Are ‘snap-together’ kits a help, or a hindrance..?
“Take away the idea of it being cement free, many of the design ideas found in MENG’s P-51D, I would like to see in a standard aircraft kit”
Over the last week or so I have occupied my time with two distinct activities: coughing and spluttering thanks to a head cold that simply will not go away and the construction and painting of MENG’s 1:48 P-51D Mustang. Whilst there is nothing particularly earth-shattering about the former, the latter is made more unusual thanks to one thing and one thing only: the kit in question is described on the box as “FAST CEMENT-FREE ASSEMBLY DESIGN” – in other words, the kit is — in the main — snap together.
I’ll repeat that: snap together.
As kids, I’m sure we all indulged in a little glue-free modelling, building those kits that you could squirrel away from your friends to assemble in a few minutes ready for painting without the hassle of glue. We all did it and though I certainly would not have admitted to such juvenile time wasting (despite being a juvenile and wasting my time…), there was something rather fun about kits that could be built, LEGO-like in a few minutes. Well, now it would appear that those kits are making a comeback – if only in part…
MENG are certainly not shy in telling the world about their latest offering and why would they be? The kit is a very fine depiction of this aircraft in miniature; it is finely detailed and seemingly accurate in outline and none of those things are compromised by the idea that you don’t have to use glue to assemble the parts in the box. Except you do. A bit. Around some of the them…
Digging a little deeper into the kit and spending time on ‘assembly’, you are made aware of the fact that the “CEMENT-FREE” description is stretching the truth slightly, but only slightly. Most of this relatively new kit is indeed snap-together; the wings, fuselage, most of the cockpit, underwing stores and some smaller details all join with a satisfying ‘.click’ and stay togther perfectly well with any form of cement. Clever engineering decisions ensure that larger components join along natural panel lines and the use of sizeable socket joints ensures that they are perfectly lined up, cement-free or not. That also means there very few seams to deal with – very useful around an aircraft that is in the main, natural metal in finish. Internally, there is no need to hold anything in place with glue, which not only creates a very sturdy sub-assembly, but also minimises the chance of stray glue runs damaging delicate paintwork. It’s something of a marvel to behold.
Where glue is needed is in areas such as the upper halves of the fin, wing leading edges and some of the smaller details like the muzzle fairings on the leading edges of the wings. Of course all of this is pointed out in the instructions, but to the unwary who may have only seen the description on the box, it may come as a surprise. So, what you really have is something of a hybrid kit that sits squarely within the ‘snap-together’ realm in the main, but needs the use of glue around finer features and areas where the technology cannot keep the parts neatly together.
So where does this leave us in assessing the validity of such kits and their place within the market?
Well, I have to say that I really like the way that this kit is coming together and the use of glue — or not — is not really an issue in how much I’m enjoying it. Take away the idea of it being cement-free, many of the design ideas found in MENG’s P-51D, I would like to see in a standard aircraft kit: large plug and socket joints that force parts into exactly the correct place in relation to others; large sections broken along actual panel lines; small details located with definite pins – that kind of thing. With technology and design being the way it is today, I can see no good reason to design kits that don’t include positive locators for the parts, especially those that form the bulk of the airframe and perhaps that’s where this kit points to the future, more than its sans-glue assembly.
As we progress, we may see more of these kits being drip-fed into the collective mindset of the world’s modellers, but I think they will take time to be fully embraced. Many will see a kit that’s snap-together as little more than a glorified toy that only youngsters or absolute beginners should complete. Seasoned modellers will not like the idea that traditional steps such as actually gluing parts together have been abandoned and that’s perfectly understandable. But, if as in the case go MENG’s P-51 the use of such ideas does not in any way compromise either the enjoyment you derive from assembly and then painting of the kit, is there any harm in at least having a go at one?
I may be a traditionalist at heart, but I really like this kit and think it will look great once complete and certainly, if MENG was to offer another that’s made in this style and offers the levels of detail and finesse that this one does, I’ll be happy to build another. I asked the question as to whether ‘snap-together’ kits are a help or hindrance and the answer to that in this case, is most definitely the former – and I don’t for a single second feel guilty for saying it!