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:














Materials:
  • 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
Directions:

  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.

Summary

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.




References:

  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 


2 comments:

  1. This may be the coolest thing you have ever posted. The only lead I have ever casted was .44 and .45 caliber. (Real guns begin with a 4.) But since I already have half the material, I wonder what else I could cast. I'll have to investigate. Thank you.

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  2. Doc catches you making toy soldiers and you may find yourself booked into a "facility". Better have a historical research paper outlined to mansplain yourself.

    ReplyDelete