Warbirds in my Workshop

David Glen BSc (Hons) MSc, Model Maker, Journalist and Author

Formerly Spitfire in my Workshop

Custom laser-cut rib tapes

Thursday, 1st November, 2018

By late October, and with my Spitfire nearing completion I was ready to apply fabric to the rudder and elevators, thereby covering over the last of the visible ply and balsa from which the the model is made. First, however, I needed to secure a supply of scale ‘rib tapes’.

When building my Spitfire MkI and the P-51D Mustang that followed, I used custom laser cut tapes commissioned around twenty years ago from a company in Cambridge. However, having supplied two models, this by now venerable stock of tiny pinked-edge tapes was running low, and certainly insufficient for another model.  After a brief Google search (for I had long forgotten the name or whereabouts of the original supplier), I came up with a company called Prototype Products in Royston, Hertfordshire  – more or less on my doorstep!

Prudently I had retained the digital artwork for the original pinked tapes, which the PP team was able to use without modification. All I needed to do was to spend a half-hour or so applying strips of 18mm wide Tamiya masking tape to a stock of acetate backing sheets. The acetate, of course, provides rigidity during the laser cutting process. As previously, I managed to closely align seven 11-inch long masking tape strips onto each acetate sheet, and with 14 sheets in total I estimated that I would have all the crimped edge tapes I needed, with a generous reserve.

In my experience, Tamiya tape is perfect for this role: It is of an ideal thickness and ‘tackiness’; and, crucially, it has the strength and elasticity invaluable when taping ‘wrinkle free’ around sharp and tightly curved trailing edges. Moreover, it can be securely applied and snugged down over rib stringing without the need for a hot iron, which would be mandatory when using strips of Solartex or the like. The lack of a ‘woven’ finish to match the underlying fabric is, of course, a disadvantage, but its absence is hardly noticeable once the final paint coats have been applied, whereas the pinked edges stand out beautifully, giving a scale fidelity that is difficult to surpass.  

Back to Spitfire Mk IX Diary

My latest batch of 1:5 scale rib tapes laser-cut from strips of Tamiya masking tape.
A sample of the real thing: This piece of full-size fabric rib tape was given to me by the Aircraft Restoration Company (ARC) at Duxford many years ago. I used it to create on my computer the art work in 1:5 scale from which to have the miniature tapes cut.
Mustang in my Workshop book cover

Mustang in my Workshop

A book to inspire, encourage and empower the enthusiastic model maker to scratch build a masterpiece.