I hadn't intended to write a "how I base my figures" post today, but this post just morphed into that. So why not go with it? After all, when it comes to writing a modeling and miniature painting blog, showing people how we do what we do is a large part of the fun of what we blogger do! I know I've learned a lot of new ideas and technique from fellow bloggers out there.
Call me crazy, but I have a strong dislike for slotta-bases and all the other newfangled bases meant more for displaying miniatures than for gaming. I like my figures to hug closer to the game table, where the base blends in more. Plus, I like to use storage boxes lined with sheet magnets, which like metal bases more than plastic.
To accomplish this goal with 28mm figures, I use stainless steel fender washers. All my fender washers come from Fastening Specialists Inc, a local distributor for all one's fastening needs. I pick up at the Ace Hardware store on Orange Ave in South Orlando, down by the hospitals. This is the only store in town where I can buy 100-count boxes of the fenders in many sizes and thicknesses. You can also buy fenders online from places like Zoro Tools, which other gamers have used.
For 28mm figures, I use fenders having a 3/16" inner-diameter and a 1" outer diameter. Larger 28mm figures, like the Victorian who is leaning forward, get a larger fender. Honestly, the inner diameter doesn't matter--just get the inner diameter as small as possible while keeping the price for the fender as cheap as possible.
Basic Prep Work - Saves Time Later
The top of the fender is smooth and slightly rounded along the outer rim. However, the underside and underneath of the outer rim and inner hole can be a bit rough. To solve that, I simply swipe the bottom of each fender across one of my large files a few times, taking care of any burs that might scuff or pull on something.
Next, I wash the fenders in some warm soapy water to get off all the grease and grime. After their quick bath and blow dry, I cover fender's inner opening with a small piece of clear scotch tape. With my Xacto, I cut off any excess tape around the hole. Why tape the hole? This helps prevent a mess in the next step!
Gluing the Figure to the Base
Using some gap-filling super glue, I glue the figure onto the fender washer. Because I taped over the whole, I don't have to worry about glue dripping out of it! I let the whole assembly dry before moving on. I should mention that before I base my figures, I varnish them with Testor's Dullcote.
Priming the Base
Because I intend to paint the metal on the bases, I give the entire base a coating of black gesso just as a safety precaution, which has helped me especially with the Victorians.
A day or so after the gesso has dried (ok, for me some times it's been more like three years after the gesso has dried!) , I apply a nice coating of Elmer's Wood Filler that you can find anywhere. It's cheap and works fine for me. I run it up to the edge of the figure's integral base. You can see this step in many of my figures. You don't have to be too retentive here. Your mistakes make for nice undulations in the ground!
Paint the Base Before Ballasting?
Normally, I use real rock products on my bases--usually model railroad ballast. When I do this, I always paint at least the outer rim of the wood-filler-covered base and the metal part of the fender because once the ballast goes on the base, I am done. If I'm using sand that I will paint over later, then I skip painting the base ahead of time. For my Western figures, I paint the entire base first because the rock material might show through to the base. So this step all depends on what I'm doing.
Gluing the Ballast
I like using Woodland Scenics brown ballast for the 'dirt' on my bases. The ballast comes in fine, medium, and coarse sizes. (The photo to the upper-right is 'medium' texture enlarged.) I use mostly fine but mix in some medium ballast for a rougher texture, depending on what I want to represent. I keep this mix in a small container. I use their 'talus' products for rocks, though you could find small rocks and bits in your yard I'm sure. (Here in Florida, all we have is a sandy loam for soil--not many rocks and bits, I'm afraid.) They also make different colors of ballast, like a light buff color. Check the model railroad shop--they have many colors and sizes of ballast to use.
To glue the ballast to the base, I dilute 1 part white glue to less than 1 part water, just enough to make the glue thin enough. I then paint (aka glop) the glue over the base, wiping any excess off the base edges. (I want to add that in the future I might try adding some slo-dry to the mix to prevent the glue from drying too quickly before the next step.) When the base is covered in glue, I dip the entire base down into the container of ballast, making sure ahead of time to shake up the ballast so all the fine grit doesn't settle to the bottom of the container leaving nothing but large rocks on your base!.
Using a stiff junk brush, I then press the ballast down into the glue while the base is still submerged. This little trick makes sure the grit gets into all the spaces and fixes into the glue pretty well.
Pull the base out of the ballast, knock off any loose rocks back into the container, and set aside to dry.
Move onto the next figure, keeping the assembly line moving. When done with the last figure, set them all aside until the glue has dried 100%, usually this is a few days the way I work. (Do not use a blow dryer to speed the process at this stage, or you will have rocks and grit blowing all over the place. Don't ask me how I know this!)
Next time, I'll finish up this article and show you how I tried a rather novel, unusual approach to painting the bases on the rioting Victorians. Well, I didn't exactly "paint" the bases, instead I.... Hold on, more on that next time! Now I just need to write it....