One of the most innovative items to come for review lately arrived courtesy of Chad Bowser, the mastermind behind CB Model Products – an undercarriage alignment jig. This is very much a custom-made product, comprising finely cut and finished aluminium beams, plus threaded rods and thumbnuts, and the components arrive in a sturdy cardboard tube, with the contents securely bagged and protected by bubble-wrap.
I have to admit, when I first spread out the various parts my reaction was slightly one of "What on earth has Chad thought up this time?"! However, all soon became clearer as I read the accompanying 4-pages of instructions. Chad recommends that you read them thoroughly before trying to assemble the jig, and I concur wholeheartedly – not because you are liable to do any damage, but simply because the jig is probably not like anything else on your workbench, so how it all fits together isn't self-explanatory, and you'll only end up having to undo things and back-track. However, the way the jig actually works begins to make sense as you put it together - and once you see it in complete, you wonder why you needed the instructions.
Basically, the jig consists of a T-shaped frame with a pair of adjustable pads that the model stands on. Attached to either side is a pair of alignment arms on rods to hold the kit firmly in place. The jig is designed for models with a tailwheel and in its simplest form will fit kits ranging between 1:72 fighters and bombers, up to 1:32 fighters. For larger models an extension rod is included to accommodate wider wingspans. While it isn't intended for kits with tricycle undercarriages, I think the jig may still work if you turn the model round.
The instructions include a step by step guide on using the jig. You'll need to follow them closely (at least to begin with) because, if you're like me, the sequence probably runs counter to the way you'd normally fit the undercarriage on your models. Essentially, you first dry-fit (or loosely tack on) the undercarriage and stand the model in place. The tailwheel rests in a groove which provides a sight-line to ensure you have the model squarely lined up. The main gear legs stand on the adjustable pads, and you ensure they are resting firmly against the "T" of the jig as you mark their positions. The alignment arms are adjusted to hold the model in position (Chad advises that they can be covered in tape to avoid risking any damage to the finish of a model). With everything locked, the model can then be removed and the undercarriage legs detached.
Each wheel pad has a small hole drilled in it, and a matching drill bit and a pair of brass screws are provided. Drill a hole in the base of each mainwheel and use one of the screws to pre-thread it. This will be easiest on "weighted" wheels (see CB Model Products' own Wheel Sander
). Then mount the wheels firmly on the pads with the screws and make sure their positions match the marks you made earlier. Dry-fit the undercarriage legs loosely so you can slot them into the wheel wells as you put the model back into position and glue them into their sockets. Finally, leave the kit in the jig to dry.
It may sound back to front - attaching the model to its wheels, rather than vice versa - but it actually makes a lot of sense and ensures everything is properly lined up. It really comes into its own if the sit of the kit is wrong as supplied, because you can lock the wheels to the correct distance apart and adjust the undercarriage to match them.
CB Model Products' Landing Gear Alignment Jig is a very innovative tool - both well designed and constructed. How useful you'd find it really depends on the type of modelling you do. To be honest, if you build solely mainstream kits straight from the box, the chances are that you let the undercarriage pretty much take care of itself. If, on the other hand, you regularly adjust the "sit" of your models, or are keen on scratchbuilding and short-run kits, then there's a strong case for a flexible purpose-made jig that saves making one of your own for each project and will serve a lifetime's worth of modelling. Recommended for experienced modellers.
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