Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Basing the British

One needs to walk a thin line (literally!) when it comes to bases for 1/600 scale figures. Too thin and you can't pick up the base: too thick and the base ends up distracting your eye from the figures. I find that a thickness of 1/32nd of an inch (roughly .75mm) is just perfect, though thicknesses of up to 1mm are fine. Beyond 1mm, however, and you run the risk of having your figures look like they're standing on platforms.

Because of the smallness of the scale, I try to make stand types immediately apprehendable to the eye. I use 25x25mm for armored targets, 25x15mm for unarmored targets and round 25mm for headquarters. FAO and FAA stands are mounted on equilateral triangles, 25mm to a side. Recon units are based on 25x25mm stands with an angled front edge. Finally, COs are based on 30mm round stands. The first three stand types I buy from Litko in 1/32nd inch thick transparent acrylic with rounded corners. The next three types of bases I cut myself from plasticard or artists' matte board (I use a fingernail clippers to trim the corners to Litko's standard.

Figure Preparation
There are two basing methods: one for freestanding vehicles and the other for units which come with a pr-molded base (generally infantry and guns). Both start, however, with basic cleanup and separation of the figures.

O8 uses some ultra hard and fairly brittle alloy in its figs. If I didn't know better, I'd even say it was aluminium. It has ZERO give, so you can't correct (the thankfully almost uneard of) casting errors by bending the metal back into place. If you try, the metal will snap. The strength of this allow is enormous, however, and it takes alot to get it to break, which brings up another problem: the tiny bits of flash on the figs can easily pierce your skin like little needles if you grasp the wrong.

I use a fingernail clippers or a small wire cutters to clean the flash off of my figs. First I clean the helmets of any spurs (they generally have some because that's where O8 likes to put some of its flow vents), then I snap off the big bits of flash. Finally, I break off any stands mounted in strips. To do this, I wrap the strip in cloth and simply snap it along the molded separation lines. The cloth is necessary to avoid mauling your fingers - as I said, this metal is strong stuff!

Fingernail clipper for cleaning up a 25lb gun. Note the molded separation line between the lorried and unlorried gun. Enough pressure will snap that cleanly in two, but make sure you protect your fingers while applying pressure!

Bases for free-standing vehicles are simple to prepare. I paint them with a thin coat of Vallejo "Sandy Paste" and Bob's yer uncle. After it dries, you glue down the vehicle. If you want to get fancy, you can drag a toothpick tip through the goop before it dries to create tread tracks. Be careful, though! Remember that you're working in a very small scale: tread tracks that are acceptably deep for 6mm will look like veritable canyons here! The key is using a very thin covering of sandy paste: almost a wash.

Even so, I only bother to scribe in track marks for bases which will have heavy tanks. Light tanks like Stuarts will simply ahve theirs applied with paint.

Units molded to a base need to be glued to the stand first, then have sandy paste applied around them with a brush or a toothpick. The degree to which you want to even out the base is a matter of personal taste. I just try to mute the molded base out rather than make it dissappear entirely. The second option is entirely too much work for me!

Bases being pasted. In the lower left hand corner, a 25lb field gun. To the right of that, you can see a HQ stand. The 40mm bofors has a molded base and so is pasted at this point. Further vehicles will be glued to the top once the paste dries. Moving upwards one can see some of my homemade recon bases and, at the very top, a set of FAA/FAO bases. The recon bases are being pasted now because the armored cars which will go on top of them are free-standing.

When you base, try to base to a standard which allows you to easily identify the units in question at a glance. For example, all my infantry has 5 figures standing and five lying down while engineers are all standing. Further differentiation can be done during the painting process later on, but a little thought now can save a lot of grief later. I should have staggered my mortar support units and kept the machinegun units based in line, but I didn't think of this until everything was already glued down. Oh well... This is mostly a problem with infantry, I find, as tanks are pretty easy to tell apart at this scale. The only difficulties for vehicles might be, say, distinguishing Panther As from Panther Fs. Again, here a distinctive basing method is called for.

I generally put down two vehicles per stand as I feel that this gives an acceptable feeling of mass without makiung things look too crowded. Even so, you can see in the pictures below that my Grants are pushing it. I should've moved these farther out to the base edges. Oh, well...

Applying the first coat of paint
After all the bases are done and the figures glued to them, I then apply a base coat of paint to everything. In this case, I'll be using an old pot of Howard Hues DAK sand that I had laying around (it's probably 20 years old now). The goal here is to get a thin coat over the whole works. One shouldn't get stressed out if the figures don't get covered completely, as they are will have another base coat applied to them later.

Now's a good time to sit back and re-evaluate the project. One will always find some things missing, new figures which need to be bought or swapped in, etc.

In my case, I decided that 4 FAO's were just too many, and I reduced their number to two. To adequately model British fire support doctrine with two FAOs, I'll have a house rule that only FAOs can call all artillery, but that HQs can call in any artillery assigned to their formation (in this case, to their brigade).

I also note that I forgot to buy quad haulers for the 25lbrs. I'll use other trucks for now and swap the quads in at a later date.

Finally, just as I began to type this up, O8 announced the release of a British 8th Army command pack. I will thus not build the CO stand for now and I'll leave space on the armor HQ stands for the anti-aircraft tank which comes in the new pack.

I've also decided against basing the trucks for now, except for weapons haulers. There is one truck with a lorried gun based for every two unlorried weapons in the division.

Other than that, Thunderbirds seem to be go. Here's a photo of the division laid out in all its basic golden glory...

The whole division in company scale (i.e. one base = one company or half artillery battalion.)

The 201st Motorized Brigade. HQ up front, followed by carrier companies, infantry, machineguns, 2 lber ATG portees and mortars. Mortars should have been based distinctively from MGs, so I'm going to have to visually define them better come painting and flocking time.

The 2nd Armored Brigade. Crusaders up front, Grants in the rear. To the left is its organic motor infantry battalion: carriers, infantry, machingun and portee. HQ is at back right.

My personal favorites: the 4th Armored Brigade. I mean, Stuarts AND Grants: what's not to like?

Protips to remember in this stage
1) Base look-alike units differently so that they can be told apart at a glance.
2) Base units with special characteristics (i.e. recon, command) on specially-shaped bases.
3) Leave a 5mm-wide strip clear of figures at the back of the base. A label decribing the unit can be affixed here later, if you like.


  1. Interesting that you base before you paint. Do you find that easier than painting before basing?
    My first attempt with 3mm is to attach the vehicles (and a few standing infantry) to lolly (popsicle) sticks to paint, then base.

  2. Hi there, an absolutely great 'how-to' report there, brilliant stuff, and some great photos of the cracking little, and I mean little, 3mm sculpts - it's amazing how much detail they manage to put on- easily recognisable and characterful - the universal carriers and the Grants in particular.

    Some really good ideas about the 'differentiation' basing for quick recognition; must try that with some of my 2mm stuff!

    Keep up the good work , would like to see more like this! ;-).

  3. With 3mm moderns, I definitely find it easier to base, then paint. With 2mm Napoleonics, I paint, then base.

    It just makes it easier to shove the paste in without worrying about screwing up the paint job. Plus, at this scale, if you can`t get a brush in, nobody`s going to see it anyhow, so it saves time.

  4. Wow! I'd like to say that these look impressive but the word hardly does it justice. I've wanted an 8th Army force for so long, but since I primarily play at 28mm I've shied away from it. But this just blows my mind, I never thought something so small would look this good.

    I'm going to buy some and, *ahem* borrow all of your ideas here. Any chance I could get list the pack codes you purchased?

    Keep up the great work.


  5. Dear Timbo,

    I don't have the package codes handy, but if you go to the Picoarmor website, it's very easy to figure out what I'm using.

    Packs come 15 figures to the pack for vehicles and about 150 infantry figures for infantry.

    Thanks for the nice comments!