IDF Merkava Mk IV
As a headnote, I would like to thank AMPS Israel for providing detailed walkaround images of a Merkava IV that were utilized in this build— especially Robert Goldman.
STEPS 1 through 3 Lower Hull
As discussed previously in the First Look Review, the suspension is misaligned as the kit represents an AFV with torsion bar suspension versus helical spring suspension. For this build neither the lower hull suspension or the supplemental belly armor was corrected. All the parts go together well, although as with all kits I do recommend some drying fitting just to double check. This kit has one of the highest part counts I have encountered for a lower hull— the hull plus supplemental armor plus all the suspension pieces account for about 150 parts.
Sidebar and a Builders Secret: The Hobby Boss plastic is very hard and sometimes seems a little resilient to Tamiya Thin Glue. At times throughout the build I fell back to an oldie but goodie: Testors Tube Glue. Yes, the stuff that we all used at one time or another and now laugh at. Well, for a strong (and smelly) bond this stuff is golden. I realized that any liquid glue would evaporate too quickly before attaching the belly armor to the lower hull, and I wanted a really strong bond—so out came the Testors Tube Glue. When carefully used, I apply it to larger pieces and where there is no chance of details being obstructed.
The vinyl wheel rims easily slide onto the wheels; although definitely follow the instruction order and place them on before assembling the wheels. I sprayed the wheels and vinyl wheel rims with Tamiya Acrylic Clear before assembly, and to ensure the vinyl rims stayed attached I used ZAP Plastic CA.
In other AMPS reviewed Hobby Boss kits, there has been some discussion regarding the fit and alignment of the drive sprockets, teeth, and tracks. The good news is that this kit does not have that problem at all. Dry fitting the sprocket halves and a few track links proved that assembly would have no issues.
STEP 4 Track Assembly and Engine Exhaust
The tracks clean up and assemble quite well. The Hobby Boss plastic is very hard and a generous amount of plastic glue is required to acquire a strong bond don’t be worried about applying too much. I commonly create a wood jig for building track runs—the jig ensures tracks runs are tight and straight and being made out of wood plastic glue can be liberally applied to the track pieces.
To assist in the construction of the photo-etch engine exhaust and ensuring correct angles, the instructions include a 1:1 scale diagram of the completed exhaust and exhaust plates. In addition, the photo-etch parts are correctly angled so that if mounted flush to the rear wall of the exhaust manifold they will sit at the correct angle. Still, these are thick brass pieces and do require some attention to detail to mount correctly; take your time with this part of the build. Displayed below is the completed subassembly pre-painted black before insertion into the hull.
At this point I skipped ahead a few steps in the instructions, and mounted the upper hull piece to the lower hull; on that template I would then attach all the parts to the upper hull. The two halves fit together great, and although it appears to have a gap on the front between the lower and upper hulls photographic evidence actually indicates that the gap exists on the real Merkava (take that AMPS judges!).
STEPS 5 and 6 Hull Assembly and Detailing
After joining the lower and upper hulls, I proceeded to mount all the detailed parts to the hull. The parts require little cleanup and fit very well. There are a few required photo-etch parts for the hull. Note that there is a very tight fit between the front fenders and the drive sprocket and tracks; this is actually acceptable as the tolerances on a real Merkava 4 are also very tight.
STEPS 7 through 11 Rear Hull Detailing: Fuel Tanks, Panniers, and Side Skirts
For this kit, the instructions have several subassemblies that are illustrated as being built in phases with little arrows directing the various build steps; I would recommend following those steps. The instructions for the rear details consisting of the sponson extenders, fuel tanks, and the flexible stowage panniers follow this approach. The builder should work carefully to ensure that all parts are fit square and tight as this will minimize fitting problems later in the build (speaking from experience… ).
The clear part for the left rear pannier represents the armored glass over a rear-view video camera to assist the driver. I painted the piece Tamiya Smoke before painting as images show the glass as tinted.
The panniers can be built using either kit plastic or a combination of photo-etch and plastic; I choose the latter. The photo-etch may seem think for the panniers, but it is probably very close to scale as research indicates that the real things are constructed using ballistic steel in order to provide some rear standoff protection. It is best to clean all the pannier parts first and have them ready for assembling. I recommend allocating dry/set time between phases of building the panniers in order for the parts to fully set as there are some small bonds to the frame. I would also recommend using superglue for the entire structure; or re-enforcing the joins with superglue after using liquid glue. Once the complete pannier structure is finished it is very strong and holds together really well—and make a great looking detail too.
All the rear hull details need to be mounted in order from the instructions. Otherwise the parts will not fit. Also, the builder should work carefully to ensure that all parts are built and mounted square. Otherwise it will be very difficult to get everything to join correctly; as I discovered after building the subassemblies and then was required to perform some ad-hoc shaping and filing.
The joins between the top of the fuel tank and the lower hull are a little rough when compared to photos of a Merkava IV. Fortunately, the stowage panniers hide a bit of the joins, but on the sides adjacent to the rear hatch, the modeler will need to smooth out the join in order to give the impression of a single steel plate. If the builder is not going to include the panniers then the smoothing process will take a bit more work.
NOTE: The left stowage pannier was attached backwards. See the end of Review for correction to build.
The instructions have the builder assemble and install the side skirts next to complete the lower hull assembly (Step 11). I concluded that it would be easier to paint and weather the lower hull of this beast with the skirts off and attach after painting. So, at this point the side skirts were just assembled and set aside for later mounting.
At this point the tow cable is also attached to the left side hull. Definitely note the three C18 parts that are used to hang the tow cable. Also, the PE-B21 parts do not fit on the C18 parts without additional filing out the holes with a round file.
A note on the empty sponsons. As noted in the First Look Review, the kit does not have anything to fill the hull sponsons, and I had noted that as an issue. However as I build the kit, I realize that if the kit is going to be built buttoned-up and with the side skirts mounted then the open sponsons for the most part will be hidden both by the side skirts and due to the close gap between the hull and the tracks/suspension. Just to be sure, I did build a short sponson filler for the rear above where the slat-armor side skirt will be mounted.
On to the turret…..
STEP 12 Main Gun and Turret Halves
Construction of the turret begins with the building the main gun (plastic and some photo-etch) and joining the upper and lower turret halves together. All parts joined well, however the builder should take the time to ensure that all the joins are clean; especially the main gun. The 120mm main gun barrel comes in two halves and has to be carefully joined to ensure alignment. I found that the alignment was not quite perfect, but with all the careful filing and the barrel is fully set the subtle mis-alignment can be corrected as well as having a clean barrel. For both the main gun barrel and the turret halves I used an approach used by wingy-thing builders to paint the join areas in metallic steel paint to highlight any gaps which are then filled and sanded; the thicker metallic paint also acts to a degree as a filler.
STEPS 13 through 16 Turret Detailing
Thereafter, it is time to mount all the detailing parts onto the turret. There are quite a few parts to be mounted, and I recommend mounting the parts in order as in the instructions as it not only gets a little crowded on the turret but there are some parts that need to be set in place before adding the next parts. I would recommend not mounting the rear radio antenna bases (C4) to the back of the turret until after the turret basket and cover are mounted.
There are also times in the building of this kit where subassemblies must be completed in one sit-down step. One of the best cases is the commander’s hatch. I highly recommend building this subassembly in one sit-down step; with one change: join/set the hatch halves together first. As can be seen, there is not much space for working with the parts once construction begins and you will need some flexibility of the parts to ensure a tight and level fit. Here are my recommended construction steps for the turret hatch:
From Step 12, ensure parts F17 and F3 with all the vision blocks are mounted to the turret top and completely set.
On to Step 13, Mount clear part GP3 and C19 parts. Join the two hatch halves (F8 and F9) together and ensure all these parts are completely set.
Clean all the hatch lifting component parts: E12, E13, E33, F4, E42, E16, and F5.
Join/glue all the parts together and while the glue is still wet and the parts not fully set, assemble the hatch and lifting components to the turret; ensuring parts remain joined and are level.
Ensure that parts F4 and F5 for the lifting components sit in the top slots of both C19 parts.
Ball-and-Chain Turret Rear Skirt Armor
This construction step also has the builder start the ball-and-chain turret rear skirt armor [“Se’arot Shulamit” (Hebrew: “Hair of Shulamit”)]. A couple bits of advice up front:
Do not form the ball/chain sets separately as indicated in the instructions. Rather form the sets as you are adding the sets to the photoetch frame.
Be patient—really patient. After some practice and developing some muscle memory the sets will come together. Occasionally, you will find a set that is just stubborn. Put the building of the ball/chain set aside after the stubborn one; take a breather—remember it’s only a hobby.
This detail really adds to the Merkava IV kit and it is great to have it with the kit versus having to rely on a separate aftermarket addition. This detail is not for the novice and does take some work and practice to get a technique down. Honestly, the very first ball/chain set I formed took over 30 minutes. With that track record, I was seriously dreading my future with the kit and thinking that this Full Build Review would be ready for posting just before the end of the Mayan Calendar in October 2012. Fortunately, with practice, developing of muscle memory in the construction, and refinements of techniques, the sets start to come together in between 10-20 minutes each. Still do the math in that you will need 69 sets.
So, I am going to spell out my build technique for the ball-and-chain sets; I hope the reader finds these and the photos useful for at least a baseline approach.
Optivisor— trust me you WILL need these.
A “Third Hand” building jig.
A block for holding the length of chain and linking in the ball.
Good set of fine cutting nippers— I used two sets depending on what stage.
Locking Tweezers- set inside the “third hand.”
Needle Nose Pilers.
A Forming Tool useful for bending stiff wire— I used a small flat file.
Sanity and Patience.
Preparation of Tools
String and securely tape the chain against a hard surface such as a block of wood; I used one of my figure painting blocks. This block will be used for holding everything securely as the individual sets are formed and the sets are cut to length.
Set the locking tweezers in the Third Hand and place a photoetch frame in the tweezers.
Make sure you have a clean workspace; ideally one where you can keep fly-away parts contained; I used the kit’s box top.
1- Bend the wire on the ball/wire into an inverted ‘J’ shape. I bent the wire around the fine tweezers to get a small curve.
2- Thread the wire through the first chain link.
3- Cut off the excess wire and use the bending tool to press the remaining wire tightly against the ball. Optionally add a small drop of superglue to the chain/wire to hold everything together; although it really does hold well without provided the gaps are minimal.
4- Count out the number of links needed for the ball/chain set; pay particular attention to the instructions and which set you are forming at the time.
5- With a single stroke, cleanly cut the chain link using the nippers. This link is going to be bent and reformed so it is best to minimize excess pressure on the link to prevent breaking later.
6- Careful detach the cut link from the rest of the chain strand. This usually requires using tweezers to careful bend the cut link to separate; only bend sufficiently to allow release. Sometimes the ball/chain set separates from the cut link don’t bother to re-connect (see Step 7 below).
7- Using tweezers pick up the ball/chain set and thread the cut link through the open hole on the photoetch. At times the ball/chain set will stay together and other times the cut link and the remaining part of the set will become separated. If this happens, the best approach is not to attempt to re-attach the parts, but just thread the single cut link through the photoetch first and then hang the remaining part of the set.
8- Carefully bend the cut chain link back together.
9- Add a small drop of superglue to the cut link to bond the cut link back together.
Again with practice and developing muscle memory the above nine steps become easier and more efficient. Don’t let the first half dozen sets frustrate you because the end result is worth the effort.
The ball/chain sets for the rear turret basket are actually done in a slightly different approach. For the turret hangs the photoetch is a closed hole, while the frames for the rear turret basket have an open gap. I would have preferred that this also have a closed hole as I think it would provide greater strength. Still, I realized that for most the open gap is rather tight and will almost hold an inserted chain link. So, the ball/chain sets were cut at full length and then pressed into the gap. To ensure the links stayed in place, a drop of superglue was added to the open gap and ball/chain set. Note, there were definitely some gaps that didn't’t hold a chain link so for those a drop of superglue was placed inside the gap first and then the link held in place until the glue set enough to hold; then another drop was added to further strengthen the bond.
To have a good building frame, I decided to mount the photoetch frame parts to the rear turret basket first and then add the ball/chain sets. As common with this kit, the building of the styrene rear turret basket is a best completed in one sit-down step as all the parts need to fit square and tight. After the basket was set and dry, I liberally applied superglue to the framework to further strengthen the parts as with the building of the ball/chain frame it would be under a bit of pressure as the chains are pressed into the gaps. Thereafter I superglued the photoetch frame to the bottom of the rear turret basket. Care must be taken to ensure that the frames are glued such that the gap remains open and below the bottom of the rear turret basket frame (as I later discovered).
Also, this approach does result in some chain link attrition. For the above turret hangs, links were cut and then pressed back together. For this approach a full un-cut link is desirable. So, after connecting a ball to the chain, the correct number of links are counted out and the nextlink is cut resulting in a lost link.
So, in total the build on the ball/chain sets did prove to take a long, long time; total time did come out to over 19 hours; with an average of about 17 minutes per ball/chain set.
A final word on the ball/chain sets, Hobby Boss does not include enough chain length to build all the ball/chain sets. This is even true if I had not done the “attrition approach” of cutting a link for each set on the rear turret basket. The builder has two options: either leave some off as there are plenty of photographs of Merkavas having missing chain/ball sets or chains with missing balls (I just had to say that…); or use aftermarket chain to satisfy the requirement. I found that the Verlinden Productions Tow Chain/Small Verlinden NO. 0619) is the correct size for the chain; one cannot even tell in the photos which is the kit or Verlinden chains (I lost track myself).
STEP 12 Rear Turret Basket and Cover
The rear turret basket cover subassembly is a great piece by itself—combining well cast styrene and photoetch. To strengthen all the bonds—especially with the very fine frame—I was quite generous with the application of superglue to fix all the styrene parts.
The final assembly of the rear turret basket is a great looking piece, and also looks great mounted on the rear of the Merkava turret. Unfortunately, for mine the part did not fully fit onto the completed rear turret basket; once mounted on the turret. I am not sure whether this was “user error” or the parts. To get a better fit, I took a Dremel Tool to carve out some of the cover and get a better fit. Still, it was not perfect, and so the rear radio antenna bases (C4) sit at an angle; I will just model the antennas tied back (as is a common practice). So, I recommend care be taken with fitting all the rear turret parts.
The final major subassembly for the kit are the two machine guns: the forward mounted remote “Ma-Deuce” .50cal and the commanders 7.62mm MAG MG. The machine guns are very well cast. These are wonderfully detailed subassemblies with multiple parts. Ultra care must be taken with cutting the fine parts from the sprue and cleaning before assembly (let alone losing the parts to the dreaded carpet monster). I decided to mount the guns after painting/weathering is completed to prevent any chance of breakage.
Completed Build Ready for Paint/Weathering
So, finally after over 700 parts, quite a few photoetch parts, 69 balls, several hundred links of chain, and approximately 50 hours of work-- plus another 20 hours for ball/chain-- the Hobby Boss IDF Merkava Mk. IV is completed and ready for paint. Below are photos of the completed model-- unpainted/weathered.
There has been quite a bit of discussion on the correct color for modern Israeli armor color. I will say, that my research indicates that there is really only one color; the Israelis don't use different colors for the Sinai versus the Golan Heights. For a good discussion of the appropriate color, I recommend checking out IDF-in-Scale.com discussion forum-- which is the source that I used for my recommended color: Humbrol Mid Stone (84). Much like what was on the web discussion forum and when compared to actual photos of modern Israeli armor, I think the color is a really good match. I added further depth by using Humbrol Khaki (72) and Pale Yellow (81). The only drawback with using Humbrols is that they are enamels-- so it is a bit more messy, smelly, requires a longer drying time between coats, and cleaning out the airbrush afterwards takes more work.
For the most part the painting instructions are correct, albeit with a few missing detail colors. For example, the Israelis typically paint the suspension springs black and radio antenna bases are white. Also, the details on painting the machine guns and the stowage (ammo boxes and smoke grenades stored behind the commander hatch) are not included. I recommend using reference photos for further guidance on painting.
Weathering started by applying MIG Productions washes; followed by some subtle drybrushing (yeah, I know.... Applied subtlety I like it and I'm building it...). Thereafter, oils were applied to develop further variation and depth in color.
Next came dusting-- lots of dusting. Through research I came across an uncorroborated tidbit that the Israeli Armored Corps (IAC) was not allowed to wash AFVs due to the shortage of water. Dust and dirt can only be brushed off. So, photos of Israeli armor show the AFVs covered in dust; probably part of the reason behind the confusion in base paint color. The dirt and dusting also aides in the blending-in of the AFV into its local terrain color. Dusting started with shooting Tamiya Buff and Deck Tan through the airbrush. Thereafter, dusting effects were further enhanced using MIG Production pigments and my first experience with the AK Interactive Dust Effect Enamels: Standard and Africa (I know, I took a bit of a risk with a review kit and trying something else new). I was quite impressed with the AK Interactive products, but I will leave further evaluation on the products to another member of the AMPS Review Crew....
A quick word on the decals: the markings and placement are not quite correct but they can be corrected without any aftermarket products. The instructions do not indicate which vehicles are represented, but with some research it can be determined. Israeli armor markings are fairly standardized:
Battalion: The number is commonly on the front left and right rear fenders. Also, the barrel stripes indicate the battalion.
Company: The horizontal bars on the fenders; one bar for First, two for Second, etc... Also the chevrons on the front skirts: Down= First, Forward= Second, Up= Third, Fourth= back, and 'Z'= Fifth.
Platoon: The Number on the rear left fender as well as the Number on the banner.
Platoon AFV: (Hebrew Letters) Alef = A, Bet= B or Gimel = C.
The corresponding Armor Brigade cannot be determined for either vehicle, but that is not uncommon for Israeli AFVs in order to maintain OPSEC.
So, using the above factors the set that I used represents a 2nd Battalion, 2nd Company, 3rd Platoon and First AFV (Alef = A). I had to change the position of the Skirt Chevron from pointing downward as the instructions indicate (correct for 1st) to pointing forward (2nd) to match the horizontal band markings on the fenders.
I choose not to use the decals for the barrel markings as I thought it would be very difficult to settle the decals over all the top detail. So, the marking is airbrushed on using Tamiya Flat White with touchup by Humbrol and Vallejo. All the other decals are from the kit.
ADDENDUM TO REVIEW BUILD
As noted above, the left stowage pannier was mounted backwards. The following photo of the completed build illustrates the correct positioning of the part.
Merkava Siman IV in IDF Service. Michael Mass and Rafy Levy, Desert Eage Publications, 2010.
IDF Armoured Vehicles: Tracked Armour of the Modern Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Soeren Suenkler and Marsh Gilbert, Tankograd Publications, 2006.
Even though it is a styrene kit, this is a kit for an advanced modeler for the following reasons—and even excluding making the corrections to the alignment of the suspension arms:
- This kit takes a LONG, LONG time to build. This kit was my only project for the past several months.
- Patience is required with building the kit-- especially with the ball/chain sets.
- The instructions will need to be reviewed and followed closely. It is recommended for the most part to build the kit in the order of the instructions.
- Some subassemblies should be built in one sit-down step.
- The parts do fit very well, but dry-fitting is necessary.
- There are quite a few tiny and finely cast parts where care must be taken (honestly, I had a couple breaks during my build).
- The builder needs to critically think about how they are going to build something before beginning the process- and consider what may work best for them.
- The builder will probably be learning new building techniques as well.
Actually the building of this kit has transformed me into an Israeli Armor fan. I have gone off and purchased more Israeli armor-- like the AFV Club SHOT Kal-- and now find myself reading the histories of the Arab-Israeli wars.
Now, it is time to celebrate finalizing this build with a Oban Single Malt Scotch and a Cohiba cigar.
This is truly a Highly Recommended Kit; and A Must Have for Israeli Armor Fans.
Once again, I would like to thank Squadron Hobbies for providing the AMPS Review Crew the Hobby Boss IDF Merkava Mk IV for review.