Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bring In The Artillery!

I love big guns. Be they the classic medieval lombards or World War II era howitzers, I'm pretty fascinated by them. My favorite guns are Great War era, or just slightly before.
You know, the ones the model and toy companies ignore.
That's not to say that they aren't out there. Britains made a number of lovely weapons before the start of the Great War, and these remained in production a rather long time. But when cheap plastic models began to be produced in earnest, most of the pre-World War II guns were basically ignored for the new. Even Britains phased out their older guns.
And of course, this is the era I chose.
I did manage to land a few weapons. BMC makes what appears to be a knock off of an earlier Atlantic piece, which in turn is a plastic copy of a Britains original; an 18 pounder howitzer. My friend Doug surplussed it to me. Making this piece into one that can fire is easy, and in fact the earlier Atlantic piece could. The wheels, however, are atrocious and best replaced.
Another weapon I manage to acquire was an ancient Barclay field gun that also happens to be spring loaded. It appears to represent something like a 75mm. But this model was had for a song because I was somewhat damaged. It will be repaired.
Doug also gave me pencil sharpener that is also a cannon. This looks like a Parrott gun of the Civil War era. It too can fire.
Finally, I managed to find a Britains howitzer, apparently a World War II era 18 pounder. It fires, but looks very rough, as if someone played with it on the beach.
What is really needed, though, are bigger guns, heavy artillery, capable of lobbing rounds across the room. None of those can. I decided to set out and build one.
My first attempt was based on a wooden toy cannon from Michael's Arts & Crafts. For the princely sum of $1, you get this...

Admittedly, not a great looking item, but certainly loaded with possibility. So, I picked up four of them. The first one that was built taught me a few lessons, namely that 1.) the bores on these things are hardly ever centered and 2.) Chinese pine is hard and soft in turns. The firing mechanism was made from springs from the hardware store and various bits. Did it work? It did, but not great.
And then it vanished. No idea where it is.
So, around the 7th of September, I decided to make another cannon using the parts from one of the kits. I chose to model the famous French de Bange 155mm Model 1877 as it might have appeared in early 1914. References abound to this gun, but mine is more of an approximation, a fun scale model if you would. It would be designed from the start to fire.
The barrel is ordinary printer paper that was wound around a 3/16" dowel and cemented with a glue stick. Separate layers were used for the breech end, even producing a graceful taper. The trail was widened from 3/8" to 1/2" inch with basswood sides. These in turn were covered with additional basswood sides that were laminated with a cardstock "skin", which had rivets embossed using a pouncing wheel.
I had planned on using the kits wheels, the goal being to make them look like the solid ones that were coming into use. However, I managed to locate a wooden kit wagon that had better looking wheels.
Additional details were made with wire, small dowels and cardstock strips. Once I was satisfied with the appearance, I made a firing mechanism from a retractable ink pen spring, a 1/2" length of 3/16" doweling and a straightened out paper clip. This was cranked in such a way that the cannon can effectively be cocked and loaded. Firing is done by pushing the paper clip wire down, and with a snap, your round is flung twelve or so feet. The wheels were glued directly to the slightly shortened axle with 3/8" wooden plugs added to the outside to represent hubs. The steel tires were made from cardstock.
The basic model was assembled, though I basically jumped the gun and added an aluminum trunnion before the additional barrel details were added. This meant I mounted the barrel to the carriage a bit too soon, and was afraid to undo the work. Also, the elevation mechanism is still being worked.
Nonetheless, I pressed on and completed the model. I primed it with a heavy coat of automotive primer, and then sanded many of the details smooth. I then painted the carriage dark olive green, the wheels yellow ochre with tan hubs and brushed steel tires. The barrel was painted flat black, and then painted with a wash of silver acrylic paint for a gunmetal look. The final detail, elevation wheels, were created from black 1/2" snaps.
I think it looks nice enough.

With that finished, time to move on to the next piece... whatever that may be.

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