Since I’m moving into the last stages of work on the Eurofighter Typhoon (which will be 3 Squadron’s green tailed anniversary aircraft) I thought I would say my piece about how I approach the end of a project like this.
I am constantly seeing build recaps on different forums where the builder will paint and even apply decals before major construction on the model is finished. In other words, the wings and tail are unattached, certainly no landing gear, and often no canopy either. I’ve always marveled at how some modellers seem to be able to make this work well. I use a lot of Tenax as an adhesive, which pretty much requires that you do major assembly prior to painting. The liquid is flowed into joints via a microbrush, so there is inevitably contact between the surface and the brush in the process of gluing, say, a wing onto the airframe. And we all know that Tenax and paint are mortal enemies. I’m pretty sure that if I tried a "paint-first-glue-second" process, I would be spending quality time in "repaint-third" work.
Same with decals. My sticky little sausage fingers would likely lift the decals off the surface during handling (it happens occasionally in any case). And that assumes I wouldn’t put a glue or paint fingerprint somewhere on the painted surface of the kit, which is likely not a good assumption. In fact, it is better for all concerned if I have the least amount of contact possible with the model once the paint and decals go on. Unmasking the canopy and gingerly placing it in the display case is about as far as I’m willing to go.
A good example is the He-162 that I’m wrapping up. I left the exhaust portion of the engine casing off since I didn’t want to have to mask and spray it in place (being, as is my wont, a lazy sod). But when I tried to attach it, it didn’t fit at all – par for the course for these older DML kits – and the attempts to work it in not only got glue all over the place but even smeared some of the silver paint onto the RLM81. I just need to do things in their proper order (for me at least) and not let my natural impatient nature take hold.
So that is why I tend to apply decals after the construction, including landing gear and doors, are all on the model. Now admittedly this has its own set of dangers: I’ve dropped models, clumsily broken off gear or doors, and other such crimes. But it doesn’t happen that often, and seems less traumatic than looking down and seeing roundels hanging off of your fingers.