
Project and description by Tinplate Dad.
A friend of mine, Joe Crea, is a superb model builder. One of the things he likes to do is to download airplane models from various websites on the Internet. These he prints out on heavy card on his color printer, then meticulously assembles them. The resulting models are invariably beautiful. He’s built many of these fragile craft and I have always been impressed by them.
Paper is not my medium. I have tried paper modeling but it never took. However, I’ve always felt that anything that could be made in paper could be made in tinplate. After all, they’re both two-dimensional media, right?
So, inspired by Joe’s planes, I downloaded a J3 Piper Cub from the Fiddler’s Green website, along with the floats, which I thought gave the plane more character.
The drawings (three sheets, total), were nicely done. Assembly instructions were clear and the charming presentation reminded me of drawings from 1940s do-it-yourself books.
I set to work using our standard tinplate techniques. I cut the metal with scissors and bent it in a vise or with pliers. Wing and fuselage ribs, along with other details (windows, ailerons) were scored in with a glass cutter.
Slowly the plane began to take shape. I regret that I have no in-progress photographs. Along the way I learned that, theoretically, yes — tinplate can be worked much like paper. However, it isn’t paper, and there are some things that just aren’t that easily done. Making folds on tiny parts is difficult, as is precision folding of the larger parts so that they fit comfortably together. I recall that bending the leading edges and top surfaces of the wings to form a nice airfoil shape was particularly tricky.
However, I’m pleased with the end result. It is a scale model of a recognizable aircraft and it was a tremendous learning experience. Certainly, parts of it could be better but the overall effect pleases me. While it confirmed my belief that tinplate was a great modeling medium, the process of building the model also helped to define its limitations. The finished plane is a fun artifact to have sitting on a shelf.