Sunday, February 26, 2017

End of an Era

Having a converted Boer in hand, as well as a paint stripped head from a broken antique Gordon Highlander and having restrained myself from ordering replacement heads, I reluctantly proceeded with making a mold to allow the 54mm Zulu and First Boer War project to proceed.
The first recruits for the 58th Foot.
After much hemming and hawing I went all toy soldiery and painted white, unstained, helmet and belts. The figure on the viewer's left is the original conversion, the other is the copy.

 As the Boer disappeared into the RTV I had one of those forehead slapping moments. Yesterday I had looked through numerous illustrations and confirmed that ammunition bandoliers were almost always worn over the left shoulder. (Presumably to avoid interfering with the rifle butt when aiming.)  What I had just noticed was that I had accidentally (or absent mindedly) reversed this when adding the putty.

Never mind, that could be fixed, or lived with, it was really the pith helmet that I had slipped in that was important. With a bit of work, I eventually managed to coax a slightly lumpy helmet and even more heavily flashed Boer from the mould. Lumpy and flash ridden enough that I could make use of them after much tedious work but not encouraging. The rifle is a lump of flash and there is a big wedge on the brim of the Boer's hat not to mention various smaller faults.  Doing fresh conversions for each figure would be easier than rescuing these though I will do one or two 'just because'. When I finally got a helmet to form it was in slightly better shape, usable but not great.

There was enough putty left over for one more full sized mould so I decided to try again but not with the Boer. This time I used an unconverted, antique, guardsman with his head chopped off and replaced by a pith helmet. If it worked it would give me what I needed to get the game on the table. I already have an ample supply of slouch hats to use for conversions of other figures to Boers to speed their recruitment.

It was with great relief that the result was, not exactly a clean casting, but a usable one. Usable enough to save the day with a bit of tedious work any way. 
Best not let the Sergeant Major catch you with your shirt tail hanging out over your arse Soldier! and Grandpa, what the hell are you pointing at me? I was confused at first by what appeared to be a bandage under the British helmet but it turns out that it was a fault on the antique that I hadn't noticed.
It was around 1999 that I first tried my hand at making my own molds. The initial reason was simply that I couldn't buy what I wanted! If I'd gotten into 54mm a bit earlier and hadn't gotten distracted by the explosion of new and recast 54mm plastic sets, Soldierpac had everything I wanted and while expensive for my budget, within reach if I went slowly. But they closed and the very reasonable prices of the remaining suppliers were beyond my reach for wargaming purposes. Having just gotten into casting Prince August semi-flats, and having bought some moulds for copies of old Britain's from Miniature Moulds who also sell mould making supplies, the next step was obvious. Make my own masters and cast them!

I'll never go down in the list of top miniature sculptors but I like several of my masters more than many commercial figures. Making moulds seemed  like it should be the easy part. It probably is for someone with not just patience and technical knowledge but who is careful and precise and patient.  Like the song says, "it ain't me Babe". I'm not sure how many moulds I've made now. Let's say 50 at least. Maybe 10 of those reliably produce acceptable copies of the original with a minimum of flash, maybe another 10 were completely unusable and the rest were were usable on a good day with a great deal  of recovery work required to produce a poor shadow of the original.

One reason I persevered was that I dreamt back then of having my own one man toy soldier company. From original sculpt to mould to castings, raw or painted.  With hindsight, by 2005 I had enough evidence that my mould making skills had stalled somewhere between mediocre to poor that I should have started investigating having some one else make the moulds. It was a tumultuous time in my life though and there was too much ego involved for rational business decisions. Anyway, I no longer have the desire to work that hard so its sheer cussedness crossed  with a desire for cheap volume that has kept me going at the mould making.

For this project I had actually looked at the price of buying heads from 3 sources and had almost stopped myself from reaching for the RTV but, it was there, bought and paid for, and it had an expiry date. I decided to give it one more go.

Once I was done and looked at the results I went looking at price and availability of RTV and revisited the price of parts.   I needed about 18 pith helmets for this project assuming I cannibalised and repaired more of the antique guards and used my commercial guards mould for bodies.  The result suggests that the cost of those heads would be about equal to what one of the 2 moulds would have cost and I could have grabbed some extras at the same time. Hmmm. Less money, less work, less frustration and I can feel good for supporting the industry.  

The figure on the left is the refurbished antique, the one on the right is the recast after 15-20 minutes of cutting and filing. After all the years of doing British and Canadians in tunics with lace trim, it was realllly hard not to paint any on the front and on the rear vent of the service frocks.  
So I am announcing the end of an era. I do not intend to replace my RTV. I'm quite happy to continue buying moulds for massed armies, like the new Prince August ones and I'm happy to keep converting figures, but I'm trying to downsize my armies and focus on what I enjoy, which does not include mould-making!

If I ever get another mad, insatiable, desire to make a lot of copies of some new originals, I'll start checking the price of hiring someone to do it for me.  


  1. You know, Ross, from time to time I have the mold-making butterfly drift by, and I think "What if?" Then I come to my senses a day or two later and realize that there is just no way I could ever equal the figures put out by RSM95, Minden-Fife and Drum, Crann Tara, or Eureka. Not enough skill or patience, and, of course, the rather irrational fear of working with molten metal. I too will stick to painting, collecting, and occasional games. These strike me as far more sensible and rewarding.

    Best Regards,


    1. Well I rather enjoyed it when it was an original and it worked and I'll still be pouring hot metal! But yes time for more doing vs dreaming for a while.

  2. I have friends who have tried their hands with making their own figures. Even had one round mty place to have a crack at it on my stove. Interesting, but something I've ever been tempted to do on my own account! I'll stick to my cardboard guns and vehicles to supplement gaps in my 20th century games... :-D

  3. Ross Mac,

    I must admit to having made my own figures in the past ... and the results were better than I expected. They were not up to the sort of commercial standard that one finds today, but they were my figures and suited my requirements. In fact I was looking at the moulds last week and giving serious thought to using them again.

    I love your homecast figures, and I hope that in the fullness of time you will make some more moulds and many more figures.

    All the best,


    1. I like my original figures, its just my sloppy mold making that eats at me when I do complex poses!

  4. I love how bright and cheerful those figs are painted. Very fine.
    Having burnt myself painfully with a glue gun recently, I have nothing but admiration for fellows like yourself who make moulds.

    1. Very bright! My personal hobby seems to be losing any pretense at concerning itself with reality. I try not to wonder if this a subconscious desire to escape from reality or merely a foretaste of my mind in 20 years.

    2. Sometimes I thank the hobby could do with a bit less reality, a bit less seriousness and just play toy soldiers. Whilst I find that our club nights are very historical, my own private wargame interests tend not to be.

    3. It could probably do with less packaged pseudo-historical veneer at least. For myself, I've come to look on history as interesting and important but imagination as fun.

  5. The personality of your own castings makes for a unique total experience in my humble view.

    While Prince August is coming out with more new moulds I have made many of my own from conversions and 'rescues' of damaged or otherwise unusable minis by using green stuff and other putty.

    In my view the only economical way to have large, all metal (I make that distinction now as the use of plastics has reduced possible costs), armies. Combine that with some fair painting and reasonable speed at production and I have been able to pay off my mould costs by casting, painting and selling whole armies of troops. Indeed now I do not start a new mould project unless I have already paid for the RTV and more.

    I join with Bob is hoping that you do maintain your hand in some homecast elements to your forces and that they serve your needs on the tabletop with honor.

    1. If I was still interested in big armies 25/30mm would be a good route. I've done 3 masters and the moulds all turned out well and use barely a quarter of the rtv.

      However painting has gone from a pleasure to a chore in anything but very small doses but I still love converting individuals. Back to my roots!

      There will still be homecasts just fewer home made molds and fewer new figures in total, and hopefully more games.