Packaging Models for Secure Shipment
Images, text and model Copyright © 2004/2005 by Matt Swan
So I need to pack this P-51D for shipment to Virginia in a few days and I don't want it to take any damage. There are a few different philosophies on packing models for shipping and I am looking for a good balance of security verses cost. I had a Priority mailbox that was the correct size for the model Iím shipping (a 1/48 P-51D) and the mirrored base (about ten inches square). The box is eight inches deep.
I just want to point out here that you can click on any of the pictures to view a larger image. After taking some basic measurements of my box, height, width and length, I went to the fabric store and bought some solid foam core that would normally be used for making pillows and was four inches thick. They had this stuff in varying thickness so you could buy chunks to accommodate virtually any size box. I had the girl slice me off a section that was a foot wide and two feet long .... $6.75. I learned something very useful at this point, she was using a serrated Ginsu knife to cut the foam core and it worked great. I think she thought I was a little nuts from the look on my face when she cut that foam block.
Once home with my purchase I quietly stole my wifeís big Ginsu knife from the kitchen and cut about one half of the foam block off to the size of the box, I placed the model on the foam and traced around the propeller, landing gear area, tail wheel and pitot tube with a marker. This gets cut out with a Xacto knife. So far about ten minutes have passed. I test fit the model into this hole - everything looks good. Now I cut the second half of the foam core to the same dimension as the first and lay it overtop the first section (model is on the workbench right now, not in the foam). Carefully I lift one corner of the top piece while holding the balance securely in place until I can see the lower cut out and place a mark at each corner with my marker. Now the top half can be removed and the four dots are connected using a ruler to give me a straight line and the top hole can be cut out, note the hole only covers the central area of the model. Test fit the model upside down into the top section, you want to be sure that the propeller is clear and the tail fin is clear, the model should rest on the wing tips and stabilizer only. The fit is good on the first try; total elapsed time is 20 minutes.
Now I pack the mirrored base into the bottom of the box and place the first section of foam in place, the model goes in and the second piece goes on top sandwiching the wing tips and the elevators in place. At this point I have to pause and consider something. This foam could be slightly abrasive to the model should it shift somehow and I donít want any little scratches forming on the wings so as a final measure I grab a good length of toilet paper. I tear off some individual squares of toilet paper and place one under each wing tip and each elevator, set the model into the lower hole and lay another series of paper squares over top the same points. Now the top piece of foam is placed back over the model. I figure if this stuff doesnít scratch my important parts, it wonít scratch my modelís important parts. A few quick packing instructions are printed on the foam and we are ready to go. Once the box is sealed the model CANNOT MOVE. Total elapsed time about 25 minutes, total cost of packaging $6.75.
This particular model will be hand carried onto a passenger airliner so the packaging at this level is sufficient but what if I want to turn my labor of love over to a postal employee or some package service goon. It might be advisable to go the next step. I would get yet another box a few inches larger than the first box all the way around, pour some packing peanuts into the bottom of the box, place the first box into the center of the peanut bed and finish filling the box with packing peanuts. Now the model cannot move and is insulated from shock damage. No system is perfect, I have seen things happen to shipping packages that shouldnít happen to the most vile criminals so do not forget that shipping insurance Ė just in case.
To this point everything I have discussed is aimed at WW2 and later aircraft that feature a single wing. What about those earlier bi-planes and other WW1 aircraft? Letís go back to the fabric store and take a look for a bag of polyester fiber. For about $3.00 you can buy a good size bag of this stuff and package you aircraft in it then go to the secondary box with peanut pack. There is an increased risk of damage with this method as the basic aircraft is much more delicate and cannot be held as securely as with the foam core method but damage can be kept to a minimum.
So there you have it. Whether you need to transport that precious model to the district show downtown or ship it to the intrepid E-bay customer across the continent you can now handle it with confidence that it will, in all likelihood, arrive intact. Oh yeah, don't forget to sneak that Ginsu knife back into the kitchen before you get busted by the wife.
Iíve been shipping models around the world for a little while now and have experienced a few incidents of damages Ė slight but still something worth looking into. It seems the problem lies in that the model may still be able to shift slightly and thereby damage some finer details. I went to my local fabric store and purchased some very heavy needles like those used for sewing canvas and picked up some soft cotton thread. Back at Swannyís Models I began packaging a model in the manner already discussed but once the cut-out was completed I removed the model, threaded the needle and punched it through the foam core from top to bottom then back up again. I cut off enough thread to leave about eight inches on each end. I did this at about the mid point of each wing and at the fuselage tail just forward of the rudder. Now the model is placed back into the cut-out and each set of thread ends are then tied snuggly over the model. Since Iíve started doing this I have shipped five models, of those one had two small bombs come loose (and I do remember the connection on those bombs was not that great) and one had a landing gear wheel come loose. No pitot tubes were damaged, no guns or antennas were damaged, everything came through just fine and all of these models were shipped very long distances by U.S. Postal service and several foreign postal services so Iím feeling pretty confident that this is the most secure method of shipping models that I have seen to date.