A visit to JAG Collective

by Jeff Hughes
JAG Collective Inc. was formed in 1998 by a group of talented individuals who felt Central Florida could use a company with their unique modeling capabilities. 

When you enter the lobby of their Orlando Florida facility a scale model of a high rise office building, Dr. Seuss figure and a host of Disney characters greet you. JAG is a model making studio/architectural model making company servicing clients worldwide. Ship kits are a very small part of the JAG collective's business.
Samples of Architectural models
Tom Gardner and Pavel runs the ship portion of JAG. Typically Pavel makes the masters and Tom handles the production and fine tuning. 

Ship plans, reference books and detailed photographs of the ships are used to create the masters. When asked how much time it takes to create a typical master, Gene stated that he has never kept track of the time. If he did, and added this into the cost of the kits, no one would be able to afford them. You may be surprised to know that- while both are modelers (not necessarily ship modelers though, but that is another story for the likes of Oprah or Jerry Springer) neither Tom nor Gene have finished building one of their own kits!!

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The material used to make the masters is a cross section of anything and everything that is available to Gene. The bulk of the master is usually made from product called Ren Shape. This material is easy to cut (table saw works great), machine and sand. It comes in a variety of densities for different applications. Its downside, for those of us who would want to use it at home, is it's cost. It ain't cheap!! Check out the web site: http://www.rentooling.com/

Once the master is done, an RTV mold is made from the master. This mold is then used to make several resin masters. These resin masters are used to make the molds that will be utilized in production. The theory behind this is that often the original master will become damaged while making the mold. Molds will eventually deteriorate and need to be replaced, if the original master is damaged and repaired it may not be exactly like it was. Hence JAG relies on the fact that they have a master mold for which they can produce new resin masters. If a resin master is damaged during the making of the production mold, no big deal, it's not needed again. In addition, JAG makes multiple molds of each ship to increase production.
Tom takes great care in making the RTV molds. To insure removal of all possible air bubbles, the molds are placed under vacuum, sometimes twice, to force the entrapped air to the surface. The better the mold, the better the parts formed from that mold. As stated above, multiple molds of the same kit will be made.
JAG utilizes two ex-medical autoclaves to  pressurize the RTV molds once the resin has been poured into them. As you can tell by the size of the two autoclaves, JAG is able to cure multiple molds at one time. According to Tom, the limiting factor is usually the working life of the resin not a limit of space in the autoclaves. The resin must cure in the molds for a minimum of 45 minutes. When they are removed they are given a quick inspection. With all the fine detail on the JAG kits, I asked how often this detail is broken when removing the finished resin ships from the mold. According to Tom they usually never have any damage. 
Fresh Albany Fresh Long Beach
I asked why they use grey resin. "What color are Navy ships?" stated Tom. Another reason is that they feel that grey shows up better in photos, thus making their kits more attractive in pictures. The type of resin used is white and Tom must mix in the colorant to each batch of resin to achieve the grey color.
An item in which Tom takes pride is the flatness of their hull bottoms. Excess resin is scraped off the mold and a flat object (sometimes, another mold) is placed on top of the mold before it is placed in the autoclave. If you have ever seen one of their kits you will notice that the bottoms of their hulls are indeed flat and require little to no sanding.
Once removed from the mold, the parts are taken to the packing and shipping area. It is here that Laura, miraculously makes all the necessary parts fit into the distinctive JAG tubes. I explained to Tom that it is impossible to get all the parts and packing back into those tubes. I received no sympathy at all. Their only reply was "we make these kits to be built not collected". This statement and the fact that the tubes provide excellent structure protection for their delicate content are the reasons for choosing the distinctive tubes.
JAG uses an ever growing network of distributors to get their product to their customers. Hence they are always making kits in larger quantities than they would if they had just chosen to be the sole distributor. They are able to do this because JAG is a company and not a one person operation, even though the kits often take a back seat to other JAG endeavors and are a small percent of the overall company. 
While I was there Tom showed me their newest toy, a spin caster. This will enable them to use white metal instead of resin parts for the smaller pieces in their kits. I watched Tom run the machine and produce white metal parts in minutes rather than hours when using resin. The two part silicon based mold is placed in the caster and pressure is applied. Molten metal is poured in and the machine spins the mold, using centrifugal force to move the molten metal into the cavities of the mold. In a matter of seconds, the mold can be removed for instant parts. Look forward to seeing high quality white metal parts from JAG in the very near future.
Previews of future JAG kits
1/700 AOE 1 
USS Sacramento
1/700 USS Ashland
Future amphibious release by JAG
1/700 CGN Virginia 
and LSD Anchorage
1/350 FRAM USCGC Hamilton Class and a FRAM Gearing
As some of you may know, Gene and Tom have alluded to working on 1/350 kits for those who prefer the larger scales. Well, as the picture shows they are indeed working on two masters in 1/350, a FRAM USCGC Hamilton Class and a FRAM Gearing. The masters still have a way to go, but they looked good. The REN material mentioned above is abundant on these two masters. 

As for their soon-to-be-released CGN Virginia and LSD Anchorage - what beauties! They have the typical JAG quality and immaculate castings. I can 't wait to get my hands on both of these ships! The most exciting release for me will be the AOE 1 Sacramento; finally a modern support ship for my fleet. The master I viewed was impressive. Note the hull and portions of the superstructure are from the REN material mentioned above. I never realized what a large ship an AOE is. I hope sales of this ship will be high so it encourages Gene and Tom to release more of this type.

I was able to get a sneak peek at a couple 1/700 ships that Gene is working on. Once again both are post W.W.II ships and I know one ship will make some transplanted Yank now living in the U.K., who is a part of Snyder and Short and WEM, very happy. Can you guess what ship it is? Here is a hint - the other ship on Gene's desk is its non nuclear sister (Okay, for those purists out there, these two classes of ships are not exact sisters, changes had to be made to accommodate the nuclear reactors, hence their differences). Both of these ships will be welcomed additions when they hit the market.
I thanked them for releasing the amphibious ships they have. They told me they were not done yet with the amphibious ships.
The boys at JAG had me drooling during my entire visit. Not just with the wonderful modern vessels but with what they want to produce in the future. I know that the majority of modelers prefer W.W.II subjects and I think that era is fine but the modern ships have always fascinated me. I like the escort ships, the support ships and the Gator Navy. JAG is bringing the type of ships many others and myself want to see. I thank them for their courage to pursue ships of this era and type.
I want to thank Gene and Tom for their hospitality during my visit, for allowing me access to JAG and for allowing me to fondle multiple kits. I want to thank all those at JAG Collective for allowing Gene and Tom to make these kits and for their hospitality also.

For a list of current JAG Kits click the logo on the rights

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