Saturday, 2 February 2013

A riveting tale

This post is about how I built a water tank to go in the loft of Bon Marché. The loft height of the shop/house is limited, so -  just as I had 'pretended' the floor joists with flat strips of wood (see Not much room at the top, 19 December 2012) - I had to make the tank only half as tall as it would have been if true to scale. Nevertheless I felt I could manage to create a convincing enough big metal box .

I rummaged through the keep-it-in-case clutter that accumulates around all dedicated miniaturists, and fished out a small cardboard box. It was the right height but I needed to cut down the width so it would fit sideways between the loft hatch and the house wall. It didn't matter what the alteration looked like because I'd had the bright idea of wrapping the whole thing in thick foil cut from the bottom of a food container - the sort used for frozen ready meals or take-aways.

I folded and trimmed the foil, deliberately making overlapping flaps at the corners. 

These were a vital part of my next bright idea . . . rivets! In two neat(ish) lines, I pushed ordinary dressmaker's pins right through the foil and cardboard until only the heads were showing. The inner box helped hold the pins firmly and I could leave them full length inside without bothering to secure them. 

Out of one side of the food container I made a sliding lid, and included the rolled edge of the container for a neat front lip.

So far so good. Yet obviously, nothing would stay clean and shiny in a real attic. I had some Japlac metallic paint to tone down the brightness of the aluminium but I wanted this water tank to have become quite rusty as well. A regular task for Frankie Brennan is checking the wretched thing for leaks - they do happen, you only have to look at the ceiling below, (see again Not much room at the top).

On offcuts of foil, I tried out various red-browns from our ancient collection of Humbrol enamels - leaving them overnight with a note of kindly advice to the unwary! Next day, matt no. 62 offered the best imitation rust. 

By the way, some welcome news for modellers and miniaturists: Humbrol have moved their paint manufacture back to the UK from China. During recent years customers have reported  problems with colour matching, covering power, drying times, and consistency. Let's hope Humbrol's homecoming brings a revival of their quality and reliability.

Back to the water tank -  I began with two coats of steel-coloured Japlac. As its name suggests, Japlac provides a high-gloss, lacquer finish, not really what I wanted. So when it was almost dry but still tacky, I pressed sandpaper into the surface. Then, wearing vinyl gloves, I worked the paint firmly all over with my finger tips until it had dulled down quite a lot more. 

Painting the rust was the fun part. I didn't stir the brown enamel too thoroughly because some of the surface oil served as a light wash for a hint of rust, especially on the tank lid. In other parts I laid the paint on more thickly where the rust had bitten deeper.

To finish, I sprayed the box with Ghiant's matt ink-jet fixative, which is very useful for misting over things.

And now, a word of caution: using aluminium foil means any paint you apply is not keyed to a reliable base. This tank is OK because I'll stick it to the loft floor, where it won't be moved about or handled. And the 'rust' is a handy excuse for concealing future knocks or scratches with extra blobs of no. 62. Otherwise I'd recommend making the basic 'metal' model from ordinary cardboard where paint can soak in and prime the surface for subsequent layers.

Finally, I got round to painting the little wooden horse for the box of toys - not too carefully because I feel he should look homemade. He just needs a black cotton tail, perhaps a tiny red saddle, and he's done.



  1. I love this Chas, you made a very convincing water tank and I think you did a great job on making it look naturally rusted!

    1. Thank you for the compliment Monique and welcome also as a follower. I'm really very flattered because I always look on your work as amazing and just hope to train myself to go that extra distance and reach the same standard of detail!