Old modelling handbooks/guidebooks/manuals

Jakko

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In these days of web sites, YouTube videos and what have you with tutorials on how to build models, I find that old books — you remember those, surely: those stacks paper bound or glued together to form pages — about modelling often provide useful instruction in the basics of how to actually do basic modelbuilding. They often describe techniques that are still very useful today, even if a lot of modellers seem unaware of them because of the way the hobby has changed over the years. Of course, a lot of these books also have information that’s no longer useful for the exact same reason. Many materials and even tools that were very common and taken for granted in the past are now no longer in use at all because superior alternatives are easily available.

What I intend to do in this thread is to post short reviews of the old modelling books I have in my collection, with an eye to how useful they still appear to be for today’s hobby. The point here being that should you come across one, whether online or in a second-hand bookstore, is it worth picking up or don’t you need to bother with it? Naturally, this is all the writer’s opinion and experiences may vary.

If you’ve got such a book that I haven’t covered (yet?), feel free to make a similar post in this thread!
 

Jakko

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The Modelmaker’s Handbook.jpg

The Modelmaker’s Handbook
By: Albert Jackson and David Day
Publisher: Pelham Books, 1981
Translations:
Dutch: Handboek Modelbouw (Kluwer, 1981)
German: Das große Ravensburger Modellbau Handbuch (Otto Maier Verlag, 1983)
Norwegian: Teknologisk forlags store bok om Modellbygging (Teknologisk Forlag, 1981)

This is a book that covers pretty much all aspects of scale modelling: it explains not just the skills needed to build and paint plastic models, but also fairly extensively describes how to scratchbuild from wood, metal and even fibreglass, plus it describes static modelling (of vehicles, aircraft, ships, figures, dioramas and more) as well as model railroads and remote-controlled planes, ships and cars.

It’s probably the best all-round modelling book I own, which is why I start with it :smiling3: Sure, some of the techniques are old-fashioned, but because much of what it describes are basic techniques and skills, it’s hard to find things in it that are absolutely pointless to do today. It also explains it all in a clear, concise but still pretty thorough manner, so that even if it doesn’t always go into as much depth as you might like, it still gives a very good basis for discovering the rest on your own. It also has plenty of good example models, including ones that seem specifically built for the book in order to illustrate and explain the methods and techniques used. The main thing it doesn’t really cover is resin parts, likely because these were uncommon at the time — commercially available resin kits and accessory sets only really started to take off in the 1980s.

I may be a little biased because it was one of my favourite modelling books 35 years or so ago when I was given it (my copy has a well-used appearance by now :smiling3:) but I would highly recommend buying this if you happen to come across it.
 
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Jakko

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Scale Models in Plastic.jpg

Scale Models in Plastic
By: Roger Chesneau, Ray Rimell, Len Manwaring, Alan Edwards and Dave Patrick
Publisher: Conway Maritime Press, 1979

This is another book that covers a wide range of subjects, but unlike the previous, it limits itself to static, plastic models — to the extent that some parts of the text are almost apologetic for suggesting that you might want to use other materials to enhance your plastic kit.

After a detailed look at how plastic kits are manufactured (some of which still applies today, though other parts have been superseded by computer-aided design), it covers tools and techniques for building, painting and decaling plastic kits in general, followed by chapters for specific types of model: aircraft, military vehicles, figures, ships and civilian vehicles all get their own chapter, and the book concludes by one on presentation. The latter covers both simple display plaques and cases as well as scenic bases and dioramas.

This book is still quite good, though some of the techniques and materials recommended feel dated. The worst part in this respect is probably the one that talks about how to modify polythene figures, which were quite common in the late 1970s but nobody these days would probably even contemplate using. The book also seems to assume a degree of skill (and tools) in things like woodworking to make items to assist in building plastic kits, which I feel are mostly totally unnecessary, but I suppose the authors didn’t :smiling3: Also, the writing is … old-fashioned, is probably the best word. It’s often very technical, detailed and wordy — take this example:
It is reasonable, however, to submit that the majority of plastic models represent prototypes which are themselves coated — for protection, for decoration or for camouflage — and it is entirely logical that a model should be treated in exactly the same way as the original in order to show this coating, in other words it should be painted.
I’m sure this was enthralling language to modellers of fortya hundred years ago, but it feels unnecessarily longwinded to younger generations, if you ask me :smiling3:

Still, this is a minor point for what’s basically a good book about how to build models. Like the previous, it doesn’t cover resin much or at all, though. This could well be for the same reason, rather than it possibly being considered “not plastic” by the author.
 
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Jakko

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Modelling Military Vehicles.jpg

Modelling Military Vehicles
By: Bill Evans and David Parker
Publisher: Robert Hale, 1990

The title is slightly misleading, because although models of military vehicles are what this book is about, it only covers static ones, and really focuses on armour. There is exactly one photo in it of a model of a soft-skinned vehicle, for example, and hardly any of the text talks about these. It does cover crew figures, though.

Though it’s a decent enough book, it has a number of problems that make me say you might as well pass on this. The main one is that it was written at least a decade too late: Bill Evans, who is the principal author, was a 1970s modeller writing for a 1990s audience, and it shows. Many of the techniques he explains are no doubt still useful, but the results he achieves with them look dated even in his own book. The principal reason for this is that the other author (though he seems to have contributed little actual text) is David Parker, whose models are extensively used to illustrate the book — and he has far greater painting skills than Bill Evans. So you end up with this strange duality in the book, when the methods described for building and painting produce models that look not-so-great compared to many others that appear a few pages before or after. The text also doesn’t flow that well, jumping back and forth at times to only explain things later on that were already mentioned much earlier.

In short: this is not a book you absolutely need to have on your shelf. It’s not bad as such, but it’s far more old-fashioned than its publication date makes it out to be.
 
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Jakko

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I intend to get to that one later, though I have the original edition. Come to think of it, I might as well do that right now :smiling3:

How to Build Dioramas.jpg

How to Build Dioramas
By: Sheperd Paine
Publisher: Kalmbach, 1980; second edition 1999

One of the best sources for those who want to know how to build convincing dioramas. It doesn’t just cover the technical aspects but also planning and composition to make the diorama more visually appealing, and isn’t limited to military vehicles either: also featured are dioramas of aircraft (on the ground), ships and figures, as well as boxed dioramas and tips for photographing your end product effectively.

Since this book dates from before the widespread availability of commercially produced diorama kits (buildings, walls, bridges, trees, fences, etc. etc. etc.) it goes into a good amount of depth about how you make any or all of these from scratch, which in diorama-building is a very big plus. Seeing ten versions of the same tank isn’t really noteworthy, seeing ten dioramas with the same building in it kind of ruins believability, in my opinion.

Highly recommended.
 
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The Verlinden Way II.jpgThe Verlinden Way III.jpgThe Verlinden Way IV.jpgThe Verlinden Way V.jpg

The Verlinden Way Volumes II, III, IV and IV
By: Hans Wilms (except Vol. IV: no author indicated)
Publisher: Verlinden Publications, 1983 (vols. II & III) and 1985 (vols. IV & V)
Translations: Volumes II and III were also released in Dutch, with the same English title (but the subtitle translated)

Since this is a series, I might as well cover them all in one go. There are also volumes I and VI, but I don’t own them so I can’t really say much about them except to probably expect similar content to the four I do have.

Obviously, these books are all concerned with building models the way the biggest star of 1980s modelling, François Verlinden, did it. They explain the techniques and materials he used quite well, and though as before, they are often a little outdated, much of it is still perfectly valid. Rather than focussing on generic methods for creating models, the books mainly describe how specific modelling projects were done, usually dioramas or small vignettes of military vehicles and aircraft. A few also have more general chapters about such things as tools and techniques for building aircraft models (III) or painting figures (V), but these are the exception rather than the rule. Still, those specific projects teach a lot of useful techniques exactly by illustrating them actually in use rather than describing them in an academic way.

Beware, though, that the higher the volume number, the more these turn into a showcase for Verlinden’s company’s own products. In Volume II, for example, several dioramas include ruined buildings that are mentioned as being by MDA (Military Diorama Accessories, which later turned into Verlinden Productions, AFAIK) but they’re not overly emphasized. By Volume V, pretty much everything in a diorama that isn’t a plastic vehicle or aircraft kit, is by Verlinden Productions.

As such, I think Volumes II and III are worth getting if you happen to come across them for a decent price (they appear to go for quite high prices, probably largely due to the name on the cover), but the higher-numbered ones, you might as well pass on.
 
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Jakko

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Let’s continue with the same publisher:

Building Military Dioramas I.jpg

Building Military Dioramas Vol.I through VIII
By: Verlinden studio
Publisher: Verlinden Publications, 2000–2002

There are eight volumes in this series, though I only have the first. Going by its contents, I don’t really need the rest …

As I mentioned above, the Verlinden Way books devolved into a showcase for Verlinden’s own merchandise. The Building Military Dioramas books take it to the logical extreme by explicitly showing how you can use VP products to build dioramas: aside from most of the vehicle kits (and the board underneath the diorama), just about everything used here is Verlinden. There is one exception, a diorama of American troops in a Vietnam jungle, but this just shows the finished article rather than illustrating how it was made.

OK books if you like looking at pictures of dioramas, but there are far better books if you want to learn useful modelling skills.
 
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Jakko

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Modeling Tanks and Military Vehicles.jpg

Modeling Tanks and Military Vehicles
By: Sheperd Paine
Publisher: Kalmbach, 1982

This is a book aimed at the complete novice as well as the more experienced modeller, and describes its subject matter from the basics of how to assemble and paint a plastic kit, through references, making additions and conversions, to complete scratchbuilding of entire vehicles. It does this both in generic terms and showing some specific projects, with clear explanations and illustrations that work very well to show how it’s done.

Though the models shown are not to today’s standards, the methods pretty much all still apply. It’s the kits that have gotten better since this was published, not these techniques that have aged. Another one to recommend without any reservations.
 
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Jakko

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The Encyclopedia of Military Modelling.jpg

The Encyclopedia of Military Modelling
Editor: Vic Smeed
Publisher: Octopus Books, 1981, and Peerage Books, 1985

A big book, A4 hardcover in size and in full colour, which would have been quite impressive in the early 1980s. It gives an overview of military modelling, as well as the historical periods that are often the subjects of models, and explains the techniques for building those models. A lot of these are still relevant, though as with other books this age, a good deal also aren’t — like the polythene figures I mentioned for another book, which also are treated in some depth here.

Unfortunately, it looks like the editors didn’t really know what they wanted to actually do with this book. Partly, it seems to be intended as an introduction to modelling, but it’s also partly a history book describing the periods of interest in far more detail than is needed, and the parts about actual modelling often show a standard that seems mediocre even by early 1980s expectations, especially in the dioramas. The bits about tools and techniques are reasonable but not overwhelmingly useful, and most of these feel like they don’t go deep enough into the matter — probably due to a shortage of space caused by the other, less relevant bits.

Nice to have on the shelf, but it doesn’t live up to its title or the goal it seems to have set for itself.
 
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Jakko

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Stan Catchpol's Modelling Workshop.jpg The Complete Modelling Workshop.jpg
Stan Catchpol’s Modelling Workshop AKA The Complete Modelling Workshop
By: Stan Catchpol (pseudonym of Bryan Fosten)
Publisher: MAP, 1983 (as far as I know), and Squadron/Signal, a few years later

In the late 1970s and 1980s, Military Modelling magazine published an irregular series of articles about basic modelling techniques, naturally aimed mainly at military modellers, written by well-known illustrator Bryan Fosten under the pseudonym “Stan Catchpol”. These were compiled into the book Stan Catchpol’s Modelling Workshop around 1983, and an American edition was later published as The Complete Modelling Workshop by Squadron/Signal (mainly known for their books about real vehicles, aircraft, ships etc.). Somewhat oddly, there are apparently differences in exact content between the two (I only have the latter, though, so I can’t actually compare them), and the American edition has not been edited for an American audience at all — its spelling is UK English, British names for materials are used, etc., even the page size is A4 rather than letter. There is just a “translation” list for North American readers on the inside of the back cover.

Anyway, this book is a bit of a mixed bag, IMHO. On the one hand, it explains basic modelling techniques quite well, and most of them are still very much usable today. On the other, a lot of those techniques feel rather outdated, and many of the materials used even more so. Acrylic modelling paints, for example, are hardly mentioned at all, but various artist’s paints that virtually no modeller uses anymore are widely recommended for all sorts of things. I would say this is a book to read to learn ways of doing things, but not for the materials you may use to do those things with. Also, I found it a little tough to get through, taking a good deal longer to read than I would expect from its size. I guess this is largely to blame on the book consisting of the exact text of the original articles, without any apparent editing to make them flow better together. If you got one of these articles a month, as when originally published in the magazine, they would probably be much easier to digest.
 
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