|"Wherever you are, death will find you, even in the looming tower."|
Earlier this year I built and modified a Russian T-26 tank for use in the upcoming Thorn Moons Crusade. One of the most challenging and time consuming aspects of the entire build was assembling the plastic tracks for the tank, since they were assembled link by link and fixed with tiny plastic bolts. I entertained the notion of building another tank for the Thorn Moons project, but wanted to find an alternative to the plastic tracks, one that still looked good but was easier to assemble. After a little research, I discovered that there are aftermarket metal tracks available, and decided it would be fun to see what they are like. There are two major companies that produce these tracks, Friulmodel and MasterClub. I decided to get a set of T-26 tracks from MasterClub because they use resin pins to hold the metal tracks together, rather than cut-to-fit wire (Friulmodel). Read on if you wish to learn about my struggles with building these tracks.
|The tracks come in a small plastic box, which contains all of the tracks and resin pins in separate zip-lock bags.|
The primary reason that I was excited about MasterClub tracks was because the parts are not contained on a sprue, requiring extensive clipping and trimming (as they come with the plastic Hobby Boss T-26). The metal tracks need very little clean-up, other than a little sanding and using a pin vice to ensure all of the holes are clear. I did encounter quite a few miscast tracks, which couldn’t be used. To combat this, they give you extra tracks, as well as extra pins.
|At 1/35 scale, the track links and pins are incredibly small, with each pin being 0.4mm thick.|
Despite the benefits of the metal/resin tracks, they are still incredibly challenging to assemble, even more so than the individual plastic ones that I had assembled before. Due to the small size and design of the T-26 tracks, they are almost impossible to fit together closely enough to align the holes of the track and insert the tiny resin pins. The only way I could get around this issue is by using a pin vice with a 0.4mm bit as a jig, carefully turning the vise to force the links closer together. Even this is challenging, however; if you are off even 0.1mm, you will destroy the far pinhole, ruining the track link. If you are able to do it successfully, you can attempt to install the resin pins. To ensure that the links say aligned, you cannot remove the pin vice completely. Instead you have to slide it out halfway, install one of the pins, and then completely remove it to install the last. MasterClub suggests that you do not need to glue the resin pins in place. I found that glue is necessary, lest the pins slide out while working on assembling other track links. I applied this glue with a metal pin. If you apply too much, it could glue the links together, which often results in destroying the resin pin if you try to flex the fixed links.
|Unfortunately, the T-26 tracks to not fit together flush. The only way to get the holes to light up is to use a pin vice as a jig, forcing them into alignment.|
The entire process of assembling the tracks is incredibly tedious and difficult. To assemble around 30 track links (about ¼ of one of the 2 tracks needed for the tank), it has taken over 4 hours, making me question whether I want to continue the process at all. Interestingly, having watched numerous YouTube videos of people assembling MasterClub tracks, I believe most of the issues that I am having are dramatically minimized on larger tanks (panzers, Tigers, etc.). Medium and heavy tanks have larger tracks and consequently larger and longer resin track pins. This allows more surface area to align the tracks and more substantial pins to fasten them in place. I am now considering trying to use wire rather than the included resin pins, allowing me to insert a single piece to fasten the track links together, rather than brittle and short resin pins. This is exactly what MasterClub’s competitor, Friulmodel does. I think this will result in a more durable product, that is less fiddly to work with.
|When the tracks are assembled, they look great, perfectly scaled alongside the Hobby Boss T-26 that I assembled.|
|The T-26 track on top of a T-34 Russian medium tank track. I imagine metal tracks of a larger tank like the T-34 would be substantially easier to assemble.|
Ultimately, metal aftermarket tank tracks are not for the faint of heart. They are expensive and tedious (if not challenging) to assemble. While they look really nice when assembled, they are not always noticeably different from many plastic versions included in basic tank kits themselves. At the end of the day, it is important to ask yourself what the model you are building is for. If you simply want a gaming piece, metal tracks are likely overkill. If, however you want to create a display piece or impart an extra element of realism, they are worth considering. If I was to do it again, I would get Friulmodel tracks for the T-26 light tank, due to the added durability of wire. If in the future I attempt to build a larger tank, however, I think MasterClub would be a good option.
- Eric Wier