Prepping miniatures

A great day in any wargamer’s life, the arrival of a big box of miniatures:

Big ol' box of minis

Big ol’ box of minis

It’s around about 500 AP of Macedonians, just shy of 300 figures. Cripes! As I got my first batch ready to paint, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to do a post about how I prepare my miniatures.

Head count

First step: check your miniatures! I sat down for about 90 minutes and went through the whole order to make everything was in order. Out of 44 packs one was totally wrong, one was one miniature short and one was missing two shields. A quick email to the Foundry and the replacements are on their way. I also found three bonus packs got slipped in there, so that was a nice surprise. Thanks Marcus!

Working space

I had tidied up my desk the day before (can you tell I was excited to get these fellas?) and picked two packs of unarmoured pezhetairoi and got to work:

Desk

Ready to roll

I always work on a cork tile when prepping minis because I use the scalpel a lot and it’s safer that way. I do sixteen miniatures at a time, preferably two of the same pack if possible (as in this case). I’ve found sixteen a good number to balance between a) making the most of the production line, and b) not going insane by doing the same steps over and over again. Being a Hellenistic army, all but two packs of bow- and sling-armed skirmishers have some form of spear. I only use metal spears now. Spears cast from white metal just aren’t rugged enough to hold up to gaming wear and tear, they bend easily and are hard to straighten perfectly. I get mine from North Star Miniatures, £5.60 for 40. Gotta get another seven packs just for this army. 😐

Spear

Spear points

Tools

Tools

I use a scalpel and a file when prepping. Actually, I lie. I like to get my nice file out and put it on my desk, but I very rarely use it! I’m a scalpel man through-and-through. You can pick up a good one from any good modelling shop. Make sure you get a set of spare blades because if you’re not careful you can end up snapping the tips.

Flash and Mould lines

Half of prepping is removing flash and mould lines from the miniatures.

Mouldlines 1

A mould line running down the helmet and left sleeve.

Mould lines are on nearly every miniature you’ll ever paint. Moulds for metal miniatures comes in halves. When casting, the two halves are put together, metal is poured through pipes left in the mould, it cools, and then the halves are separated and you have your miniatures. Unfortunately the halves are never quite perfectly lined up, so you get a slight disjoint all around the miniature. If it’s done by a good mould maker the mould lines will either be in a hidden spot or very easy to clean up. If not, then they can be a real nightmare to clean up. Worst-case you get a large line that runs across the face. Flash is large pieces of extra metal that are still attached to the miniature. It’s an artifact of the casting process rather than a defect, as the cast metal gets caught in the pipes used to pour the liquid metal into the mould. Fortunately none of this batch of miniatures had any flash except the usual bits on the bottom of the base. The tricky bit with flash can be that sometimes you can’t tell what is flash and what isn’t! My general rule is that if it doesn’t come off really easily, odds are it’s not flash. Check photos on the manufacturer’s website and double-check before going at it hammer-and-tongs.

Scraping

Prepped

Miniature with the mould lines removed.

Once your flash is off, it’s time to tackle the mould lines. Most of my line-removal technique is just scraping along the surface with my scalpel until the surface is smooth. You can tell you’re done because when you scrape the metal it will become very glossy, and once it’s all glossy and you can’t see the line any more, it’s likely done. If this is impractical because the gap between the two mould-halves is a lot (half a millimetre or more) then you need to cut into the higher surface more to bring it down, then start scraping to level the two sides. The more you’ve had to work on it then the more likely you’ll be left with a flat surface. If this bothers you, you can carve a bit more detail back into the miniature, but this can be quite risky! Also it pays to check the miniature from different angles. Sometimes you think you’ve got all the lines but when you pick it up and start to paint it you see a huge gash that you totally missed during prep. I find it’s safer to do all the legs, then all the left arms, etc. This way I’m less likely to miss a line. However once I’m done I go over every miniature one-by-one and double-check.

Gluing

Next step: putting it all together. Luckily the miniatures I’ve got are in one piece, plus a separate shield and spear. I’m not going to glue the shields on until I’ve painted most of the miniature so they’ll remain off at this stage. The spears will be attached though.

Glued

Sarissa gluing and blu-tacked into place.

I always use Araldite, a two-part epoxy, when putting miniatures together. Compared to superglue the drying time is extremely long – about eight hours, compared to a few seconds – but  I find this makes it easier as it allows more time to make sure everything is in place. Plus it’s much more resilient so no need for battlefield repairs. To lock everything into place while the glue is drying I use blu-tac. For these guys, they’re all in similar poses, so I used the same technique for every figure: a small blob of blu-tac just under the right arm, apply the glue to the hand and by the right foot, then put the sarissa into place and push it into the blu-tac. I repeated this for all sixteen  then went back and made sure they were all still in the right position. Any that weren’t I tweaked around and made sure they were.

All glued

All sixteen glued up – time to hit the hay and wait for the glue to dry.

Next day, the glue’s dry. All that remains is to pick off the blu-tac. This is the first test is making sure that there’s enough glue there! If not, then you’ll probably pull off the pieces you were trying to glue on instead of the blu-tac. 🙂 I glue together multi-part models this way too, just by using blu-tac as a brace.

Undercoating

Nearly there! Now to get to applying some paint. I used to lay my soldiers out on some newspaper, spray them, flip them over, then spray them again. I went to a two-day masterclass with professional miniature painter Meg Maples and she really opened my eyes about the best way to undercoat. So now, I put them all on a wooden base like so:

Pre-painting

Attached with, you guessed it, blu-tac.

Spraypainted

Mr Speckles.

Then I take it down to the carpark, shake up my can of spray paint, and spray-em. I start with it on the ground and just going down each side and from the top. Then I pick up the block and have a look at any angles that haven’t got good coverage – usually they still need four more sprays – from the underside, from the left and right side in each direction. The most important thing however is not to totally coat the miniature in paint. You want it about half covered with white with some of the bare metal still showing through. This will leave you with enough of a rough surface for your acrylic paint to stick to, while not obscuring any detail. I got a bit heavy-handed on these guys but still have some metal showing. I only painted the shields on one side. I find shields can be so small that they get blown around by the spray paint, and figured that I can just use a brush-on primer on the underside instead. They’ll barely be seen anyway.

Ready to paint!

I then attach them with blu-tac to some DBMM bases, ready to paint. I used to not worry about this part and just pick them up when painting, but after too many smudged faces and rubbed helmets I figured it was time to be a bit more professional about it. Done And that’s it! Sixteen pezhetairoi, ready for painting.

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