Editors Note: Evan “Lacquer Man” Smith is back with this beautiful P-47D in natural metal finish (NMF). Evan is an awesome modeler and describes the tricks he used to tame the NMF including spraying straight thinner onto his gloss coat: cool trick!! Thanks Evan!
Natural metal finishes are often considered the bane of aircraft modelers, and for good reason. The level of surface prep and care dwarfs that needed for a normal camouflage finish and the reflective surface will show every seam and scratch. Despair not fair reader: the steps in this article enabled me to get the results you see here on my first try, and with a bit of care and time you can do the same. I make no claims to be the authority on this matter, but this is what worked for me!
This is the Eduard Jugs Over Germany re-boxing of the old Academy kit in 1/48th, with a mountain of resin and photo etch to bring it up to date. This is definitely one for the experienced modeler, as this kit takes a lot of work to get a clean build. The guide plate for the canopy rail alone has 11 different pieces of photo etch to glue together.
If you want a P-47 with an easier assembly, check out Tamiya’s offering. Even after 15 years it still stands out as one of the best engineered kits ever made.
It’s also worth noting that while I use enamel and lacquer based paints, I have a spray booth and filter mask to keep the various awful chemicals out me, and my home. Nothing you’ll be spraying in this hobby is something you want to inhale, so do yourself a favor and invest in at least a chemical respirator if you plan on airbrushing!
The first and most important step is surface preparation. This is also when you want to plan out how you’ll fix a handle on your project, as fingerprints will show up like a spotlight on this finish.
You’ll want a hard primer that takes well to being sanded, as this will be your guide and correction coat. I used AK’s lacquer primer for this due to its quick drying and ability to be very finely sanded. I focused particularly on the seams where fuselage halves and wings join up, and the wing roots. A couple of extra hours here to fill and smooth everything will be well worth it. Th AK primer was shot straight from the bottle at ~12 psi using my H&S Evolution fitted with a 0.2mm tip.
And now, the sanding. While most primers look fairly smooth to the naked eye, for a bare metal finish you’ll need to take it to the next level for the best results.
Start sanding using a piece of alpha abrasives 600 grit on a sanding sponge to smooth out the surface, using some water to keep it from scratching and prevent dust getting in my eyes. Then using micro finishing pads, I worked my way from 4,000 up to 12,000 grit. The next step helped take care of the rest.
One of the most important parts of a good successful natural metal finish is the gloss coat. The job of the primer is primarily as a guide and trouble-spotting layer for the gloss coat. I used Gunze’s Mr. Color GX 002, a high gloss black. This was diluted 1:1 with Mr. Leveling Thinner and shot with my H&S Infinity fitted with a 0.2mm tip at 12-14 psi. The result was a beautiful gloss finish. This is where every scratch you missed in the previous step will show up, but that’s normal for this sort of job.
I went through another round of polishing with micro finishing pads to get everything as clean as possible followed by another layer of thinned Mr. Color Gloss black sprayed as described above.
Now for the fun trick: I sprayed a light layer of pure Mr. Leveling Thinner over the entire gloss black coat. You want just enough to have a light smooth coating over the entire model. This is an old auto-painting trick that helps produce as smooth a finish as possible, and I love it.
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Let that gloss coat cure for a day or so. I know you’ll be tempted to poke at it to see if you can get to the next step, but that’s a bad idea. I went through four cycles of sanding and re-spraying thanks to my impatient poking, so trust me when I say that you should wait.
Right! Now that we’ve been patient, it’s time for the really fun part. Metal! I used AK’s Extreme Metal paint for this, with Polished Aluminum (#AK-431) being the primary color. I found the trick with this paint is to lay down as thin a coat as you possibly can. The moment you let the paint start to pool or build up too much it will start to attack the layer underneath and turn it into a rough silver finish instead of the nice shiny bare metal you want. I shot it straight from the bottle at 10psi with my H&S Evolution fitted with a 0.2mm tip.
The best approach was to split the painting into two sessions: one for the top and one for the bottom. As with the gloss coat, you must resist the urge to touch or poke it. Give it a day and come back if you don’t want to play constant touch up games.
It’s also worth noting that despite its superior durability to the Alclad II equivalents this paint is still very fragile and should be handled with gloves and extreme care. An accidental rub and/or bump into your painting stand will absolutely cause trouble, so be careful!
From here, you’re on the home stretch! I chose Alclad’s Aqua Gloss as a clear sealant due to it being water based and therefore safe to spray over the bare metal once it is fully dry. If you have any doubts about your clear being safe, just spray a test piece of plastic with your metalizer on it to see if it goes poorly. If you’re like me and use enamel based washes for weathering, be sure to give it at least two solid coats of clear or you’ll risk the wash attacking anything that isn’t perfectly sealed. It doesn’t take more than a unsealed pinhole to allow enough of the wash under the clear coat to require a section being redone, and trust me when I say that moment is no fun.
After your clear is down and you’re satisfied with any contrasting panels you’ve decided to add (followed by another coat of clear, of course) you can take on the invasion stripes, anti glare panels and any other bits of color you like. Decal, weather and you’re done!
Hopefully this sheds a little bit of light onto the dark art of the natural metal finish. It isn’t as tough as some make it out to be, but it isn’t easy either. If you’re still intimidated, just grab one of your test models from the shelf of doom and give the process a try. A little bit of experimenting can show you what you’re getting into with no pressure.
Give it a shot, and happy modeling!