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Limits of hand sanding and knife scraping to smooth out (misaligned) road wheels

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  • Member since
    February 2021
Limits of hand sanding and knife scraping to smooth out (misaligned) road wheels
Posted by ScaleModeler_1973 on Sunday, April 4, 2021 12:50 PM

Hello folks. I'm working on a Tamiya Pershing 1/35th scale kit. This is about the third model kit I have encountered that has some degree of misalignment in its molded road wheels. On some of the wheels, there is an excess 'ridging' that runs around the circumference of one edge. (Are most armor kits like this?) As a solution to a similar problem, I know it has already been explained to me by helpful posters (on another thread) that if a real life tank model uses rubber outer wheels, one can 'disguise' nub marks (from spruse attachments) as being roughened road wear. But with my Pershing build I have a bit of a different problem:  I find that in trying to 'smooth out' these 'problem' wheels (using perpendicular hobby knife scraping and hand sanding) that my wheels aren't getting any more smoother/more realistic looking. Some of them actually look worse (more oblong/uneven) now than the molded wheels that I detached from the sprues. I confess it is somewhat dejecting (the poor results) because I spend a lot of time diligently sanding and such. More importantly, though, I am wondering whether it takes more skill (that can be gained by experience) to 'eyeball' these wheels and uniformly smooth them out by hand? Or is this the kind of hobbying task that maybe really requires the use of power tools (I've heard there are tools like the Dremel/ones that spin around an abrasive surface). My strategy as a beginner has been to develop my basic skills at using hand tools (knife, sanding sticks, etc.). And I reasoned that later, as I develop more proficiency, maybe I could make the leap to using some electric tools. But now I am wondering if there are limits to the realism one can achieve with knife, sanding sticks, etc? Please let me explain that I don't mind putting in the time and effort to get my road wheels to look more realistic. (I sure hope I am not coming across as being lazy:( Just have the thought that maybe I need to work 'smarter' on my kit building: that is to say that putting in a lot of time is not enough for success. Thanks for any possibly useful input/perspective any more seasoned scale modelers can share with me....

  • Member since
    April 2013
Posted by KnightTemplar5150 on Sunday, April 4, 2021 2:47 PM

Most of the armor modelers in this forum are familiar with Shep Paine's books and pamphlets on building tanks and dioramas. Some of the tips he offers:

1) Nobody likes doing the road wheels. It's invariably boring, repetitive work, but it's the literal foundation of every build in this niche of the hobby. Do these first so that you can enjoy the rest of the build in relative peace.

2) Use a file. Your knife will only take you so far when it comes to removing excess materials - on a curved surface like the wheels, it's easy to unintentionally carve flat spots or to put irregular cuts along the edges if you're not careful. A file (used properly) both removes the extra material and smooths the surface while it cuts. When satisfied that everything is in round and uniform in size and shape, a light touch with sanding sticks polish the plastic up nicely for primer and paint. An added benefit is that it eliminates the 'nub marks' you mention that need to be disguised.

3) Shep does include an illustration of using a Dremel and an emery board to machine down a road wheel, but I found out the hard way that there was some fine print involved. Shep's Dremel was set up with a controller which allowed him to fine tune the speed of the tool, allowing him to go even slower than the tool normally allows. Even at setting number one (the slowest available without a speed controller), my Dremel spins fast enough to melt plastic, rather than smoothly sanding it away. 

Nothing is mentioned about the fact that there are limited sizes of mandrels available to mount the wheels in the tool in the first place, so the idea really only works if you have a hub in the wheel that will fit your set-up, otherwise it's another shopping trip to find stuff that will fit with each new kit you buy. 

Some wheels have bolts on their faces, which are easy to ding up while you mount the wheels on the mandrel with assorted screws and washers, so lend things a little extra thought when you go this route. It's a deceptively easy idea at first glance, but it has its own unique set of challenges and expenses to consider.

If you're still relatively new to it all, my advice is to concentrate on the basics. It's not a job, it's a hobby, so quit staring at the clock. Take the time and make the effort to go one piece at a time until the job is done. Worry about getting rid of the attachment nubs instead of disguising them, take pains to keep the wheel round, and treat each individual piece as if it were a model of its own. Do it enough times and it becomes second nature. 

  • Member since
    May 2009
  • From: Poland
Posted by Pawel on Sunday, April 4, 2021 2:53 PM


As usual I'd start with saying that posting some pictures of what you got would help giving better advice here...

Now I think it was a good choice to stay with hand tools for the beginning. With power tools its easy to run into new problems like taking away too much material or even melting the plastic. We wouldn't want  any of that, right?

Now when *I* am sanding the road wheels I use my sanding block - that is a piece of wood wrapped in sanding paper fastened to the wood with thumbtacks (flat headed). The paper is 120 grit (that's the system we use in Europe - it's on the coarse side) and I use wet-type paper, but I almost never use it with water - it's just more durable.

I use coarse paper to get the effect with a smaller number of correct moves. I try to hold the wheel between my thumb and index finger and try to sand about 1/4 of the wheels circumference in one move as if the wheel was rotating/skidding on the sandpaper - I hope I describe it clearly. The main goal here is to avoid flat spots on the wheel. The resulting rough surface is welcome to show some wear on the wheels running surface.

Sometimes when I see I'd have to take away too much material to get rid of the seam or sprue attachment point I use liquid/dissolved sprue fo fill the gap and then I sand after the filler dries well. I use the knife edge only to get rid of the burr on the edges of the wheel running surface that can be created by the sanding.

There's usually no reason not to have the wheels absolutely smooth if you want to.

I hope that helps you - good luck with your builds and have a nice day


All comments and critique welcomed. Thanks for your honest opinions!

  • Member since
    January 2015
  • From: Tumwater, WA.
Posted by M. Brindos on Sunday, April 4, 2021 4:13 PM

I like to assemble the wheels in pairs and sand or file them together. I find that this helps me keep the "tires" level with each other. I also don't always sand the center seams completely off as the real deal has seams when they're new. So I will usually make them look used, but not heavily worn. I like the way that looks.

Some google reference pictures can give you loads of details on how they can look at all extremes. Brand new to completely worn out, to completely missing in really rare cases. 

So, relax brother. Road wheels are tedious, but not nearly as tedious as indy link tracks and you have some really good advice here.

- Mike Brindos

Figure Painting Moderator -- Genessis-Models

  • Member since
    February 2021
Posted by ScaleModeler_1973 on Sunday, April 4, 2021 5:01 PM

Oh, mega-apologies, because I must have been sounding like a whiner and like I was looking for an easy way out with my comment about disguising nub marks as road wheel wear and not minding putting in the time:( (Actually, I really can't stand nub marks on wheels, but even with some of the helpful and friendly replies I got on another thread, I still keep making them/haven't been able to get rid of them (I've tried buying better sprue cutters, leaving more of a nub on, cutting flusher against the wheel, etc. but these quasi-incuse 'marks' still persist for me.  And I honestly was constructively asking for input about my road wheel smoothing difficulty, and did not mean to come across as someone who doesn't really want to work slowly and carefully on getting my road wheels right. It is true that I should learn/try to post pictures (I know my describing the trouble I'm encountering isn't really helpful the way that something visual would be).  In any case, I'm parsing through some of the replies of you fellow hobbyists and I will try to integrate some of your advice into my 'technnique'. And more imporatntly,  I'll try to be more positive and sound less like a defeated, 'crybaby' next time when posting a question/asking for help. It is after all a hobby that is supposed to be enjoyed:) Thanks again.  

  • Member since
    November 2005
  • From: Formerly Bryan, now Arlington, Texas
Posted by CapnMac82 on Sunday, April 4, 2021 5:21 PM

Thanks for any possibly useful input/perspective any more seasoned scale modelers can share with me

You may need to post some pictures so that we can hep diagnose what's going on.

It sounds as if you have a situation with "flash" which is a thin skin of plastic created by the moulds either being worn out, or opening a hait too soon, or both.

To share photos, you need to load them on an image-sharing site (Flikr, Imigur, etc.).

On that site you select the image and right click to "Save Image Location."

Then click the image icon (the photo of a mountain, 4th from left on the bottom row, above) Copy the Image location in the box labeled "Source."

The image will "drop" at the last location the cursor was in the text edit box.


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