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Discussion > What's a Craftsman Kit?

Dear Colleagues,

I just listened to a portion of the most recent Scotty Mason podcast on model railroading (a fine pastime during a lunch break) and a brief discussion, there, got me to thinking about the question, "What makes it a 'craftsman' kit?" Is it the material in the kit, the complexity and difficulty of construction, the variety of skills necessary to complete the kit, the realism and detail of the kit? One opinion, often repeated by the FSM afficionados, is that only wood kits are craftsman kits. Some will include the really complex plastic kits (like the Tichy coaling tower), but just barely. Of course, those of us who build cardstock kits really get left in the dust of that discussion. I have my own notion of what a "craftsman kit" is [something that requires careful and deliberate planning and execution, with a variety of tools and skills, to create a detailed and realistic version of a prototypical or "could have been prototypical" locomotive, piece of rolling stock, structure, or scenery], but I am wondering if I am way off base. To me, all of the Clever Models fit in that category [and I think the contest will prove that] because, to get the most out of the model, all of those procedures must be employed. I'd love to hear other thoughts on the matter.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJim Gore
So would I.
You know my feelings on this. So what about the increasing amount of paper found in current "craftsman kits" paper roofs (shingles and structure) window and door frames, awnings and signage. Does that make a kit less craftsman or more.. From my view any kit that uses window and door castings, no matter how good might cross the craftsman line. It doesen't take much craft to take a cast plastic window and stick it in a laser cut hole.
August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThom M
The phrase "Craftsman Kit" on a model kit has about as much information content as the phrase "All Natural" on food labeling. Best I can tell it means that the marketing department liked the way it sounded.
The "skill level" that Monogram and many plastic manufacturers use on their kits is more informative to the consumer. 1 = snap tight, 2 = glue and paint, 3 = more than a certain number (can't remember off the top of my head) of parts

I'd argue that I never met a kit that could build worth a darn. All the craftsmen I know are people. The kits are raw materials some better than others. I don't revere complexity for its own sake. If paper gives the effect that I'm aiming to achieve, then paper is the material I use. If I can make cast plastic windows look right, then I'll use them instead of scratch-building a window. If I can't find a casting, I'll scratch build. The more techniques, materials, and tools available and mastered, the better the craftsman. Craftsmanship isn't about easy or difficulty or simplicity. Craftsmanship is about the finished product.

Good thing I'm not opinionated, eh?


August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Duggan
What constitutes a craftsman' kit ??? Well, with all wonderful kits on the market today, I believe that the majority of them could be called craft'sman kits. But, the level of difficulty that each kit presents to each individual modeler, and at what stage they are at in their modeling ability also plays a factor. There are some people that can put together a FSM, SRMW or Sierra West kit with no difficulty at all. Others will find the kits very difficult. Again , what is their skill level. ??
I agree with Mike on the fact that technique plays an important role, but technique is what is developed over the years and the amount of kits a person has put together. I think that just putting together any of the DPM kits will make a modeler develope skills that will carry them to the next levels. Wood,paper, plastic,plaster or metal, all building's go together the same way, if it is to look like a building. The basic skills of squaring up walls, painting and weathering techniques can all be learned on any material.Or course, different materials produce different results. I also believe that the newer produced craftsman's kits have evolved over the years, to a new level also. To quote one of the manufactuers, " If you can read and follow directions, you can achieve good results. Very true, but having the basic skills will help.
As for myself, I have built my fair share of kits and I have gone in the direction of scratchbuilding. That's not to say that I will never put a kit together again, just my way of enjoying the hobby.
In light of all i have just said, my thought on what constitutes a craftsman kit, is THE KIT that will challenge your ability,whatever level you are at.
What's most important, is sharing what we have learned over the years with our fellow modelers, helping them develop their own skills and techniques and having fun. A kit does'nt make someone a true craftsman. It's someone who is not afraid to share his or her knowledge with others, not the kit.
August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony
What we try to achieve is a notion of realism, even a caricature of realism and it maters not what materials you use to achieve this. Since this is a paper site, if paper suits the need then use it. The thing I find disturbing, and this goes for all manufactures, is if the material does not work to make the item look more real but they are into (resin, wood, plaster, paper, plastic etc.)they use that material anyway.
August 30, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlarry
Thanks for all of your comments. I am glad to see that I am not alone in my opinions. In fact, I use a lot more cardstock and paper material for roofing (and doors and tank bands and ...) than people expect or believe and I have won quite a few AP awards with paper and cardstock combinations. Indeed, when I won the Presidents Award (Sunshine Region NMRA event) for the cardstock G&D engine house, I think there was a little bit of consternation when they discovered, after the fact, that it was cardstock. You expressed the terms better than I did when you said a craftsman kit is the quality and realism of product that is created by the craftsman and I agree, almost all kits are craftsman kits if they include the material necessary to make it a realistic contribution to your layout.

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJim Gore
While I personally do not do much with cardstock, keep in mind John Allen's G&D engine house was constructed of cardstock. Also, Jack Work, a very prolific scratchbuilder and author used cardstock and his structures were very impressive.
Regards, Vic Bitleris
August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVic Bitleris
So, Any kit or model built in a "craftsman" like manner is a craftsman kit.
August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThom M
So, If Any kit or model built in a "craftsman" like manner is a craftsman kit, I wonder why the box of sticks crowd is so set on making a differentiation?
I know that there are a lot more manufacturers now and competition for hobby dollars is stiff (WE are after all trying to get a piece of that pie) but it would seem that Card stock (we) would not be a threat since our disks sell for a small fraction of the cost of a wood kit. Not to be touchy but there was a time that even our esteemed competitor "Paper creak" tried to claim the "craftsman" moniker as "The original craftsman card stock model". As a marketer of a product, I'm not sure how much $ value should be assigned to the term "Craftsman" though I guess it works for "Sears Co" I think I'll just go with " Damn Fine models"
August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThom M
Dear All,

After ruminating ("chewing my cud") on this issue for a couple of weeks, I am still at a loss in some respects. I think that the "box of sticks" crowd don't understand that planning and conceptualization are, in my mind, what creates a craftsman, not the material that compses the kit. Every one of my "first" attempts at "craftsman kits" (even my first shot at a Clever Models kit) ended in disaster, not so much from lack of skills (although those always need improvement) but because I didn't plan, didn't have a vision of the end product, and certainly, didn't have the patience. Once I realized that my first week of building would be spent examining the parts (whether a box of sticks, slabs of resin, or pages of printed cardstock) and making notes so that I could put together a "plan" (regardless of the instructions or lack), my ability to create pleasing models was enhanced.

However, my greater fear is that the hobby of model railroading (at least that's what most of us are involved in) seems to be moving towards two poles; those who want it all ready-to-run and those who build exquisite craftsman kits but leave them out of context. Putting aside the RTR group (who build some really fine model railroads), I go to many contests and see incredible dioramas built with the very pricey and highly detailed kits and I am very envious of the ability to create those models. Heck, there's even a convention just for devotees of craftsman models. But, then, I wonder if this is really what I should be striving for? My layout has to have a story to tell in order to entertain me and my visitors. So, I can't build a kit, just as a diorama ... it has to have a place on my layout ... it has to help to tell the story ... for me, that's part of the craftsmanship, as well. A few months ago, I had a large contingency of visitors to my layout and I got a chance to talk with some of the "names" in model railroading. One of them, a "name" everyone would recognize, talked with me several hours about the various techniques he used to build the most incredible dioramas I have ever seen. I mentioned that I would love to see his layout as the effect of all of those structures must certainly be astounding. "Oh, I don't have a layout ... I just build these for contests and for clinics ... I don't ever intend to have a layout!" Pity! I know that this guy's frequent purchases are probably more valuable to the manufacturers than mine (since I have to choose carefully and not often) but I still wonder if the desire to create these incredible dioramas (for their own sake) is splintering the hobby (not to mention the effect of a graying hobby)?

Well ... now that I have vented, I will get back to completing the bits of detail on my version of the contest model. Although I am going to be a judge (at Thom's invitation), I want to show everybody what my version looks like some time in the future. It's a great kit and has lots of uses. I hope that I get to see a lot of really great models in the next couple of weeks.

September 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJim Gore