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Converting Miniatures

By Anthony Karl Erdelji


There may come a time when your are unhappy with the miniature as it stands out of the package, or you want need to change the weapons your unit is armed with, or maybe you just want to add variety to the unit, or create a special character from a standard model.  Whatever your reason may be the day will come when you'll want to convert some of your troops. This can be something simple as gluing a bit onto the model or using a saw and putty to turn a halfing into an orc. Conversions are only limited by your imagination.

To begin converting you'll need six main tools. A razor saw, a pin vise or hand drill, superglue, a file, epoxy putty, and your bits box. Your razor saw is need you hack off the offending parts of the model you don't want. You can use clipper for this, but it is better to use your saw whenever possible. Remember that clippers don't cut material; they push the material apart leaving an uneven edge that must be filed down. The superglue is for gluing (duh). The file is used for general clean up of the piece that was removed or for removing surface details from the model. Once your bit is glued into place it may not fit flush onto the model so you may need to fill in any gaps with epoxy putty. You can also sculpting new details onto your model with epoxy putty. Click here to learn more about epoxy putty. Finally you need the "holy grail" of any true converter, your bits box.

A bits box is simply a collection of models that have never been complete, left over parts from multi-piece models, parts from other conversion projects, or things you've found over the years that you thought might look good on a model. The beginner modeler won't have much of a bits box, but over the years it will slowly grow. No one (and I do mean NO ONE) paints every model that they buy. These models that you bought enthusiastically at one time will slowly end up in your bits box only to be hacked apart. Another source for good bits are the discount miniatures bin that you can find at your local hobby store or gaming convention. Look for miniatures that have a lot of good bits like weapons or other parts that can be easily removed. The model itself might be bland, but the bits on the model may come in handy one day. If your lucky you can get yourself enough bits for years for only a few bucks. 

This is just one of my bits boxes. Makes you drool, doesn't it?

Just glue it on!

The basic conversion involves gluing additional bits into a model. This can be something simple like a sheathed weapon, a skull or head hanging from a belt, or any other item removed from another model. Test fit each part before gluing them on to see how well they fit and it they look good together.

Warhammer 40k Chaos tanks are an ideal model to attach extra bits to. You can go for a themed tank or use my personal method: If it looks good, glue it on! 

The addition of a zombie to this Doom Wolf makes the model not only stand out on the battlefield, it adds character to the army.

Bending

The easiest conversion to perform, besides gluing a bit onto a model, is bending. This is accomplish be simply bending the limbs or extremities of the model to a new position. Sounds simple enough, eh? You can bend the piece with your hand, but in some cases you may need to use a pair of pliers. Wrap the teeth of the pliers with masking tape to prevent them from marring the miniature. Bend the piece slowly to prevent snapping it.  When it comes to bending limbs, remember to keep the miniature in a natural pose. Just because you can bend the figure's legs all the way behind his head doesn't mean you should. Try to bend the figure at the joints to prevent a "Gumby" looking warrior.

The Shard model on the left is just out of the package. With a little bending and some variety with your painting palette and you can turn one model into three or more different and unique models.

Weapon Swap

Weapon swaps are also easy to perform and its most likely conversion project you'll be performing. This will involve a bit more work but it should not be too difficult. Start with a likely candidate for the weapons swap. You want a figure where the weapons is away from the body so you don't have to hack thru half of the miniature to remove it, destroying the weapon and the miniature at the same time.

The necromancer on the left would be an ideal model for the weapon swap. His sword or staff could be cut off right above his hand and a new weapon glued and pinned into place. The goblin on the right holds his sword across his body. Removing it would involve a lot of cutting and filing and the now visible areas of the leg are arm would need to be sculpted in with putty. While not impossible to remove the weapon it would involve too much work for the average modeler.

 

To begin remove the old weapon with your razor saw. You could use a pair of clippers to remove it, but this leave an uneven edge that would need to be filed done. This not only creates more work for you, but also after filing you'll loose a few millimeters off of both pieces. Next cut off the handle off of the replacement weapon. How much depends on the project. In this example I left the handle of the old weapon attached to the model so all I need is the head of the axe.
Next we must drill a hole in each piece of the weapon so we can insert a pin. Pinning is required with weapon swaps. The new axe would be much too delicate if it were glued into place without pinning. For the hobgoblin I drilled a 1/4 inch hole into both the new axe head and the old weapon handle to accommodate a small piece of paperclip. Once the pin is glued into place I'm all done and ready to prime and paint.
The same model armed with different weapons can give the appearance of completely different models at first glance. The work on these three models took just a few minutes.  Along with the addition of a sword, the model on the right also had his shield filed down.

While I am only discussing weapon swaps, there is now reason why you cannot remove and replace other parts of the model. Heads, arms, legs, and even full torso swaps are possible. Just study the miniature and think as to how hard it will be to match up both pieces so they fit together as one.

A weapon swap may also involve adding a weapon where none existed before. The addition of a bone club to this Ral Partha Swamp Terror was a bit more difficult than the typical weapon swap conversion. I sawed halfway thru the knuckles on his left hand and completely removed his thumb. The club was then glued into place and the fingers were bent around it. A new thumb was sculpted with epoxy putty.

Multi-Piece Model Conversions

Multi-piece models are a converters dream! It's like a big box of bits just crying out to be glue and pinned into unique positions. Just because the instructions say to insert slot A into tab A doesn't mean you have to do so. Converting a multi-piece model is not much harder than the previous two conversions, but it may involve the use of some putty.

Here is a Ral Partha Goblin Swamp Terror. This photo on the left shows the model assembled according to Ral Partha.  On the right are five of my converted Terrors. Each Terror began as the one on the left, but by gluing the arms and heads on at different angles and filling the gaps with putty I created five poses from one.

Start with the above simple conversions and shortly you'll be hacking apart models with zeal! In the painting world these days where the game companies have established paint schemes for many models, such that all orcs must be green and all Ultramarines must be blue, conversions allow you an opportunity to use your own imagination to create something truly unique while keeping with their color recommendations.