Dragon Sherman Construction

The last time I built any armor was 15 years ago and the best Sherman kits we had at the time were the Tamiya and Italeri kits.  Recently, I thought it would be fun to revisit armor and do a few quick Sherman builds.  It seemed like a nice change of pace from some of the more involved projects that I’ve been doing.  When selecting the kits, I thought I would try the more recent Dragon releases because they were the newest and I reckoned better than the older Tamiya and Italeri versions.  I was quite surprised to discover that these kits are not particularly easy to construct and require a fair bit of trial and error in fitting the pieces together.  In some ways, building these kits reminds me of old craftsman railroad kits where you get a bunch of universal parts and it is basically up to you to figure out how to reshape and fit them together.  The instructions for the Dragon kits are rather spartan and I have found them difficult to follow because they are drawn with so many “sub-assembly” and “option boxes”.  This is the only time I can ever remember that I have had to actually use a pen and mark off the parts and assemblies.  This is compounded by the fact that the sprues contain a myriad of unused parts that are intended for other versions.  Some of these extra parts look very similar to the necessary parts.  This is a nice benefit for growing your spares box, but after having worked with these kits for while, I have come to the conclusion that fewer, but better designed parts would be a nice feature.  I now understand why I still see so many completed Tamiya Shermans in the online galleries. However, now that I’ve started with these kits, I’m going to stay with them.  I think they have a lot of nice detail features and I like the fact that I can cover so many variants.

As I have worked my way through several of these kits, I have devised some methods that work for me and I thought it would be helpful to share them with other builders.  These techniques are focused on improving the basic structural construction and overcoming those aspects that I feel are shortcomings of the kit.  For the most part, my goal has been to work with what is supplied in the kit.  As a preface, this is not an article on detailing the Sherman.  To that I defer to the many great sources that are available to Sherman devotees.

The box of a Dragon Sherman is significantly larger than the Tamiya Sherman, Fig. 1.  The Dragon box is jam packed and it is funny how hard it is to put everything back in if you take everything out for an inspection.  It becomes immediately apparent that a good pair of sprue cutters will be indispensable, Fig. 2.

Dragon M4 Sherman kit compared
Sprue Cutters

All the Dragon Shermans that use the heavy VVSS share the same basic lower hull design.  The only differences are the details on the underside of the hull.  From my experience, it is common to find the lower hull a bit less than square, Fig. 3.  Every hull seems to be different in this distortion so check each side with a square.

My solution is to make a diagonal cut part way through the corner of the bottom and side, Fig. 4.  With a little pressure, you can bend the side outward a bit and bring it to square.  I then use sprues to brace the structure and reinforce all joints with my mixture of Zap-A-Gap and dental acrylic resin powder, Fig. 5.  The result is a very nice rigid structure.  Even if everything is square right out of box, I like to add similar supports.  Of course this method of bracing will not work if you are going to be detailing the interior.

Dragon M4 Sherman Stock Hull
Sawing Hull
Hull Reinforced

The rear plate for the lower hull needs a little special attention.  Because Dragon has used the same lower hull side, each rear plate has been adapted to fit the specific version.  Fig. 6 is the rear plate for the newer M4 Normandy and Composite PTO.  Fig. 7 shows the rear plate for the M4A3E8.  The rear plate in Fig. 8 is what is supplied for the M4A3 which is the most challenging because it really lacks any sort of positive lock for location.  You will need to do some filling and sanding no matter which back you use, but my experience has been that non of them are quite wide enough to let you simply fill in the gap and then sand it smooth so that it is flush with the side.  My approach has been to dress the side of the rear plate to make it flat and then add a .010” piece of styrene to each side, Fig. 9.  This sands down better than filler and provides a better surface for gluing the idler wheel mounts.

Dragon Sherman M4 Rear Plates

The horizontal pieces under the sponsons sometimes need to be squared up as well.  A little judicial pressure is usually enough to bring them into square.  This is fairly easy because the box has been made nicely rigid in the previous step.  After the sponson floors are squared up, you can cement on the rear extensions.  I have generally found the sponson floors to have a bulge in the center which distorts the upper hull side, so I carefully sand this area flat, Fig. 10.  Go slow and check fit the lower and upper hull.  Always check and recheck.  Also give the other flat surfaces a little sanding.

Sanding Sponson Floor

I am not particularly enamored with the way Dragon has chosen to mount the M4 suspension, Fig. 11.  There are too many pieces and with each step there is additional potential for error and misalignment.  I feel that in this respect, the Tamiya hull in Fig. 12 is a far better method.  The Tamiya hull provides perfect alignment and spacing of the bogies as well as the rear idler and front drive sprocket.  To help cement the mounting plates more uniformly, I use a spacer cut from a piece of clear acrylic, Fig. 13.

Lower Hull Comparison
Mounting Plate Spacer

The construction of the suspension bogies is also more involved than the Tamiya method, Fig 14.  Dragon has elected to make the suspension arms a separate structure which is fine, but they molded them in one piece so that their movement is not prototypical, Fig. 15.  The only advantage to the Dragon system is that it provides an actual separation between the suspension bracket and the arms which looks a little better, but again, it is another potential for misalignment.  The fixed position of the Tamiya method allows the suspension brackets to be cemented perfectly vertical along the hull sides.  The rocking motion of the Dragon system plus the slop in the fit of the bracket to the mounting plate means that the vertical alignment is strictly visual.

Tamiya Sherman Bogie
Dragon Suspension Bogie

The Dragon kits using the heavy M4 VVS suspension give you a choice of two types of return roller support arms, Fig. 16.  The early straight arm on the right and the angled arm on the left.  You should consult your references in deciding which type to use.

Dragon molds their components differently to minimize ejector pin marks, but this means that there are a lot more sprue attachments to clean up, Fig. 17.  This becomes extremely pesky if they are on parts that are supposed to be perfectly round.  In my case, I resort to using a lathe to clean them up.

Trailing Arms

Most of these kits are supplied with a choice of open spoke wheel or a solid spoke type.  The open spoke wheel fits better and is less of a problem, however, I still use the lathe to clean them both up and make sure the tires will sit flat.  The solid spoked wheel consists of two pieces and takes more finesse.  If you want the spokes to line up, then don’t do what I do.  If on the other hand, you subscribe to the theory that you can only see one side at a time, then I suggest you make the assembly much easier by removing the alignment tab, Fig. 18.

Dragon M4 Sherman Bogie Wheel
Tight Solid Wheel

The solid spoke wheel does not fit on the axle, Fig. 19, so you will need to drill it out, Fig 20.  The method that I use to clean up these round components is to turn an arbor that I can press fit the wheels onto and then quickly clean up the outside of the tire, Fig. 21.

Drilling Out Bogie
Turning the Tire

The solid wheels are also too wide for the axles, Fig. 22, so you need to face off a portion from both sides.

Dragon M4 Sherman Solid Wheel
Cementing Suspension Arms

The construction of a tracked vehicle suspension can be very repetative and there can be a tendancy to hurry.  Spend a little time and check which side of the road wheels face the the front.  When placed onto the axles the side facing up will go on the inside.  One side of the spoked wheel has a recess that helps keep it free from cement.  This is the side that should face to the inside, Fig. 23.  One face of the solid spoked wheel is molded with the wheel and looks much better, this side should face towards the outside, Fig. 24.  A spring paper clip is a nice aid in cementing the suspension arm assembly together, Fig. 25.

Spoked Wheel Assembly
Solid Spoked Wheel Assembly

The same process is used to finish off the return rollers, Figs, 26, 27.  Check the return roller width with the tracks that you are using.  I planned on using Tamiya T48 tracks and the return rollers seemed a bit tight, so I reduced the width, Fig. 28.  In any case, you will want to radius the inside of the roller to match the outside.  I do this simply with a quick pass with a file, Fig. 29.

The spring assembly is in two pieces and I have found it easier to hold if you assemble it first and then clean up the sprue attachments, Figs 30, 31.

machining return rollers
Dragon M4 Sherman Volute Spring

The suspension arm assembly does not fit well into the suspension brackets so I used a reamer to enlarge the holes, Fig. 32.  Before everything is buttoned up, I like to lay it all out so I don’t get anything backwards, Fig. 33.  I usually remove the locating pins from the inside bracket half and sand both mating surfaces.  However, some modelers may feel more comfortable using the locating pins.

Fitting Suspension Arms
Dragon M4 Sherman Suspension Assembly

After the suspension bracket halves are glued together, you will need to clean up the glue joints, Fig. 34.  A little extra detailing can be added by drilling out the mounting holes for the return roller arms Fig. 35.  I made a quick drilling jig from sheet brass (the construction of the jig is described here).  Note the center line marked on the jig.  I use the kit supplied support skids, but there are some very nice aftermarket ones available.

Suspension Assembly Without Skid
Drill Return Roller Arm Holes

The Dragon kits of the early Shermans use a very nice M3 suspension bogie, Fig. 36.  This bogie is supplied in both the M4A1 DV and M4A2 DV (Cyber-Hobby Sherman III DV).  While both kits share the same bogie, but the hull and mounting are different.  The mounting plates along with some very nice rivet detail is molded into the M4A1 DV hull, Fig. 37, while the M4A2 DV kit uses a typical Dragon lower hull, Fig. 38.

Dragon M3 Suspension Bogie
Hulls Compared

The M4A2 DV (Sherman III DV), uses separate mounting plates and these plates are specific to each side, so double check to make sure you are using the correct plate, Fig. 39.  The plates have a bit of side-to-side slop.  You can check the alignment of the plate with the bracket that is molded into the bottom of the hull, Fig. 40.

M3 Suspension Brackets
Alighnment of Mounting Bracket

The spring and platform fit a little too tightly into the suspension bracket so I found a few passes with some sandpaper on the indicated surfaces allows the two bracket halves to close better, Fig. 41.

fitting springs into suspension bracket