Once you've been in the Games Workshop gaming arena for a little while, or maybe right from the beginning, you'll wonder how you're supposed to find the right figure to depict your leader or elite or any figure with wargear or other items that make it "non standard". These may be just a different weapon choice (like an axe instead of a sword, or a plasma pistol instead of a bolt pistol), or they may be more extensive or items that GW don't have any "official" products or items for. As GW games have a strict WYSIWYG policy, you need to be able to adapt an existing figure to show your mix of wargear, upgrades, powers and so on (GW aren't going to make a figure for every eventuality).
So, you've decided to customize some figures - what do you need? Well, everyone's tool set is different, but for basic conversions I'd say you can start with;
- A decent pair of side-cutters
- A craft knife or scalpel (I use a Swann Morton with #10A blade as my standard)
- Wire cutters, 1-2mm diameter wire
- A pin vice & drill bit set
- Green stuff or equivalent (Brown stuff, milliput etc)
- Cyanoacrylate glue (super glue in the UK, Crazy glue in the US)
These are your basics - you can add to them with items like wax carving tools (very useful for shaping & carving your green stuff), small files etc, but you'll find yourself lost without these.
There's a VAST amount of material available out there, not all of it in your chosen or preferred genre, either - Fantasy figures can be converted and used in 40K games, Necromunda figures and 40K can pretty much be used interchangeably and so on. Don't think you have to limit yourself to GW figures either - non-GW figures can be great, and a conversion is still GW legal if it's recognisably GW at the end of the day and/or has a majority of GW "bits". The rules of thumb should be "Does it fit?" and "Does it look good?" - use your imagination! sometimes you have to get away from the idea of a figure and more into the parts it has - if you love the sword a (one-piece) fantasy character is carrying but you have a Space Marine force, ask yourself the question of "Does it fit?" - could you get away with the sword on a Space Marine? If you could, hack it off and get out the super glue!
OK, so you've got a base figure and some donor parts (wherever they have come from!)...now what? Well, there's more than one answer to this!
Plastic kits & parts
These are easy, in that you can use side-cutters, your knife and your standard plastic cement - just like assembling a normal plastic figure. The main considerations to this type of modification are how the figure looks, rather than the mechanics of modification. Here's an example of a Tau Gue'vesa (Human helper), created by using Tau and Imperial Guard Troop figures.
Select a pair of Imperial Guard trooper legs - Tau have different feet and are smaller than humans, so this is an important one! I use Cadian Shock troops as they look better with the Tau Carapace-type armour
Select a Tau Torso with backpack and glue onto the legs
Select a pair of Imperial Guard arms - once again Tau have different hands and most Gue'vesa have Lasguns. Glue them onto the Ta torso (you may have to adjust the angle of the arms slightly due to the slightly different sizes of Tau and human torsos
Using side cutters, trim most of the moulded-on shoulder guard off the left arm. Take a Tau armguard and glue onto the thinned shoulder.
Select a Tau Helmet head or an Imperial Guard head (helmeted or not). I mix these a little to give a more Tau feel to the unit overall
Scrape off any Imperial Guard imagery from lasguns, helmets, belts and accessories (if you decide to add waterbottles, for example)
This is a simple conversion that looks very good and can be expanded upon as much as you want - I've given one Gue'vesa some Tau binoculars, some have Tau Weapons and so on.
Metal figures or parts
Metal figures or parts are only slightly more involved than plastic ones, in that you are dealing with a harder material (and hence more difficult to cut & work), and one that you cannot "weld" together (plastic cement melts the two plastic faces together so the bond is very strong) - so if you're joining two flat faces or any join that isn't supported in some way. the bond is likely to be quite weak. To get around this, companies like GW make "keying" areas - tabs, holes, ball & socket joins etc so that when you super glue them together they are stronger. In conversions, you either have to mirror that, or take the easier route of pinning the join (this also applies to metal-plastic joints).
One common mistake I see with converted metal figures -or even standard metal kits - is the use of Green Stuff (often improperly mixed) as an adhesive. Green stuff is a two-part epoxy putty, not to be confused with a two-part epoxy resin adhesive! Some modellers use 5-minute epoxy adhesive as a stronger, less brittle alternative to super glue. When I do this I usually use super glue for the initial bonding, then a five minute epoxy in the joint to increase strength. Epoxy is difficult to use for the initial join because (funnily enough) it takes about 5 minutes before it sets, and a full 24h before it's truly hard - compare this with the almost instant-30 second bonding time of super glue. Green stuff, as an epoxy putty, is not intended to join pieces together - hence it tends to be very bad at doing this! It's best used to cover a joined area to blend it into the model, while at the same time adding strength and suppor tto the union.
Ok, enough of that - how do you covert a metal figure? Well, I wanted a Nurgle Chaos Lord with Daemonic wings, daemonic visage, a lightning claw, plasma pistol and a nurgling infestation. Funnily enough, GW don't make such a model, but I do have a large number of Chaos Lord figures with bits missing (I don't really know why!). I've also a big chaos Bitz store, so off I went. I turned up a chaos lord sans left arm and right arm below the elbow, no head, chopped off backpack attachment and whatever he was once leaning on - quite a sorry looking mini! I also found a nurgling, an old-style Obliterator right arm, some metal wings a plastic plasma pistol arm and a Great Unclean One tongue head. Step by step conversion;
- Cut plasma pistol arm to elbow greave armour - super glue on right elbow of lord
- Super glue Nurgle tongue head in place for Lords head
- Ensure left arm area on mini smooth enough for obliterator arm - super glue in place
- Esnure good contact areas on wings and Lords back - super glue in place
- Superglue Nurgling to base
- Super glue Lord on base & Nurgling
- Mix green stuff & work around wings, obliterator arm and gaps around head/neck area
- Texture green stuff to match shoulder fur on Lord
- Allow to dry
- Prime ready for painting!
I didn't pin this particular figure at all, as contact areas were nice and large and I knew I'd be using the green stuff to support the joins. On larger figures or if a join was required to take some weight or strain, I would.
To pin two parts is simply to put a small piece of wire into them both that holds them and allows any strain or weigh pu on the join to be applied acroos the parts more evenly, making it stronger. It can also help align parts whilst being glued (very useful if you're using epoxy adhesive!).
- Get a short piece of wire, probably about 5mm in length.
- Using a pin vice and drill bit of the same or very slightly larger diameter than the wire, drill a hole in one of the sides to be joined. This isn't always as easy at it seems - especially when trying to make holes in metal! Don't put much force on the tool - you don't want to snap your drill bit - don't try to drill massively into the part either!
- At this point there are two ways you can go;
- Put some paint in the hole, then align it on your model. Take it off and there should be some paint where you need to drill your next hole!
- Alternatively, glue the wire in the hole and let it dry. Then put some paint on the wire and align (as best you can, seeing as there's a~2mm of wire sticking out), then drill as above
Green Stuff is a great, but very often abused material! There are a few tips with green stuff that make it behave itself much better and should help you get along with it better too!
- Make sure you cut equal quantities of blue & yellow - it will make a difference!
- Mix it well! It should be GREEN! NOT yellow & blue! Mixing green stuff should take a few minutes to do if you're going to get it right - there should be no flecks of blue or yellow! Honestly - you'd be amazed at how often this is done badly, or not at all...
- Use water - if you smooth green stuff with your fingers just dipped in water so they're just moist (not dripping), you can achieve a beautifully smooth finish. Once you've done that, you can use other tools to texture it
- Use water on your tools - it stops the green stuff sticking to them so much - and they need to be clean or the green stuff will stick to the stuff on your tools, and you won't be able to do what you wanted!
So there you have it - the basics of customization. I'm going to try to write some more detailed and in-depth guides in the near future, so please don't hesitate to ask if you've any requests you'd like to see here!