Saturday, May 29, 2010

Spring Cleaning

I spent a pleasant day yesterday detailing out my car. It’s not something I do on a regular basis, but I had a rough week emotionally, and I needed something to take my frustration out on. That’s how I deal: either I clean stuff, or make stuff. (I started a new quilt project this week, too.)

I was also partly inspired by my recent flea market finds. Cleaning my finds is probably my favorite part of the whole search-and-rescue process, but these last few batches have been more challenging than average. Here’s that Hartland Polo Pony I mentioned earlier, for example:

That’s what she looks like after I spent two days working on her! She took a little longer than average because I haven’t had the best luck rehabbing Hartlands. There’s something to the paint jobs or the plastic that doesn’t respond quite the same way that Breyers do, and I’ve found that they require a gentler, more cautious touch. Generally I don’t do much restoration after cleaning, but I might give this old girl a few touch-ups; she’s had a hard life, and I think she deserves it.

(Some clumsy clod stepped on her head! I'll spare you the gruesome closeup.)

I take a pretty conservative approach to conservation and restoration: most of my models don’t get "restored" beyond degreasing, cleaning and unyellowing. Even my repairs to broken pieces tend to be temporary and removable: white glue only. I’ve found that this approach leaves less to explain should I ever have to sell or upgrade the model in question.

I wrote an entire booklet on the subject restoration and conservation (out of print, for the time being) but honestly, 90 to 95% of models don’t need much more than a basic cleaning to bring them back to their former glory. And most of that can be with a few basic supplies: a good quality dish soap, Lestoil, cotton swabs, toothpicks, paintbrushes, that sort of thing.

I’ll occasionally use bleach for unyellowing, or substitute some other degreasing agent for Lestoil, but that’s about it. Oh, I’ve experimented with other stuff, believe me: that’s why I’m rarely hesitant to pick up the icky-sticky bodies everyone else leaves behind. If you’re lucky, you can make a bad model better - and if not, into to the body box it goes!

In most cases, everyone gets the same treatment: a light rinse with warm water, a gentle rubdown with either dish soap or Lestoil, undiluted, and a full body dunk in a bucket or sink of hot (but not boiling) water for a half an hour or so. Add more soap or Lestoil to the water, as necessary (a couple of capfuls is usually sufficient.) Dark marks and particularly dirty nooks and crannies will get worked over with cotton swabs or brushes dipped in soap or Lestoil, and very gently scrubbed while still wet. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

Models with labels or stickers, of course, wouldn’t get the full body dunk - in those cases, I use cotton swabs or pads for spot cleaning to keep the fluids away from those critical areas.

I’ll use toothpicks to pick away any odd bits of glue, house paint, or any other foreign substance that happens to find itself attached to the model in question, though your fingernail will work in a pinch. Both are soft enough that a little slip won’t lead to the kind of scratch that’s likely to happen with a knife blade.

And that’s about it. It might take a day or two to clean a really sorry looking specimen (like my Polo Pony) but most of your finds can be shelf, show or saleslist ready in an afternoon or less.

There are two popular cleaning techniques I will recommend you avoid: toothpaste and hairspray. Both are used as spot cleaners to remove dark marks; toothpaste is used as a slightly abrasive scrub, and hairspray as a mild solvent. They both "work" in the sense that they do remove the marks in question, but they also have a tendency to remove the paint, especially if you haven’t had a lot of practice with either.

Both of them also leave residue behind that’s almost as hard to remove as the offending marks. (The toothpaste, believe it or not, is the harder of the two to remove!) Sometimes I’ll use one or the other if nothing else will work, but only if I follow up with rubdown and full body dunk.

1 comment:

Christi said...

Any chance of that restoration book being reprinted? :) I just got an old buckskin Lady Phase on Ebay - was hoping she was the Congress LP, but I think after seeing her in person she's just the JCP LP - anyway, she's in rougher shape than she looked in the pics. Black marks everywhere, unless it's an early attempt at shading. I can get black marks off of white areas, but painted areas are a little out of my experience right now.

That Hartland looks nice. Did you take "before" pictures?