Military Miniature

Building a Miniatures Wargame Army Part 2 – Preparation!

So, it’s time to buy some miniatures, and as I said in my last article, I went with Peter Pig and a little Khurasan. The Khurasan are a bit bigger than the Peter Pig fellas, so I may use them as Russian Guardsmen and just live with it. 

So, we start with an unopened pack of miniatures. I  wanted to show how miniatures are typically packed, usually in a plastic bag of some sort, with a backer card describing the contents. In that regard, Peter Pig bags are minimalist, with only one number for the range and another for the figure pack in that range. I’ve taken to writing on the back of the pack in sharpie what’s in the bag, so I don’t go insane trying to figure out what the hell it contains!


Pictured above are two bags of Peter Pig figures and some metal files I will use to clean up the miniatures. This is really the first thing you should do once you remove the miniatures from the package. It’s important to examine the miniature for extra burrs of metal or mold lines that will detract from the look of the miniature. 

The good news is, while it may be a chore to find the flaws in the miniature, it’s not as hard to remove them with a few good strokes of a metal file. In the two pictures below, I examine this Peter Pig flag bearer for any such flaws. I only found some small burrs on the base, which is about right, along with a mold line on top of the hat and along the flagpole. Take note of the detail and expressiveness of the miniature as this is what makes a good miniature! 


After you’ve spent time filing and checking over the miniature, it’s time to give them a bath. That’s right. A bath. 

I have a small Tupperware container that I use, and all you need is a bit of hand soap or dish soap to do the job. Why are we bathing them, you ask? One of the things that goes into the production of metal miniatures is a mold release agent that’s meant to ease the removal of the metal figures from the mold. It’s hard to see once it dries, but its residue is there, trust me. And you’ll notice and curse it when your paint doesn’t adhere to the miniature as well as it should. So, a bath with some soap and water clears that small problem right up. I simply dunk ‘em, soap ‘em, and agitate the water and soap with a bit of a shake, then time it for two minutes.


After that, you simply put them out on a paper towel to dry. That usually takes about ten to fifteen minutes or so. You can do several sets of figures at a time and have one set you’re filing and cleaning, another set bathing, and another set drying. When you’re a wargamer, every step with your army is an assembly line!


Also, you will notice that I’ve laid the figures out in pairs. This allows me to visualize the unit I want to create and how they’ll be organized for eventual basing and play. It helps me because then I know:

  1. I’ve got a suitable variety of miniatures on a base, or that the similar miniatures look good enough
  2. I’ve made sure there are a commander and flag bearer for the unit command stand

What you see pictured here is a basic unit for my rules, For the Proletariat. I designed the size of the battalions around the bag size of the Peter Pig range. And so far, so good. Any extra figures from a given pack (I end up swapping out a rifleman for one of the flag bearers) should be put aside as they can be swapped into other units. Remember, the Russian Civil War had both armies, especially the Reds in the early part of the war looking like a motley crew. But even the Whites had a variety of uniforms and sources of equipment.

The next step is to prepare your miniatures to be painted. This is also a relatively easy task. The first step is to use white glue or a sparing amount of super glue to put the figures on a temporary base, like a popsicle stick. I mount a battalion of eight miniatures to a stick, which works out to a battalion of infantry or a squadron of cavalry, as they will be mounted two to a base in their final form.


After that, take them outside and put an undercoat on them! Some notes about spraypaint The first is obvious: 


I really cannot stress this enough. Spray paint has chemical propellants that aren’t good for you if you breathe them in, and you can do a lot of unintentional damage if you spray the wrong way. It’s also good to wait until the day is calm, sunny, and the temperature is between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit with low humidity. It means that for me, being in the DC area, I have two narrow windows to spray up my miniatures – spring and fall. So, I take advantage of it when I can for as long as I can. 

Some may ask, why do you undercoat your miniatures? Metal, by itself, isn’t a great medium for most acrylic paint to stick to, but specially made primers do an awesome job of giving the paint a layer to adhere. 

Two pro-tips: One, I buy most of my primer at the auto parts store and Home Depot. Rust-Oleum brand does as well as specially made hobby primers for about half the cost. And second? If you can’t paint outside, use artist’s gesso. You can pretty much glop the stuff on, and it will shrink as it dries.

Now, what color do you prime? There are many schools of thought, but I tend to prefer black (for most paint jobs) and grey (for lighter paint jobs, such as primarily yellow, or white, or smaller scales, like 15mm and below). These miniatures are small enough, so whatever colors you put down, you want them to “pop!”

So, when you spray them, shake the can vigorously in accordance with the directions on the can. Spray in quick, even bursts, and make sure you don’t spray in one place two long, or you’ll put too much paint on the figure!


See, all ready to be painted, I’ve since done at least half of my Reds, and I am still working on the Whites! So, it’s not hard if you put your mind to it to get an army done relatively quickly. The main thing you need here is focus! Focus and you can do it too!

At SJR Research, we specialize in creating compelling narratives and provide research to give your game the kind of details that engage your players and create a resonant world they want to spend time in. If you are interested in learning more about our gaming research services, you can browse SJR Research’s service on our site at SJR Research.

(This article is credited to Jason Weiser. Jason is a long-time wargamer with published works in the Journal of the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers; Miniature Wargames Magazine; and Wargames, Strategy, and Soldier.)

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