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Scratchbuilding a chassis

Q: I want to scratchbuild an aluminum chassis for a 1/24 scale model, but I don't know how to get started. I'm looking for help with fixtures, connection of the chassis members, etc.

- Colby House
via E-mail

Ken: Aluminum components add class to any model, but quite frankly, you may want to reconsider using aluminum to build an entire chassis. The small size of the pieces required to build a scale chassis wouldn't give the model much strength, and assembling the pieces would literally require mini-bolting every joint to keep the chassis from eventually falling apart.

If you're going to invest the time to scratchbuild a chassis, I suggest you look into using brass. It's stronger and easier to work with than aluminum, and the individual components can be soldered - even if you possess only minimal soldering skills.

Sheet brass in various thicknesses and structural brass shapes are available at most hobby shops and some well-stocked hardware stores - check for a K&S Brass display, or you can contact Small Parts, Inc. at for a variety of brass (and aluminum) building supplies. When your brass chassis is finished, it can be filed and polished to a point where it can be sent out for chrome plating or airbrushed with Alclad lacquer chrome.

Regardless of the material you choose to build your chassis, the individual pieces will have to be precisely cut. Start by drawing a set of plans, paying particular attention to the "overhead" view of the frame. For your first project, you may want to replicate a kit frame that can be used as a guide for measuring and fabricating your scratchbuilt chassis. Use graph paper to draw the plans; the squares will make it easier to create symmetrical side rails. Draw a frame "centerline" on the page and work toward each side to draw the actual frame, making sure that the sides are identical. Then draw the side views of the frame, again using graph paper as your guide. If necessary, draw oversize plans and have them reduced to 1/24 scale at a photocopying shop. Make several copies, because these exact-size drawings will be used as templates to cut the various components.

For the side rails, cut out the side-view templates and attach them to a piece of sheet stock, then carefully cut two identical pieces. Glue small blocks to the drawn frame lines of the "top view" plan - these will serve as guides so you can bend the side rails to the proper shape. When you're satisfied with the curvature of the side rails, cut the top and bottom pieces from brass, lay them on the side rails, and solder them into place.

Mark Gustavson and Augie Hiscano have written books on the art of soldering and scratchbuilding metal components, so I won't delve into the finer points of these techniques.

In this limited space I've offered a crash course on chassis building, but hope to have pointed you in the right direction. Good luck with your project, Colby, and let us know how you make out.


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