Friday, May 26, 2017

Casting Toy Soldiers

I have a secret hobby I don't tell a whole lot of people about. I collect toy soldiers. It started when I used to buy bags of plastic soldiers for a buck at Ben Franklin's Five and Dime Store. I've still got my soldiers from way back then. My wife says I'm a packrat. I like to think of myself as a collector.

There are all kind of online and retail stores that sell toy soldiers in a variety of scales and materials. I'm not terribly picky. I just like setting up little armies and battlefields, but some folk get really into recreating specific historical battles.  If you want to get really into the hobby, you can even build your own soldiers. In exchange for some time and work, you can not only come up with a greater variety of soldiers for your layouts, but you can also save yourself some money by learning the art of molding lead or composite soldiers. 

Making your own soldiers is a great way for history/militariana  buffs to capture a moment in history. If you're a gamer, it's a way to impress your fellow board gamers with your awesome playing pieces. And you can make your playing pieces more realistic. If you're just into the art of the thing, creating molds is a fun and potentially profitable way to interpret what is a fascinating subject.

Here's how the process works:

  • Lead bismuth and tin ingots or other meltable metal material (avoid lead as it is too toxic)
  • Release powder
  • Lead soldier molds. You can buy these or make them. For this how-to, we'll focus on working from the molds and look at making molds in another blog.
  • Support boards
  • Metal clamps
  • Casting ladle
  • Bunsen burner
  • Wooden kitchen matches
  • Exacto knife and/or fine metal clipper pliers
  • Fine wire brush
  • Hobby paints, undercoat and clear varnish
  • Hobby paint brushes

  1.  Lay out the molds you are going to use on a flat surface. 
  2. Brush the inside of both molds with release powder - both mold halves. Tap the mods together to remove any excess powder.  
  3. Test fit the mold halves and make sure they are lined up properly. Many commercial molds have notches to help insure a proper fit.
  4. Once the mold is line up, lay boards on either side and clamp the mold halves together. 
  5. Prop up the casting ladle and cut up bits of metal ingot if you're molding with lead. Place them in the ladle and heat them over the burner until the metal melts and liquifies.  
  6. Test the temperature of the metal with a burnt kitchen match. If you touch the match to the metal and it smokes, it's ready to pour. 
  7. Pour the melted metal from the ladle into
    the mold holes in the side of the molds. As you pour the the liquid metal, tap the sides of the molds with a tool to help the metal settle into all the little nooks and crannies inside the mold.
  8. Let the molds cool for at least 5 minutes or so. Longer is better. Once the metal has cooled and hardened, unclamp the boards holding the mold halves together and remove them. 
  9. Now gently bend the mold apart and away from the metal figure.  If the mold makes multiple figures, then you'll have a figure tree with multiple figures or parts. 
  10. Use the Exacto knife or fine clippers to free the figures from the figure tree and to trim any metal which may have flashed between the edges of the mold half.
  11. Finish the figure with a fine wire brush along the seams to clean up the marks from where the molds came together. You might want to finish with some fine metal sandpaper to remove the lines entirely.
  12. Finish your figure by spraying it with an undercoat before doing the final painting.
  13. It's easy enough to find excellent color illustrations of uniforms online. Paint one color at a time  and allow to dry before doing the next one. Do large areas first and add fine details last using a fine tip brush.
  14. This will improve the look of the paint. I finish my soldiers with a light spray of satin varnish (not glossy) to keep the paint from being flecked off, especially if the figures are used for gaming where they will be handled a lot.

Advanced Soldier-Making

You can make your own molds with materials available from the on-line suppliers listed below and some of the more esoteric hobby shops. Books and DVDs are available on the Internet, that will tell you everything you need to know. 

One thing though. You need to be able to work in very small places. You are after all, creating what are in essence, very small sculptures. If you've got the artistic ability, it can be a lot of fun to make your own stuff. RTV Silicone and plaster are two popular mold-making material. Plaster is rather less durable for making molds. If you have well crafted figures that lend themselves to mold-making, you can always make new molds.  If you have older soldier figures that aren't under somebody's copyright, you can recreate them by making molds and using the molds to reproduce them. If you are any good at carving, you can make your own originals.


Start your collection by concentrating on molds from a specific era or type of soldier. You may even concentrate on a specific battle if you'd like if you're planning a diorama or gaming around a specific scenario. Be sure and get molds for equipment like cannons, limbers, horses, abatis, stacks of cannon balls and other things necessary for a battle scene. If you'd like to hook up with fellow hobbyists, join Treefrog Treasures' toy soldier forum. You'll meet a huge crowd of toy soldier makers and collectors with just a whole world of information about the hobby.

Making soldiers is a fun way for history/militariana buffs to freeze a moment in time; for gamers a way to make the playing pieces more realistic; for artists, a way to interpret a fascinating subject.


  1. The Miniatures Page: Making Molds 
  2. The Miniatures Page
  3. Treefrog Treasures: Military Miniatures
  4. Miniature Molds: Casting Molds
  5. Dunken Company: Casting Molds
  6. Popular Science: Gray Matter - Recasting the Hazardous Toys of the Past 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Does My Kid Have ADHD?

A Cautionary Tale

Is your obviously intelligent child having trouble in school?  Does he daydream, have a lot of trouble focusing in class? Is he (or she) disruptive and not doing well in class. Is it time to get the kid started on Ritalin? 

A couple of things first. If you are worried about ADHD or autism, find a good child psychologist and have him evaluated. Don't start with a doctor or pediatrician. There's no physical test for psychological or behavioral issues. Physicians have a protocol for these things and too often it starts off with Ritalin. 

Don't go that way. Get the diagnosis first. 

With ADHD the best thing is not to rush them into school. If I had my way I'd start an ADHD kid in school when he was ten years old. Give him time to settle down. He'd catch up in no time because he or she would be better prepared socially. 

Unfortunately, schools don't let you do that. 

ADHD is actually not a specific single disorder. It's a cluster of symptoms that can actually be caused by one of four or more different problems. 
  1. True deficits of attention - Classic ADHD is caused by lowered glucose in the frontal lobes of the brain. Ritalin works well for that as a stop gap. It's one of the most dramatic effects in psycho-pharmacology. If it doesn't work amazingly well, it ain't real ADHD. 
  2. Tourette's syndrome. This can start out with attention issues and then develop into twitches and then the full outburst sorts of behaviors you get with Tourettes. There are some medications that help. 
  3. Childhood depression - Depression can be triggered for a variety of real reasons (divorce, illness, death, loss, etc.). Depression in kids can cause attention problems. This can be treated with counseling and anti-depressents. 
  4. Bipolar disorder - Both the manic and depressive cycles cause attention problems early on in kids before full bipolar develops. There is a family history of bipolar in both sides of my own family. 
If you start looking at your family history, you may more quickly find the source of you child's attention problems. My own son started showing symptoms early and we thought it was ADHD at first. If we'd known it was bipolar, we'd have done different things to attempt to treat it. ADHD treatments were ineffective.

If your child is having symptoms that look like one of these issues, do your best to keep the child away from pot and other drugs when they hit junior high and high school. Pot use and other drug abuse, for instance can actually trigger earlier onset of full blown bipolar disorder and may , and that is not something you want to kick in when you're kid is also struggling with puberty issues.

Be sure and let the psychologist know about family history of mental illness. That's why it is better to start with the experts. If there has been any trauma in the family or the child has suffered a head injury or some other powerful event. These can trigger attention issues.

And for kids with attention problems, you might try a programmed learning approach that he can do at his own speed. Do not underestimate the power of learning by activities which give the child immediate feedback. It's why a kid who can't pay attention for ten minutes in school can spend hours playing a video game. Video games provide instant feedback which re-engages attention continuously. There are home-school programs that are really good for that sort of thing.

© 2017 by Tom King

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Clear the Ice Off Your Windshield SAFELY!


It’s the time of year when snowstorms turn to ice storms and lay down coats of ice over our windshields. Nothing is worse than hacking at a sheet of ice on a miserable morning in the middle of a nasty ice storm and trying to clear the ice so you can go to work. You can run your car with the heater on and after a while you can break loose the ice by hacking at it with an ice scraper.  Then there’s when you’re in a hurry and have to drive to work with a 12 inch hole in the ice in front of the driver’s side (see above) and the side windows down so you can hang your head out. Who needs it?

The easiest way to clear your windshield is by going out the night before and throwing a tarp over your windshields. Unfortunately, we don’t always get warnings of ice storms the night before. So next time you go out to get in your car and go to work, find the windows coated with ice here’s what you can do to safely remove the ice and get on to work without cracking your windshield.  And best of all it’s cheap and uses stuff you can find in your cleaning closet.

FYI - A hockey stick is NOT a good window scraper.

  • Cold water
  • 2 household sprayer bottles
  • High quality ice scraper
  • Warm gloves
  • Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol
  • Vinegar
  • Dishwashing Liquid


  1. Mix ½ cup rubbing alcohol with 4-5 drops of dishwashing detergent. Pout the solution into one of the sprayers and mark it.
  2. Mix 3 cups vinegar and 1 cup cold water
  3. Put on your warm clothes and gloves and grab your ice scraper and bottles of solution.
  4. Spray the ice over the windows and mirrors with the alcohol/dishwashing liquid solution and let it sit 5 minutes.
  5. The ice should lift off the glass. You may have to break it loose from the frame of the windshield or the metal edges around the mirrors with the ice scraper.
  6. If the ice is very thick, you may have to repeat spraying the ice with the alcohol/dishwashing liquid solution a time or two to get the ice to release.
  7. Once all the mirrors and windows are clear, spray with the vinegar/water solution to clear away the soapy residue and you’re done. Make sure and clear the entire window for you own safety and so you won’t get stopped by the cops.

This is NOT the fun way to remove ice. It's hard
on your hands and your windows.
You can also spray your windows the night before with the alcohol/dishwashing liquid solution to prevent ice from forming and sticking to your windows. You can also take the bottles along with you to work and spray the windows before you go in, in case another ice storm hits while you’re at work.  Of course a tarp is best way to keep ice off your windows if you have to park out of doors, but if you don’t want to fool with that, the spray on solution works too. Before you drive home spray with vinegar water and wipe the windows clear. 

Whatever you do, don’t use hot water on a frozen window of any other heat source for that matter. It can crack the glass, especially at very low temperatures. Salt on the car windows is also a terrible idea because of the danger of rusting and pitting metal car parts. Avoid hitting the ice because at low temperatures your car windows are easier to break.  

Especially don’t use antifreeze on your windows. It tastes sweet to animals and is highly poisonous. Spill some on the ground and you can accidentally kill your neighbor’s pets.


WBNT-10TV:  AAA Offers Advice for De-Icing Your Car

Dollar Stretcher: Homemade Window De-Icer

Reader’s Digest: 12 Ways to Use Rubbing Alcohol

Monday, February 06, 2017

Homemade Anchors - The Concrete Jug

Spring is approaching and fishing season looms.  Here's a quick and cheap anchor for your canoe, rowboat, Jon boat, skiff or other small craft to keep you from drifting while you're fishing.

  • Half gallon plastic jug - Use a bottle with as thick a plastic as possible. The plastic protects your boat's finish when you're pulling the anchor back on board. A squared milk jug works even better because the mouth tends to be larger and it won't roll around in the bottom of the boat.
  • Concrete mix with small aggregate.
  • Half inch x 6" plus eyebolt with nut 
  • Half inch nylon or polyethylene rope

  1. Mix concrete with water to make a thin but not watery mixture - about the consistency of oatmeal.  
  2. Pour the concrete mix into the plastic bottle and fill to the top
  3. Screw the nut on the bottom of the eyebolt and shove it into the mouth of the bottle so that the eye sticks out the top.
  4. Allow the concrete to set hard.
  5. Tie 50 feet of half inch rope to the bottle through the eyebolt or the handle. Use a bowline knot so it won't slip and so you will be able to untie it if you need to replace the rope or change the configuration of the rope in some way. 

This anchor is heavy, but it may drag. There are no tangs so if there's a breeze you may move a little bit as the jug drags over the bottom. It's usually easy to drag up at the end of the day for that reason, though. Because it's plastic, the anchor will last a long while. Eventually the plastic bottle may degrade and fall apart. Just peel off the old plastic an the anchor will still work. You'll probably want to cover it with something to keep it from scratching your boat.

Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Avoid Capsizing

The weight was too high. Wanna bet?


It's wintertime. In winter, the water is very cold. Once you fall out of your boat, you are NOT going to last very long. The number one cause of boating injuries in the United States is capsizing. Most capsizes are preventable. What it takes is a cool head and some mighty quick thinking. But that's not all. The most important thing you need to understand is how your boat is constructed, how it floats, how it balances, how buoyant it is and how it moves through the water. 

So when you take out a boat, it's critical that you already have a plan for what you are going to do in an emergency.

There are four major factors in the majority of boat capsizings.
They are:
More than half the overloaded boats escaping from
Vietnam after the fall of S. Vietnam are believed to

have capsized in rough seas and sank with all hands.
  1. Overloading
  2. Excessive speed
  3. Large waves and winds
  4. Obstructions struck by the boat at speed
Things you should have in the boat or be aware of: 
  • All loose objects in the boat - anything that might shift around
  • Lifejackets, ring buoys, rescue tubes, and floating boat cushions
  • Something to bail with
Here's what you should look out for:
  • Disturbances on the water - In rivers look for billows in the moving waters. At sea look for wave forms that are higher than surrounding waves where they are breaking over shallow rocks, sand bars or other obstructions.
  • Gusts of wind, sudden squalls or suddenly larger waves
  • Narrow channels, oncoming boats or anything that might cause you to swerve suddenly.
  • Objects floating in the water.
  • Sluggish performance, water coming into the boat or slow recovery after turns.
 Staying Upright:
  1. If you are sailing, wind is your biggest threat. Things are a little different in a sailboat when things get rough. First spill wind, reduce sail to reduce speed. This gives you time to think and act defensively. If the wind is becoming dangerous and you're in a small boat, you need to get to safety, so don’t stop moving. Spilling wind gives you time to assess what's happening around you and to your boat. Be prepared to dump wind fast to keep from being blown over. You'll need to have one hand on the mainsheet and one on the rudder. Turn her into the wind as much as possible or, if you need to head downwind, angle downwind. Avoid heading straight downwind in heavy seas as much as possible to avoid tipping forward or driving the bow underwater and swamping the boat.
  2. Move as much loose weight (including people) down low and toward the center of the
    If you are in a canoe have passengers and gear sit flat on the bottom. In a motorboat or fishing boat, get everyone into lower seats. No standing; no sitting up in the fishing chairs. If the water is flat or calm, and the boat is in danger of capsizing, then likely the weight is too high or too heavy for the shape of the hull or the size of the boat. Be sure to get heavy objects down low and secure them so the can't shift around. The lower your boat's center of gravity, the less likely it is to capsize.
    Note the lack of lifejackets. Capsizing happens
    fast. Once you go over there's not time to look
    for a lifejacket and that can cost you your life.
  3. If things get rough, make sure you get life jackets onto everyone. The law requires a Coast Guard approved life vest (minimum Type II) for everyone in the boat for a reason. If things get dicey or you're going fast, make everyone put on their jackets. Capsizes can happen very quickly, separating you from a life jacket and safety. The same wind that blew your boat over will blow away flotation devices faster than you can swim after them in cold water with hypothermia threatening to all kind of wreck your swimming skills.
  4. If water comes in, bail it out quickly. Water is very heavy stuff. If it's sloshing around in the boat, you've got a lot of weight shifting wildly and messing up your center of gravity. Water loose in the bottom of the boat can flip you in a heartbeat. In rough conditions, you want every free hand bailing out water as quickly as possible. Make sure anyone bailing stays low in the boat to keep anyone who is bailing down low in the boat while bailing. Keep everyone from getting excited. People have a bad habit of standing up in the boat when water comes in causing the boat to capsize. Bail water from a kneeling position or sitting if at all possible.
  5. Close up any holes if you struck something. Locate where water is coming in and stuff something bulky into the hole to slow the leak. It may be more effective to stuff something in from the outside if you can safely reach the hole without tipping the boat over.
  6. Took too little action too late...
  7. Head for safety. There are two ways to do this. If you are close enough to shore, work your way into a bay or a sheltered cove or bay if you can get there safely. If you see a squall or wind storm coming up and you can make it to sheltered water, you can weather a storm by anchoring or running your boat up on shoe. Where the wind is strong, turn your boat into the waves and crab your way sideways angling toward shelter. Angle across the wave fronts. You need considerable skills to maneuver this way. If you haven't the skill don't try it. It's better to ride out the storm.  You can rig a sea anchor by tying a jug of water or something bulky that floats to the stern of the boat so that it pulls the bow around to face into the waves.  
Final notes:

Maneuvering is dangerous. This requires some serious skill.  Always take some time to familiarize yourself with your boat while the conditions are calm or you're in a sheltered place. Always know your boat before going out into potentially rough waters.


Andrew Kim Law Firm: Common Causes of Capsizing Boats

The Bass Report; Preventing Capsizing

The Florida Course – Boater Education: Boating Emergencies - What to Do

© 2017 by Tom King