Paint Like a Pro
Part Two: Be Prepared
by Mike McVey

Last month we started this column by taking a general overview on miniature painting -- what you'll need to get started and how to set up a painting area. But before you can put brush to metal and actually begin painting your miniatures, you'll need to do a little preparation.

Preparing your miniature before you paint doesn't take too long and ensures that you have a neat and clean surface over which to apply your color. I always take some time at this stage to have a good look at the miniature I'm planning to paint, also -- figuring out the color scheme and the approach I'm going to take. It may sound tedious, especially when you are itching to open your paint pots and get going, but believe me -- taking a little time here will make a huge difference to the finished result.

Some of the Chainmail models are one-piece castings, and others have two or more components that need to be joined together. In both cases the metal castings need to be "cleaned-up" -- you must remove any small marks or imperfections caused by the casting process, so they don't spoil the detail. To carry out this preparation work, you will need a few things.

Tools and Materials

When preparing your models for painting, you'll need certain tools and materials: a craft knife, a pair of clippers, and some glue. It is also useful, but not essential, to have a couple of needle files and some fine abrasive paper, such as wet and dry.

The best sort of craft knife is one with sturdy, interchangeable blades, such as X-acto; the curved blades prove most useful for all-around preparation work. You can use either electrician's clippers or a pair designed specifically for crafts -- just as long as they are sharp and capable of cutting excess material away from the model cleanly. The only glue you will need when assembling multi-part metal miniatures is "super-glue," sometimes called Cyanocrylate adhesive.

When assembling multi-part miniatures, pinning the pieces together can create stronger joins. If you wish to do this you will need a pin-vise, a small drill bit, and some fine wire. A pair of modeling pliers can also be useful for a number of tasks.

Cleaning the Components

Cleaning the model
with a needle file.
(click to enlarge)

Metal miniatures are cast in two-part rubber molds. Where the two halves of the molds meet, you will see a mold line running right around the extremities of the component. Because the mold must be vented to allow excess air to escape, sometimes-thin spikes of metal can form on the surface of the model. You need to remove both the mold lines and the vent marks before you can begin painting.

The first thing to do is to carefully clip away any excess metal, such as the vent marks, with your clippers. Always hold the miniature down against a surface when doing this to make sure that pieces of metal don't fly off. It's useful to put down a thick piece of cardboard to protect the surface that you are working on.

When you've finished the clipping, next you remove the mold lines. There are two ways of doing this. The easiest is to carefully file them away with a needle file -- work with the file at 90 degrees to the mold line, and don't press down too hard. If you don't have any files, you can use a craft knife -- hold the knife with the blade at a right angle to the surface of the model and gently scrape away the excess metal. Don't try to remove too much in one go; you'll get far better results if you work gradually.

Remember, when using knives and sharp tools, you should always cut away from yourself. And it is far safer to work down onto a sturdy surface to ensure that you don't slip and injure yourself.

To get a really smooth finish on the surface, use some fine abrasive paper - just gently rub it over the areas that you have been cleaning. With enough practice and patience you can remove all traces of the molding process from your miniatures.

Assembling the Pieces

When all the separate pieces have been cleaned up as described above, you need to fasten them together. The best way to do this is with super-glue. Before applying the glue, make sure the pieces fit together properly and that they are clean and free from grease. Gently rub the areas to be joined with fine abrasive paper. This removes any grease or surface oxidation and gives the glue a good surface to bond to.

When the models are cast, a small amount of warping may occur. This could mean that your pieces don't fit together quite as well as when the original was made. If you find this to be the case, file a little material away from one side of the join -- just remove a little metal at a time and keep on checking the fit. When you are satisfied that the pieces fit snugly together, you're ready to glue them.

Apply a little glue to one of the surfaces to be joined. You just need a thin layer; if you flood the area with too much glue, it will take too long to dry and will actually be weaker. If you accidentally apply too much, soak up the excess with a piece of tissue.

Kinking the tab
to fit the base.
(click to enlarge)

Now hold the two pieces together -- don't apply too much pressure. All you are aiming to do is hold the pieces steady while the glue hardens. Make sure your fingers are well away from the areas being joined. Also, it will speed up the drying if you blow gently on the join.

If you have several pieces to be joined, make sure the glue on the first two components is dry before attaching the next piece.

Attaching the Miniature to Its Base

Due to the casting process, you may find that the tab on the base of the miniature doesn't fit exactly into the slot on the base -- but it's easy to achieve a snug fit. The most common problem? The fit is too loose. You can remedy this by putting a slight kink in the tab. Hold onto the miniature firmly (I like to wrap the model with a paper towel to stop the sharp bits from digging into my fingers), and put a slight twist in the tab using a pair of pliers.

Advanced Assembly

Drilling a hole
for the pin.
(click to enlarge)

Pinning: To strengthen the joins on your models you can use a technique called "pinning," in which you drill a hole in the center of each of the surfaces to be joined, then insert a short metal pin to tie the two halves together. Joins that are pinned are far stronger and more permanent than those that are merely glued.

Although this sounds quite complex, it only requires one special tool: a pin vise with a small drill bit. A pin vise is a miniature drill that you hold in the palm of your hand and twist to drill small holes. A 1 mm drill bit is the most useful. The pin is actually just a little piece of wire, which you can buy from modeling shops fairly easily. Alternatively, use the wire from a straightened-out metal paperclip.

The holes need to go straight into the surface -- not at an angle. Try to make them about 5 mm deep, and don't drill to close to the edge of the area. Make sure the two holes line up when the pieces are put together. Glue one end of the wire into one of the holes and let it dry, then glue the two pieces together, inserting the wire into the other hole. Take care that the wire isn't too long for a snug fit.

Inserting the pin.
(click to enlarge)

Filling: Sometimes, after you have joined two pieces together, you may see a slight gap between them. To create a more pleasing effect and hide the join, fill this gap with modeling putty, widely available from craft and hobby shops. It's very straightforward to use: Just role out a thin "sausage" of putty and lay it along the area to be filled. Use a modeling tool or toothpick to smooth out the putty and hide the join.


When all the assembly is complete and the miniature is attached to its base, it needs an undercoat of paint. The easiest way to do this is to use a spray primer -- these are available from hobby shops, but you can usually get larger and cheaper cans from car-body and accessory shops.

When spray-coating miniatures, aim to create a thin, even covering that gives the paint something to adhere to. If you are using spray primer, always work outside, away from electrical equipment and naked flames.

That's all there is to it. Next month we'll look at how you get the paint out of the pots and onto your miniatures!

Now, what are you going to paint?
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