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"The times, they are a'changing...." Topic

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1,403 hits since 25 Mar 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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BrianW26 Mar 2017 6:19 p.m. PST

In my latest blog post, I ponder what a Age of Sail admiral is supposed to do with all these newfangled inventions like armor and steam power. There will be more sailing ship pictures in a few weeks, as I'm away from them right now.



Volunteer Fezian Inactive Member26 Mar 2017 8:26 p.m. PST

Looking forward to seeing them painted. You might win me over to the ACW Dark Side

BrianW27 Mar 2017 4:01 a.m. PST

Well,to be fair, I don't know yet if it's going to convert me to the Dark Side yet either. Today, I'm headed to the Mariner's Museum at Newport News, VA, so there might be some pictures posted to the blog from there.

whitejamest27 Mar 2017 5:58 a.m. PST

You're a braver man than I Brian, I'm just not ready for this new fangled steam stuff. But I look forward to seeing them painted up.

If it were me I would probably go for basing them rather than not, for the reason you say – it will make them much easier to pick up, and therefore more durable.

A C London27 Mar 2017 8:24 a.m. PST

They are good-looking models. The method you suggest of dispensing with bases and applying magnabase directly to the bottom of the model is the one I use. I find it works well.

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP27 Mar 2017 11:14 a.m. PST

Given the quality of your work on sail-era models, I look forward to seeing what you do with these.

I bought a bunch of 1/1200 scale ACW ships from both Thoroughbred and Langton toward the end of last year, and I concur that many feel quite diminutive.

This makes sense: most gunboats in the ACW were in the 100'-200' length range, so about 1"-2" long in 1/1200 scale. Ships with vertical presence will have more presence on the table (sidewheels, superstructures, masts, etc.) but ironclads tended to be low and lean, so tend to seem miniscule.

I also bought the North Carolina Mosquito Fleet from Pithead and while I really like having them, most of the boats are itty bitty slivers of resin that will blow away in a sneeze. I am normally ambivalent about basing 1/1200 scale miniatures, but for the mid-19th C. I consider basing a requirement because of the large number of small boats. I'm not sure how else to handle them.

My personal opinion is that 1/600 scale is better for ACW naval gaming. I bought into 1/1200 ACW because I launched a totally hare-brained project to game fleet battles full of large European ironclads, steam SOLs and frigates on reasonable tables, and to be able to re-use my existing 1/1200 shorelines to do so. I also expect to be able to use a lot of the masted and/or sidewheeled ships as auxiliaries and targets in my "late ironclad" gaming (1870-1890), since such designs were still a common occurrence on the world's oceans until the early 1900s.

- Ix

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP27 Mar 2017 11:44 a.m. PST

All that said, the old 1/1000 scale Houston's ACW naval range still sold by Wargaming Miniatures is actually pretty good for gaming. The slight bump in scale doesn't seem like it would make a significant difference, but surprisingly it does. Most of the smaller boats are just barely big enough to manipulate with adult fingers, the larger gunboats and ironclads have some real presence on the table, and the fully-rigged ships like Hartford are big but not as table-consuming as a 1/600 model. They also ought to work just fine alongside 1/1200 shore terrain, auxiliaries, boats and water-borne accessories (rocks, reefs, obstacles, etc.). The sculpting is crude and some of the casting flaws take a bit of filing, but the cost of a Houston's ACW fleet battle is pleasantly low.

- Ix

BrianW27 Mar 2017 5:55 p.m. PST

The main reason I went with 1/1200 for the ironclads is because of all the Age of Sail stuff I already have. This way (in theory at least) I should be able to use buildings and such interchangeably. Also, painting up some additional 2mm troops for Rebs and Yanks shouldn't present much of a problem either.

I managed to avoid the trap of that Skytrex/Red Eagle transitional steam stuff because I didn't know what to do with them other than fictional battles. I had some of the Houston's ships 7-8 years ago, but sold them off. For some reason, they just didn't appeal to me. I can't give a more coherent reason that that.

As for the bases, given what you've said about the Pithead miniatures has pretty much made me decide that basing will be the way to go. Since I already have 2 4x6 Deep Cut water mats, that means the bases will be blue for all of them, riverine ships included. I'm planning on making a purchase from Pithead in a month or so.

I will post some photos once the painting is done. One thing I'm discovering is that there's even less hard info on paint schemes than there is for ships of the line. I know it's not a case of "anything goes" but it sure seems that way sometimes.

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP27 Mar 2017 9:46 p.m. PST

The main reason I went with 1/1200 for the ironclads is because of all the Age of Sail stuff I already have.
Clearly I think that's very wise. :-)

Because of similar reasoning, I've actually been trying to consolidate my naval gaming into just two scales for a while (1/2400 and 1/1200). I've so far failed to get rid of anything, but I have managed to avoid expanding any of the other scales…. except 1/600 scale. I'm beginning to have doubts I'll ever be able to abandon 1/600 scale. There are just too many attractive toys.

I managed to avoid the trap of that Skytrex/Red Eagle transitional steam stuff because I didn't know what to do with them other than fictional battles.
You're a stronger man than I. :-) I fell right into the "what if" trap, in a big way. I even talked Langton into selling me over 2 dozen ACW mast sets to replace the Red Eagle masts, and I talked Red Eagle into selling me only the hulls of the transitional wooden ships. If I could stop tripping over the logistical, technical and procedural hurdles in my way, I might actually complete this project and see just how the French navy would have fared against little US monitors and gunboats with HUGE Dahlgrens.
I had some of the Houston's ships 7-8 years ago, but sold them off. For some reason, they just didn't appeal to me. I can't give a more coherent reason that that.
I don't blame you, and I feel the same way. I think a lot of them can look okay with proper dress-up and parts substitutions, so there are a few I'm keeping around, but most are too much work or just unusable and I'll give them away when I'm done mining them for parts.

- Ix

BrianW28 Mar 2017 7:37 p.m. PST

Stronger than you? I don't know. Cheaper? Most definitely! I just couldn't justify ships that might never get used, in what is basically a period all its own. I did buy the North Carolina and Pennsylvania hulls from Skytrex and masts from Langton, thinking that I would build them for a "what-if" battle. Nothing ever came of them (i.e. they're both about halfway built),so I sort of took that as an object lesson.

A C London29 Mar 2017 12:24 p.m. PST

Brian and Yellow, you might be surprised by just how interesting this period becomes.

An ironclad ship was the most powerful, most expensive moving thing of its time. Some of the best engineers around worked on them. So you get incredibly rapid progress. A ship might be outdated even before it had been completed.

Some of the best brains around devised tactics for them. And the two fired off each other, further ratcheting-up development.

That means that most ships are individuals, each with its own character. You don't get the lines of nr-identical ships of the line you get in the 18th c or of dreadnoughts in the 20th.

Which in turn makes it a breeze for rule writers. With no need for the sort of detail that distinguishes an 11" from a 12" gun, or one 74 from another, rules can be simple and fast.

Also, it's addictive. You start in the Civil War. Then you wonder what would have happened if France or Britain had joined in. Then what would have happened if France and Britain had fallen out. Soon you'll have Austrians ramming Italians in the Adriatic, round Russian batteries spinning in the Black Sea, wire guided torpedoes circling back in the Pacific.

On bases, I realise this is a matter of opinion. I think they look fine on a ship on a shelf, but spoil the look of the table. Esp if you are up-river. Blue just doesn't feel right for the Mississippi. A practical consideration is that ramming is a prime tactic in this period. A based model ramming a based model looks silly.

I stick magnabase directly on the bottom of the model, in the way Brian first considered. I have not bought any Pit Head models yet – will do, as they look to be based on careful study. Maybe they are particularly light. But I have manoeuvred squadrons of tiny Dapper class gunboats (just the thing if you want the RN to intervene in the Civil War) made out of Shapeway's resin, without bases and without much problem.

Good gaming,


BrianW30 Mar 2017 5:03 a.m. PST

Yes, this is where I'm somewhat torn. Cigar Box makes a couple of very nice river mats, including one that is a full 4x6 foot river:

The full river one would let me place terrain on top, and have the river itself be wide or narrow as needed.

In theory, I agree with you about bases. However, my 1/1200 scale sailing ships are top heavy enough that bases are absolutely necessary for both playing and storage. When I got my sea mats from Deep Cut Studios, I considered rebasing all of my sailing ships on clear bases. However, both storage issues and the size of the project mitigated against that. The sailing ships have magnetic bases and are stored in metal-lined plastic bins. Going to clear bases for them would require a less secure storage method, like foam trays.

I keep thinking that the ironclads could use clear bases and foam trays, as they are so small in comparison to a ship of the line. However, it seems that if you get into the larger ACW ships like the steam frigates, or Lissa, then you're right back at the same problem as my Napoleonic navies have. Of course, you don't NEED as many large ships for this period, so there is that.

I'm looking at using the Sail and Steam Navies rules, and the designer helpfully provides 1/1200 counters on . I've thought about using them as the measurements for bases, as they are just large enough to provide a place for fingers to grasp and protect the model. In fact, the spar torpedo on Atlanta will just overhang the front edge of the base. It is a conundrum though, I will admit.

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP30 Mar 2017 10:26 a.m. PST

However, my 1/1200 scale sailing ships are top heavy enough that bases are absolutely necessary for both playing and storage.
And rigged! Rigged models generally need to be handled by a base, if the rigging is to be preserved. The bases also have to be thick enough to grasp, which rules out my favorite sheet steel bases. <sigh>

Dave Brandon, the author of Sail and Steam Navies, bases all his 1/600 ships on thick (3mm?) clear acrylic bases. They are easy to handle, provide marks and straight edges to make measuring and moving the miniatures really slick and easy, and show the shifting colors of the "water" underneath. The only drawbacks I can find are cost and the lack of magnetism.

The much smaller 1/1200 miniatures would probably look funny on a 3mm thick clear plastic base (hoverclads!), but thinner acrylic will probably work. I have some time before any of my 19th C. naval miniatures are painted enough to worry about basing.

- Ix

BrianW30 Mar 2017 11:55 a.m. PST

Oh absolutely! Basing sailing ships to protect the rigging is so obvious that I didn't think to even mention that. My sailing ship bases are 1.5mm wood from Litko, with a water surface made from Sculpey clay. The problem there is that the "water' sometimes causes the wooden base to warp after baking.

I did pick up some Vallejo Water Effect at a hobby store today, so will soon see how that works. It dries clear, so might work well on clear acrylic bases. I also picked up some 1.5mm thick Plastruct sheet, just in case the Vallejo doesn't like wood bases either.

A C London30 Mar 2017 4:17 p.m. PST

Hi Both,

I am afraid I am a bit of a fanatic re bases. My (2400 scale) WWII ships are based because there I am a follower not a leader and if anything looks worse than a table with bases its a table on which some of the ships have bases. I can see why WWI needs bases with so many ships looking so alike they want labels. Ships carrying a lot of sail, esp those with heavy lead sails, can be unstable in transit. I try to support mine with magnetized balks of padding, but I see that would be unsatisfactory for a regular age of sail player.

Beyond that, tho, I don't see the need for bases.

All of my ironclads that could carry sail and that are bigger than a gunboat are rigged. The Skytrex / Red Eagle masts are a bit flimsy, so I usually reinforce them with piano wire. Beyond that, I rely on the rigging to protect the model. Every so often one gets leant on or knocked to the floor. A few bowsprits have been carried away. The odd strand of rigging has to be reattached or replaced, or a mast straightened. But in 40 yrs play I've never lost a rigged model. Ships without rigging are much more vulnerable.

Because ironclads fight with sails furled or sent down, they don't suffer from problems of balance. A layer of magnabase along the bottom of the model is sufficient to keep it fast in its tin unless you do something extraordinary with it. And ironclads really do look better that way.


BrianW31 Mar 2017 9:53 p.m. PST

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, but we're currently traveling home.

So, even for something like the big steam frigates, you don't bases them? I'm curious to see some pictures of how you keep them supported in storage.

A C London01 Apr 2017 5:26 a.m. PST


I am afraid I don't have any sort of blog or web site. Is there a way of posting pictures directly here?

I cut the balks from plasticy foamy expanded stuff sometimes used here to back shirts, but any softish material would do. It has be lower than your yards. Mine is about a quarter of an inch, tho I make some double-height ones for ships with high freeboard.

Magnabase is glued to the bottom. The material I use doesn't glue happily, so it sometimes peels-off, but it is no great prob re-gluing.

A balk goes on each side of the model, wedging it in place. Usually a smaller piece fore and aft too.

That plus the magnet under the model will hold in all normal circs. It won't if the tin gets dropped, or knocked to the floor, but I doubt bases would hold then either.

Most of my rigged ships are the Skytrex / Red Eagle ones and I keep their masts. These are lower and thinner than the Langton masts you substitute, so there is a little less topweight. Tho a friend who does the same as you with the Langton masts also glues his magnets directly to the bottom of his models, dispensing with bases. Not sure if he even bothers with the balks will ask.

I have found Nap ships much less stable. The weight of the sails (at least of lead ones, I haven't tried-out Langton's brass) makes quite a difference.

Ironclad hulls tend to be chunky, which must help. Tho another friend has some nice resin models of Russian ironclad frigates and they too hold steady with this method. Again, I'm not sure he bothers with the balks. They are a bit "belt and braces" as we say here.

Hope I don't come across as too much of a fanatic. Realise there are other points of view. Also accept that clear bases are much less conspicuous than others certainly the least worst option if bases are felt to be necessary. Also, I'm in the UK, where convention games are rare. I might feel differently if the models were going to be handled a lot by strangers.


Rev Zoom01 Apr 2017 9:11 a.m. PST

What is a balk?

Rev Zoom01 Apr 2017 9:14 a.m. PST

"Cigar Box makes a couple of very nice river mats, including one that is a full 4x6 foot river:"

Well, that 'river' looks like a great place to flyfish, but it doesn't look at all like the Yazoo or Mississippi or any other such river where ACW naval battles were fought. The river should be muddy colored.

A C London02 Apr 2017 4:50 a.m. PST

Hi Rev Z,

I was using it to mean a strip intended to stop models from shifting around in transit. In particular, in this case, to prevent ships with a high centre of gravity from toppling over.


devsdoc02 Apr 2017 12:39 p.m. PST

I do not understand the problem! I fully-rig all my sailing ships, use Langton's metal sail's. I use Langton's bases and have played lots of games and transported them hundred's of miles over the years. I have only had one ship knocked over with a sleeve. I have handled, picked-up, moved, pushed, packed and unpacked them, they are still all safe and well.
Be safe

Durrati09 Apr 2017 1:57 p.m. PST

I know I am a bit late to this discussion but just in case anyone is still interested and as AC London can not show pictures of the models being secured without bases I thought I would take it upon myself. A link to a few of my models magna based. Would also add that they are all secure enough to take a decent amount of shaking and banging around that you may expect if you were carrying them in a metal box in a bag on public transport (these chaps have all had many jolly outings on the London Underground).

A C London13 Apr 2017 8:03 a.m. PST

I've fought Durrati's ships many a time. Some must be ten or more years old. Despite their numerous battles, they look as splendid now as they did on completion.

Durrati uses exactly the method Brian posited at the start of the thread. Without bases.

I see the need for bases ashore. Figures don't stand up easily. There are scores of them. And the unit's they represent occupy a larger footprint than the figures. None of that applies at sea. If anything, the model is likely to be over-sized before a base enlarges it.

I can see too that sea bases may have a practical value in some periods. Esp, as I noted, for ships under sail.

But this thread is about ironclads. And for ironclads it is simply a question of aesthetics. If you think bases improve the look of the table then base. If not, then don't.


BrianW15 Apr 2017 8:12 p.m. PST

Well, after thinking it over and painting the models, I have decided to use bases after all. I will be using 1/16" (aka .060 or 1.5mm) clear acrylic for the bases.

If I had gone with 1/600 scale ironclads I would not have based them. The 1/1200 scale ones are tiny enough that I think a base will be better for helping move them and giving a place to grab them other than the stacks or flagstaffs.

Should anyone be interested in seeing the painted minis, they are on the blog at:


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