Friday 30 September 2011

Toy Soldiers: Scheltrum Miniatures Barricades

I recently got hold of a set of Scheltrum Miniatures Barricades.

I decided to paint them as quickly as possible, but still try to do a half decent job. As such it was the first chance I have had to really try out my new tin of Army Painter Dip.

I simply block painted the models, then brushed on some dip. Once dry I gave it a blast of matt varnish (it could probably do with another coat).

If I use the dip for painting figures I will probably over paint the dip with some dry brushing and highlighting, however, for this simple bit of scenery it works just fine...
Scheltrum Miniatures Barricades
Oh, by the way, you wont find the barricades on Scheltrum's website as it is well out of date. They are selling them at shows and I am sure if you contact them directly they will be happy to supply them. As for their website. I will be helping them rebuild the site over the next couple of months so hopefully they will eventually get the site back up to date.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Model Making: Laser Cut Wind Turbine

I have several projects on the go at the moment, but I am also aware that I haven't posted anything in over a week.

So just to let everyone know that I am still here...

My son (at school) has just been talking about different forms of energy production and as usual his keen interest in fans and propellers (yes, he has always been interested in them), has asked me to make him a model of a wind turbine.

This is a fairly rough model, it only took about an hour to build.

Laser cut MDF wind turbine.

The main tower, beneath the generator nacelle, stands 300mm high.

I don't think I will be using any of these on my wargaming table so it is unlikely that I will refine the model any more. Still, I will keep the file in case I decided to build a model wind farm...

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Figure Sculpting: Epoxy Putties - Greenstuff or Kneadatite Blue/Yellow

Miniature sculptors, generally, either use two part epoxy putties or polymer clays.

First off, I am going to look at epoxy putties and with this article the mainstay of figure sculpting for many years, "Greenstuff".

Duro StickKneadatite Blue yellow

Epoxy Putty is supplied in two parts, a filler or body and a hardener. You mix together the two parts and after a period of time the putty sets. There are many different varieties of epoxy putty that are suitable for sculpting with, but they broadly fall into two types, hard set putties and flexible set putties. As the names suggest when these putties have set, they are either hard, which is easily machine-able and sand-able or flexible which retains a plastic type flexibility.

Professional figure sculptors have preferred flexible putties for many years due to production requirements. Basically, the process involved in taking a finished sculpt and turning it into a production run figure usually involves placing the figure between two layers of  rubber and applying heat, around 300 degrees centigrade, and pressure to press the softened rubber into the figure. This is called vulcanising the rubber. Once allowed to cool and set, the original sculpt is removed leaving a cavity into which the molten metal can be poured.

If the figure is sculpted with a hard putty it is far less likely to survive the vulcanising process, getting crushed under the pressure, possibly ruining the mould and leaving you with nothing to work with at the end.
There are other mould making techniques that can be used with different materials, but generally they add an extra process and this adds to the cost of production. I will look at mould making techniques another time.
The main putty that has been the industry standard in miniature figure sculpting for many years is Kneadatite Blue-Yellow, produced by Polymeric Systems. It is  sometime referred to as Duro. Kneadatite is actually a plumbers repair putty but was discovered as a sculpting medium and developed by Tom Meier, when Ral Partha, the miniatures company Meier helped found, were looking for an alternative to lost wax casting in the early 1970's.

Kneadatite Blue/Yellow is a flexible set putty and comes in two parts, one yellow and the other blue. When mixed together the two parts blend together and the putty goes an even green colour. Kneadatite Blue-Yellow is often referred to as Greenstuff within the hobby, due to it’s colour, once blended.

This is also where the term for finished sculpts that have yet to be cast comes from, they are correctly called a Master but are more commonly called “Greens”.

Three "Greens". Notice that the weapons are sculpted with Kneadatite Brown/Aluminium.

The Kneadatite is generally mixed in a 1 to 1 mix, although, as with many of the different putties, different sculptor favour slightly different mixes, some preferring a 60:40 mix of blue to yellow, and others preferring it the other way around. These different mixes affect the setting time, the texture of the putty and also the properties it has once set. So clearly experimentation and experience are need to find the mix that suits each sculptor.

Kneadatite Blue-Yellow is available as either a ribbon (approx. 1metre/1Yard long) or as two sticks. The disadvantage of the ribbon is that the two components are touching and so there is always a small amount of putty that sets where the two parts touch. This means that you have to be very careful to cut the set “lumps” away before mixing your putty together.

Polymeric Systems used to make another of flexible sculpting putty, Kneadatite Blue-White. The blue-white putty remained white once it is blended together, I found it had a different consistency to greenstuff and didn't really enjoy working with it as much. Also due to the colour, it was actually harder to see the detail you are sculpting when compared to working with greenstuff.

Kneadatite Blue White

Somewhere in-between the hard and flexible putties, Polymeric Systems also make Kneadatite Brown/Aluminium (Brownstuff ?). This putty is certainly harder than Blue/Yellow, and it files and sands fairly well. I have used this for weapons, as it has a similar sculpting feel to greenstuff, but sets that much harder and can be filed to get a good edge. As the name suggests, one part of the mix is a brown in colour and the other has a silvery metallic colour. Once mixed it remains brown but with something of a metallic fleck though it. I like using Kneadatite Brown/Aluminium as it for the jobs that might well need filing to an edge. The putty is very easy to use and is easy to clean up with no deposits remaing on your hands. As I suffer from some skin irritation when using certain epoxy putties (I have to wear gloves when handling Milliput, A+B etc.) it is always useful to find a putty that doesn't cause any dermatological problems.

(Note: Since writing this article I have found out that Brown/Aluminium formula has been change and is now called Brown/Neutral. I cannot vouch for the properties of the new formula as I haven’t used it, but I would imagine that it is similar to Brown/Aluminium)


Now is where it all gets complicated, many professional sculptors mix different varieties of putties together to achieve different properties. I have regularly mixed greenstuff with a little Milliput, to give me a sand-able finish that is more resilient than straight Milliput.
Also, recently I have been adding a little Fimo polymer clay into my greenstuff mix. At around 10% (you don't want too much polymer clay in the mix or it wont set), it lengthens the setting time and makes the greenstuff slightly softer to work with without noticeably affecting the set strength of the greenstuff.
Again, it really comes down to experimenting with different mixes until you find what you are looking for.

In my next look at sculpting putties I will move on to Pro-Create. It share some similar properties to greenstuff, but also has some advantages over it.

For further information on sculpting putties and figure sculpting in general, I recommend anyone interested signs up to the 1listsculpting mailing list at Yahoo-groups.
Also for a look at a selection of sculpting putties, you can visit, this UK company supplies many of the different putties available. 

For more information on the Kneadatite putties, and also to find out about local suppliers you ca contact Polymeric Systems at this address:-

Polymeric Systems, Inc.
47 Park Avenue
P. O. Box 522
Elverson , PA 19520

Tel: (610) 286-2500
Toll-free in the U.S.
800-CAULK IT (800-228-5548)
888-EPOXY FIX (888-376-9934)
(610) 286-2510

In the EU contact:

Whitford Plastics Ltd.
10, Christleton Court , Manor Park
Runcorn, Cheshire WA7 1 ST  UK

Tel: +44(0) 1928 571000
+44(0) 1928 571010

Friday 9 September 2011

Figure Sculpting: Armatures, Dollies and Wire…

In my previous two figure sculpting articles I have covered some references and also a look at scale and proportion in figures. This time I am going to start getting down to the nitty gritty…

Wire ArmatureHasslefree Miniatures Armature

When you actually start to sculpt figures, at whatever scale, you soon realise that you can’t simply form your clay, putty or wax (I will call it putty from here on in - for simplicity) into the human form and expect it to stay that way. The putty generally will sag from it’s own weight, or as you hold the figure and try to work on it you will push it out of shape, and in the end you’ll spend more time trying to fix these problems that you actually will sculpting.

So how do you get around this, simply put, you need to have a skeleton inside your figure. This can be made in several way, and again is often dependent on the scale you are working to. For larger figures, up to life size (or bigger) I have seen sculptors weld a tubular frame that can either be screwed to the floor or, more commonly, a baseboard of some kind. For figures of the 1/6th to 1/12th kind of scales most sculptors use wire bent a twisted into the pose they are looking for and then usually supported with an armature stand (A board that has a vertical rod at one side and a movable horizontal bar that is fixed to the wire armature and must be removed when the sculpture is finished).

My Sculpting StandFigure Armature and Stand

For the scales that I normally work at (i.e. wargaming figure scales) there are several options and I shall be looking at those in a little more depth. There are pros and cons to each of these methods and we shall look at them as we go along.

The cheapest and most readily available method is simply to use wire to make your own armature.

Before we go any further with the wire armature, we should really discuss the actual wire that I use. There are a huge variety of different types of wire, from the basic copper electrical wire though florists wire and right up to stainless steel. All of these wires have different properties and some are definitely better than others for the job we are doing. You need a wire that is reasonably strong, will bend easily without being to brittle and, preferably, will solder easily. Copper electrical wire will solder very well, but is generally too soft and bends too easily, also if you bend it in the same place to often it is quite brittle and will snap. Florists wire is a fairly hard wire that bends and holds it's position very well. It is however very brittle, and so with too much adjustment is also prone to snapping. 

For larger scale sculpts, aluminium wire up to around 3mm diameter is very useful, as it is easily twisted and bent into position and hold the shape well. I have a roll of 1mm stainless steel wire that is used in welding. It is very nice stuff to work with, although it can be a little rigid at times. Also it tends to resist soldering and is quite expensive.

My personal favourite is brass wire. It is strong enough for armatures, bends and holds a shape well and is easy to solder. However, getting hold of brass wire can be a bit tricky. It is not really used for anything outside of the jewellery industry and buy a reel of it can be very expensive. Most wire is sold by weight and a kilo of extra hard brass wire (should be a good few years supply for a professional figure sculptor), 0.9mm diameter (S.W.G. 20guage) is around £60. It is also not that easy to find local suppliers of brass wire. I usually use a company called Ormiston Wire Ltd. which is based in Isleworth in Middlesex (UK), and so you also have to add on the shipping cost.

Getting back to the armature, it is very important to measure the proportions, even at this stage, to make sure they will work correctly for the figure you are sculpting. This is where a figure scale template really comes in useful. You can rest your wire armature against the template and see how the proportions work against a figure of the scale that you are working to. There are a couple of figure templates available online for download (as reviewed in my Scale and Proportion article), a recent addition comes from the Massive Voodoo blog where Mati has drawn up some very nice templates, all you need to do is print it out at the correct scale for your project. If you find reducing or enlarging the template to the correct scale a little challenging then, of course you can always try one of my own laser cut templates which comes with a whole range of scales from 6mm (1/300) up to 90mm. You can find the info about those here!

Wire pushed into cork, ready to make an armature.Putty used to hold the wire joints.

When making a wire armature, generally the simplest way to go is to twist some thinner wire around your main wire frame, so as to hold it together. At this point for simplicity, you could encase the points where the wires meet with modeling putty wait for it to dry and proceed with the sculpt. This will work , and I have used this method myself, however, even the strongest sculpting putties, such as Milliput or A+B  don’t grip the round wire very well and it tends to move if you manipulate it too much.

Putty filling out the torso.Armature trimmed and ready for posing.

A far better system is to solder the wire together. Unlike soldering electrical wire, it is very difficult to solder armatures with a standard electric soldering iron. For this job, a butane gas torch is far better. There are several different versions available, and they can be found in shops that sell cooking utensils as well as your normal tool supplier (they are used to caramelize sugar apparently). I have tried the pencil torch type and I find that they run out of gas far too quickly, or at least tend to loose their gas between uses. My torch of preference is actually the cheapest one I have found. The design is very simple, to fill it with gas you simply open the top and insert a disposable gas lighter. It is a small portable torch that fits nicely into my toolbox. It generates plenty of heat and is ideal for soldering armatures together.

Small_butane_torchTwo Butane torches.Torch with disposable lighter refill.

A lot of sculptors use a cork as the basic tool for holding their sculpt. They are light, cheap and the wire armature can be pushed into the cork very easily. Alternatively, a few sculptors have developed their own clamps and grips to hold the figures while they are working on them. I use my own clamps that are made from a length 20mm diameter dowel with an M6 machine screw and wing nut.

One of My Armature Clamps.

So now we have everything ready, lets put our wire armature together.

Brass wire ready for making an armature.Checking the proportions of the armature before soldering.

Make a small loop by bending over one piece of wire and pushing either end into a cork, this will be your figures legs. Then make a second larger loop and also push it into the cork, this will be the arms. Finally push a straight piece of wire down in the middle of the cork, resting against the other two, this will act as the spine and neck of your figure.

When soldering it is very important to clean the wire of any grease or other deposits before attempting to actually solder the joint. This doesn't involve physically cleaning the wire yourself (unless it is particularly dirty), but is does mean that you will need to use a flux. Flux is a chemical paste that you apply to the joint just before you apply the heat. The flux once heated cleans the metal and also stops any oxides forming on the surface. The solder will find it difficult to bond to a dirty or oxide covered metal, so the flux is fairly essential. 

Once the joint is fluxed, then apply heat with the torch, this only takes a few seconds, then touch the solder to the joint. It will melt and run into the joint. Remove the heat, and wait a few seconds. The solder will set and you have an armature ready to sculpt over.

Here is a small video to demonstrate just how easy the soldering process is...

An alternative to wire armatures is to use a "dollie"! There is no official name for these things, and I have seen different manufacturers call them different things, however the companies that I have worked with have called them dollies, so that is what I will go with here. Dollies are pre-made semi-finished figures that can be bent into a chosen pose and then worked on with sculpting putties to finish them off.


They weren't generally available and you either had to make your own and have them cast, or have a company supply you with them for their sculpts. I initially received my first supply of dollies from a couple of companies that I did some work for. That has changed a lot now. Several companies that I can think of off the top of my head supply them now, Reaper Miniatures do three or four, Ebob Miniatures, Hasslefree Miniatures and Amazon Miniatures.

Reaper Miniatures ArmatureReaper Miniatures ArmatureReaper Miniatures ArmatureReaper Miniatures Armature

A figure I sculpted using one of the above Reaper armatures.

Ebob Miniatures Armature.

There are also several companies supplying dollies that are pre-posed, these include Tabletop Warfare and Bronze Age Miniatures.

Bronze Age Miniatures ArmatureBronze Age Miniatures Armature

Tabletop Warfare ArmatureTabletop Warfare Armature

There are both advantages and disadvantages to using dollies. For a novice sculptor dollies can help get over problems with proportion and standardising size across a range of figures. However, many professional sculptors prefer wire armatures as they are less restrictive with the pose. Limbs can break off of the dollies quite easily, especially if bent to much from the original position. 

I often find that if I am using a dollie I will snip off the cast arms, drill into the shoulder and glue some wire in. This compromise between using a dollie and a wire armature gives me the versatility of posing that I prefer, but still saves on a lot of the bulking out work that needs to be done with a wire armature.

The final alternative to a wire armature is the brass etched armature. You will have to excuse the lack of information here as I have had some difficulty tracking down much in the way of detail. Masquerade Miniatures in Germany used to produce some of these, but I can't find them listed on the website any more. There is also a Bulgarian company OKB Grigorov that lists some human and a horse set, although they seem to be limited to 1/72 scale.  

Masquerade Miniatures Brass ArmatureMasquerade Miniatures Brass ArmatureOKB Grigorov Brass ArmatureOKB Grigorov Brass Horse Armature

As I have not used any of these brass etched armatures I can’t really comment on how well they work. I am trying to get hold of some at the moment, and will post my comments if I do.

Seven or eight years ago I started the process of designing a set of brass etched armatures but the project was sidelined. I have recently started to look at them again. I am presently pricing having them manufactured.

As with all aspects of figure sculpting, there are as many different ways of doing things as there are sculptors! I hope I have given some insight into some of the possibilities when it comes to armatures. Please let me know if you have a different technique! I would be happy to return to the subject in the future with alternative methods.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Tools: Super Glue

Super glues or more correctly Cyanoacrylates are very useful for model making and I am sure many of you are already familiar with them.
However there are many pros and cons to using superglue and I am going to cover a few of those just now.
Cyanoacrylate is basically an acrylic resin that sets when it comes into contact with moisture. This is why it sticks skin together so well!
Firstly then, lets look at safety. Cyanoacrylate is extremely good at sticking skin and other human tissue together. I have glued my fingers together no end of times while holding a miniature that I am trying to assemble.


There are several way to release glued fingers, the simplest being acetone which is often found in nail varnish remover. A further caution here, acetone is also harmful to the skin, so use it sparingly. There are also various brands of superglue remover or debonder. All of these will likely be skin irritants.
If you do not have any of these things handy, I would suggest running the bonded digits under warm water for a while, as this may soften the joint.
Anyway lets move on to some of the uses for cyanoacrylate. Almost certainly most wargamers or figure collectors will have used superglue to assemble they figure with and it can be very useful for this.

Most cyanoacrylates set very quickly, usually in under a minute. Now if you are trying to hold two parts of a pewter figure together while they set, clearly a fast setting time is essential.

cyanoacrylate will often set almost instantly and this makes assembly of a figure so much easier. However sometime I have found that the glue will not go off however long I hold it. Clearly there is not enough moisture around to set the glue off.
Often simply breathing on the opposite surface to that which you have applied the glue, before bringing the two surfaces together can be enough to set the glue.
However if this is still not working there are several way around it. You can buy cyanoacrylate accelerators, which as the name suggests will speed up the setting of the glue. One well know brand that I have used is called Zip Kicker. It comes as a spray can and once you have put your two pieces together you spray zip kicker onto the surface and it sets instantly.

Superglue zap and zip

You can also spray the accelerator on to one surface and put the glue onto the other surface and then bring them together. This does not leave you with any time to reposition the two pieces though as they will, again, bond instantly.
There is a drawback to using accelerator though, as the bond will not be as strong as it would have been, if it had set naturally.
Alternative methods of setting off cyanoacrylate can include slightly wetting one surface with water before you bring the two parts together. This will only really work if the part you wet is porous, such as a piece of wood. I would not recommend it for sticking metal miniatures together.

Another technique that I have heard about, but I haven't tried yet is to apply a thin coat of PVA adhesive (commonly called “white glue”) to one surface and then superglue to the other. Now as I said I haven't tried it, but it would seem like a good idea, as the PVA contains water and should accelerate the setting of the bond.
OK, so you have your figures assembled and painted and you carefully pack them away in a case to take to a wargame. Then when you get there and open the box you find that several of the arms have snapped off, the glued joint has failed. Cyanoacrylate is great for sticking things together fast, but is is fairly brittle once set and does weaken after a few years.

I would always recommend pinning your joints rather than just relying on the glue. This involves drilling a small hole in to the two surfaces to be joined and putting a piece of wire into the hole, then gluing it together. This reinforces the joint and it will last much longer.
I would add that on bigger models and joints, I would recommend using a two part epoxy adhesive instead of cyanoacrylate. This usually means propping up the joint while it sets as the epoxy will take between five minutes and several hours to set, but the joint will be much stronger than if you used cyanoacrylate.

Finally, if you do want to take a "super glued" joint apart, try putting it in the freezer for sometime before dis-assembling the joint. Freezing the joint will make it more brittle and easier to take apart.

Monday 5 September 2011

Model Making: Quick and Easy Wargames Terrain No.1 - 15mm Scale Nissen Huts

I tend to take on huge projects that take an age to complete, sure they will look great when done, but they can take forever to finish!

So, in an effort to actually get some terrain on my wargames table I have decided to do some smaller projects, in and around the big ones. The concept is to use found objects and anything that is readily available to make quick and easy models, so that I can then concentrate on the bigger projects (oh and of course getting some figures painted too).

15mm Sci-fi Nissen Huts 4

This first project came around purely by chance. I was looking for some street funiture for a 1/32 scale diorama that I finished recently, on Ebay and came across a set of Britains 1/32 scale corrugated pig huts. As soon as I saw the photo of the huts it occurred to me that they might make reasonable buildings for my 15mm sci-fi set up. The set included three of the huts and I got it, including postage for around £5. I also picked up a single one (with it’s door missing) for £1.99. 


Clearly, it wasn't obvious from the photo just how big they would be, but as they were 1/32 scale it was a fair bet that they'd be big enough to use with 15mm figures.

When I received them I was pleased to confirm that they are a perfect size for what I had in mind.

Britains Pig Hut 1Britains Pig Hut 2Britains Pig Hut 3Britains Pig Hut 5

The single hut turned out to be one of the older versions, which is die-cast metal. Fortunately, though both the metal hut and the three plastic ones are identical in size, shape and colour. It is only the weight that gives it away…

The door hinges up and down and makes a perfect boarding ramp, for my planned prefabricated exploration base or small military outpost. The first thing I did was cut a piece of 2mm plasticard to the door shape to replace the missing one. The opposite end to the door has a rectangle set into it, in which Britains have their name painted. This will make an ideal window, and saves some time as I wont have to add any myself!

The next part of the project was to add a door to the models (this would be needed to disguise the porcine nature of their former use…). Initially, I was simply going to cut some from some plasticard and glue them in place. However I remembered that I had bought some “ 15mm building accessories” from The Scene a while ago. So I dug them out and tried some of the doors. A perfect fit (well almost). I did have to cut a slot in the ridge a one side of the door on the hut as the lock on the door interfered with it. I could have simply removed the lock from the door ( a pair of snips would of had it off in seconds), but I felt that letting the lock into the door frame would aid the blending of the two parts into the final model.

The Scene 15mm scale doors 1Nissen Hut Conversion 2

I positioned the door in place and marked where I needed to cut.

Nissen Hut Conversion 7Nissen Hut Conversion 3

It was tricky to get a saw into the door frame so instead I use the edge of a needle file. This turned out to work very well, both on the plastic and the metal huts.

Nissen Hut Conversion 4Nissen Hut Conversion 5

Once fitted I glued the doors in place and then stuck each hut to a base board.

Nissen Hut Conversion 6

I decided to add a couple of extra bits to the metal hut, to turn it into a communications centre. So again I simply glued a couple of bits from The Scene onto it. A satellite dish on top and a ventilator system on the back end.

15mm Sci-fi Nissen Huts 5

The final touch was to paint the doors and windows I didn’t bother painting the actual huts as the metal colour looked fine anyway) and then to add some sand and coloured scenics to the bases. As this is an alien planet the colour scheme has a red bias (my sci-fi terrain boards and figure bases are all red biased).

15mm Sci-fi Nissen Huts 1

15mm Sci-fi Nissen Huts 2

15mm Sci-fi Nissen Huts 3

All in all, it has taken me nearly as long to write this blog post as it did to do the actual huts! I suppose I could have done more work on them and really gone to town on the fixtures and fittings, but the whole point was that I wanted good looking scenics for my table without spending much time on it…

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