How I Made the Water for 03353: Pirate King and Queenby Jennifer Kaufman
Water bases are cool and can be a lot of fun, but if you don't have professional equipment be prepared to put in a fair amount of elbow grease and time to get them crystal clear. I don't think I will be wanting to do another one any time soon.
I don't normally take many photos while I work, so a lot of the images are quickie mock-ups, but hopefully they will communicate the idea. Before we get started, here's the final product. Ready? Here we go!
- Wood Block
- Hobby Knife
- Rotary Tool
- Polishing and Cutting Bits
- Polishing Paste
- Rubbing Alcohol
- White Glue
- Super Glue
- Assorted Foliage and Rocks
- Brush on Gloss Varnish
- Standard Milliput
- Several Sheets of Sandpaper, ranging from 120 to 1500 grit
- Disposable Plastic Tub
- Petroleum Jelly
- A Sheet of Clear Acrylic or Styrene (Hobby Lobby: Craft Basics Section)
- Clear Acrylic Toothpicks (Hobby Lobby: Supplies Section)
- Standard Clear Packing Tape
- Sculpy or similar clay
- Heavy Duty Rubber Bands
- Kitchen Timer
- Plastic Spoon
- Castin' Craft Brand Polyester Resin
- Monoject Curved Tip Disposable Syringes (I bought mine on Ebay)
- An Extra Long Pin or Needle
Start with a block of wood that is the appropriate size for your project. Expect that you will lose anywhere from 1\16th to 1\8th of an inch off of each side with the final sanding. Unless you are dealing with a large miniature, say a 54 mm scale or a dragon, then it's probably best to stick with a block that's 2 inches square or less. Anything more than that will overwhelm the miniature itself and become the primary focus. Avoid expensive hardwoods. They're pricey and can be difficult to shape. The cheap-o ones you find at Hobby Lobby are just fine. Look for one that is uncracked and fairly symmetrical.
Shaping the Base
Plan out the underwater scene you want and mark the sides of the block with a pen as a loose guide for cutting it down with a rotary tool. Be creative! Different heights and angles create interest.
Using a rotary tool and a high speed cutting bit begin to carve away at the surface. A hobby saw can be helpful for cutting away larger sections. Maybe dig out a few deeper hollows for tucking in little bits of scenery such as treasure chests, skeletons or broken pieces of pottery. Better to make your cuts deeper than you think you might need rather than risk being too shallow. We will be adding bulk with Milliput in the next step.
When you're happy with the general form, score the surface with a hobby knife or coarse sandpaper. This gives the putty something to grab onto. Now mix up a batch of Milliput. I like to use the standard variety in the red and white box. Wet the top of your block and begin applying a thin layer over the whole surface. Aim for making the layer about 1\8th an inch thick.
It seems to work best if you pinch off a piece and flatten it into a disc with wet fingers, then smoosh it down onto the scored wood. Use a lot of pressure and really push it down hard. Milliput is water soluble so if the putty's too stiff try kneading a little water into it. You don't want it mushy, just pliable. Overlap the pieces and completely cover the top. This is important because it creates a seal that prevents air bubbles from leeching into your resin later on. Take it all the way to the edge and let a little bit hang over the side. Use left over bits to fill in knots and nicks on the sides of your block.
Let cure completely.
Making the Coral
Fill a pan or bowl with water about 2 inches deep. Slowly drip super glue onto the surface. One spot here, one spot there, spread around so they are not touching. If you have it, the quick cure variety of Zap-A-Gap (pink label) works best for this step. Smaller drops will float on the top like an oil slick and will be used as shelf corals. Larger drops will hang just under the surface in bubbly clumps that make great brain corals. Make a ton of these so you have a variety to choose from. Spray the top with water from a spritz bottle to cure everything and let it sit overnight. Fish them out and spread out on a paper towel to dry.
Adding the details
Now it's time to apply the rocks, sand and miscellaneous bits of scenery. Use white glue. It gives you a little time to shift and reposition things. I use broken up Hirst Arts blocks, cork and aquarium gravel for the "rocks". It's best to make one area higher than the rest of the landscape so it will just barely be beneath the surface of the poured resin. This will be important later on.
Once your glue is completely dry, sand down the sides to make everything flush and smooth. I suggest starting with a medium sandpaper like a 120 grit and work your way down to about a 400 grit. You will get a flatter surface if you put the sandpaper on the table and slide your block back and forth, going with the grain. Clean up the loose dust and prime it. Just worry about the top part covered with Milliput. The sides will be primed with a brush on after pouring the resin.
Choose a variety of different types of foliage to glue down to the base. I prefer super glue for this part because it grabs fast, and that helps your seaweed to stand up straight. Add in your corals, trimming the flat shelf like pieces with a hobby knife so they can be secured to vertical surfaces. They are pretty fragile so use a light touch. Generally speaking I don't think it's necessary to prime the foliage, so when you are happy with your arrangement go ahead and paint everything. Finish up with a couple generous coats of a brush on gloss sealer.
Building the Mold Forms
Carefully measure the sides of the block (don't forget to factor in the proposed depth of your resin) and transfer to a sheet of clear acrylic. Do each one separately, as they are frequently not identical. It's not a bad idea to number them so you can quickly tell which one corresponds to which side. Assign #1 and #4 to sides towards the back of the base. Score both sides of the acrylic sheet along your marks with a hobby knife and snap the sections apart. Sand the edges smooth so they will fit together flush.
Lay out the sheets edge to edge in order on the table. Use one long continuous strip of clear packing tape to span across all four sheets. Trim off the excess tape and test the fit around the block, taped side facing inward. It should just barely be able to stretch around. The tape hinges should closely hug the corners of your block, and the open edge should be in the back. If the fit is too loose, cut it apart at the hinges, trim the sheets some more, sand and reassemble.
Before I began painting the shark I hollowed out a small spot on the underside just the right shape and size to fit with a clear acrylic toothpick. Super glue the toothpick into this hole after sealing your shark with a brush on gloss varnish, being careful not to get any excess glue or varnish on the sides of the toothpick. Trim to desired length and super glue to the ocean floor. If necessary, drill a small pilot hole in the floor. Nestling the toothpick in the middle of a patch of foliage helps camouflage it even more.
Repeat the same process (minus the gloss varnish) for any items you want to have "floating" on the surface of the water, using a tripod configuration if necessary for extra stability. Test fit the piece before gluing down the feet just to make sure it looks okay and sits level. Trim if needed and secure.
Final Mold Assembly
Apply a very thin layer of petroleum jelly to the tape side of the acrylic walls, completely covering the whole thing. Go easy, making it just barely greasy. Wrap it around the wood block (matching up your side numbers) and tape up the fourth corner from the outside. It's helpful to have another person hold it tightly while you secure the tape. Wrap the bottom with heavy duty rubber bands for extra re-enforcement.
Mixing the Resin
Before you mix your resin double check that you have everything you're going to need, because you will have to work quickly. Spread out newspaper to protect your work surface. Check to make sure that your work surface is level. You can make small adjustments by sliding a few sheets of paper under the table legs.
Calculate how much resin to mix by multiplying the area by the height. Keep in mind to make mental adjustments for all the nooks and crannies you made with the rotary tool. One cubic inch is equal to about 1 Tablespoon, and there are 16 Tablespoons to a cup. Multiple pours can create visible strata or layers, so the goal is to do this in a single pour. Mix a little bit more than what you think you will need to fill your mold. Better to throw some away than to be in the middle of pouring and come up short.
Cut a V shaped notch in the side of the sacrificial piece of Tupperware you're mixing your resin in.
Following the directions on the can, measure out the resin base and carefully count the recommended number of catalyst drops. The ratios vary depending on how deep your poured resin will be. Do not exceed what the directions tell you to use! Improper mixes can result in cloudy, cracked resin or sticky messes that never cure. I prefer clear resin, but if you want to add color now is the time. I suggest RMS clears or inks. Go very very light with your color. Just a tiny dot goes a long way.
Virtually all of the bubbles that people get in resins happen during the stir and the pour. Even if it looks clear to the eye at first they can magically appear as it sets. Taking extra care now will give you superior results.
Use a plastic knife or spoon to mix. Do not use anything porous like Popsicle sticks. They will add bubbles. Stir very slowly, round and round, thoroughly scraping the sides and bottom of the container. Try not to create a wake and keep the spoon submerged in the resin. The more surface disturbance you create the more air you are incorporating. I prefer to stir for about one minute longer than the directions on the can say to.
When you finish mixing look to see if there are any visible bubbles yet. If you see any at all, lightly thump the container on the table repeatedly to encourage them to rise and pop them with a sharp pin.
Begin your pour pretty high, about 10 or 12 inches above the top of your mold if you can manage it. Let the resin flow in the thinnest stream possible through the notch in your container and down onto the highest peak of your landscape. Keep the stream there. Don't move it around the landscape. Resist the urge to rush this stage. You have to be patient and let it flow into all the nooks and crannies by itself.
When all the landscape is submerged and the mold is almost completely filled set your mix aside and look for bubbles. Work any that are caught on foliage free with your pin. Ones that are just hanging suspended in the resin can be sucked up with a Monoject syringe. Carefully ease the syringe into the resin, put your tip right up next to the bubble and pull back on the plunger. Bubbles are sneaky little buggers, so look at the base carefully from all sides. Get rid of as many as you can, then finish your pour. The resin will contract as it cures, so allow the surface tension to dome at the top of your walls. There will probably be a little seepage at the corners and the bottom. Stuff those areas with Sculpy to seal them up.
Let everything cure for at least 36 hours. You want it to be really rigid before trying to take off the forms.
Un-molding and Sanding
When it's rock hard peel off all the Sculpy and rubber bands and slice open the tape. The walls will probably stick a little, but not much. Slow, steady pressure will ease them free. There are going to be funky areas from creases in the tape and bubbles, but they will sand off. The sides will still be slightly sticky so let it rest overnight and in the morning wipe them down with a paper towel soaked in rubbing alcohol. Examine the cast and identify where the bad areas are.
Now the real fun begins... Get comfortable, cause you are in for a lot of sanding. This part takes forever! Start pretty coarse, with something like 120 grit sandpaper and level off all the imperfections in the sides and corners. Gradually step down to finer and finer grits until you can't see any scratches. The last grit I used was 1500. On my Pirate King and Queen base I spent about 7 or 8 hours just in sanding time.
The resin will still look a little cloudy when you're done. Put a polishing bit on your rotary tool and load it up with polishing paste. Thoroughly buff the sides of the resin and wipe them clean with rubbing alcohol. If dust from the sanding process mucked up the top of the "water" wipe that clean too.
Brush the side surfaces with a couple coats of gloss varnish.
Apply a brush on primer to the exposed wood and then paint it black (or whatever color strikes your fancy).
Like I said before, these bases are pretty cool once they're finished, but they're also quite a bit of work. Hopefully this write up will help you avoid a few pitfalls and make it an enjoyable experience for you!