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The Craft

A Beginning Mini Painter's Shopping List
Part 2: For Minis Requiring Assembly

By Ron Vutpakdi
aka vutpakdi

So, you've got a few painted minis under your belt, and now you want to try something that requires assembly. What do you need to get? Where can you get it? If you want to get started painting minis that require assembly, this guide lists the additional items that you should purchase and where to get them.

This guide is a companion guide to the first "A Beginning Mini Painter's Shopping List" article and is intended for beginning painters who want to paint minis that require some assembly (all CAV2 and Warlord miniatures and some Dark Heaven Legends miniatures. Only items not found in the first guide or items whose importance have been raised are in this guide.

Where to Buy

You will probably need to purchase items on this list from several different sources since none will provide them all. There are items that you probably already have in your house (like toothpicks).

Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS)

Your FLGS should be your primary source for miniatures and paints and may also be a resource for some other hobby supplies. In addition to minis and paints, the FLGS can be a terrific source of advise and guidance.

Arts and Crafts Store

Stores like Michael's and Hobby Lobby (in the USA), are gold mines of helpful products including tools, glues, basing materials, etc. Michael's and Hobby Lobby also often run 40% off coupons in the Sunday paper, and Hobby Lobby often has 40% off coupons on their website as well.

Modeling Shop

Modeling shops are good sources for tools, glues, and basing materials.

Hardware Store

Your local hardware store can be a source of tools.

Internet Retailers

Internet retailers can be alternative sources for all of the above. Keep in mind that shipping can be expensive, and you may not save on any sales taxes.

A particularly helpful retailer is Micro Mark, which is a good source for specialist tools such as clippers, diamond files, and pin vises.

Essential

This list contains items which are the bare minimum that you should buy or acquire for your new hobby before you start or shortly after you start. The items are listed in the order of use.

Shears

Having a good set of shears becomes essential if any of your mini parts come on a sprue. Yes, you can use a good hobby knife, but the odds of damaging your mini's pieces (or yourself!) when you remove them from the sprue become much higher if you are only using a hobby knife.

I use the Xuron Micro Shear shears which will cost you around $20 from a modeling shop or from an online retailer.

Be very careful when using the shears on anything hard, particularly wire: the bits of metal can fly when cut, so you should be wearing safety glasses or at least covering the bit about to be cut off with something so that metal does not go flying. Even with soft pewter, some sort of eye protection is a wise idea.

Super Glue

After you have the mini pieces separated, you will need some glue to assemble them. Most people use super glue for the assembly of most metal minis. All super glues are some variant of cyanoacrylate glue that sets in under a minute. When applied between two surfaces, the resulting bond is very good at resisting forces that try to pull the surfaces apart. However, the bond has relatively poor shear strength (which is why pinning is a good idea).

Different types/brands of super glue vary by how thick they are and how quickly that they set. Thicker gel super glues tend to be a bit weaker but fill gaps better. Quick setting glues are easier to use but are weaker as well.

Some super glue accelerants are available. While the accelerants make the super glue set within a few seconds, they also weaken the bonds. Since super glue requires moisture to set, you can use plain water as a cheap accelerant by wetting a finger with water, tapping a paper towel to wick off some of the water, and then running the damp finger over the parts to be glued before applying the glue.

I like to use Zap a Gap CA+ which fills in gaps somewhat but is still strong and sets moderately quickly. A 0.5 oz bottle will cost you about $4-$5 at a modeling shop or online. Larger bottles are available, but a 0.5 oz bottle will last quite a while as long as you cap it after use.

Important

This list contains items that are important to have but that you do not need before you get started on your first assembled mini. Again, the items are listed in the order of use.

Green Stuff or Other Putty

More likely than not, sooner or later you will come across a gap while assembling your mini. Whether it is where the mini doesn't cover the slot in the plastic base of a Warlord figure or where the mini's pieces don't quite smoothly match up, you should fill in the gap to give your mini a more polished look when painted. You will probably want to use "Green Stuff" or some other putty to fill the gaps.

While other putties are available and are used, "Green Stuff" or, more officially, Kneadatite (Blue/Yellow) Sculptors Epoxy Putty, is the most commonly used putty with miniatures, both at the initial sculpture stage and for filling in gaps or modifying minis. "Green Stuff" comes as a ribbon with blue and yellow sides or as a pair of blue and yellow cylinders. Cut off equal portions, mix until green, and then apply with a hobby knife, sculpting tools, or your fingers.

When using "Green Stuff," you will probably find it helpful to have some water on hand to coat your tools and fingers so that the putty only sticks where it should.

"Green Stuff" is available at your local gaming store or online. While you can buy repackaged "Green Stuff" from Reaper, Games Workshop, and other sources, it is usually cheaper to buy larger quantities that haven't been repackaged directly online. Reaper sells a 6" strip for $7. I purchased my 36" strip of Kneadatite on eBay for $13 (including shipping). If you buy larger quantities, store the excess in the freezer to keep it fresh and always keep both the excess and the portion that you are using in sealed zip lock type bags.

Sculpting Tools

Sculpting tools are almost essential when working with putty. While you can use ad hoc tools such as your hobby knife and safety pins, you will probably be happier using a good set of sculpting tools to shape your putty.

I use a four piece sculpting set from Squadron Tools which I purchased at a local modeling shop for around $17. However, you can also make your own by following the instructions in this craft article.

Pin Vise

A pin is a relatively short piece of wire or rod placed perpendicularly to where two parts of a mini will meet. The pin provides shear strength to the bond formed when super glue is used as well as additional surface area onto which the glue can bond. To insert the pin, you will need to drill holes in the mini. Most commonly, the holes are drilled with a small hand powered drill called a pin vise.

Pin vises commonly cost between $10-$20 and can be found in modeling shops, some arts and craft stores, your FLGS, and online stores. Some pin vises come with drill bits while others do not, so make sure that you also buy drill bits if your pin vise does not include them. I recommend finding a ball head pin vise like the on shown on the left since it has a head that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand.

The Gale Force 9 pin vise set includes a ball head pin vise, a single bit, and some brass rod for $15. While getting everything in one set is handy, you may find that the brass rod is a bit on the thick side for some pinning uses, so you may also want to get a set of pin vise drill bits and other pinning material for when you need a thinner pin.

Wire / Pinning Material

You can use a wide variety of stiff wire like materials from brass rod to hanging wire to paper clips. As long as you have a drill bit that is the same size or just slightly larger and the wire is relatively stiff, you can use almost any wire or rod to pin.

Sources for pinning material include hardware stores, arts and crafts stores (for brass rod or jewelry wire), and your desk (if you have paper clips lying about).

Wire Cutters

You should have some sort of wire cutter with which to cut your wire or pinning materials since using your shears may result in flying bits of wire and as well as ruining your shears. Even with proper wire cutters, you should be very careful when cutting wire and use eye protection. If you don't use eye protection, at least cover the wire and cutters with your spare hand and close your eyes.

I use the wire cutters that are on my needle nose pliers. You can get needle nose pliers with wire cutters at a hardware store for around $5 to $15. The needle nose pliers are also occasionally useful as needle nose pliers as well to hold small pieces.

5 Minute Epoxy

Sometimes, using super glue results in a bond that is simply too weak, and because of the size of the pieces, you can not use a pin to help strengthen the bond. At this point, you will want to use some 5 minute epoxy. The 5 minute epoxy will take quite some time to set and then cure, but the bond will be much stronger than super glue, particularly for shear strength.

There are faster setting epoxies, but since you are trading strength for setting time, you are best off going for the 5 minute variety.

If you are careful, you can use silly putty or poster tack to help hold pieces together while the epoxy cures. Just be very careful to keep the epoxy away from the silly putty or poster tack.

You can find 5 minute epoxy at your local hardware store or modeling shop for between $2 and $10.

Helpful

This list contains items which are helpful to have, but they are optional. As you get more experienced, you probably will want to get these items eventually, but they are not required by any means. There are many things that could fall into this category, so I am only going to mention some of the top items. Again, the items are listed in the order of use.

Super Glue Debonder

At some point, you will probably get super glue someplace where it should not be. When you do, having some Z-7 Debonder from Pacer Technology will help you dissolve the super glue so that you can get the pieces (or your fingers) unstuck.

You can find Z-7 Debonder at modeling shops, arts and crafts stores, or online for around $4-$5.

Punch or Scriber

When starting to drill with a pin vise, it can be helpful to have a starting hole so that the drill bit does not wander around. To start a hole, you can use a jeweler's center punch or a scriber. Both can be found at modeling shops or online for between $8 and $17.

Basing Material

If you are painting a Warlord or CAV mini, the mini will look much better if you cover the smooth base with some sort of basing material. There are many different options, but using something and then painting it appropriately will really help your mini look finished. Even if you have a Dark Heaven Legends mini with its integrated base, you may want to put the mini on some other sort of base and cover the base with some material.

One of the cheapest basing materials is just regular sand, preferably from a sandbox or playground where the sand collects bits of organic "stuff". You can leave the sand as is or paint it. If you choose to leave the sand as is, you will probably want to paint the base underneath a light sandy color like MSP Desert Sand or MSP Yellowed Bone because some varnishes can make the sand go semi-transparent. If using sand as is, I finish painting the mini first and then use craft glue to add the sand.

Another cheap option is cat litter, preferably the non clumping kind.

I mostly use a mix of different sizes of model railroad ballast. I purchased shakers of Fine, Medium, and Coarse Ballast by Woodland Scenics and then mixed them in a small plastic container. The color of the ballast does not matter: you will probably want to basecoat, wash (with Brown Magic Wash), and then dry brush the ballast anyway. I put on the ballast after I have cleaned and washed my mini, but before I prime the mini.

The shakers retail for $9-$10 each, but if you happen to have a Hobby Lobby nearby and are patient, you can pick them up for $6 each by using the 40% off coupons. Each shaker contains a very large quantity of ballast, so you may want to share with your friends.

When basecoating ballast, I use a slightly thinner than normal basecoat (Leather Brown or Stone Gray),a Brown Magic Wash, a drybrush of the basecoat color, and then a second light drybrush of a highlight color (Amber Gold or Weathered Stone). I paint the ballast and the rest of the mini at the same time.

Unless you are going for a desert or barren look, some greenery or ground color also helps the look of the base. I use either Medium Turf or static grass (a mix of colors) from Woodland scenics. Again, shakers run $10 or so and should be shared with friends since the quantity is so vast relative to the amount that you will use on a given mini. The greenery is best applied with a drop or two of super glue (after the mini is finished).

There are many other basing materials out there including cork, foam, dried herb flakes that are beyond the scope of this article, so start simple and then do some research!

Craft Glue

You can use super glue to apply the basing material, but I usually use craft glue, usually slightly thinned with a drop of water and applied with a toothpick. I spread the glue around the base with a toothpick and then dip the mini in the basing material. Craft glues cost $1 - $5 at arts and craft stores.

Toothpicks

Toothpicks are useful for applying glue and basing materials. Just be sure to pick up any that fall on the floor: I dropped a toothpick once, stepped on it, and then ended up with several millimeters of it embedded in my foot.

Small Plastic Containers

I use small plastic containers to hold my basing materials. Any cheap ones will do as long as they seal well and you can fit the base of a mini inside (so that the basing material covers the mini's base).

Conclusion

I hope that this shopping list will prove useful to you: it is the list that I wish that I had when I returned to the hobby. There are many more things that you can (and probably will) purchase as you assemble and paint more CAV2 or Warlord minis, but this list should get you started.

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