Decades ago when I first started painting my aeroplane models, factory-fresh was the look modelers sought. Then some wise guy noticed that paint on real aircraft suffered nicks, dents, scrapes, scratches, peels and abrasions exposing the metal underneath. Factory-fresh no longer satisfied many modelers and the quest became to model not only the vehicle, but the distressing of the finish as well.
The first technique to show flaked paint that I recall was simply to simulate the chips exposing paint by painting silver spots and lines upon the surface of the exterior color. Metallic colored pencils and other artist tools were tried (images 1 and 2).
Next modelers thought to simulate the wear by actual removing paint from the model. An aluminum finish was applied, the wear-areas masked, then came the exterior color over the masks. Eventually someone found that one could actually scratch, chip and pull off (with tape, though hard to control [image 3]) the exterior color from the metallic undercoat (images 5 and 6).
Whether learned or personally ‘discovered’, all mentioned techniques I have employed individually and in combination. My 1/48 Aichi B7A Ryusei “Grace“ torpedo plane demonstrates all of the above (images 7 and 8). Photographs of an operational "Grace" show huge areas of metal exposed by severe weathering and I always wanted to model this effect. Generally pleased with the results, I used them on other models. The one problem was that tape and fingernails and X-acto blades really could not simulate very small chips. Paint and fine brushes were still required.
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Then I found an article by some innovator about putting salt on the metallic finish prior to the exterior coat. The fine grains of table salt create fine chips. Perfect for small losses of paint. Intrigued, I fought off the concern about whether the salt would mar the paint and gave it a try. The first attempt was on my 1/48 Hasegawa P-40E. The results are completely satisfying (images 9 and 10)!
Ready to attempt the technique on a grander scale, I chose the 1/32 Hasegawa Ki-84 Hayate “Frank”. On went the salt. Yet it appeared the salt would not cover enough area on the big model for the results I envisioned. So I used liquid masking for the large areas and ‘fine tuned’ them with salt. Alas, the salt is too fine to look good. The masked areas are too uniform. Oh well, that is what silver paint and Prismcolor pencils are for (images 11-12)…
Finally I bought sea salt. The granuals are larger and irregular. My next victim would be my Fighters Under the Midnight Sun Campaign 1/48 Brewster B.239 Buffalo. I used a random mix of table salt and the sea salt. Judge the results for yourself but I have found my magic bullet (image 13)!
This technique seems simple: put salt on the model where you want the paint to not be, then paint. Nothing is so simple, but close. The salt must adhere to the surface or it will blow off. Wet the surface and the salt will stick. Do not use too much water or the salt will dissolve. Also, water tends to pool on smooth metallic finishes. My method is to wet the area with saliva: the salt does not dissolve and the drool does not pool. Tobacco chewers, I suggest you not spit your chaw…
Sprinkle on the salt. I simply fold a piece of paper and shake the salt from the sharply creased end until I get enough of the salt where I want it. You can actually be fairly precise with where you put it (image 14).
Let the liquid you adhere the salt to dry. Gently shake the model to dislodge any loose salt, then spray the paint.
After the paint has cured, remove the salt. It just brushes off, but there is a step 2: wash it thoroughly! On my first attempt, the P-40, I just brushed the salt away and then went over it with a moist cloth. Then I sprayed a clear coat of Future for the decals, and the residual salt reacted with the Future and fogged! (image 15) No problem, Future dissolves on contact with ammonia, and the whole mess was cleaned and re-Future’d within minutes.
Salt-chip weathering. I am a believer and will use it on any scale, aircraft, armor, naval or railroad. Like a chef says to encourage you with a new spice, ‘Try it, you’ll like it!’