Tracks – Stock vs. Aftermarket

When comes to an Aftermarket, the most expensive stuff that you might buy are track sets. They are being sold with prices often higher than the price of the model itself. This immediately rises the question, do you need one set?
Well, answer to that depends on few factors when building a model.
First: do you need Aftermarket parts for the model at all?
Second: Do they /tracks/ have to be metal or
Third: Do the box contents offer actual solution, or you need to go down the other road for sure?

Hobby boss tracks

There are a lot of small tips and tricks to make a model look like real thing and in AFV modeling tracks that are weighted and flexible usually does that job very well. OK, but with that price, you got to give it a good thought before you act. So, let’s respond to that questions to see what will be the result in the end.

First: Aftermarket stuff is made in order to improve the model, add realism to it, correct wrong parts or add missing ones. However, many modelers use it for different purpose lately. When you got to a contest, /if you do that of course/ most of the attention is usually drawn by models full of resin, PE and metal stuff. In some ways, this really shows that person who did it knows what he’s doing. But not always. Some of the modelers out there do it just to gain sympathy from the jury in the final judging or respect from other modelers. Well, not always, but quite too often lately. This practice corrupts the idea in some ways.
So in order to answer the first question: if you really need Aftermarket – well, you definitely cannot go with the tracks OOTB. So, before you buy a set, ask yourself: can you do the same result with the stock ones?

OOTB tracks for Merkava III.D

Second: If by some reason you decided to do it with some other set, you got to think which tracks you need to buy.
I personally think that Friul tracks are one of the best options out there. However, again you got to ti give it a good thought before you shoot. Many people get Friuls just because they look metal when you sand some of the weathering, and the real metal shines beneath the dirt. OK, that is cool thing, but actually, same or even better results can be achieved with proper dry brushing.
You got to think also fitting problems: some Friuls need different sprockets and they are usually featured in the sets. But!, /yes, there is a but/ this might cause headaches when you decide that you want metal tracks at later stage at which you are already done with the wheels/sprockets and now you have to make new ones and apply same weathering. So first go through all the project in your mind, and before you start actual work, be sure that you have everything you need.

Friul set contents

Friuls adds some amazing realism to the model, that’s for sure: they are metal tracks and they weight as the real ones. So if you do the exact numbers of the links you will get the proper looking track with the correct tension. Also, in terms of weathering, they are easier to work with than rubber or plastic ones. There are solutions that changes their colors once you dip the track in it, and even if you don’t go that road, there is plenty of pigments out there lately, so you can dust them, dirt them, mud them or whatever. Then you just need to clean the parts where there is friction with a sandpaper and there you go! They shine where they touch the ground or the wheels from the inside of the track and they are dirty where they have to be. Easy job!

Modelkasten Set for T-55 tank

If you go plastic aftermarket tracks, then you have another deal. Modelkasten is one of the best supplier of those out there. AFV Club offer some, as well as other companies lately, but we will focus on Modelkasten, since they are a benchmark for plastic tracks.
They have some advantages and of course, some disadvantages compared to metal tracks /not meaning only Friul, because there are other metal track suppliers out there/.
First and I believe most important is the attachment of the tracks one to another. With Friul you have connecting wire /supplied in the set/ and with Modelkasten you have pins from the both sides which have to be glued.

Friul set

Second thing is, that Friul are a bit more sturdy, but then again, this is a shelf model, so you don’t have to bother with that.
Modelkasten are lighter and in order to get the proper sag of the track you need to adjust it by hand, especially if you add to much glue in the process of assembly. If that is the case they tend to move less, and you need to adjust them by yourself, which makes “workable track” not so workable. So have that in mind!
The other important thing to watch out for is not to overweather them. They are not so forgiving as metal tracks, and if you want to keep them movable and not risk break of the links, you got to handle with care.
The price of Modelkasten is a bit lower compared with Friuls, but again it all depends. They are both very good aftermarket options, and it depends on what do you want in the end.
For example: I know a guy who wants his tracks to be movable. Well, Modelkasten is an option, but imagine what will happen if you move the tank over the carpet. Then you gotta get Friul /and wash the carpet next/.
So it all depends what do you have in mind, or what your supplier can find for you.

Modelkasten out of the box. They look like Hobby Boss ones, but they are very different once built

If you are not sure does your kit contains solution of the problem that you have, you go out there and check first. By that I mean – if you have rubber tracks and you want to build a diorama with a damaged tank and its links on the ground, well, yes – you will need aftermarket.
But if you just need to do the right sag, maybe not worth to spend 30-40$ for tracks that will have almost the same appearance. I have very good example for that.
I’ve biuild M109A2 Doher with aftermarket tracks from AFV Club. Well, the hassle with those was the same as with the Friuls, but they look the same as the rubber ones supplied in the kit. Nor the feel or the final look was close to the results I wanted. I wasted time, and money /not so much but still/ on doing something completely worthless. If I stayed with OOTB rubbers, I would’ve waste time only to make the proper bending, instead of cutting a million links and glue them together /and bend for the proper sag again!/.
Other good example for evaluating your kit option is Tamiya Abrams that I’ve built lately. It has rubber tracks, but once on the kit they look perfect! And I mean perfect! I doubt that metal tracks would change anything.

Built and weathered Friuls. The track is dipped into weathering solution. Again – aftermarket stuff.

So check out what you have, because you might have it all in there. Some kits like Tamiya Jagdtiger offer two sets of tracks. Some like Trumpeter KV-1 sets have perfect sags on their plastic tracks which are divided into sections. New models /Meng for example/ have workable tracks OOTB – FT-17, Char 2C, D9R Doobi.
I just saw /like last couple of days/ brand new D9 metal tracks set. For me, this is absolute waste of money. Tracks of the Doobi are perfect OOTB. They are movable and sturdy enough. Besides the built model weights a ton, so imagine what will happen if you put more metal in it.
So its not always certain, is the Aftermarket tracks better or worse. As everything in life, it depends on the time, place and other circumstances. So my advice to you is – explore your options first, and do it carefully. It is always a fun thing to add aftermarket, but if you gonna do just another model you will put on the shelf, you might wanna spare yourself the trouble. Besides, as mentioned above, solution might be already in front of you!
Thank you for reading!

This is how Modelkasten should be done