Kevin’s Re-base-o-rama

Re-basing figures. Some love it. Some hate it. In the past I’ve put myself in the latter category. But in my later years, I’ve mostly adopted just a couple of rules families and I’ve decided to rebase accordingly. This year is going to be a major re-basing year.

I’m currently re-basing for Daniel Mersey’s Rebels and Patriot rules. Mersey has a family of rules that all purport to be skirmish rules. I almost never play them that way and envision them as semi-skirmish rules in which a 12 figure unit is equal to about a company or 50 men. The family began with Lion Rampant, set of medieval rules. Continued with a fantasy version, Dragon Rampant. Pikeman’s Lament for the pike and shot era appeared. The Men Who Would Be King covers colonials. Rebels and Patriots covers a fairly wide range of the horse and musket period up through the American Civil War.

I really like these rules. They are fun to play and easy to learn. They’re great convention rules. There are some details that are quite annoying that I won’t get into here. They are all somewhat different from one another, which is another frustration as I attempt to apply a rule from one set that doesn’t apply at all.

As I said, these are skirmish rules, and as such I mounted a gillion figures for the Hundred Years War and my Aztecs on single bases. These are Litko bases 20mm X 25mm. And that’s fine if you’re doing a cute one on one scenario with a handful of figures. However, anyone who knows me knows I don’t do cute one on one scenarios and moving 400 figures just takes a lot of time.

So for Daniel Mersey rules I’ve implemented 3-2-1 basing. For a twelve figure unit, which is pretty standard, a unit would have 3 x three figure bases, 1 X two figure base, and 1 X 1 figure base. So we’ve gone from twelve bases to six. There are six figure units and 18 figure units, your combinations may vary, there certainly aren’t rules here. I’m just trying to reduce the amount of fiddling as well as the amount of handling the individual figures get.

So how do I get from one basing system to another? What do I need? Does it cause intense pain and burn lots of valuable time? Well, I’ll let you be the judge, but I’ll take you through it step by step.

I have a number of projects I want to re-base. They include my ACW figure, my Maximillian project, Hundred Years War (600 figures) and Aztecs (400 figures) I think the key is to do them one at a time. I usually have several things going on my painting desk at one time. However, while I’m doing the remounting I continue to paint whatever I’m painting and I’m still getting about 24 28mm figure per week done.

Step 1: Unmounting

A unit of good ol’ Dixon ACW figures bathe in warm water. These are the VMI cadets, painted in about 1993, mounted for Regimental Fire and Fury. Let ’em soak overnight. I pop ’em off the bases before I get in the shower the next morning.

This is super easy. I just take my figures and put them in a receptacle that holds water and let ’em soak. The water should come up over the base. Just get their wee feeties wet. I usually do it overnight. No, if you sprayed those figs with some sort of matte coating it won’t hurt the paint job. When I’m ready, I just pull them off the base. Some require a little more coaxing than others. I’ve done this with plastic bases, plywood bases, though not metal bases. It should work. P.S. I mount my figures with CA glue. It still works with a minimal amount of effort.

No tools were used to unlock the VMI Cadets from their plastic bases.

Step 2: The Bases

My go to Litko bases. Three 50mm bases, one 40 mm base and a single 25mm base sets up a 12 figure unit.

You can use whatever basing material you like. I strongly encourage you to use something that’s sturdy that will endure. I have some lovely figures that were painted some 30 years ago but were mounted on artist’s board. Unfortunately it’s had its day and is on the verge of death. Some good .050 plastic, bass wood, something sturdy and hard. It all works.

But I just keep it simple. Kenneth Litko and I have a symbiotic relationship. I send him money and he sends me bases. Yep, I feel a little bit dirty about it, but the 3mm plywood circular bases had me at hello.

My three base sizes are as follows. My three figure bases are 50mm in diameter. They’re big, probably too big, but that was the size I chose. You could probably get away with 40mm. 50mm is also big enough to hold a gun and four man crew, or two mounted figures. It’s a good size. My two man bases are 40mm in diameter. Again, plenty roomy, but I don’t think 30mm would cut it for two. My singles are 25mm.

No, you don’t have to use circles. Squares, rectangles, pills, octagonals, there are lots of choices, or you could just make yours in irregular shapes. Whatever you like.

Step 3: Glue Those Figures Down

The VMI Cadets safely affixed to their bases

Before gluing, take some time to examine the bases of your figures. Be sure they’ll stand up on their own. use a hobby knife to remove excess yuck from the base bottoms. I probably don’t need to tell you this. When that’s done you’re ready for gluing.

I use CA glue. There, I said it. I know folks say not to do this, that CA glue can get brittle and crack over time. Whatever works best for you do it. CA glue has the advantage of immediate results, which means you can move on to the next stage:

Step 4: Base Build-Up

For years I’ve experimented with different types of basing material to build up my bases and avoid that balls on a billiard table look. I used Cellu-clay, which was papier mache-like, but took a loonnng time to dry. I’ve used various Liquitex products and I can highly recommend those products, though they aren’t as readily available as they once were. I have a friend who makes his own basing goop out of baking powder and something else. You just want something that A) builds up your bases, B) is easily paintable, and C) isn’t going to chip with normal wear and tear. I use modeling paste which, like the Liquitex coatings are acrylic, i.e. plastic, are resilient and dry quickly. There are lots of different brands of modeling paste, Liquitex, Goldens, lots of different generic brands. A giant tub o’paste costs about twenty bucks and lasts me about a year.

16 oz’s of Master’s Touch Modeling Paste from Hobby Lobby. Labeled at $19.99, I got it for ten bucks during a Master’s Touch sale. It will at least last me to this summer.

A use an artist knife to apply the stuff. I prefer the metal ones over plastic. They clean up better and I can see it better through the white paste. You could use a plastic knife rather than investing in other tools. Be careful not to get the stuff on your figures, or at least where you aren’t going to be putting your basing materials. Be comfortable with ridges. Don’t try to make it flat. Just get the coverage and try not to leave any holes .

I usually allow eight hours or so for the stuff to dry. It actually dries much faster than that-no more than two hours. Then you can paint it. I try to do my basing first thing in the morning so I can finish up in the evening.

VMI Cadets fully pasted

Step 5: My Secret Affair with Ceramcoat Burnt Umber

When you’re ready and more importantly when your basing material is ready, it’s time to paint your bases. For me this has two stages. I paint a base coat over my base. Your tastes may differ, but I always use Ceramcoat Burnt Umber. That’s a really dark brown. I don’t use tons of craft colors, but this is a go-to for me. It’s a great color, it covers well. I use it for two things, as a horse color and for painting my bases. I just slop it on there with a #2 Dick Blick brush and let it dry. That won’t take forever, but it’s important that no part of the base is remotely wet before going on to the second paint phase. I’ve used other craft Burnt Umber brands, and they just don’t work as well. They don’t cover. They aren’t as dark. It’s the Ceramcoat stuff for me.

Next, dry brush the base with Ceramcoat Trail Tan. Your goal is to highlight the irregularities in the basing material. It was really hard for me to learn dry-brushing, and I still don’t feel like I’m very good at it, though I do it all the time. The goal is to get a nice contrast between the base color and the raised areas on your figures or bases. It just takes practice. And maybe some repair thrown in there. I like to use inexpensive (but non-shedding) flat brushes for this. You can usually pick up sets of these in different sizes at Michaels or Hobby Lobby fairly cheap. Remember you want to dip your brush in the paint and wipe it back and forth on a rag or a paper towel until you’re not getting much off the brush and then in lightly continue wiping the paint off on your base. Always wipe in one direction if at all possible. Practice. You’ll get it.

Step 6: Basing Material-You Choose

You can do as much or as little with this as you wish. Maybe you’re a tuft person, or a static grass person. Perhaps you like to add rocks, or railroad ballast. I’ve had trees on my bases. I like clump foliage for my ACW figures. It’s really a matter of personal preference.

Generally I like to cover my bases with stuff. I usually start by mixing some PVA glue and water. However, if I’m going to use clump foliage or tufts I’ll glue them down first. PVA glue to supplement the adhesive on the tufts. Clump foliage really works best with Hob-E-Tac, which is like a delayed reaction adhesive. Very sticky stuff that goes on white and dries to its stickiest when it’s clear. That takes about twenty minutes. Then you can put down your clump foliage and really mash it into the glue. It’s not coming off trust me. Usually I have to order that on Amazon.

Clump foliage in place. Next I’d put down the tufts. Wrap up with ballast and Woodland Scenics earth.

When you have your plant life accounted for you can decide what’s next. Maybe you just want your painted/dry brushed base to speak for itself. Or maybe you want part of it to show through. I usually just go to good ol’ Woodland Scenics earth. I paint my diluted PVA blue around my tufts/clump foliage and fairly carefully apply my earth. I usually throw down some brown stuff and some blended green stuff that I often mix with the coarser green stuff. I feel like I get a nice effect. Allow about a half hour and you’re ready for the final phase

A final look at the VMI Cadets before spraying them with Krylon Colormax Crystal Clear Flat. Mix of clump foliage, tufts by Gamers Grass, and ballast, earth and green blend turf from Woodland Scenics.

Step 7: The Final Spray

I always use a final coat of clear matte enamel spray. I was a Testor’s Dullcote devotee for many years. Then it kind of went away, though it’s back now with a Krylon label. I’ve gone cheap these days and use Krylon Colormax Crystal Clear Flat. It’s cheap. It works. It’s just important you use something to hold down all the super cool stuff you just applied.

Final Optional Step

This is what I do because it works for me. I’ve taken to using the art storage bins available by any number of manufacturers available from Michael’s, Jo Ann’s, Hobby Lobby. They even had a great deal on some at Costco this Christmas. To keep them from rolling around, I slide in two sheets of steel roofing sheets. Then I take my magnetic Litko bases and glue them (don’t rely on the sticky stuff on the bottom,) glue them on to the wood bases and they stick quite nicely to the roofing sheets. Not perfect, but they do offer a modicum of security.

That’s how I’m going about my big remount. I do my remounting at the same time as my painting. My goal is to paint about twenty-four 28mm figures per week. I also try to remount two 12-figure units per week. So far so good.

6 comments on “Kevin’s Re-base-o-rama

  1. Jonathan Freitag says:

    Enjoyable post, Kevin. I do not mind rebasing so much. The process is akin to creating a whole new army. Discovering Litko ten years ago was a game changer for me.

    Say, are those Blick Masterstroke brushes any good? How do they compare with Winsor & Newton Series 7 Kolinsky?

  2. kgsmyth55 says:

    They’re just okay. I used to buy the Blick Kolinsky Sable Master brushes (red handle) ten years or so ago and just swore by them. Then there was the Kolinsky embargo and weren’t quite the same. I think they’ve gotten better, but they also cost about the same as the W & N Series 7. I dunno. I think you just have to go with what you know and like. That big #2 brush would cost a great deal as a W & N brush. It was less than ten dollars. Don’t know if that answers your question.

  3. Markus Sharaput says:

    Oddly enough, I’ve also recently discovered the joys of this series of rules. Haven’t rebased, but I have adopted this system for new projects. While it doesn’t lend itself to rank and file play, I think it looks ace. First time I’ve seen it with this period, but seems to work here, too. Nice job.

  4. kgsmyth55 says:

    Thanks Markus. I play all the games, some more regularly than others. i think they’re fun. Mersey isn’t above endorsing house rules or inventing new figure types. I really like their adaptability. Enjoy.

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