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Recommended Reading and Reference Materials for Model-Builders

May 05, 2015

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Airfield Models ( Materials for Model Builders

Obtaining information about Model Building has never been easier.  There is more available now than ever before.  Fortunately, most of what is available is good information.

Books have always been few and far between, but magazines are plentiful as are websites and online forums.

I believe that beginners can and should learn from each other because it is difficult for those of us who have been in the hobby for a long time to put ourselves back in those shoes.  We are simply too far removed to remember all of the beginner's stumbling blocks.  Another beginner can point things out that he had trouble with and what his solution is.

Getting on to recommendations...


Internet References

Unless you are building an extremely obscure and unpopular type, you are bound to find information about the model you are building someplace on the web.  Sometimes you will find conflicting information as well.  Most of the sites you will find are personal sites and some are better than others.  To date, I have had little trouble locating information for the models I have built.

Forums are good sources of information as well.  However, a caution is due regarding online forums.

There are always a few forum members who are unqualified yet dish out plenty of bad advice and information.  Some of these folks have built maybe one model or none at all.  Stick around these forums for long enough and you will see what I am talking about.

Fortunately, someone who knows what he's talking about almost always answers the thread, but that leaves it up to the reader to determine who's giving good advice.  Unfortunately, a new person can be led very far astray in this manner.

My point is not to dissuade you from becoming a forum member, but to caution you that some of the advice you get is not sound.  Often times you will get a variety of answers all of which are correct and accepted methods of solving a problem.  Use your best judgment to read between the lines.  When in doubt, listen to the voice of experience.  A real person who can stand by and show you how to do something (assuming he knows what he's doing) is often the best source of help.

See the Links page for website and forum recommendations.



I have read many books on a variety of model-building topics.  When it comes to flying models, there are very few books I have read that were worth the paper they were printed on.  Many of the so-called "how-to" books are filled with contrived or useless examples.  Others are too general to help you learn more than a brief overview of a small selection of the variety of model types.

That may sound a little harsh, but really I think the problem is that most authors have a great deal of knowledge in some areas but then try to cover all areas which ends up being too little information about a wide variety of topics.  Personally, I would rather read a book that focuses on an area where the author has a good deal of knowledge so I can learn something.

One thing I have learned by wasting too much money is that any book having the word "Secrets" in the title, should substitute, "For Beginners."  This applies to videos as well.  The so-called "secrets" tend to be common knowledge to those with any experience.  It is a marketing buzzword that is meaningless.

For a while I was purchasing books documenting a single type aircraft.  Between the kit, the book(s) and aftermarket accessories, I was building some very expensive plastic models.  I have pretty much steered away from that because it is just not worth it to me.  If the kit is not quite accurate that is fine with me for my personal collection.  A $30 kit can quickly go over $100 if you really want to deck it out and buy references to ensure accuracy.

Getting on to what I recommend:

Tales of an Ancient Modeler by Norm RosenstockI enjoy reading about the history of model aircraft, but again, the offerings have been scarce.  Recently I have been reading Norm Rosenstock's book, Tales of an Ancient Modeler.  Norm is currently the AMA historian and has many years of experience.  Norm's book is filled with anecdotes dating back before WWII of the modeling scene and people involved in the New York area.  I recommend this book for those who would like to know more about our roots.

Radio Control Modeler Magazine has a nice selection of books in their Anthology.  I am referring specifically to the books they sell with the RCM brand on them not necessarily the third party books they carry.

If you are thinking about purchasing an R/C Helicopter, then Ray Hostetler's book, Ray's Authoritative Helicopter Manual is excellent and highly recommended.

If you are designing your own flying models, then you may want to pick up Theory of Wing Sections by Ira H. Abbott and Albert E. Von Doenhoff.  This book covers aerodynamics and has a lot of charts and graphs.  It also lists many sets of airfoil ordinates which is why I own a copy.  The technical stuff is mostly over my head.

Another book that might be good, but I can not say for sure because I do not understand a thing in it either, is Model Aircraft Aerodynamics by Martin Simons.

Alasdair Sutherland contacted me and informed me that he has authored a book titled Basic Aeronautics for Modelers published by Traplet Publications.  Although I have not seen the book and can not recommend it one way or the other, Alasdair states that the aerodynamics are presented in a much simpler form than usually found in these types of books.  That would make it nice for me because I do not really understand a lot of the dynamics and would like ways to find the answers I need to have without spending months deciphering equations.

If you build plastic models, particularly armor or any model that you would weather, then there are two authors I very highly recommend.

How to Build Dioramas by Sheperd PaineThe first is Sheperd Paine.  Sheperd's books are beautiful to look at even if you never intend to build a model or a diorama ever.  Buy everything he has written.  If you can only buy one of his books, then get How to build Dioramas 2nd Edition.

If you've never seen his work, prepare to be blown away!  Anything you ever wanted to know about painting techniques, dioramas, building armor, figure painting, etc. is covered in great detail.  If after reading one of his books, you still can not pull of a decent weathering job, then, well, I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

The other author I recommend is Francois Verlinden.  His books are also a sight to behold.  Unfortunately, the text and guidance tend to be kind of terse.  However, if you have some experience as a builder, you will be able to pick up on how he accomplished certain tasks even when he does not explain it in detail.

A really good book for beginners is Plastic Aircraft Models by Roscoe Creed.  The book covers the basics in great detail and teaches a solid foundation to building plastic models.

If you are into scale modeling, then there are a lot of reference volumes available.  They tend to vary in detail depending on how obscure the type is and how many are still in existence.

The following are worth the money if you really want to deck out your scale model.  One caveat, however.  Be sure to actually look through the book before purchasing it to see if it contains the detail you need.

  • Elite series by Osprey Military.
  • German Aircraft Interiors 1935-1945 by Kenneth A. Merrick.
  • In Detail series by Wings and Wheels Publications.
  • In Detail and Scale series by Bert Kinzey are excellent
  • Lock On series by Verlinden.
  • Men-At-Arms series by Osprey Military.
  • New Vanguard series by Osprey Military.
  • Walk Around series by Squadron/Signal Publications.
  • Warbird Tech series by Specialty Press tend to have more technical information and drawings than close-up photos, but are worth taking a look at.

I am sure there are many more reference volumes available than I have listed here.  These are simply the ones I have purchased and am happy with.

If you are interested in purchasing an airbrush, then you might want to pick up one of Badger's books.  Be sure to get one that teaches you how to airbrush, not just artist techniques.

A book I really like is called The Magnificent Book of Kites by Maxwell Eden.  If you have an interest in building your own kites or in tuning kites you purchase, then this book has a lot of theory and detail in easily understood language with lots of diagrams.  It also contains plans, information about construction materials and more.

Lastly, although it is not good reading, a really handy book to have around is Standard Mathematical Tables by CRC Press.  When it comes time to find areas of shapes such as ellipses, triangles, conversion tables, or other stuff that you forgot right after class, you can look it up here.

By the way, most of these books can be purchased through  The Ospry Military series were purchased at on-base clothing and book stores while I was in the Army.  I am sure they are available through other sources as well.



I became really disillusioned with magazines many years ago.  The ones I loved tended to be more advanced and had a small readership.  That is a formula for going out of business.  The more popular magazines tend to rehash the same Stik-clone construction article month after month as well as the same set of articles year after year with a minor update to include newer techniques.  Needless to say, I do not buy a lot of magazines any more.

Nevertheless, these are the magazines to buy depending on what you are looking for.

If you want to know what's going on, then there are several that you might buy just for the paid ads and the unpaid ads (also known as product reviews).  Frankly, I'm disgusted with magazines particularly those printed in the US. The reviews can't be trusted and there's nothing in them for experienced builders.  In fact, I wish I could get my AMA membership without the magazine but they don't give you that option.  If you like ARF's then any of the magazines I hate will probably have something to interest you.

For builders I recommend Flying Models and the European modeling magazines.  For example, Flying Scale Models, published in the UK, is very highly recommended.

One of my favorite magazines is also published in the UK by Traplet Publications R/C Scale International.  This magazine is filled with articles and construction that is of interest to more advanced builders and those interested in building scale aircraft.

You probably will not find these in your local supermarket, but I have picked them up at larger book stores such as Book Gallery and Border's.



I do not own a single video having anything to do with model building.  The ones I have seen are simply too expensive or too amateur.  However, there are exceptions.  I have heard excellent things about Dave Platt's video series, Black Art, and they are high on my list of necessary items to be acquired as soon as possible.

I do own several historical video volumes, such as you would see on the Discovery Channel's "Wings," that are a good source of information regarding scale subjects and also provide good insight into how combat aircraft and vehicles were actually used (which is not always the same as what we normally hear about).

Again, these tend to be very expensive and some of them look like they are random clips pulled from the national archives and then spliced together with some narrative that may or may not have anything to do with the video content.

For example, I have one set that claims to be the great aircraft of WW II.  In one of the videos, the aircraft is introduced and the remaining 60 minutes of the video is about the ground war in Japan.  I guess they did not have much to say about the plane, but still had time to fill.

Fortunately, most of what I have purchased has been interesting, but again, they do tend to be expensive, so you may want to find reviews of what you plan to purchase before plunking your money down.

Remember what I said about books and videos having the word "Secrets" in the title?  Case in point:

I purchased a video put out by Top Flite called, "Secrets of Great Covering with Top Flite Monokote."  It is amateur, has two guys tripping all over each other with knives in their hands and did not cover anything more than the basics of putting on Monokote and putting a sunburst over it.

The worst part of it is the "beginner guy" asking how to put Monokote on and the "expert guy" pulling his genuine Top Flite iron out of his tool box and then the announcer launching into a 10 minute ad for Top Flite products.  This happens repeatedly.  Not much content, but a heck of a lot of advertising.

Not exactly what I would call professional or "secrets" considering it was as basic as it could be and has nothing more than what is covered in the instructions that come with a roll of Monokote (except you get all those really great Top Flite ads).

I sent an e-mail to Top Flite politely expressing my sentiments (and asking for my money back) to which they never replied.  The video was only $11.00, but it was $10.00 too much.  Do not buy this video!  It is a waste of money and somebody in your club will help you with Monokote for free.  I couldn't give it away (nobody wanted it) so I tossed it in the trash.



Model Aircraft Technical and Flight Videos
Photo References of Modern Military Vehicles

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Copyright 2003 Paul K. Johnson