Modelling Tips

I have been converting 1:72 scale plastic model soldiers for over 50 years so thought that I would share some of my modelling tips here.

Useful Tools



Craft knives – (I buy cheap ones in packs of three from a local DIY store).  I normally keep one good one and a second older one, the latter for less delicate work like cutting up old sprue or cutting card bases.  When the good one gets blunt, it becomes the old one, and the “old” old one gets thrown away.

I also find it useful to have Fine nosed pliers, Wire cutters and Tweezers.



A couple of other useful tools are a Map pin – for making holes in figures prior to conversion, and a Glass headed pin – for making long holes in figures.  I find the latter useful when fixing a flagpole into two hands on a figure.  By pushing the pin through the top hand, aiming for the bottom one, I can get the holes in the hands to line up at the correct angle.  I can then withdraw the pin and push the flagpole through holes in the hands, welding it in place if necessary.

Useful Conversion Material



Staples – for headswaps and other conversions

Cut off hairgrip sections – for flagpoles and handles of picks, spades etc

Sprue – I keep lots of spare sprue for conversions, cutting it into little bits.


Plastic Conversion

When I started wargaming, over 50 years ago, there was a very limited range of 1:72 plastic model soldiers available.  I therefore had to convert many figures to get what I wanted.

An example is my use of an Airfix Friar Tuck figure, from their Robin Hood set.  I have used the upper body of that figure, heavily converted, as the Zulu chief Cetshwayo, Napoleon and the Duke of Cumberland.



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For a lot of my plastic conversion I use a miniature electric welding iron.  I have two bits for this.  The thinner one I filed down to a sharp needlepoint for fine work.  The larger bit I filed into a pallette knife shape, which is useful for spreading melted plastic thinly.  The plastic does tend to build up a bit on these and needs scraping off every so often (I use the serrated grips of a pair of pliers for this, although if it gets really thick I might cut it off with an old craft knife).



I cut up lots of plastic sprue to assist in conversions.  You get used to knowing which plastic sprue welds well, and which does not.  Airfix, Esci and soft Italeri is fine.  The hard Italeri and soft Hät (like that used for their wagons) is more of a problem.  Occasionally, really old Airfix will just completely melt.

Some early horses (eg Airfix, Esci and Italeri) come with separate stands.  Having pushed the plastic connectors on the bottom of the horse legs through the holes on the base, I then weld these from the underside, then use the fine needlepoint welding iron to smooth around between the hooves and the ground to improve the joint.

Whenever I join new heads to bodies, or the top half of one body to another, I use a map pin to make a small hole in each of the two parts of the figure.  I then break staples into four and use the sections as pins to hold the two parts (eg head and body) of the converted figure in place.




For instance, I wanted to use this figure (from the RedBox Loyalist & Militia Set) as a Jacobite lowlander, but I like all of my Jacobites to be wearing blue bonnets.







I therefore cut off the old head, made a hole in the neck with a map pin, used a fine nosed pair of pliers to push the staple into the neck, made a similar hole in the neck of the new head, then pushed the head onto the protuding staple, until it is in exactly the right place.






I then used my needle point electric welding iron to pick up a very small piece of plastic sprue, and weld it onto the joint around the neck of the converted figure.  The cut off tricorne head will be used for a reverse conversion of a figure in a bonnet to make a Loyalist Volunteer.  I plan such head swaps, so try to ensure that nothing is wasted, although I do have a box containing plastic bags (the resealable sort which some figures come in inside boxes) full of spare heads, muskets, swords etc from previous conversions.


I use a similar technique to fix riders on to horses.  Normally I would paint both horse and rider separately.  I then use a map pin to make a hole in both the centre of the saddle and the underside of the rider.  I then use my fine nosed pair of pliers to push the staple into the saddle, then force the rider onto the pin.  Finally I touch up any paint damage caused during this fixing process.


For some delicate work, like welding swords or muskets to hands, I use a magnifying glass with adjustable arms with crocodile clips attached to them.  I suspect this was originally designed for fishermen tying flies.  I place the figure in one of the crocodile clips. turn it to the optimum position to view the figure and then have one hand free to hold the part which I want to weld on, and the other to hold my miniature welding iron.


For really delicate work I might use a pair of tweezers to pick pieces up, and hold them in place, rather than my fingers.



Since my eyesight is not as good as it was when I was younger, and I wear glasses anyway nowadays, for all of my modelling and painting I use clip hinged magnifying glasses (which I bought at Hobbycraft in UK) fitted onto my normal glasses.


I tend to paint at least a complete battalion at a time, often a whole brigade.  This allows each colour to dry before putting the next one on.

Since I paint the figures before basing them, if they are not already stable on their original bases, I temporarily glue them onto individual 20mm squares on thin card during the painting process.  I found that I had to do this for all Strelets Jacobite figures.

I use Humbrol paints and have trays of some 100 colours on a pull-out shelf below my modelling table (it was a computer table).


I have spare tinlets of the main colours in a tool box on a shelf beside the desk, so that I do not run out before my next visit to a hobby shop (now only Hobbycraft in our area, since two small independents closed down).

I use the “sloppy undercoat – fine topcoat” technique, starting with the main colour, not bothering too much about it slopping over the borders of its area.  As I put each new colour on, I only have to be precise on the interface between that and the previous one.

For tartans, I build them up in layers, from a base and then the various overstripes.  I do not try to paint every overstripe, but just try to get an impression of the overall look.


I like all my units to have flags, unless it was totally historically incorrect for them to do so (if in doubt, they have a flag).  I used to paint these myself, but when I started my 18th Century set-up, I switched to using paper ones.

I find suitable flags online.  If they are not already showing an obverse (front) and reverse (rear), I convert them to that by saving them into Paint (it is on all Windows PCs) then converting them.  If the original was an obverse only, I would stretch the original white area around the image to slightly more than double to its right, move the original flag to the right, using the “select” and “copy” options, paste a copy, which will be on the left, flip it to a mirror image it of the  original flag, then adjust the two to make sure that there is sufficient material between the two sides of the flag to wrap around the flagpole.  If the flags have writing on the reverse, which is now a mirror image, I would correct this by copying a proper version from the obverse and pasting it into the correct place on the reverse.

Finally, I save the finished version of the flag as a JPEG into an Excel spreadsheet, with its title above it.  I can then print out this sheet, cut out the flags as I need them.  For my 1:72 flags, I get 48 per sheet.


I spread Pritt Stick on the back of them, wrap them around the flagpole and glue the two sides together, making sure that they are perfectly aligned.  I let them dry for a little, then bend them to make it look as though they are flying in a wind.


A few years ago, I decided to “heavy base” all of my figures to stop them being knocked over so easily, particularly on steep hills.  All of my 18th Century figures are based with this technique and most of my Napoleonic ones are, since I did some retrospective heavy basing conversion them, although that is not complete.

I paint all of my figures before basing them, apart from their own bases.  I then cut out card bases of the appropriate size, using card similar in thickness to picture mounting card.

I base infantry on company size bases, or half company size bases for larger companies.  Light infantry companies are based individually,  so they can be spread out as skirmishers, although in light infantry battalions I base their command company and one other company in close order, as supports.  If grenadiers only have two figures in the company they are based individually, but if they had three figures only one is based individually.  One centre company base has at least one figure based individually to allow for figure removal, which I like.

My cavalry are based by squadrons.  For a four figure squadron that will be one stand of two figures and two figures individually based.

Having cut the card bases out, I then stick strips of magnetic tape on top of the base (they are self adhesive on one side).  I use this tape, not because it is magnetic, but because it is heavy.  The magnetic strip comes in rolls 12mm wide, so that is less than my base depths.  I make the widths of the magnetic strips slighly less than the width of the base (eg if the base is 30mm wide, then the strip will be 27mm wide).  I then glue the painted figure into position on top of the magnetic tape (using Bostik glue).  If figures have muskets or swords pointing out beyond the base, I will angle the figures slightly so that the protuding weapon fits into the space between the figures in front of them when in column.  I put the figures in each unit in column to facilitate slight adjustments to this as I base them.

Once the glue has set, I use cut off bits of plastic sprue to weld onto the bases, smoothing it down with my pallette knife bit to my electric welding iron.  Once finished, I paint the bases green.  I do not bother to flock them, although others may prefer to do so.

A good example of my modelling and basing techniques can be found in my post on Jacobite Infantry.