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A Scratch-Built Missile Site in 1/285th Scale

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7 March 2000converted to new format
1 November 1999page first published

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I don't consider myself a compulsive scratch-modeler, but I will admit to checking out any interesting item before throwing it out, just in case it might have an unusual shape or structure that would make it useful on my gaming table. After all, not everything that I want is available commercially - and besides, it's fun to make these little "micro" projects!

This project got its start when, instead of tossing out an empty dental floss container, I decided to pull it apart to see if any of its pieces might be useful.

floss container

I discovered that the container's top, when flipped upside down, gave me a set of walls with a large pedestal in the middle. At first I thought to turn it into a hull-down defensive position for infantry or tanks, but the pedestal looked like it would be a pain to remove.

top of floss container, turned upside down

And then, I thought: I bet that pedestal would be a great place to put a missile launcher!

The Components

What to use for missiles? I found some rounded toothpicks that looked like they would do the job. Be sure to get round toothpicks, not "square toothpicks with round ends" (sometimes you can't tell until after you open the pack) or "kinda round toothpicks" (you sometimes find these in bargain-priced packs - they don't look right when glued into groups).

And what to use for the launcher structure? Deciding to keep this whole thing as simple as possible, I imagined having some kind of base (to attach to the pedestal), and two rings of various sizes to hold the missiles in place.

I needed to make the rings out of some thin material. I considered using card or paper, but in the end decided to go with metal tubing instead. So I slipped seven toothpicks into my pocket, dropped down to the local hobby store, and found the tubing size which matched my particular toothpicks - 9/32" tubing. (Your mileage will vary - toothpicks come in different diameters.)

By chance, I glanced into the next bin on that aisle, and found that they sold lengths of plastic strip which were flat on one side, but had raised lips on the other side. That was perfect for my base, as the tube could sit between the lips, while the flat side could glue against the pedestal. So I did some comparisons until I found the right size.

Total price for my tubing and plastic strip: less than US$2. Pretty inexpensive.

(left to right) tubing rings, toothpicks, strip, dispenser top

Putting It Together

Construction was straightforward. I filed down the pedestal on one side, so that the launcher would sit at a gentler angle - this also filed the top down enough so that the "sides" of the pedestal would give a better connection when I attached the launcher assembly. The top wouldn't sit flat due to the prong which is used to cut the floss, so I cut it off with a motor tool and sanded the last bit flat.

I wanted to prime the floss dispenser top white, but since it was white already, I primed it black and then sprayed it white (so I could see what I was doing). I left the bottom black.

I used superglue to attach seven toothpicks, six clustered around a central toothpick. Then I used a motor tool to cut the toothpick group in half, giving me two sets of missiles. I sanded the pointed ends down so that the missiles ended in a flat nose.

Using the missiles for comparison, I cut the plastic strip to a length about two-thirds smaller than the missiles. I tried to use a motor tool to cut the strip, but even on slow speeds found that it tended to soften the plastic rather than give me a straight cut. I used a file to clean up the ends.

I decided I wanted one narrow and one wide metal ring for the launcher. I cut these from the tubing using a cutting wheel on a motor tool. I was able to cut the rings without dimpling the metal, but found that both rings were crooked. I remedied this by sanding them (again using the motor tool) until both sides were parallel.

Then I attached the rings to the base, and primed the launcher white. At the same time, I primed the missiles white.

Painting It

I chose to paint the launcher assembly and dispenser top separately, for ease of painting. I painted both light gray, followed by a wash of medium gray. I had hoped this would be sufficient, but somehow my wash turned terribly blotchy, so I "fixed" it by drybrushing with one more round of light gray. When all was dry, I superglued the launcher to the dispenser top. Lastly, I sprayed everything with a flat sealer.

My idea was to keep everything an industrial gray except for the missiles, which I wanted to stand out. I painted their tips medium red, the ends black, and added silver dots for engines. I then finished with a coat of glossy sealer.

The final step was to slide the missiles inside the launcher, with two drops of superglue to hold them in place.

End result: A pretty simple project - and whenever I use up another dental floss container, I can always add to my arsenal! (I have enough tubing and strip to build dozens of these items.)

finished missile site, shown with Scotia infantry and Irregular APC

Post Mortem

What would I do differently next time? I'd probably paint the missiles before gluing them to each other, and do some sanding to get rid of the wood texture (the gloss paint helps hide some of it).

What more could I do? Some infantry figures, added to this model, would give a sense that there were crewmen to this launcher. (But then I'd have to paint the crewmen a particular color, which would put this launcher into a specific army...) Wires could be glued on to represent cabling, a sensor could be made from wire and grating, and a control room could be constructed from a tiny wooden block. National insignias could be painted on, and the missiles could have more detailed markings.

What am I going to use it for? Well, in 1/285th scale, those are some mighty big missiles. I might use this as a defensive missile site for a major military complex, with the missiles being big enough to punch major holes in the attacker's larger units (such as mecha). Or I could say that this is a "strategic" missile launcher, and make it the objective in a raid-type scenario. And I wonder if I could use this with my 25mm soldiers as well...?

The purpose of this article is not to get all of you to go buy a particular brand of dental floss. Rather, start looking around the house. Before you toss something out, consider whether you could put it to use on your gaming table. Before you know it, you'll be scratch-building!