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15mm Base Contouring Round-Up: Four Materials

DryDex Spackling (8 oz.)
Product #
Suggested Retail Price
$3.17 USD

Flocking Gel - Medium (4 oz.)
Product #
Suggested Retail Price
$8.25 USD

Flocking Gel - Fine (4 oz.)
Product #
Suggested Retail Price
$8.25 USD

Modeling Paste (16 oz.)
Product #
Suggested Retail Price
$12.34 USD

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Lewis 1966 writes:

Never used any of those products (or their equivalent in the UK). As I base all my figures on mdf wood basses I use wood tilling grout that I add a bit more pva then I colour brown with cheap acrylic paint and then add cork stones, apply static grass and finish it off with flowers. Works for me as its cheap and sets hard as a rock.

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16 August 2007page first published

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As the latest part of my never-ending search to find the perfect material for my small-scale basing needs, I decided to put four different materials to the test with my latest batch of figures.

Here's my problem: When I mount 15mm scale figures on bases, I want to apply some kind of material to smooth out the transition between the cast-on base and the new base. Sort of a contouring agent, that I'll later apply the flocking or other base treatment on top of.

Now, many of you may have no problem with the "wedding cake" effect. Shucks, I used to base that way myself! But now it bugs me, so I keep searching for a quick-and-easy solution...

The Materials

The Materials

The materials that I used for this round-up were:

DryDex Spackling
A pink, plaster-like product that turns white as it dries - see here for more info
Fine Flocking Gel
A white gel that turns translucent as it dries.
Medium Flocking Gel
Gel with grit/sand mixed in - see here for more info on flocking gels
Modeling Paste
A white paste containing marble dust

The Test Subjects

The subjects for this experiment will be some 15mm Command Decision WWII U.S. Marines (Old Glory Miniatures) - painted for TMP by Old Guard Painters, but not yet based. (I like to base the figures myself - it helps to keep an army cohesive if painted by different people, and it gives me a sense of "involvement" even though I didn't paint them.) Specifically, these are from the Command pack (excluding the prone figures, while I'll base another time).

For maximum flexibility between game systems, I'm mounting these figures individually on ½" square steel bases (from Wargames Accessories).

The plan is to divide the figures into four groups, contour each group with one of the four products, let them dry, finish them off with grass-style flocking, then see how they turn out.

The First Pass

I started with the Fine Flocking Gel, which I found amazing easily to work with. One tip is to remember to keep the gel on only one side of the palette knife (its much neater that way). After only a little practice, I find the gel easy to spread - you can sort of "pull" it into place around the cast-on bases.

Next, I tried the Medium Flocking Gel. Unlike my previous experience, this time things didn't go well. The gel didn't want to adhere to the bases, the grit seemed to go everywhere, it was hard to work with in such a small space... so I only did two figures, and stopped.

The difference might be that last time, I mixed the gel with paint - perhaps that provided more adhesion.

My third pass was with the DryDex, which I have a fair amount of experience with. Unlike the Fine Flocking Gel, the spackle takes more effort to get where you want it, and I usually end up with some in places where I don't want it (i.e., on the figures' boots).

Next came the Modeling Paste. This material has a texture not unlike the kind of paste you use in school as a kid. The technique I work out is to "smash" it into place with the palette knife, and work the excess off the base sides. Sometimes, though, the excess goes the wrong way, and some gets onto the figures.

The Second Pass

So far, my favorite material hands-down is the Fine Flocking Gel... but as it dries, shrinkage sets in. The contours are less contoured as the gel dries.

I stll have some fresh figures, so I create another experimental group. This one will get a layer of Fine Flocking Gel, then when dry, get a second layer - perhaps this will cope with the shrinkage problem.

Another curiosity with the Fine Flocking Gel is that it somehow forms a skin along the edges of the steel bases - hard to see, but you can feel it. I don't know if it matters, but I slice the excess off with a craft knife anyway.

In comparison, the Medium Flocking Gel requires little further work. It has no shrinkage (since grit doesn't shrink!), and I only need to use the craft knife to "flick off" any errant grit particles.

The DryDex requires a clean-up step. I use an old craft knife to scrape or carve away the soft excess spackle. Where the spackle covers the figure, a little bit of water is enough to wash or dissolve away the hardened material. Surprisingly - since I've noticed significant shrinkage with DryDex on 28mm projects - the spackle doesn't seem to have shrunk at all on this project.

The Modeling Paste similarly requires a clean-up step. It dries hard with no shrinkage, but I need to cut away the paste that squirted the wrong way and got around the feet. In more than a few cases I nick the paint itself - hopefully, the flocking will cover my errors!

Contoured bases

From left to right: Fine Flocking Gel, Fine Flocking Gel (2 layers), Medium Flocking Gel, DryDex, Modeling Paste.

Flocking the Bases

Normally, I paint the "ground" at this time, and shake the grass flocking on while the paint is wet. This time, I'll try mixing a batch of X-Fine Flocking Gel and mud-colored paint, apply it to the bases, and shake the flocking on.

Mixing a glob of X-Fine Flocking Gel with muddy paint

With my first few figures, the good news is that the Fine Flocking Gel is more "sticky" than any paint or glue I've ever tried - the flocking material gloms right onto it! However, the mix that looks brown enough on my mixing lid is too transparent on the bases - so I add more paint.

The Results

So which materials contour the best? How much will the grass flocking hide?

Flocked bases

From left to right: Fine Flocking Gel, Fine Flocking Gel (2 layers), Medium Flocking Gel, DryDex, Modeling Paste.

As the photo shows, the Fine Flocking Gel - even when using two layers - fails to prevent the "lumpiness" effect (and the flocking doesn't hide the problem enough). This is a shame, because it's the easiest of these materials to apply and requires minimal clean-up.

The Medium Flocking Gel was too fiddly to work with for this project. Maybe I should have mixed it with paint, but I didn't want to risk getting paint on the figures. However, it looks good when done.

The DryDex was a little tricky to apply, requires some clean-up, and is a soft material susceptible to moisture. (Not that I'm expecting a flood... but if it did flood, I'd have to re-do my figures.)

So the winner - by a nose - for this round-up is the Modeling Paste. I could apply it more accurately than the DryDex, it showed no shrinkage, and dried to a durable hardness. However, it did need some clean-up, so it's not the perfect material...

Next time: I have a tip that an arts material might be what I'm looking for!