Cottage Industry Models – The Business

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Though finished pieces are featured throughout his home, William Blackmore (see prior post) currently has two rooms devoted to his plastic model kit business.  Design and model assembly/finishing are done in a carport that was enclosed for that purpose.  Manufacturing takes place in a detached garage converted in every way to a workshop.  And, it should be mentioned that fiscal matters, as well as a boatload of support and encouragement, are provided by his wife and best friend, Judy, whose contributions happily stop short of cleaning up his shop.

But before we get into the manufacturing details, it’s important to remember that models are scaled down replicas of the originals.  To that end, research is required, with plans from various sources, including even the Department of the Navy.  Blueprints are a great help…

To make model kits, molds are needed to repeat the design with consistent dimensions and quality.  To make molds, each individual piece of the model first has to be crafted from scratch.  This is usually made from wood, metal or other non-porous material, including not just the finished shape but also the desired detail.  Silicone rubber is usually poured around the part in two stages, each for one half of the object.  Fitted molds are often necessary so that the part can be removed without destroying the mold.  You-tube videos and other internet resources are available describing this process, from which you can learn about fill holes and air holes and so on.  Here is half of a mold for a ship hull:

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Consider the number of major parts required for each model kit, then multiply that by the number of product offerings, and now you’re in the storage business.

After making the mold, making a part is not as easy as filling it with resin. First, the resin hardens quickly after it is mixed with a catalyst, usually less than 2 minutes.  Air trapped in the resin can cause problems with the finished part, so pressure pots typically running up to 50 psi are needed to force the oxygen into suspension while the liquid resin turns into a solid casting.  Or, conversely, you might need a vacuum chamber depending on the type of part molded.  There goes more workshop space:

 

Not all molds are for big pieces.  Following are numerous small model parts cast in sheets, each of which must be trimmed.

After cutting them free, the parts are seen more clearly:

Where might such parts be used?  How about support trusses for a flight deck?

But that’s just plastic parts.  One of William’s larger scale models includes two pounds of metal parts.  Sure, maybe painting plastic with silver might look close enough to metal, but there is a difference.  Where do the parts come from?  Consider adding your own spincaster.  William has two, one of which is homemade.

The same casting theory applies.  You first have to make the part you want, and form molds.  The difference is that rather than just being filled and left in a static position, the mold is spun so that R-8, a form of pewter, is fed to the outside cavities of the mold by centripetal force, a very advantageous process for making small detailed parts.

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Another option is photo-etching, which is useful when parts are so small and intricate that they would be difficult to cast, such as ship railings.  William designs his photo-etched pieces, but currently sends them to another company for manufacturing.  For the moment.  These parts are usually made of brass.  Below is a small plane made of photo-etched parts.

Kits range from $20’s to the hundreds of dollars.  So, what does the customer get?  First, instructions.  I didn’t take a picture, but William’s manuals do not just have a picture with arrows pointing where parts should be glued.  They include a history of the vessel, illustrations, and detailed written instructions on how to mimic his own finished models in all of their finer details.

Ironclad models are fairly straightforward, and here’s a picture “inside the box.”

And the box:

There are numerous individuals who make model kits.  What separates William and others from the corporate manufacturers (such as Revell, Hasegawa, Tamiya, AFV Club) is that they build for a smaller market who seek models that are not otherwise found, in scales not offered by the mass manufacturers, and in details not intended or needed by consumers who want kits suitable for skills by age groups.  Plus, as a small business, William invites questions from his buyers if they find themselves uncertain of an assembly step, and he’ll replace any part for free, even if the customer damaged the piece.

See his model kits at Cottage Industry Models.

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