N.B.: This will be the first of a number of posts which I originally published elsewhere. This is because I am attempting to collate and consolidate my writing on this blog. This piece was originally published on ‘Bell of Lost Souls’ community forums back in May 2014.
Recently, you may have noticed that I uploaded a piece about how I converted Taurox treads into Rapier gun carriages. (It’s here if you’re interested)
Also, a few months back, I posted my guide to how I scratchbuilt a Spartan Assault Tank (which is here).
Now, I hadn’t realised until recently that these had been posted to BoLS Facebook page, where they had received some very flattering comments. However, a few people had posted some misconceptions.
As you can see here, Donatello says you need to find templates on the net.
That’s a load of bollocks. I have never used a template IN MY LIFE. The reason for that is twofold. Firstly, who has the patience to slog through the internet, visiting malware infested sites to search for someone’s half-assed suggestions? Secondly, I’m an Assamite, not a Tremere. (Well, technically I’m a Giovanni, hence my name, by that’s by-the-by). That means I don’t like to follow the recipe. I’d rather have something that looks similar to the original, but not the same, because I like everything I have to be obviously converted rather than bought.
The thing is, a lot of people have argued on the Spartan thread above that scratchbuilding with plasticard is wasted time. And if all you want to do is game, you know what? They’re right. Scratchbuilding takes a long, long time. That Spartan was roughly a two week project. Those Rapiers took four days. It’s difficult, fiddly, demanding work.
It is also the most fun the hobby has to offer.
In much the same way as the world-class chef enjoys herself combining unrelated ingredients to create something entirely new, something she can call her own, so the scratchbuilder gets to watch as a flat sheet of white plastic gradually transforms into a usable 40K model. It’s like LEGO from when you were a kid… only you make the pieces yourself.
If you don’t understand the appeal of that, you genuinely have my sympathy.
There were some other interesting comments on the Taurox post:
I want to clear up some of those misconceptions.
Firstly, Twilight Sparkle seems to think that plasticard requires talent – that what I have done is something remarkable. It’s not: anyone can work with plasticard. It is an incredibly simple medium. Below here is a tutorial for beginners that will hopefully allow you to scratchbuild yourself a very basic Heavy Bolter, in many ways the simplest of all Imperial heavy weapons, but one that just looks great.
However, Rarity raises an interesting point: why didn’t I build the sides?
Well, because the Taurox tracks have those lovely gothic greebles on them, the ones that are so very 1st edition 40K, and I know my limitations. I’m not good at curves and swirls, because I’m not a professional, merely a dedicated amateur. Those track units look great – why not use them?
Careful choice of bits is hugely important, and those track units will give my army a unified look, which I think is very important. As an aside, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash raise an interesting question: what did I do with the spare bits? Surely I was being wasteful?
Well, firstly, I didn’t buy any Taurox. I went through bits sites and just bought the tracks. Because no-one seems to want them, they’re selling dirt cheap at the moment and I took advantage. Secondly, there’s no such thing as waste to the dedicated modeller. Everything can be reused. If I had bought some Taurox, I would just buy a set of wheel and convert up my Taurox to have wheels. Stop thinking “waste” and think “new possibilities”.
Or don’t. I’ll happily buy your bits off you cheap on eBay and make them into something wonderful.
Anyway, let’s get to the actually interesting bit: the tutorial.
The Tools You Will Need:
These are the only tools I use. The craft knife is the one you will use most of. The long ruler is for cutting strips of plasticard off the main sheet – I never use the whole sheet at once, because it’s just too big!
The other workhorses are the mini ruler and the set square. They HAVE to be metal. If you use plastic, you’ll just cut into your tools and ruin them. Likewise, they have to be small, because most of the stuff you’re making is going to be tiny. Unless you’re building Titans, in which case fair enough, but just know: Epic was better at Titans than 40K will ever be.
It’s also worth getting yourself a little selection of styrene types. Train shops sell thin strips, rods, hex rods, and all sorts. I keep mine in this rotating desk tidy for ease of access.
Here are some examples. Thin styrene rod is useful for rivets (as you will see later) as well as cabling. Thicker rod can form gun barrels, sound suppressors, pistons and bionics. Thin strips of plasticard are essental for greebling. Thick square rods are useful for supporting structures, frames, and the internals of robots or heavy walkers (I’ve got a build-a-robot tutorial planned later where hopefully I’ll be able to demonstrate what I mean).
This is called ‘treadplate plasticard’. It’s regular plasticard, only with detailing. It’s less generally useful, but if you look at my Rapiers, you’ll see how good it can look when effectively deployed.
Here’s the two thicknesses of plasticard I generally work in. Mostly, I build using the thickest card, and use the thin stuff for greebling. I have some super-thin card too (it’s about the thickness of paper) and I use that for greebling, much like the styrene strips above.
So, that’s the sort of thing you need to scratchbuild generally.
How To Scratchbuild a Heavy Bolter.
To do this, you will need:
Tools – a craft knife, set square, metal rule.
Two sheets of plasticard (one thick, one thin).
Poly cement (superglue will be problematic if used for this)
Styrene rod: one hollow, to form the barrel, one solid and slightly thinner to form the ‘targeter’, and one very thin, for adding rivets.
I began by taking a basic measurement from an existing Heavy Bolter I have. That’s about as far as ‘getting a template’ goes.
I took a piece of cut down plasticard (just cut it off a sheet), and measured the length of the Heavy Bolter using the set square and ruler.
Here it is, cut to sized. This is going to be a heavy bolter by the time we’re done.
I then use the set square and knife to score at the approximate height I want the Heavy Bolter to be. Note that I DO NOT use the set square to cut, only to score. That’s because the square is too unwieldy and it wouldn’t be safe. Instead, as you see above, I use the ruler, with the scored line as my guide.
Thick plasticard is tough. I don’t cut all the way through, because it’s too hard. I just cut about three or four times, gently, until I get a nice groove like this one. Once I have that, I gently bend it along the line of the cut, and the card ‘cracks’…
… like so.
And that’s the first piece made. Now I need to make another.
I could use the ruler again, but I find it easier (and more accurate) to just use the piece I’ve already cut as my guide: just use it to line up the set square, and repeat the process of scoring, cutting and cracking to get two pieces the same size…
And now for the Prince of Glues.
Apply it carefully to one side of one of the two pieces…
… and use a flat part of your desk to line them up accurately. I’d use my craft mat, but…
… yeah, it’s not so flat any more. And it’s only three months old!
Now, if you’ve done all this, you should have the ‘core’ of your Heavy Bolter assembled.
Now come the clean-up. As you can see, this is not a perfectly smooth ‘box’; the sides are a little wonky.
First, clip the short ends so they match. I do this by first pressing down with the flat of the blade like so:
Note that you hold the card with your other hand! I’m having to take the photos with one hand, so this photo is merely a reference so you can see the angle you need to employ! USE BOTH HANDS!
Then, I’ll carefully slice off any excess plasticard on the long sides, like so:
Finally, I will ‘sand’ the edges smooth using my craft knife. I begin by holding the blade like so:
This prevents it from rattling in the frame of the knife, which will lead to ‘ragged’ surfaces.
I then hold the edge of the blade flat against the surface to be sanded. This picture illustrates the angle – it must be at 90 degrees to the surface or you’ll gouge into the plastic. Note that this is only to illustrate the angle – hold the blade as illustrated previously. The picture looks like this because at the moment I only have two arms, and needed one to take the photo!
As you move the blade back and forth, it’ll smooth down the plastic, and leave you with a lot of plastic ‘dust’…
… and a much smoother plastic ‘body’ for your gun.
Next, get a thin sheet of plasticard; this will be the outer covering for the gun.
Mark where the covering will stop, by lining the sheet up against the gun body and using a pencil.
Measure up to the mark with your set square, then score, cut, crack. Note that if the card is thin enough, you’ll probably just cut without needing to crack.
Here’s the finished sheet:
The next part just involves ‘wrapping’ the sheet around the gun body using poly cement.
You may notice that sometimes you get a little ‘lip’ of excess card. Don’t worry about that; we can clip it off and sand down later.
Next comes the gun barrel and targetter.
You can use your fingers to crack it, or if you’re like me and have sausage fingers, a pair of modelling tweezers will do the job nicely:
Repeat this for the targeter.
Next, sand down all the remaining surfaces on your gun’s body and get ready to assemble your bits.
Glue the barrel and targeter in place:
And now the gun is looking more like it should.
Next comes the greebling process. I’m just going to include the shots of what I did. You can copy what I did, or do what you like to develop the detail on your gun.
Note that if I’m doing precise, tiny cuts, I’ll use the very tip of my knife, press down directly on the back of the blade. Remember, if your blade doesn’t have a tip, break/replace that blade. It’s not safe any more.
I don’t use scalpels for cutting. I use them to apply pieces that are too small for my hands to pick up. I put a little dot of poly cement somewhere, and dip the tip of the blade into that, so that it adheres to the piece without needing me to stab the point in (which will both dull the blade and leave unsightly stab marks).
For rivets, slice your thinnest styrene rod into thin slices like a cucumber. Again, use the very tip of your blade.
Apply those rivets with your scalpel and a dot of glue where you want them to go.
And you’re done!
Thank you all for reading, and I hope this encourages everyone here to try experimenting with plasticard. It really is quite incredibly easy. You don’t need anything but patience and care. You certainly will never need templates.