By Andrew Pieper
This article got its start as a Work in Progress topic on the Reaper Forum. Through many comments and a few requests, I decided to rewrite the pre-painting portions of the topic into this article. I hope you find it useful.
1. Tools and Materials Referenced in this Article
I used the following tools and materials in this article:
A. Diamond bits
B. Carbide cutting bits
C. Rubber polishing points
D. Reinforced cut-off disks with a mandrel
E. Carbide wood rasp bit
F. Drill bits
G. Side Cutters
H. Needle nose pliers
I. Pin vice
J. Dental picks and probes
K. Hobby knife
L. Rod from a clothes hanger
M. Brass rod
N. Needle files
O. Large flat file
P. Screwdriver with a hard handle
Q. Green-stuff epoxy sculpting putty
R. Brown-stuff epoxy sculpting putty
S. 5-minute epoxy
T. 90-second epoxy
U. Permanent marker
V. Flat toothpicks
W. Dremel rotary tool with flex shaft
X. Finishing nails (not illustrated)
2. Inspecting the Miniature
The first thing I do upon getting a miniature is to inspect it for any shipping damage and to check for missing or malformed parts. With Cinder, there was some shipping damage. The largest fingers of the wings were bent almost double over; however, I was able to fix it easily by hand.
The following is a photo of her right out of the box (after fixing the wing claws):
3. Removing Flashing
I started removing the flash on the body section, which was pretty clean except for a few areas on the back spines. I used my Dremel rotary tool with diamond point bits to do most of the flash work. The only really bad area on the body that I found was a bad pull on the left side of the tail, as shown in the following picture (it was actually a lot worse that this, I had started cleaning it before I remembered to take a picture):
The following photo shows the diamond bit I used for this step:
The following photo shows the tail after I removed the flash with the diamond bit:
Next, I cleaned the back leg, which was very good and had little flash on it. I also worked on the hands/arms, which were also fairly clean, except that they were webbed between the fingers with flash. I easily removed this with a hobby knife.
Finally, I started trying to fit the head and, to my dismay, it didn't fit very well. The fit was rather sloppy and the gap between the back of the head and the neck was rather large. This was going to take some putty work later on.
Next, I worked on cleaning and preparing the wings. As usual with dragon wings, there was a mold line that ran all the way around the leading and trailing edges of the wings.
Using the same diamond bit I used on the body, I smoothed out the trailing edge and removed the line from the leading edge, being careful not to eliminate any of the scaling detail. I then used the bit to polish and sharpen all of the wing claws.
If you look closely at Cinder's wings, you will see that the webbing is striated with lines. The only problem with this is that the trailing wing edge is not; it is smooth, so I used a diamond bit to add striation lines across the trailing wing edges:
One thing you will find about most dragon miniatures, is that the wings are completely flat. If you look at a bat's wing you would notice that it is not flat, but that the wing fingers curve down to cup the wing, thereby creating an airfoil and allowing the animal to scoop the air with it's wing beats. A flat wing really takes away a lot of the realism of the sculpt for me, so I always rework the wings to make them more dynamic.
The following photo shows the left wing before I started work on it:
Notice how perfectly flat the wing is, with very little dynamic dimension to it at this point. To change this into the cupped wings that I like, I first bent the wing at the elbow. I placed my thumbs on the top of the elbow joint and pushed down while pulling up on the shoulder and wrist.
IMPORTANT: If you are new to conversions and pewter, you should note that if you do not do this carefully, you can easily crack the brittle metal and ruin the part. Always apply steady pressure, increasing slowly until the part bends. If you feel creaking or sudden giving, the part is beginning to crack and you should let off.
Next, I tackled the harder job of cupping the wing. To do this, I wrapped a hard screwdriver handle with foam to protect the mini. Then, I placed the wing wrist on the handle with the webbing straddling the handle. I pressed down on the wing on both sides of the handle to bend it (see the picture below). As it bends, I moved the wing, so that I bent it evenly between all of the fingers.
The end results:
I finished up the head and tail tip with the diamond bit as I had done with the body.
I then turned my attention to the claws. At first they had a lot of flash on them:
I used the diamond point to clean them and the arms. I also used it to reshape the claws a bit and sharpen them (one actually poked a hole in me while I was working on them). After that, I took the rubber polishing point to the claws to make them smooth (I also did this to the claws on the wings and the horns and teeth on the head). I then used a hand file and a hobby knife to remove flash lines between the fingers.
4. Converting the Base, (Part 1)
I rebased this mini onto a larger, more substantial base than the one it came with. I also decided that I liked the skeleton with sword on the rocks of the base, but not with this mini. I figured that with a red dragon, the skeleton would either have been burnt away in dragon fire, or ripped apart as the dragon ate it. Either way, I didn't think a whole skeleton at the feet of this dragon was quite the feel I wanted. Also, I have another mini project in mind for which the skeleton will be perfect.
My first step was to cut the base apart to remove the skeleton. There is another advantage to cutting the base apart. If the feet are separate, then I can more accurately line up and glue the leg and ankle joints. With the feet connected, the legs didn't fit to the feet, leaving gaps between the leg and body and ankles and feet. When I cut them apart, I could attach them as needed to make the miniature fit together well.
The following picture shows my planned cuts:
I wrapped the base in cork to protect it from my vise and clamped it securely. Using a re-enforced cutting disk and mandrel, I cut the base apart. Warning: when using a cutting disk, you will be sprayed with hot pewter particles. Always wear safety glasses with side shields during this operation.
In the end, I had to sacrifice one of the skeleton's feet and legs below the knee. The following picture shows the finished cuts:
After cutting, a large burr of metal formed where the disk went through. Also, I had to turn the skeleton's foot into a lump of rock. So to do this, I used my pointed carbide cutter. Carbide cutters work really great for doing major re-sculpting on the metal. They cut through the pewter like it was butter. Warning: they will also cut through you like butter and they throw bits of pewter, so be sure to use safety glasses. Carbide is far superior to steel for metal work. Steel cutters will dull very quickly. I've been using this cutter for about 10 years and it is still very sharp. They are a quite a bit more expensive than steel, but well worth the price.
So with the cutter, I reshaped the skeleton foot into a stone looking lump, removed the burr left by the cutting disk, and roughed up the smooth face where the disk went through to allow the green stuff to stick to it better later. The cutter leaves a very rough surface (see picture below), so the next step was to smooth it out with the diamond bit. I also removed any flash left at this time.
Finally, I take a rubber polishing point and use it to smooth out the finish left by the diamond point. Rubber polishing points will not remove much metal (though they will erase lightly enscribed detail). They do however, leave a nice smooth surface. I use them mostly as the final step on things like claws, teeth, armor, and some stone to polish the metal smooth.
Finally, I went over the whole miniature with the hand file to touch up anything I missed.
5. Assembling the Miniature
I know that a lot of painters do not put a mini together until after it is mostly painted; I, however, am not one of those painters, unless a part obscures details. Fortunately, Cinder is sculpted in such a way as to leave good access to the whole mini even after assembly.
When assembling a mini, I use pins to secure the joints. I also always use epoxy as my glue. Almost all of my minis see double duty as both show pieces and role-playing figures, so they have to hold up to the rigors of play and travel. I used to use cyanoacrylate based glues, but had too many wings and other parts break off. Cyanoacrylate forms a strong bond with a good pull resistance, but it has very poor shear resistance and is prone to breaking apart from a side hit. Epoxy, on the other hand, forms a bond that is very difficult to break apart, even if you want to. Epoxy is more difficult to work with though. First you have to mix it, and then you have to immobilize it while it sets up. I have had problems with epoxy turning out rubbery if I allow the parts to move while the glue is still setting up. Because of this, I use 90 second epoxy; the fastest curing epoxy available. With 90 second epoxy, I can mix it up, apply it, put the parts together, and hold them for about 5 to 10 minutes until the bond is secure enough to no longer need clamping. With 5 minute epoxy, I have found that it needs to be held for about 20 to 30 minutes. (The time listed on the epoxy is the working time you have with it, after that you have to immobilize the part for a longer period to have a good hold.)
This is a big miniature, so I decided that my normal brass pin stock that I use for minis would be too flimsy to really hold her together. Instead, I used a section of coat hanger for the pins. I looked and found the thinnest gauge hanger I owned and cut out the bottom span.
The first pinning step was to drill holes into the arm sockets on the body and into the tabs on the arms. I needed a fairly large bit (for mini work any way), so I used my cordless drill to make the holes instead of my pin vice.
The holes from either side met in the middle, forming a continuous hole, though from different angles. I then drilled holes in the tabs on the arms. It helps before doing this to use a file to make a divot where you want the hole to go so the bit has a place to start.
Next, I inserted the rod into the arm and marked the depth with a permanent marker on the rod. Then, using wire cutters, I clipped the rod about another 3/8 inch past the mark. Next, I began the test fitting. When I first put the rod in, I realized that I didn't get the hole in the body angled quite right for the pin to fit into the hole in the arm. This caused the arm to no longer fit all of the way onto the body with the pin in it. So, I used a needle nose pliers and my vice to bend the pin at the mark I made earlier. Then I tested it again as can be seen in the following pictures:
You will notice in the above picture that there was still a gap between the arm and the body because of the pin's interference. I took it apart again and, using the carbide cutter, I carefully reworked the inside of the socket to remove the metal the pin was binding against until the arm with the pin fit.
Next, I repeated all of the above steps with the second arm. Then, while holding the first arm in place, I tested with both arms.
The pins touched in the middle and I had to trim a bit off to get them to fit. Once both arms fit, I pulled them out again and removed the pins. Using a file, I roughed up the surface of each pin so that the epoxy would stick to them better.
I mixed up a small batch of epoxy on a disposable tray with flat toothpicks. I then used the pin of one arm to stuff epoxy into the hole in the arm until it was full. Then I seated the pin in the arm and spread a coat of epoxy over the gluing surface of the arm. I also put epoxy into the arm socket hole and gluing surfaces. I put the pieces together and held them firmly in place for 5 to 10 minutes.
When gluing, if any epoxy oozes out, I use a toothpick to remove it at this point. You can also use the diamond bits later to remove it if necessary.
I don't have any photos of this process because my epoxy cures so fast, I had no time to set-up a shot and monkey around with the pin as well. Once that arm was secure, I repeated the gluing process with the other arm, being careful not to put any pressure on the first arm. Once glued, I once again held it for 5 to 10 minutes.
Finally, I applied glue to the inside of the head and positioned it onto the neck without pins (it had a good enough tab system already and didn't need pinning). This I took a photo of:
Once I had finished holding the head in place, I carefully balanced the mini across my needle nose so that no weight would be on any of the freshly glued parts. I then left it to cure. Epoxy typically takes 24 hours of curing to reach full strength and hardness.
My next step was to install the wings. The wings on this mini already have an excellent tab to give them strength after gluing; however, as always, I added my own pin as well. I decided to put the wing pins just in front of the tab, into the shoulder joint. Otherwise, my process for putting on the wings was the same as for the arms.
As for the tip of the tail, it is too small to use a coat hanger pin, so I used a pin made from a smaller brass rod that I use for most of my mini pinning needs. To drill the holes for this I used a micro bit and my pin vise.
Once the wings and tail were dry, I put the right leg on. Again, I pinned it just in front of the tab. I used a fairly long pin on this one because it has to bear the weight of the whole mini.
So now all parts (except the feet which will be part of the base) are on and I set the mini aside to cure.
6. Converting the Base (Part 2)
I cut out the piece of steel that will be my base. Using Cinder as a template, I figured out about how big of a base I want and marked out the edges of it on the sheet of steel.
I used the re-enforced cutting disk tool to cut the base out of the sheet. As usual, I wore safety glasses for this, but I did not wear a breathing mask. I should have though, I coughed for a day afterward from the steel dust I inhaled. By the way, it took three cutting disks to cut out this much steel.
I used a large flat file to square up, smooth off, and make a bevel on all of the edges of the steel base.
I wanted the base to look like a rocky out-cropping. I envisioned the rocks being weather worn with lichens on them and grass and small bushes growing in the cracks. I decided that I needed a little more dimension than just the flat steel base; however, I didn't want the base to get too tall because this mini is heavy and I think something very stable is in order. To achieve the effect I wanted, I sculpted the rocks out of green/gray stuff (epoxy putty); however, that stuff is fairly expensive and I did not want to waste it, so I decided to make an armature on top of the steel using 3/16 inch Masonite. This I could carve into a rough semblance of what I wanted and then sculpt the rocks on top of it.
The first step was to cut out the armature. I drew the outline of the base on the Masonite and then used the dragon to position the feet where I wanted them. I drew an outline around the feet so I could place them again later. Next, I drew a rough sketch on the Masonite of the armature shape.
I then cut out the armature using my scroll saw (you could use a hand coping saw as well). The following picture shows the rough armature on the base:
I then used my Dremel and a carbide wood rasp bit to carve the armature.
I made the edges slope to the base and dug in channels and the like. I also used it to rough up the Masonite where the feet would go so that the epoxy would bond better. Next, I used a diamond bit to rough up the steel where the armature would go to ensure that the epoxy would bond well.
Using 5-minute epoxy to give myself a bit more time to work, I glued the armature to the steel.
Once cured, I glued on the left foot with 90-second epoxy.
The next step was to glue the other foot down. I put 5-minute epoxy on the bottom of the right foot and, using the dragon as a template, positioned and glued the foot.
Once the foot was dry, it was time to prepare the foot and leg pins. On a dragon this large, I wanted a lot of support, so I used finishing nails as pins. The first step was to mark the angle of the legs as they come out of the feet so that I could drill the holes in the feet at the same angle as I will be drilling the holes in the legs. That way I wouldn't have to bend the pins and/or fit them very much. To mark this angle, I placed the dragon on it's feet and stuck pins in the Masonite base at the same angle as the legs.
The following picture shows both pins:
After that, I carefully aligned my drill with each pin and drilled a hole all the way through the foot, Masonite, and steel base. I had to clean the drill bit out when I hit the steel, but otherwise it went through quite well.
As you can see, the nails go all the way through the base. The head of the nail anchors everything in the steel.
The following is a picture of the nails sticking up through the feet:
Next, I pulled the nails back out and put the dragon on her feet. Using a nail through the foot, I pressed it into the leg to make a slight mark in the pewter of the leg (it was too faint to take a picture of). This marked the spot where I needed to drill into the legs. Being careful not to drill too deep and come out through the top of the knee, I drilled out the legs. After that, I cut the nails down to size. I was rather happy that I didn't need to bend them or use the carbide bit to adjust the holes at all. I marked the nails so I would remember which one went with each leg, and then I put them away for future use.
7. Sculpting the Base
Before I could mount the dragon onto the base, I need to sculpt the rocky landscape of the base. For this, I started out using gray-stuff (two part, blue and white epoxy putty). The reason I used gray-stuff and not my preferred green-stuff is that I had a ribbon of gray-stuff that was getting old and I wanted to use it up. As it was, I had to cut off the hard skin that had formed on the blue portion before I could use it. Anyway, the grey-stuff was good enough to do rocks, so this was a good time to use it up.
Once I had cut the ribbon and removed the skin from the blue part, I kneaded the putty for about five minutes until it was a uniform grey.
Then, forming it into the rough shape I wanted, I stuck it to the base. I use water to coat my fingers and tools while sculpting to keep the putty from sticking to me and the tools. Primarily, I used a dental pick and my hobby knife to do the sculpting on these rocks. The following picture shows me putting the finishing touches on the first chunk of rock:
Over the next several days, I repeated this process, using only an amount of putty at a time that I knew I could sculpt within 45 minutes to an hour. I actually find that the putty is easiest to work with after it has set for about 15 to 20 minutes. Before that, it is almost too soft.
The following pictures show my progression until I ran out of grey-stuff:
After this project, I decided that I wouldn't buy the gray-stuff anymore. It doesn't seem to sculpt as easily as the green. I think part of my aversion to it is that, with the light color, it is difficult to see what details I have sculpted and it gives me more eye strain.
I decided that the setting would be a mountain pass that is infrequently traveled. Cinder is in the process of attacking someone who would dare to use her pass.
The next few pictures show the progression of the sculpting:
I decided at this point that the base needed a little something more than just rocks. In ages gone past, when Cinder was but a hatchling, someone, a dwarf perhaps, had decided to warn people using the pass that dragons inhabited the area. To do this, they had carved a stone obelisk and placed it at the side of the trail reading "Warning, Dragon" in runic. I figure Cinder leaves it there, appreciating the irony of people reading a sign warning them of her presence while they are actually standing in her favorite ambush spot. (I guess I personally like the irony of having a huge red dragon standing over a sign saying "Warning, Dragon." It's kind of Far Side-like.)
The following picture is my brief little drawing of what I wanted to sculpt:
I decided that the actual obelisk needed to be a bit shorter than drawn and a lot more worn looking. Awhile back, I had read in the Sculpting Forum that many sculptors use a blend of green and brown epoxy putty for things that need harder edges. I thought I'd try it.
The following picture is of the cut putty ready to be mixed:
I sculpted the obelisk as normal, but found that I kept getting fingerprints on it. Using plastic wrap, as suggested in the Sculpting Forum, I was able to remove them and finish it.
After that, I continued sculpting with the green-stuff until I was done with the base, as shown in the following pictures.
After curing for 24 hours, I was ready to attach Cinder.
8. Attaching Cinder to the Base
To glue Cinder to the base, I used 30 minute epoxy because I needed the extra working time to get everything in place. It turned out that my pins held her up all by themselves, and I didn't need to clamp her in place. After she dried, I filed the nail heads flush with the bottom of the steel base.
The following are shots of her glued onto her base:
9. Filling and Sculpting the Joints
I always use green-stuff to fill and sculpt joint details. I started with the gap at the back of the head. I tried to make it look like three large scales behind the horn boss. This didn't translate too well onto the picture, but I hope you can see it:
Next, I worked on the left wing joint. Instead of just filling the crack, I concealed it by adding a row of smaller scales along the joint at the intersection of the larger scales. I felt that this made sense anatomically, as it would still leave Cinder protected but allow her joint to flex. Each scale required a surprisingly small amount of putty, and I ended up with left over putty that I didn't have time to use.
I continued sculpting scales and filling the remaining joints, as follows:
After finishing the joints, I used thinned white glue to adhere talus to the area where I want the mountain path to be, as follows:
Finally, I gave her another once over with the file to ensure that I didn't miss any mold lines and then swabbed her down with rubbing alcohol to remove any grease or dirt.
At this point she was ready for priming and painting, but that is another story.