Thursday, 26 February 2015

Xuron Professional Plastic Sprue Cutters - short review

I recently set out to buy a new pair of plastic clippers for removing components from a sprue.

I decided to look around on the internet to see what other model makers were using, and came across some glowing reviews for the Xuron Professional Sprue Cutters product. A local online retailer, sold them for around $30, and they looked like they checked the boxes I was after – the clippers use a shearing action and the blades tapered to a fine point. The end blades are slightly bent to allow access to all parts of the sprue, and they looked large and sturdy. I figured I’d give them a go and ordered a set.

Having used them now on one project, I can say that the many glowing online reviews of this product are entirely correct. These things are amazing.

The build is very good, with lightweight but strong metal covered by nice rubber handles. I like the size of them, which is large enough to fill your hand so you feel as if you have complete control – many clippers by gaming companies tend to have much smaller designs. The spring-back is gentle, it’s just enough to give you a nice release from the closed position without the sheers flying back when you release the pressure.  The blades are very sharp and taper to a very fine point, meaning you can do precision cutting on minute and delicate components. The blades are also slightly offset, so that they use a shearing action to cut rather than pressure. This gives a cleaner cut requiring less force, and also means components don’t go flying off the sprue to land who-knows-where.

The Xuron Professional Sprue Cutters are an excellent product, well worth the money. I can completely recommend them. You can find them for sale in Australia here, or you can use Amazon here.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Painting ruin-style bases easily

Hi all,

Thought I'd do a quick post showing you how I paint up my bases. This is a very easy process using a minimal palette and really only drybrushing as a technique. The effects are simple but striking and very quick to do.

These bases are from Adelaide based company Back 2 Base-ix, who make an amazing range of hobby related products - check out their website here. Their resin bases are very well detailed, very well cast and very affordable. These bases are from their Ruins range. The one below is a 60mm base, but this same technique applies for all sizes. Likewise, this technique would work on any dirt, slate, rock, concrete, rubble themed base you might have.

So the base is undercoated in black. The dirt is given a coat of Vallejo's Game Colour Extra Opaque (VGC EO) Heavy Sienna, and the ruins are given a coat of VGC EO Heavy Charcoal.

I then finish the ruins first, then do the dirt. This is because getting any brown from drybrushing onto the ruins simply looks like more dirt, whereas grey on the dirt looks a little strange. So the next step is to cover the tiles of the ruins and the main surfaces of the ruins in a mix of 1:1 VGC EO Heavy Charcoal and Vallejo Game Colour (VGC) Cold Grey. Leave the Heavy Charcoal in the deepest recesses and between the tiles.

Give the ruins a drybrush of pure VGC Cold Grey.

Give the ruins a final light drybrush of VGC Wolf Grey.

Now onto the dirt. The first drybrush for the dirt is with VGC EO Heavy Brown.

The next drybrush is with VGC Bone white.

Finally, a wash of Army Painter Soft Tone ink (a light brown ink) is given to the dirt.

That's it! Add some static grass or grass tufts for a more dynamic effect once the base is finished - I'll add some pics showing this soon.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Terrain making - River

I purchased some river sections through The Combat Company which were made by Amera Plastic Mouldings. These are great pieces and very inexpensive. They are vacuum formed mouldings, so they do not come on a sprue and are not hard plastic. Being vacuum formed they have straight edges, but these are easy cut back and shape as you wish.

The reason I didn't simply build up the sections myself using plaster or modelling clay or similar is two-fold. First, this is a time consuming process and second, the measurements of the Amera sections are done for you. That is, you can line up any section with any other section and it will match. If I was to do this myself, I guarantee I would have measurements slightly out here and there and when I went to put two sections together they wouldn't match.

So, the materials used here were:

Amera Plastic Mouldings river sections - (4 straight, 4 curved)
Italeri plastic stone bridge
Thick cardboard
Noch Spring Meadow static grass
Vallejo Still Water
Vallejo Water Effects
Woodland Scenics clump foliage and lichen

I use thick card to base my scenery on as I can cut it easily with a Stanley knife (a box cutter to my American friends). One step that isn't in the photos below is sealing the cardboard. I use watered down PVA glue and brush it on quite thickly on both sides of the cardboard. The cardboard absorbs the liquid and when it dries you get a nice, hard surface. It is still a little flexible, but much less prone to warping, and is slightly waterproof too. As the glue is drying you will notice the cardboard bending. Not to worry, usually it levels out once fully dry, but if you are worried about this, you can weigh the pieces down by putting some heavy objects such as books on top. Make sure you put a piece of baking paper down on the surface first, and layer baking paper between each cardboard piece, and finish with a piece of baking paper. This means nothing will stick to your surface or your books!

Okay, so onto the actual river building.

I started by gluing the sections to card, then cutting these to shape.

Next, I sanded them back to rough up the surface. You must do this, it is essential. The plastic is super smooth so nothing will take to it if you don't roughen up the surface - paint or glue will simply slide off the plastic. Use a fine grade sandpaper - don't mangle the plastic, you just want the surface to be grainy.

Once this was done I added some stones. I used a white silicone and applied it with a caulking gun. This gives you some nice variance in the ground as it builds up the surface around the stones. You could just as easily use plaster, putty or modelling clay.

One this was dry I added sand to the banks, then undercoated the sections in black.

I used craft acrylic paint to paint the sand. I started with a burnt umber colour and drybrushed a few successive highlights up to a yellow oxide colour. In the picture, it looks *very* yellow, this is just because it is wet. When dry it has a nice yellow/brown natural earth colour.

Next, I painted the river itself. I'm not a fan of bright blue or green rivers on wargaming tables. They look a little too fake to my eye. If you look at a river you notice that the river itself is a sort of indeterminate colour - grey/black almost. This doesn't really scale down very well, so I decided on a very dark blue with some sandy banks just visible under the water. I was happy with this colour, but I would probably experiment even further if I was making another one. I actually started painting this with a brush, but I was unhappy with the finish so I used my airbrush. If you are going to use a brush, I would suggest maybe even using inks over a white undercoat and building up the layers. This way you won't get visible brushstrokes.

With the painting done I then flocked the banks with my favourite blend of static grass: Spring Meadow by Noch.

So now the river was ready to have some water effects added! I stopped up the ends of the sections with baking paper and cardboard offcuts, then poured some still water on to the sections. After about 48 hours, it set. The effect was okay, and the reflective properties were amazing, but I was a little unhappy about two things.

1) The water looked too static. Like glass.

2) An interesting little problem had arisen...You will notice that on the river bed I have drawn an arrow to remind me which way the water is flowing for that section. After I painted the river bed and put still water effects over the paint, the arrow bled through. Some kind of reaction between the chemicals of the texta, the paint and the water effects! There was no way to fix it. My river sections all had big ugly arrows under the water, and they were really obvious.

So, I pulled up the water, and the paint came with it. I sanded the beds back, then repainted them, then SEALED THEM WITH MATT SEALER. Haha!

When it came to add the water effects again, I decided on something different.

Adding still water is a pain. You have stop up the ends of the river sections, pour the water effects, keep it level for days, then remove the stops. It's time consuming, and as I said earlier, I don't really like the finished effect. The reflective properties are awesome, but the water looks too static. To counter this, I bought some vallejo paste that you can use a pallet knife or similar to form water effects. I put this around rocks etc on my original sections.

I thought "why not do the whole section with this stuff?" I googled around and found a guy who had done this using a popsicle stick. So I used a large popsicle stick and formed the water directly onto the river bed, no liquid water effects were used - this was the paste straight onto the river bed. I am much happier with this effect. 

Lastly, I needed a bridge, and I thought Italeri's stone bridge was perfect. It's designed with 20mm scale in mind, but works fine for 28mm and 15mm. I simply airbrushed this with some greys and then washed it with black ink in some areas. I used one river straight section for the bridge and permanently fixed it in place. I added the beginnings of a dirt road at the end of the bridge so that my dirt roads would align with it on the table. I finished this off by weathering the bridge with some MIG pigments.

Last, I added some Woodland Scenics clump foliage and Lichen in various spots on the banks to give it some extra visual appeal.

That's it! Not a difficult process, but a very effective finish.

Okay, so this is the water effects using liquid still water. This was just before it dried and the arrows bled through. So onto how I fixed the problem:

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Trees - terrain making

After a too-long hiatus from my blog, I'm jumping back in with some terrain making. Regular updates will now a be a thing I promise :)

I thought I’d take you through the process I went through in making some trees for my table.

The materials I used were:

4Ground Terrain tree bases
Woodland Scenics deciduous tree armatures – 5” to 7”
Woodland Scenics clump foliage, light, medium and dark green
Woodland Scenics Hob-e tack
Static grass (I use Noch Spring Meadow) 
 PVA glue
Hot glue gun 
Sand and gravel 

The 4Ground bases are dirt cheap and very easy to simply put together. I forgot to take a picture of them before I started, but you can see them here:
The large base is £1.30, the small base is £1. Bargain – even with shipping to Australia. All of the bases with shipping came to about £16, or around $30 Australian.

They consist of two main pieces, a base and a top plate that has the holes cut into it for the tree bases. The tree bases are nice sized discs that allow for lots of room for you to add additional modeling if you desire.
With the bases constructed I then painted them black, put polyfiller around the edge to give it a smooth, non-stepped look, and put filler in random spots to make the ground a little more contoured. I then glued some larger pieces of gravel in random spots to simulate some rocks and boulders, and then finally flocked the whole base with sand.

When everything was dry I painted the bases brown and drybrushed them successive lighter shades. I painted the boulders grey. I have no idea if this is actually geologically correct – grey rocks on brown earth, but it looks very visually appealing to my eye.

I stuck the bases of the tree armatures onto the 4ground bases and modeled these in the same way – filler, rocks, sand, paint.

When this was all dry I put on the static grass.

Okay, so the trees themselves. I watched a few youtube videos on how to construct a tree using armatures and clump foliage, and as I’d never done it before, I followed these. Trevor from Woodland Scenics (what else would a Train guy be named) makes it look easy.

So I twisted the branches around and got the armatures into a shape I was happy with. It’s worth noting something here. The branches are positioned on the trunk on two sides only, so you need to twist them around to get full coverage over the whole tree. Even then, they tend to gravitate back towards one side. This actually worked to my advantage in putting the trees on the terrain bases, because it meant I could align the two flatter sides and branches weren’t getting in the way. However, if you were looking at creating individual tree stands, I would even go so far to clip off branches from the trunk and glue them on the faces that don’t have any branches.

With the armatures done, I lightly airbrushed the trunks a brown colour to give them a less plastic look. I then painted the branches with hob-e tack and waited the required time to let it set. When dry, it’s a tack substance that lets you put clump foliage directly on the area that has been painted with the tack.

So I did this, and they looked good. I left them to dry overnight. In the morning, I would say half of the foliage had shed and fallen off the branches. I could easily pick off large parts of other foliage as well. So I turned the trees upside down and shook them, and most of the foliage came off. I reapplied the hob-e tack, and waited longer this time for it to set, a good hour. I went through the application of foliage process again, and then put them to one side overnight.

Next morning, a similar but less disastrous result. Less shedding, but still large clumps had come away. I got out my hot glue gun and used that instead. Worked a treat. My single biggest piece of advice here is that hob-e tack, as well as being appallingly spelled, is junk. It might be okay for a fixed layout, but it just doesn’t have the staying power for terrain that is being continually picked up. The hot glue gun is a little messier, but gives a much better bond. Also, don’t “dip” the tree into a bowl of foliage like our man Trevor does – this gives terrible coverage. Take the individual clumps and pinch them into the branches – it’s a much firmer contact between the foliage and the branch surface areas.

With this done I sprayed everything vigorously with matte sealer. This hardens the foliage and makes the whole tree sturdier. Note that they are still a bit fragile. They are fine if you store them well and get them out to put on a table, but I wouldn’t want to be stacking them in a box at a club or something similar. 

Final word on the foliage. I bought the three colours that Woodland scenic sell: Light Green, Medium Green and Dark Green. There is almost no colour difference between medium and dark green. IN direct sunlight you can just tell the difference. I’d go with light and medium, you don’t need all three. Also, make sure you only use one colour on one tree. Trees don’t have big colour variances in their leaves, so a mixture of foliage on the one tree will look strange. I have seen examples of this online and they look weird. Use one colour for each tree, but you can then vary the trees on the bases.

Hope this gives you some ideas if you’re thinking of going down this path with your trees. 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Thoughts on Vallejo paint...

Vallejo paint

VGC paints on my paint station, with an Army Painter Strong Tone ink wash. You can see how the medium has separated from the pigment in the Parasite Brown bottle.


There are dozens of companies out there selling paint specially formulated to be used on models and miniatures. If you are entering the world of painting for the first time it can be a little daunting.

Most painters, myself included, will use a mix of paint from several different companies. I use Vallejo paints almost exclusively, with some Games Workshop here and there – but very little.

If you are starting out painting, there may be a local Games Workshop in your area, or an independent game store that stocks Games Workshop paint, so you might be tempted to start there as it is easy to get a hold of. First up, there is absolutely nothing wrong with GW paint. The range is now very extensive and it’s a great paint to start using, You will not encounter any serious issues with consistency or quality.

The problem, like most things GW related, comes from the cost. It simply isn’t worth what you pay. Many moons ago, when I started painting, GW paints came in cylindrical pots that were 20 mls and fairly priced. The first major pot redesign saw them change into a hex shape and drop 3 mls, to 17 mls. Still fine, still pretty good quality. The disaster came in the late 90s when they changed the size substantially to 12 mls and made the lids screw caps, which promptly got glued shut by paint after about three uses. The bottle design stayed, as did the size, even when the paint cap changed to a flip cap. The current design is a good little pot – the operative word being little, that is hard to knock over and has a flip lid. It’s still 12 mls though, and it is still pricier than most competitors whose pots contain more paint.

I made the switch to Vallejo some years ago and haven’t looked back. The Vallejo Game Colour (VGC) range was originally modeled on the GW range, and matched it both in tone and naming ) VGC’s “Bloody Red “to GW’s “Blood Red” for example). With GW’s range having undergone an extensive overhaul, the close conversion between the two ranges is no longer there, but it doesn’t really matter: The Vallejo range is superior quality and quantity. Vallejo pots are 17 mls and the paint itself is a slightly thinner consistency than GW. The pigment is much smaller, meaning the pigment and the medium often separate in Vallejo pots. You will see a milky liquid on top of the solid colour of the pot has been left to sit for any length of time.

As a result, shaking the bejeezus out of a Vallejo pot is entirely necessary. Failure to do so means you get medium on your palette, not colour. The less medium in the pot, the thicker it gets, the sooner it dries out. I purchased some glass beads from a craft store and put one in each of my Vallejo pots, which speeds up the agitation process.

Vallejo is cheaper than GW paint as well as being more voluminous. Online, this is even more apparent. You get much more paint for your buck with Vallejo, and as we all know, in this hobby you need every cent you can muster.

The biggest criticism of Vallejo pots is also its biggest selling point: the dropper bottle. Some people hate them, some love them. I prefer them to the flip lids of GW style pots, but either doesn’t really bother me. Your paint doesn’t sit on your desk open with a dropper bottle, meaning it is not exposed to air and so it will probably last longer. But some people prefer taking paint from the pot with a brush to put on the palette for mixing, some prefer squeezing it out with a dropper bottle. That’s really about it.

Vallejo is often criticized for their metallic range, and GW is usually declared a winner on this one. It’s not true. The Vallejo metallics are practically identical to GWs. Consistency is fine. I think this is an often-repeated internet rumour that people say to make themselves sound knowledgeable on paint without having tried them. Vallejo also make a series called Model Air, which is designed for use in an airbrush. These metallics are even better, being packed with nearly twice as much pigment as normal VGC paint. You can use these with a brush, they don’t have to go into an airbrush.

Vallejo has a range of Extra Opaque paint that was released as an alternative to GW’s Foundation or Base range. These are designed as base colours and can go over any primed colour, even black. GW’s Foundation paint is actually slightly better here in terms of consistency. For example, if you have a look at my Flesh Tearer Marines, it took two coats of VGC Extra Opaque Red to get a solid base colour, whereas the GW Base Red colour did a practice model in one coat. But I didn’t like the colour as much and preferred the Vallejo red. The Extra Opaque range is a great set though and I use them a lot.

There’s no two ways about it, GW washes are vastly superior to Vallejos. Vallejo’s washes dry chalky, whereas GWs give a much better finish. It pained me to have to go back to GW, but they really do have a better product here. That was until I discovered the Army Painter…

The Army Painter is a Danish company that started off selling a dipping method for miniatures – a way to paint up models quickly by taking a model painted in basic base colours and dipping it into a jar of liquid that stains the model and gives immediate shading. It’s an old miniature painter’s trick that goes way back. It’s essentially wood stain varnish dyed to either a brown or black colour. Anyway, the Army painter has gone from strength to strength and now sell their own range of paint and inks that can be used as washes. Three coloured inks are available, Soft (light brown), Strong (dark brown) and Dark (black). You can use these on any colour to add instant shading. Games Workshop did have these same colours covered in their old washes range as Gryphon Sepia, Devlan Mud and Badab Black. With their new range and formulas, these have changed to Agrax Earthshde (doesn’t that roll off the tongue?) and Nuln Oil. These are pretty good, but inferior to the Amry Painter inks. If you are new to painting, these will give you instant results to be proud of. And even if you’ve been painting for years, these will change the way you look at shading models.

I haven’t tried any of the other manufacturer’s paint on the market, such as the P3 range, Reaper, Foundry  etc, so I can’t comment, but those paints have their fans and suit other painter’s needs. If you are a fan of these paints, please leave a comment!

That’s about it really. My advice is simple. If GW paint is all you can get in your area, go with it, it’s a great product. But be aware you are being ripped off. Online shopping means you can have Vallejo delivered at a great price and it will last you a lot longer. I can’t recommend it enough.

EDIT: I have since found out that the new "Layer" system of paint that GW uses is already thinned in the pot. That is, the paint is already thinned down with water. This is just ridiculous. The entire point of having the paint slightly too thick from the pot and thinning it on your pallette is so you have complete and total control of your paint consistency. For this reason, I'd avoid this paint if I was you. Go with Vallejo, P3, Reaper, Foundry, or Cote d'Arms.