This is a quick tutorial that shows my method for making my own grab handles for various armored vehicles. I’ve used this technique on various T-34’s, a Russian T-72 M1, an Egyptian T-122 (T-34/122), a Polish armored car, a Russian T-28 Bridge-layer, and there will be several others in the future I’m sure.
This technique is not new; others in the modeling community have done the same thing. I’m merely putting this into a simple, easy to understand step-by-step form; text for the instructions along with pictures to emphasize the method. It’s a “look and see,” money saving version of the method.
Collecting the materials and tools
The materials and tools necessary are simple: a couple sets of pliers, various diameters of wire, micro-drill and bit set, tweezers, a ruler, and CA superglue (thin and gap-filling).
A note about the materials and tools: The CA is both super-thin and more importantly, gap-filling. Any set of tweezers will work as long as they will adequately hold the grab handles. The drill bits I use are the micros; sized from #61 to #80. The pliers are a set of dykes (to cut the wire) and a set of long, tooth-free, needle nose (but any pair of needle nose will work – those with teeth may “scar” the grab handles more than you’d desire). Regarding the ruler, one that has the smallest fractions (inches or millimeters) available is best.
Even if you are going to make many dozens of grab handles in a variety of sizes, this method is very cost effective. The alternative to using pliers is the Mission Models® (MM) GrabHandler™ (see picture). This tool, while handy, will set you back about $70.00 (retail is $69.99 in the MM web store…although you may be able to pick one up along the way for a bit less).
Making the grab handles
Utilizing a base T-34/85 turret that requires only two grab handles (the hull requires nine grab handles), this method is quick and simple. One merely needs to take the kit’s grab handle and lay it down against the ruler to get the width. In this example, the width is approximately 14mm…the “leg” length is immaterial if you are able to drill through the turret. If the grab handle is to go into a solid part (much like the solid resin T-122 turret), you’ll cut the “leg” length approximately 1/4th of an inch or 5mm. In this case, with the T-34/85 turret being hollow, the leg length matters little. For the hull, there were two areas that you would have to drill through two parts (the upper hull and a part of the lower hull):
The next step is to take the kit grab handle and match its thickness to the wire you have that is closest in diameter (realize that most kit grab handles are overly thick):
At this point, I take my needle nose and bend the first leg at about a ¼ of an inch long. Note that I also “over bend” the leg. This process gives the width-to-leg a sharper angle. I then re-bend it to a 90 degree angle:
Next, I lay the new handle up against the kit handle; place the pliers next to the second bend point, and bend the second leg (again over bending then straightening it out):
The legs can now be trimmed down and made even. Again, length is immaterial. Ideally, the legs will be about a ¼ inch long. This provides you plenty of length to slide into the upcoming holes. Basically, this gives you some maneuvering room and allows for proper spacing between the top of the handle and the turret (or hull):
A key advantage to using wire versus the kit parts is that there are NO seams to shave and NO sprue points to trim. Not to mention, in the long run, they’ll look much better.
Once the grab handle is made, the next step is to match the wire diameter to a micro-drill bit (any spool of wire I use for modeling has been labeled with the correct bit size – just a time saver). In this example, the #67 bit is ideal; it’s moderately loose which will allow “room” for the gap-filling CA glue to flow and ultimately create the “weld bead” at the legs’ bases:
An additional note about the drill bit: it’s helpful to put most of the shank of the bit into the driver. This greatly reduces the “flex” of the bit. If the bit were to show all of the cutting edge, the possibility of the bit flexing and breaking while drilling is greatly increased. The bits are generally not hard to find, but they can be expensive for something so small.
For this demonstration, I’m using the kit’s plastic, hollow turret. The process is the same for a solid resin turret with the exception that you’d drill the holes slightly deeper than the portion of the “leg” that would be in the turret:
Once the location of the grab handle’s legs have been determined (usually some form of marking/indentation on the vehicle), drill completely through the turret shell. The same is done for grab handles that will be used on any vehicle for doors, engine decks, hulls, et cetera.
After the holes for the legs are drilled, you need to test fit the grab handle to ensure that the width of the handle is correct. In this case, I drilled the holes as close to center of the marks as I was able to. Another option is to lay the wire grab handle on the part and mark the width with a pencil. Once the test fit is accomplished, now is the time to straighten out and bends in the wire that may appear to be “too stark/dramatic.” Unless the vehicle is “factory fresh,” I’m confident that the vehicle's grab handles, and any other thin metal protrusions, on armored vehicles will show some wear and tear and dings and dents/bends.
With the test fitting complete, now is the time for the CA glue. I start with the slow curing gap-filling variety (allows some time for placement and its thicker which is ideal for creating the “weld bead”). I’ll place a small dab of the CA on (not in!) each hole. I also exclusively use a length of wire as the glue’s “stylus,” this allows a much better precision application of the glue…put it where it needs to be, not all over everywhere!
Once the dabs of glue are in place it’s time for the slightly tricky part of this method. Insert the grab handle legs into the holes (through the glue) to a depth slightly deeper than desired. Then, carefully and evenly pull the grab handle back out to the proper depth. “Reverse capillary” action will draw some of the glue back out of the hole, creating what can be best described (in these small scales) as a weld bead; a ridge of CA glue that surrounds the legs – thicker against the turret/hull and thinner as it goes up the leg.
If you’ll notice, the glue on the left “leg” is rather thick and spreads a bit further out from the “leg” than desired. The quick and immediate solution is to dab that glue with a piece of tissue…again, capillary action will draw some of it off giving a much nicer “weld bead.” Pretty much the same for the right “leg” too. If by chance you don’t notice the excess glue, before it sets, you can take the edge of a sharp #11 blade and scrape the glue down some to create the more realistic weld bead.
One additional thing I do, due mostly to somewhat consistent handling of the model after the grab handles are installed, is to take the thin, quick setting CA glue and apply some to the inside where the “legs” come through the turret/hull. This will further reinforce the grab handles. Once the CA glue has fully cured, it is safe to do further tweaking of any bends in the handles.
I’ve used this simple, inexpensive technique on a variety of armored fighting vehicles; from little handles (3/16 inch x 1/8 inch) on a 1/35th scale armored car to larger grab handles on an Egyptian T-122 or Russian T-34/85, including solid-cast resin turrets and hollow plastic turrets and hulls. I’ve also used this technique, using thicker wire (solder) on a 1/16th scale JagdPanther. I personally do not see the need to spend additional funds on a “tool” that’ll do the same as a pair of pliers with a little bit more diligence.