On increasing productivity

(Updated 06/05/2020)

At the time of writing this I have 155 unbuilt kits in my loft. I intend to build all of them. (Well, maybe 154 of them; sadly no one seems interested in making decals for the Sikorsky H-4 Hoverfly in 1/48.) Also at the time of writing I am 40 years old. My dad died at 68 and this is my rough benchmark: will I build everything by the time I’m 70 (if I get there)?

Here’s what my model-making productivity has looked like since I started my collection in 1994 (the red line tracks what I’ve built; the blue tracks what I’ve bought):

Stash graph

This year I am on track to complete 9 models. The trend was essentially high productivity when I was a student, had no family and low modelling standards, decreasing significantly from 2008 when I became a dad and became more demanding of my modelling, but now on the increase again since 2017. To meet my hypothetical goal of building everything by the time I’m 70, I need to build more than 5 kits a year, a target met this year and last.

Now, I only build in 1/48 but there is a fair amount of variability. It takes a lot longer to build a decent Tornado than it does a Spitfire. But this evens out over time as I tend to chop and change between more and less complex builds.

So, part of the reason for musing about this is that my productivity has gone up. Why? I think the following are the main factors.

1. Use lacquer paints

From 1994 to 2006 I was using enamel paints, both Humbrol and Xtracolour. The paint ranges were extensive, cheap, easily available and sprayed beautifully when thinned with cheap white spirit. On the downside they take forever to dry. This meant careful planning not only in terms of when to paint what in complex colour schemes, but also where to hold a model painted in a single colour. Spray the upper surfaces, wait a day to dry, then paint the lower surface the same colour. Lots and lots of time wasted not only waiting for paint to dry but also loading and cleaning the airbrush for multiple sessions with the same colour. Correcting errors took a correspondingly long time.

Spray lacquer: waiting for paint to dry has become a thing of the past and multiple colours can be painted in a single session, and single-colour schemes can be painted in one go.


Use MRP paints. They are prethinned and when using them I realised how much time I was wasting thinning and decanting paint. The downside is the cost: I will still be mostly using Mr Color, but when I can, I’ll be replacing them with MRP.

2. Get an Iwata RG-3

Some of these factors cost money. A lot of money. This is one of them.

I used a suction-feed Badger 200 for many, many years. This in and of itself wastes loads of time decanting paint into the glass bottles and then cleaning it all out at the end. The first small step in making airbrushing more productive was to move to a gravity-feed airbrush.

The larger step came with the RG-3. Whereas before, priming a 1/48 MiG-31 would have taken, say, an hour to an hour and a half, it now takes 30 minutes, including thinning the (lacquer) primer and clean up. That means I got it done in the 30 minutes before dinner time with the family, rather than having to plan a two hour stretch to get it done in. Increased productivity does not just come because things take less time, but with the fact that jobs that took longer before can now be fitted into smaller gaps of spare time.

The RG-3 allows very rapid coverage and extremely quick clean up.

3. Get a silent compressor

This is the second very costly factor, but it’s made a huge difference. I do all my modelling in a dedicated room inside our house. I used to use a huge, extremely noisy (yet cheap) shop compressor; the kind you’d find in a car workshop. I could only airbrush when the kids were up and I had to give them warning.

Now I airbrush at any time of day – especially in the early hours of the morning – and no one notices.

4. Use super glue

Super glue is magic. For many years it was the filling and sanding of joints that slowed my modelling down: apply filler, wait a day for it to dry, sand, apply more filler, wait another day…

These days, unless the gap is really big, I fill with thick super glue. Not only that, I join all the major joints with super glue. Even fast-acting solvent glues, like those made by Tamiya and Gunze, take a while for the plastic to fully harden and I’ve always had trouble with the plastic remaining a bit unstable and the dreaded ghost joints appearing later on. All this has disappeared with super glue: fast gluing, fast filling and fast rescribing.

5. Build in batches

I suspect that most people will hate this, but I’ve come to love it. Last year I built 3 MiG-21s simultaneously. This year I’m building four F-4s. If I were to build them sequentially I’d lose interest and it would become tedious. Building them concurrently allows efficiencies in the building and painting process to accrue. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me.

6. Find something you want to listen to

I’ve been listening to podcasts for over 10 years, but usually fluff on board gaming. In recent years I’ve discovered a lot of audio content I really *want* to listen to: theology podcasts Mere Orthodoxy and Mortification of Spin, film reviews by Kermode & Mayo, BBC’s More or Less statistics programme, most BBC Radio 4 comedy, anything featuring Jordan Peterson and, when all else fails, BBC Radio 4. Combine this with my wife’s old iPhone and a decent Bluetooth speaker (I’m a late adopter of technology) and the natural resistance I have to sitting down and sanding out the seams on *another* Hasegawa Phantom is completely overcome by my desire and listen to the latest audio download. In the past my productivity was slowed because I often just didn’t feel like modelling. Now: no more; I’ve got stuff I need to listen to.

7. Ditch ordnance and drop tanks

It slows me down. Avoid pylons if possible, too.

8. Close canopies

Point 7 was phrased slightly facetiously, but in reality it links to this one: These days I prefer my aircraft models with everything mostly closed up and cleaned up – I just prefer the aesthetic. The unintended upside is that it speeds things up. My models sit in a display cabinet with the canopies closed. No one ever sees the cockpits. I like a nicely detailed interior, but these days I do a cursory job. My cockpits are still far better finished than they need to be, but I’ve given up on most interior aftermarket and there’s no need for tons of layers of paint and washes. Seat belts, though, remain a necessity.

Update: 9. Get an Iwata Custom Micron

Sometimes you just need the right tool for the right job, and this allows me to freehand a lot of camouflage patterns. That in and of itself doesn’t necessarily save time over masking – it takes time to spray a good demarcation line – but it does save having to wait for paint to dry before masking it. Yesterday I airbrushed an entire 1/48 Seafire in two-tone camouflage in one sitting.

Also: use mottle masks. They save time on spraying the marble coat when black basing.

There are other factors as well: a better organised work space, a change of job that involves shift work, only starting a new project when the previous one is finished…but the above have made a significant difference without, I feel, any compromise to my modelling standards. It’s taken time and a fair amount of money, but I reckon building my stash is doable. The problem is, companies keep releasing new kits I want to buy…

Ongoing update:

I suppose, as a form of accountability, I ought to show how my productivity is progressing with time. And so here’s the latest graph:

Annotation 2020-08-30 102554

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