Painting a plastic model used to be a kind of rite of passage. A little kid (me at the age of six) would not paint a model. Too messy and slightly dangerous. But by the age of ten a boy is on the verge of manhood (to echo the sexism of the time) and is ready to pick up a paintbrush.
I remember the first part of the first model I ever painted. It was the old Revell F-4B Phantom II, and after I built it (with no paint) I could see that something wasn’t right. Phantoms, in every picture I had seen (both of them) had black noses. So I bought a bottle of Testors flat black the next time Mom went to the store, and a little brush of some kind. I don’t believe I bought any thinner, but I’m sure my dad had some mineral spirits in the garage or the tool shed, somewhere.
Putting that black nose on that jet started me on a long journey that that’s not over yet. I found out that paint opened a door into a new world. In a few years I discovered plastic model magazines, and found out that I wasn’t the only nut in the universe to be obsessed with gluing toy airplanes together. There were others! There might be hope for me after all!
I bought an airbrush at the age of fifteen because I had read about these devices in those magazines. The thing was very expensive. According to the website Measuring Worth, in 2014, the relative value of $25.00 from 1971 ranges from $114.00 to $372.00. We can simplify the calculation by just adding a zero. My dad wasn’t exactly jumping up and down to buy his weirdo son a (equivalent of) $250 gadget that he had never even heard of. So I took some savings and a Christmas gift certificate and headed off to the hobby store to get the machine that would solve my problems. Like Viagra or Agent Orange, the airbrush promised an easy solution to a profound problem. Just hook it up to the compressor and you’re good to go. Perfect painting every time.
Except that it wasn’t. It was a hard job and required a lot of work just to learn to use it. It was temperamental and refused to work from time to time. Cleaning it was a chore, but I kept it spotless, polishing my precious, rubbing it until the chrome practically rubbed off. Always sure that the “perfect” paint job was right around the corner. Then came college. My college career was a train wreck but all the while I kept that image of the immaculate paint job in the back of my mind. Waiting for me to get back to it.
And waiting. And waiting. I spent a hitch in the U.S. Air Force keeping America safe from democracy, as a crew chief on the F-16 aircraft. I went into the coffee business. I got married and bought a house. I found a corner of the basement where a man could sit and think. And maybe build a plastic model or two.
I still had the airbrush, now joined by two more airbrushes I had acquired over the years as my income grew and my ability to build shrank. But those airbrushes were the answer. All I needed was to get those babies hooked up and start spraying paint. Yes sir. All I needed was to set up a “spray booth” and maybe wear a mask to protect myself from the fumes…
But spraying toxic chemicals into the air, inside of a “sealed up” house in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, was not a good idea. Actually, it hadn’t been a good idea in Oregon in 1971, when my parents told me in no uncertain terms that making the house smell like an auto body shop was not going to be tolerated. Gosh, could it be possible that building harmless little plastic models could result in parental wrath? Enraged roommates? Conflict with siblings? Marital strife? Abandonment? Divorce? Lung disease? Cancer? Lying in a hole in the ground and having dirt thrown in your face and never get out of the hole?
Yeah. Bud. I think it just might.
So I sat down and began to take a personal inventory. I asked myself if I had really, truly ever achieved the wonderful finish with the airbrush that I had been promised when I first bought a copy of Scale Modeler and met that guy with the magic beans. Did a viable alternative exist? Could plastic model kits be built without fumes? Without spraying? Without ANY of the bad stuff that can cause your lungs to rot and your mind to slowly wither as you wander the gardens of volatile organic compounds?
The answer was yes.