Thursday, May 31, 2018

MasterClub 1/35 metal tank tracks: Impressions

"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

12 comments:

  1. Those pins sound like a nightmare. Metal tracks seem to add a lot to a model though. (are you going to base it once you are done?)

    I think you could probably use a service like Shapeways to 3d print an articulated set of tracks, but it may end up being more money than the kit. (Shapeways only needs a .05mm clearance between elements, so a .4mm pin would take a .5mm socket)

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    1. That is an interesting idea. As it is, the MasterClub set cost as much as the tank kit itself!

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    2. If you like, send me some dimensions of the track segments, and I will knock a sample together for you next week. (although check shapeways, someone may have already made them!)

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    3. Thanks for the offer! At this point, however, I don't think I want to invest any more into tracks, he he. I will let you know if I change my mind in the future though!

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  2. Another option people have done is to make a 2 to 5ish-link jig for spacing and glue thin monofilament/fishing line along the length of the run.

    For what it is worth, I think Fruil used to have jigs in some of their sets.

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    1. That is a good thought. Honestly I think part of the issue is just the t26 track design itself. Looking at other tank track designs, I don't think they would have posed quite as much of a problem.

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  3. Would you say the ones you received are more detailed than the plastic ones that came with the kit? Having seen some of the acid washes you can do to metal tracks I think there is definitely room for them when trying to achieve maximum detailing but if they aren’t noticeably better detailed it seems individual plastic treads seem to be just as good from the looks of it.

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    1. They are not more detailed than the individual plastic ones. Their added weight does allow them to sag naturally though, which is nice.

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  4. When i looked at building scale kits and the wealth of after market bits i was always kind of bemused by the track links for many of the reasons you flag here - tiny, fiddly, prone to breaking/ruining or losing the parts needed for a benefit that the true rivet counters might notice, but your average joe blow wouldn't. Like Eli mentioned, i think the ral benefit of the metal link is you can easily change the effect on the metal using various solutions which interact at a chemical level with the metal to get that 'realistic' look. Bt balancing that against the faff of drilling .4mm holes, not losing the pin, not shearing the pin, not deforming the hole etc...

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    1. Yeah I think some of the metal effects could be quite neat. I wonder if the tiny, brittle resin pins would stand up to such treatment though?

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  5. I take my hat off to you for even attempting this process! I wouldn't think this was worth it for a gaming model (and may not even be durable enough to stand up to repeated handling unless based) but you could use these sort of products to make a thrown track on a diorama... or spare tracks draped over the tank...

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    1. Yeah, I think basing will be important, as the resin pins have broken repeatedly just assembling a short segment. I really think if this sort of thing is attempted, using wire makes more sense.

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