Scale Matters

Why work in only one scale?  And why did I choose the scale I did?

Two front line fighters of World War II.  One was in front line service at the very start of the war, one at the end.  But that diversity, and pace of development that makes the war endlessly fascinating.

Two front line fighters of World War II. One was in front line service at the very start of the war, one at the end. But that diversity, and pace of development that makes the war endlessly fascinating.

The simplest answer would be that 1/48th just looks right to me.  But after the jump, I’ll offer the longer version of that answer.

There have been many times when I wished I worked in 1/72nd scale.  The models are smaller, they typically build up quicker, and there’s a broader selection of types, especially some of the bigger types.

Top two fighters of the US Army Air Force at the end of the war.

Top two fighters of the US Army Air Force at the end of the war.

And back when I was a kid I often did work in multiple scales. I’m sure like many other boys of my generation,  I was not discerning about scale, or detail or accuracy.  If it looked cool or fun, I bought it.  In fact, going back a step further, many kits from before my time (I started building in 1974) were often in something called “box scale”.  That literally meant the kit was scaled to fit in a certain box size that the kit manufacturer thought would be easy to display for retailers.  It’s funny now, sometimes those kits will be re-released as part of some manufacturers “classics” or “legacy” series and they’ll calculate out its oddball scale at 1/67 or some such silliness.


When I started building; Monogram, Revell, Lindberg and a few other companies were just starting to standardize their scales.  So the most normal thing to me was to see fighters in 1/48th and bombers in 1/72; that defined most of what I built.  For whatever reason, I developed a particular fondness for 1/48th.  That scale is sometimes called “quarter scale” (which is only a little confusing!) because one quarter inch of plastic equals a foot of reality.  But I think as a kid the math had nothing to do with it, I just found myself most comfortable with that balance of size and detail.  And as the years of my childhood hobby passed, more and more of the bigger aircraft found their way into what had become my favorite scale.

Big Friend/Little Friend.  The team that won the air war in Europe.

Big Friend/Little Friend. The team that won the air war in Europe.

When I got back into building many years later, I quickly decided I wanted all of my subjects to be scaled correctly together side by side.  It is so satisfying to my obsessive little mind to see a Mustang and Thunderbolt right next to each other and know that difference in obvious mass is appropriate and as it should be.  Or if I park a 1942 Ford Sedan right next to a P-40 it’s telling something about how big both objects are.  I’m not really big on figure models, but many kits have some included and I’ll occasionally paint one up, in part because no scale reference is better than a human figure.

Its funny to me that the tank is quite a bit heavier.

Its funny to me that the tank is seven times heavier than the airplane (25 tons vs 3.5 tons).

It has struck me as unfortunate that so far, I’ve passed very little benefit of that scale consistency on to my readers!  So I have decided, starting here, to start showing some of these scale differences when they strike me as particularly interesting.  A rule I’ve set for myself is not to include any build in this little game until its received its own post.  I know its probably silly, but I would feel bad if any project of mine made its first appearance here as a background piece in some other kit’s article.

Two Grumman products.  The family resemblance is obvious.

Two Grumman products. The family resemblance is obvious.

Hopefully this will add a little more visual interest to some of my pictures too.  I’m not really a diorama builder, but I do often plan out which kits will sit next to each other on my shelves quite carefully.  So this will be the blog version of that.

If the FJ-1 had existed, it would have fought the Model 52c Zero!

If the FJ-1 had existed, it would have fought the Model 52c Zero!

I may, eventually do some compare/contrast sort of posts too.  Things like the whole family of Mustangs, or how to tell a Zeke from an Oscar.  I dream big.  And this is how a grown model builder plays with his toys…

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
This entry was posted in Dave's Essays and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Scale Matters

  1. Ernie Davis says:

    I used to like 1/35th – 1/32nd scale (they were nearly, but frustratingly frequently not quite interchangeable) but then I usually concentrated on armor and men and dioramas. I did make a few planes in that scale(s) but once you get past the Mustang and Spitfire (my two favorites) they get pretty unwieldy to display or store.

    • atcDave says:

      The “almost” scales are funny. When I got back into modeling a number of Japanese types were only available in 1/50th scale! It really is close, but you loose some of those specific comparison advantages.

      The other funny thing is how popular 1/24th has become. I’ve seen some beautiful builds in that scale, but as you were saying about 1/32nd, how to display more than a couple such seems like an overwhelming challenge!

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Yes, I’ve been out of modeling for a while (though I keep thinking I should get back in) but I remember 1/24th as being this excessive, over the top scale that only the fanatics would use. OK, yes, I built a few 1/24th kits, but when I was doing it there were very few of them and any sort of collection or integrating them in to dioramas was almost impossible. I remember doing a centurion tank in 1/24th, but it was so geared to a powered vehicle (like an RC car today but without the RC) that is cheated a lot on the details.

      • atcDave says:

        I started a Hurricane in that scale when I was 15 or so. It sure looked cool, but once I was done with the cockpit and engine I couldn’t bear to close them up, so they sat just like that for years.
        There’s a whole new breed of modern kits in that scale, including a Mosquito!
        And I’ve recently seen both a B-25 and B-17 in 1/32nd! I think its because hobbyists our age are loosing our vision…

      • Ernie Davis says:

        LOL, yep, that brought a genuine guffaw. Reading glasses is a recent addition to things I need now. The Mosquito is another favorite. But seriously, a 1/32nd B-17, awesome as it sounds for all the stuff you could do just seems too much.

        I will admit that there was a point in my modeling when I became obsessed with authenticity to the point that I would build tank interiors from scratch and make the parts removable so that you could take apart the tank and see what went on inside those vehicles. A B-17 in 1/32nd sounds like the perfect opportunity to capture a similar thing. Capture that moment in time in 3D.

      • atcDave says:

        I was a lot more obsessed with accuracy just three or so years ago, before my Chuck break. But I’m actually forcing myself to back off, to do fewer “fixes”. At least for me, it slows me down too much, and sucks a lot of the fun out of it. At least, past a certain point it does. I’m currently building an OS2U Kingfisher. The kit has a slightly under scale float, and I was making all sorts of plans to fix it. But I’ve decided it’s not worth it. If I don’t mention it, not more than a handful of people will ever know. So of course, I’ll mention it. But darn it, I’m not going to worry about it!!!

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I know what you mean. The model companies, hard as they tried, never quite had the level of enthusiasm the hobbyists did for accuracy and details.

      • atcDave says:

        I think the model companies have generally become much better about that. As their customers have grown from enthused kids playing with toys, to adults who want to know more about the subjects, the manufacturers have generally responded well. It is amusing whenever a new kit is released, you’ll always find certain customers ready to nit pick every possible detail (hmmm, does this sound like a familiar story?)
        But generally, accuracy and detail have developed nicely.
        Still, many subjects we’re left with kits from an earlier age, that don’t measure up so well to current expectations.

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby and commented:
    My favourite scale also Dave…
    We’re twins although I am 66 going on 10…

  3. Pingback: Scale Matters, part deux | Plane Dave

  4. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I have read this one again Dave and also all the comments. Where’s Jodie?

Leave a Reply to atcDave Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s