Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Simple Change

One of the things I have been pondering is a better looking musket, while still having it pretty simple to make. Previously, I took a flat toothpick and simply cut the rounded end off, then painted the pointed end as the bayonet. Very simple and it give a good effect, but very 2D.

I started looking at the round toothpicks used by others for their figures' spears and decided to give it a try to represent the bayonet. So, I clipped off the rounded end and the pointed end to make the musket, then glued the pointed end of a round toothpick to the smaller end of the flat toothpick. It now gives a nice effect of a musket with the bayonet properly offset to the side, with little extra effort.

All that remains is to see if it stays glued to the figure...

By the way, this is the finished Napoleonic Prussian Landwehr infantryman. I am sending him off to my painter in Edmonton, Bob Barnetson, as a sample for the rest of the figures to be painted (a total of 12 men in defending pose and two skirmishers in firing pose). This will be the first time someone else will have painted figures of my own creation, so I am looking forward to feedback from Bob on whether he finds this (freehand) style harder or easier, wood harder or easier than metal or plastic, etc. That and if he likes painting the figures, it will allow me to focus on making the figures while he paints them. So I may one day get to my "dream game" of hundreds of 42mm wooden toy soldiers on the table in a small Napoleonics battle.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Painting with Oils

Before I start a quick hello to a new reader Joppy, who is soon to retire in January 2012. I hope you'll be making some wooden warriors of your own during retirement, and willing to discuss them here. Welcome.

Today's entry is a guest blog entry of a sort. It was actually a post on the Wargaming on a Budget forum on Yahoo and reader and internet buddy Jim Walton thought it was so good that he thought it should be preserved. So here are the collection of posts from Otto, a.k.a. nemopholist.

To put in context, Matt Kirkhart started by showing new pictures of his 28mm Romans he is building for a new project. Eric asked some questions about paints, painting, and other hobby tricks, to which Matt responded. At some point I added a few remarks about the paint I use (and don't use), plus a particular problem I had "solved" of late of getting a nice, strong yellow on top of a dark blue. At that point Otto spoke up:
Dear Dale,
Use tube oils like I do. They are much better to work with, much better coverage, more durable, and for what you get-- very cheap. True, some of the more oddball shades can cost $15 a tube, but you'll have it forever. I don't think I've gone through one tube (except black and withe) in the 30 years and thousands of minis I've painted.
Takes a week or two to dry though.
However, I have 7years War troops I painted 35 years ago and they are as vibrant and bright as they were when new, and much less chipped or worn.
Now, I actually have a little experience with oils, and it wasn't good, mostly because I cannot tolerate the smells of the various oils and chemicals that go along with it. It also did not help that at the time I lived in Florida (USA), which is a high humidity environment, which is not very conducive to fast drying times with oils!

When Jim asked Otto about acrylics, his response was:
Don't like Acrylics.
They dont have a tenth of the durability of oils, and they react with the lead and oils of the paint and your hands to get shabby and drab.
Oils will also form a moderately good barrier against oxidation, which acrylics will not.
Jim then asked the questions:
Do you have a measured way of thinning them before use and what do you use, turpentine? I say "measured" meaning that you can pretty much depend on a particular amount working for most colors, or do you do it "by eye"? Can you store them once you've mixed them?
To which the reply came:
Dear Jim
Yes to all. Now having said that let me talk out of the other side of my mouth.
Grumbacher oils (though you can use any company, they are pretty much the same) can be thinned with a variety of media- paint thinner, mineral spirits (not always the same thing) or linseed oil. Each chemical does certain things to the paint and can achieve a certain effect. Linseed oil for example radically exponentiates the drying time but it provides the hardest and most durable product I've ever seen. It sets almost, (in my experience) to a hard glass-like finish. Turpentine will be easier to work with and allow faster drying and it will also "matte down" the surface. Mineral spirits and paint thinner the same, but be careful, some paint thinners are really paint cleaner and pretty much wreck the paint.
I have pre-mixed and pre-measured oil paints and they store quite well provided you have small plastic vials to do so. Make sure they are air-tight. You can store them mixed with any of the media above though you may have to stir them up after long use as the thinning agents tend to pool at the top.
What I mostly do is take several thickness of ordinary newspaper, especially from the advertisement sections where they have a lot of paper without ink on it. and use that. I squirt out a teensy bit of paint (you will be surprised how much a little goes a long way) and then thin it on the paper pad with the thinner (whatever you wish). The paper absorbs some of the oil and "mattes it down." Alternatively you can use old bottle caps from soda, iced tea, milk, fruit juice bottles, or jars which make excellent paint trays. Toss some newsprint in there and you have an impermeable base to keep the thinner off your wife's dining room table or the like. (Better yet, do it on an old scrap piece of wood in the cellar.)
I use a general color wheel to get the shade, tint, and tone I want and then mix as I go along. If I am running out, I simply squirt a little more on the paper and mix more till I get the same homogenous tone. The key is a good eye in estimating how much paint you will need to cover a batch of figures. When I first started out, being used to bottled paints, I mixed huge batches. Now I tend to radically under-mix. When I'm finished with a painting session I leave the slip of newspaper with the last color on it as a sample in a small box for future matching.
The MOST essential part of this whole thing I have found is not the paint, not the brushes, not the thinner, but the process. What I do is get the empty boxes of computer paper from work, that is boxes from whom the computer forms were offloaded to a printer and box discarded. What I do is take the box and lid home and put the BOTTOM of the box in the upside down lid, mark the box, and then cut away the excess above the line, leaving a tray which fits inside the lid. This forms a "drying box" which I can use to place one project, close the lid and go on to another project, doing the same and letting the boxes stack up. Thus I can have a dozen units going at once and simply rotate through them doing more when I get to it. Thus with about 8 boxes I can keep continuously working on something.
Another way to store the paint papers with a worthwhile smidgen of paint on them is simple zip-lock sandwich bags with the lid of a small gift box or pill box overturned on top of the pile of paint.
It's not for everyone, but I like the fact that since I mix my own colors I can vary the intensity from a brilliant vibrant color to a washed out pale.
Well there you have it, preserved for all time. I hope you find it useful, as Jim did.

Monday, November 14, 2011

More Experiments with Foam Sheet

This is the first time I have done it, and I really should have done it every time someone new joined the blog, but I would like to welcome the new readers Captain Richard's Miniature Civil War, Schrumpfkopf, and Danjou's Hand. I hope you enjoy the material.

Using Foam for Arms, Feet, and Spiky Bits

So, I told you in a previous blog entry that I was going to experiment more with craft foam sheet for those parts that need more flexibility, or that are just a bit too hard to produce in wood. In this first example, I want to reproduce the classic 'defending' pose, as shown in the figure below.

In order to make arms for this pose, the material for the arms and hands really have to be flexible, hence experimenting with foam sheet. As you can see in the figure below, using a wooden template I cut a 'bent arm' shape from purple foam, glued it to the sides, glued the hands to the musket, and have a perfect shape. (The right hand has some modelling paste on it where I had to fill in cutting out too much foam.)

One of my concerns about using foam sheet is that it will not be solid enough to withstand handling. Only time will tell, but my thoughts were to try to saturate the foam with various liquids to both give it more strength and to provide a better painting surface. Previous tests with standard white glue were not satisfactory as the water-based paint dissolved the glue to some degree. Using Gorilla Glue Super Glue was a thought, but it is expensive and the foam absorbs a lot of liquid. In this last test I used Liquitex Matte Medium and the thickness seemed to clog the pores and create a even surface. Although I would not say the foam is significantly stronger, it is more rigid.

So here is the Prussian Napoleonic Landwehr private painted up. Although the top of the hat should be larger – a flat head plug of the appropriate size would be better than a 1/3 spool – I am not going to complain with the results.

You can see how I used a lot of foam for this troglodyte archer (still needs his bow). Although the hands look misshapen and out of scale, you can easily cut it back once you fold the material, glue it in place, and see what needs to show and what can go.

Making Templates

The easiest way to get a little consistency in you foam parts is to make a template. I created my in a computer drawing program, printed it to paper, used that paper to transfer to wood, then cut the wooden part out. You want a wood (or metal) template so that when you cut around it with scissors, you cannot damage the template itself.

Here you can see my template for the bent arm. I usually cut a little excess at the flat end to make the hand, leaving more material if I need a longer hand to grip something. Once I've fashioned the wood piece I can simply press it hard into the foam sheet and cut out the indentation, as (barely) shown in the figure below right.

The troglodyte arm and hand was fashioned in the same way, using an old wooden base for the template material. I hand-drew the arm and hand (should have used the computer) and whittled the foam down to a manageable size from there.

Again, getting the basic shape is the most important thing, not getting the perfect shape. (Although that's nice too.)

For my spiky bits (troglodyte crests and spines) I found some craft scissors in the scrapbooking section of Michael's and found some that produced a nice jagged edge cut. Those make creating strips of spiky bits very easy!

The good thing about craft foam sheet is that they come in a variety of thicknesses and colors.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Typhoon Tungsten Carbide Burr

In the past I have purchased several structured tooth tungsten carbide cutters from Dremel (the taper and the cylinder) to rough carve wood, but I haven't been overawed with how much faster it can remove stock than a regular coarse sanding drum. So it was with some hesitancy that I ordered a Typhoon Tungsten Carbide Burr (Coarse) from Micro-Mark.

As the package says: for aggressive material removal. Now we are talking! It looks kind of funny and as you can see in the picture, it already has wood dust in it, because I had to try it out on my toughest problem: hollowing out the interior of a 1/2 spool in order to use it as a hat.

As you can see from the pictures above and below, it made a nice little bowl that fit perfectly on my game piece figures' head. And it did it very quickly and easily. No bucking of the tool at all. The burr bit into the wood and tore through it with no problem.

Highly recommended! I've gotten the coarse ball and cone shapes, now to get the rest. I also purchased some small chisels, so maybe I will do something with that soon and can have an article on that.

I wanted to order a bending brake in order to make metal movement trays, so looks like I will be putting in another order to Micro-Mark soon, which is a really great place to get small tools for working with miniatures.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Experimenting with Foam Sheet

One aspect that I am not satisfied with of the soldiers that I build is the stiffness of the arms. Part of that is the material I use (wood) and part of it is the source (a craft stick). If I used a wider craft stick, for example, I could cut a bent arm shape out and get more variation to the arm, but that makes each arm custom crafted, adding to the time to make a figure. Fine for one-off figures, but slower if trying to build a force.

It was while looking at Kenneth Van Pelt's Zulu-era soldiers on his Penny Whistle blog, that I noticed and liked the bends and poses of his pipe cleaner arms, but in the end did not like the "fuzzy" look. I started looking about for other materials to make the arms with that would give me that flexibility, yet give me more of the flat, craft stick look. Essentially, what I needed was a flexible craft stick.

I have used foam sheets for awhile now, mostly as simple outlines to define the areas of woods, hills, swamps, etc. so I am familiar with its properties, good and bad. On the positive side it is flexible and easy to cut and shape. It is about the same thickness as craft stick (a little thinner), but you can always buy thicker sheets, or even thinner sheets and glue them together.

The downside is their porous surface, making it harder to glue securely and to paint. It would probably be necessary to seal the foam before painting. But that might be possible with a thick primer.

I decided to experiment with a figure and try for a Napoleonic "high port arms" pose (which is more like the modern "present arms").

To start, I cut out the same basic shape and size that I used with craft sticks. I then glued the arms down using Elmer's Tacky Glue and waited for it to dry. I added a little Gorilla Glue Super Glue around the contact edges to add strength and also let that dry before moving on. The important thing was not to glue the arms too far forward, which I would have to do with wood.

After the arms were on solidly I glued the flat toothpick musket directly on the figure. It looks a little funny at this stage, but it ends up about right.

After the glue for the toothpick had dried, I put Tacky Glue on the underside of the right arm and pinned it to the body until the 'hand' reached the musket. With the left arm I only needed to glue the 'hand' directly to the musket.

 This was relatively easy to do, with the only tedious part being cutting out the arms to length. In the end it is probably no more work than cutting and shaping the craft sticks. With a little bit of twisting and turning, I think making a figure with more of a modern port arms pose would be fairly.

Something like a defending pose would also be possible.

Cool figure, that one!

So, look for more figures using this technique. I have already used foam sheet for the bent foot of a kneeling troglodyte (lizard man) and it looks pretty convincing.

UPDATE: I painted the figure as it shows the shapes a little better.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Instant Mold

One of the things that makes my figures unique is the fact that each has to be hand-crafted. Although there is a positive side to that - you get great variance in your forces - the negative is that everything takes longer to make. Some things you would just prefer not to have to make over and over again, especially if they are tedious to make, or particularly small.

There is a new product out there for making press molds called Instant Mold. Here is a video showing you some ideas for its use, and how easy it purports to be.

I just ordered a couple of packages of Instant Mold (you can find it a little cheaper on eBay), so expect to see a future blog entry on how I will use them. Granted, the pieces I make won't be wood, but that has been true in the past. I will probably use Green Stuff to make weapons, cartridge boxes, shield bosses and decorations, and maybe even hats and helmets, which have always been my biggest irritation. I don't think I will be doing rifles or muskets, however, as I like the look that flat toothpicks provide, and they are very easy to make and paint.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Grand Plans

It is interesting looking back over the blog, and the original plans I had for my wooden warriors. Back then, the game Command and Colors: Napoleonics was due in six months or so and I wanted to build Napoleonic soldiers for the game. I figured about four figures per unit and about 12 infantry, 6 cavalry, and 3 artillery per side, so about 142 figures or so, depending upon unit makeup.

After doing a unit of French infantry, I started thinking about the old Column, Line, and Square games I had played as a kid, and how impressive it looked with all those miniatures. How much more would it be with 42mm figures? Of course, a small command was about 165 figures, so that would be about 330 figures, so the requirements were growing rapidly in my imagination. The unit pictured above, is only 2/3rds of a single battalion (24 figures), so I had a long way to go.

As I started making more figures, I found that I received most pleasure out of making them, painting them, and gaming with them, in that order. Yes, believe it or not, gaming was last! I am one of those guys that takes pleasure out of "creation", and finds it relaxing, so I spent more time "experimenting" and individualizing the figures than in "grinding them out".

The problem was, my goal was to grind them out, so it became less and less enjoyable making and painting them, which caused me to set them aside. It is only recently that I realized the true problem, that my goal was unrealistic – at least in the short term (i.e. anything measured in less than years) – so by changing my goal, I found I could get back into this part of my hobby.

So, I like Ganesha Games rules, and for the most part they are skirmish level, meaning maybe a dozen figures per side. So that is doable in a relatively short period of time. And that gives me more freedom to personalize each figure and spread out into several genres. (Right now I am doing Shadowsea, which has fantasy elements mixed with early gunpowder and steam-powered, clockwork constructs. The Three Musketeers and Flashing Steel is probably up next.)

For the more "mass produced" stuff I will probably continue building 28mm armies, using the same techniques as Matt Kirkhart and John Acar (tip of the hat to these two), but for DBA.

So, hopefully you will see more soon.

Troglodyte Experiment (Part 2)

Although the troglodyte is not finished, it is close. I am still trying to figure out a few things, mostly where to add details that will be seen, as opposed to adding detail for detail's sake.

For example, the scaly 'eyebrows' work, but all of the scales should have the dark green behind it to make it 'pop'. I definitely need to add some nostrils to the snout too. Maybe an alligator-style set of nostrils rather than a slit, like a lizard's. I will have to check the source miniatures.

The tortoise shell shield turned out pretty well for hand drawing and three colors.

The beady yellow eyes look funny, but the source material mentions several times that the troglodytes always look 'surprised'. The eye popping look does that, especially when the creature has no eyelids.

I think the spine and scales turned out well. Need to put dark green around the 'spurs' on the back of the legs to make that pop. Same for the scale on the knees.

Most missing is the stone head for the spear. Not sure what I want to use to make that yet. As it turns out, I have a number of seeds that just might fit the bill.

I think the mouth and teeth also turned out well. It gives a 2.5D appearance by overlapping the teeth and the upper jaw.

I might have another photo of the finished troglodyte later, but I am working on 11 more of these, using a slightly different set of parts (primarily redoing the legs), so that is probably when the next snap of this will appear.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Troglodyte Experiment

Recently I have been reading the Shadowsea rules and campaign material and I thought it might be fun to make a lizardman-like creature – named a Troglodyte – from that genre.

The basic idea is to get the shape of the figure first, then worry about how to model all of the little details, either in wood, some other material, or simply with paint.

As shown in the pictures above, the figure is not completed, as it has no fingers, weapon, shield, and other little embellishments, like a lizard's crest.

The picture below shows the basic shapes that make up the figure.

  • Blue - the head is a split egg.
  • Red - the neck is a flat head plug.
  • Yellow - the body is a barrel bead.
  • Green - the segments of the arm are simple round dowels, connected with sewing pins.
  • Purple - the legs and hips are a micro shaker peg.
  • Pink - the base of the feet is a heart.
I carved the tail out of a craft stick and the toes are toothpicks. As this is an experiment, I may end up removing the heart shape and simply glue the toes and shaker peg directly to the base.

The figure below shows the size of the figure, in comparison with my 42mm figures that I normally make.

I hope to finish a few more of these – enough to make a warband for playing a Shadowsea game – as I think these figures and this scale is perfect for skirmish gaming, rather than mass gaming I originally envisioned.

Let me know what you think.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Experimenting with Shapes

I started experimenting with new shapes and I thought I would talk a little bit about them.

One of the areas where I have not been too happy is with the shape of the arms of some of my figures. Using a flat craft stick, although it gives it a whimsical appearance, it creates a problem with some figures poses in that there is not a lot of surface area for adhesion and that the arms disappear when viewed from certain angles, must like flats or paper figures. In order to put some "meat on the bones", I started experimenting with what was essentially a scrap piece of wood that I threw into my bits box.

The figure to the right is from my Stock of the Trade - Clothespins blog entry and shows the two types of clothespins I was using for various projects. Specifically, the areas in pink were being used for figure bodies, while the uncolored portions were essentially being cast into the woods bits box. I had also used those pieces for the legs in my Steampunk Clockwork Soldier. In this experiment I show how to use those bits for arms on my 42mm soldiers.

Below is a sample figure using the clips from the larger clothespin (MCP-400 in the American Woodcrafter's Supply catalog) as the arms.

If you are wondering what the figure is, it is a Bokharan infantryman, circa 1866. (I bought the book 19th Century Central Asia and the Himalayan Kingdoms and thought the figure looked cool, so I decided to try and make one. I will be building other figures from this book in the future.) The figure itself is the standard Boy game piece with a Heart shape for the feet, and the clothespin clips for the arms. A standard flat toothpick acts as the rifle. The fur hat was made by cutting the top off of the Boy, gluing a larger diameter dowel on top, then gluing the piece cut off of the top of the figure to the dowel.

Overall I like the look of the new arms, even if it does increase the expense of the figure (now I have to buy clothespins in addition to all of the other pieces). At least I can use what was previously good scrap wood, however.

One last experiment was carving the legs. All I did was remove some additional material between the legs at the ankles to give more of a trouser look. Although it takes more effort I like the look.

I did a little more work on the Clockwork Steampunk Soldier, finishing off the arms and priming it black.

Although the raised left arm looks a little 'unnatural' in how it is raised to crush an opponent, I am not too worried about it as I envision it swings with a spinning motion more mechanical and less 'organic'.

Another figure using a new part – a flower pot – represents a Central Asian figure in a tall cap much like a floppy fez, but with a fur edge.

I think it will look pretty convincing once it is painted and the 'fur' is roughed out.

Finally, I am always looking at shapes and how to make new figures that can add some variety to those of the game pieces above.

In this figure three wooden pieces are used: the doll head for the head, a 'barrel' bead for the body, and a spool for the legs and shoes. The only thing I don't like so far is the lack of a neck, so I would probably through a small piece of dowel between the doll head and the barrel bead.

Well, that is all for now.



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