X-ACTO knife and scalpel blades No. 11, available at art supply stores and hobby shops. This is a precision instrument which we will use routinely to remove flash from figures and to separate heads and limbs from the torso during the conversion process. Since many of the parts will be used interchangeably on other miniatures, the scalpel allows us to make clean cuts and avoid damaging any of the items. Always exercise great care when working with the scalpel! It is a dangerous piece of equipment in careless hands. Support figures against a small cutting board. Make all cuts away from your hands or body, and into the cutting board.
Use a geometric triangle to ensure precision cuts of cardboard and plywood basing material. Large triangles with a fixed handle are most suited for this purpose, and they may be available at art supply stores.
Small cutting board to protect the table surface. Wooden boards are ok, but the more modern soft plastic cutting boards give better results.
0.3 mm and 0.6 mm piano wire, available at hobby shops. The wire is cut into 15-20 mm lengths which we will use to pin swapped parts of figures together.
Small pliers and wirecutters. Pliers are used to insert short pins into the figure, which will hold the torso and the new head together firmly. It is dangerous to use too much force when pushing pins into figures. The pin easily pushes through the soft plastic and into the hand holding the figure! A painful injury, which can be avoided by stabilizing the figure against the cutting board and keeping the fingers well away from any potential areas where the pin might exit the figure. Another way to avoid injury is to wrap a piece of cloth around the figure, creating a buffer between the pin and the hand that holds the figure.
25 Watt soldering iron with tip removed and a scalpel blade inserted instead. The soldering iron will be used to smoothe over large joints in the figure and fuse parts together. It’s possible to use the hot blade as a sculpting tool, to remove certain items of uniform and equipment or to add molten plastic to a figure’s shoulders and carve fringed epaulettes from it.
Rai-Ro makes a hot wax spatula which is particularly useful for miniature modelling. The device consists of a regulator for heat adjustment, and a miniaturized soldering iron with two tips, a knife and a spatula. There are a number of different types of hot wax which may be used in conjunction with the heated spatula. Filler wax is nearly liquid when heated, it seeps into cracks and gaps, filling them quickly. Modelling wax is harder, it creates a smooth surface, and it can be sculpted with a variety of modelling tools. Adhesive wax is the toughest of the three, it hardens quickly when the heat source is pulled away, and it can be re-heated to release the bonded parts. Adhesive wax is ideal for modelling sharp creases and fine detail on a plastic figure or model.
Adhesive wax allows experimentation with figure poses. Plastic body parts can be tacked into position temporarily to test a certain conversion idea. Modelling wax is ideal for sculpting work, creating new items of equipment or changing existing pieces. As an example, the outline of a canteen may be created by placing a ring of wire on the figure’s back and filling it with modelling wax. The material hardens immediately, and it may then be sculpted as required.
When the temperature is set low, the hot spatula may be used to remove mould lines on plastic figures. The spatula is brushed across the lines gently, like a paint brush, melting them down. This work should be done outside, because some of the plastic material evaporates in the process, causing unhealthy fumes. Another interesting aspect of the hot spatula device is that the user may create special tips for it, which may be used to punch buttons and rivet heads into plastic figures and models.
White Glue, Superglue and hot glue are useful adhesives for soft plastic figure conversions, but the only secure bond comes from fusing the parts with a soldering iron. Model kits made from hard plastic are easily glued using liquid adhesives supplied by the kit manufacturers.
Superglue is not compatible with all plastic figures. When mounting heads, superglue seeps into the figure along the pianowire peg, sometimes causing the chest to split. Apparently, superglue makes the material very brittle and the pressure exerted by the metal peg is enough to break the figure. Airfix figures don’t seem to have this problem, but ESCI sometimes do. Test the glue on a few spare figures before you apply it to your carefully converted soldiers.
White glue may be used instead of superglue. It does not bond with the plastic, but it prevents the figure halves from rotating around the wire peg. Unless the figures are routinely handled, white glue will do the job. The most secure bond is achieved by welding the parts together with the soldering iron.
White glue is ideally suited for basing the figures, it bonds the flocking very well, dries quickly and may be dissolved with water in the event that you wish to rebase the figures.
Hot glue may be used to mount figures on bases, particularly if they have been cut off their small plastic bases and need to be attached to the base by the soles of their boots. In this case it’s a good idea to push a short pin through the heel of each boot and anchor them in the base.
Groups of plastic figures should be mounted on diorama bases to protect the figures from excessive handling and potential damage.
Wargamers use standardized bases which fit their chosen set of rules. If you prefer to have your figures mounted in a way that’s compatible with a great number of different rule sets, consider basing them on magnetic strip and placing them on different metal bases, depending on which game you are currently playing.
1.5 mm artist mat and 3.0 mm plywood ist the preferred basing material. The mats are easily cut with a scalpel. Plywood should be pre-cut into strips of the proper width so that one cut with the scalpel is enough to create bases.
Many types of model railroad flocking material are available and they may be used to terrain the diorama figure base. Very often the colour of flocking material is immediately compatible with the painted figures and you may want to consider painting it with the same acrylic paint you used on the soldiers. Sand is a very good ground cover, it sinks into the white glue and creates a rough surface which looks very good after it is painted and drybrushed. Using this method it is possible to simulate any type of ground encountered on a battlefield.
Static grass looks exceptionally realistic when applied around the figures’ feet and in patches across the entire base. Seasonal colours of static grass are available at model railroad shops.