Monday, 22 February 2016

Painting - Assembling Plastics

Plastic figures, what's the best and quickest way to assemble them? An important subject for those interested in building hordes of them! Therefore I thought I'd put my own method forward on the chance it might help out a wargaming comrade somewhere in the world - and of course to see if anyone else has any ideas for improvement! :)


Hard plastic figures are a relatively recent innovation in 28mm Napoleonic and other wargaming eras. They have increased affordability of large armies for many people. They also offer a greater variety in pose than most metal ranges, and they are very easy to repose or convert.  An additional virtue is that they don't weigh as much for luggage purposes on aircraft or generally transporting them around. Downsides generally cited include greater fragility of bayonets for some ranges (though I haven't noticed this with mine). Also assembly is usually required - though at least you can get glues to do this that are less nasty and annoying to use than the epoxy or super glues necessary for metals. 

Depending on the kit you get, either a little or a lot of assembly is required. Wargamers generally prefer little assembly of course. Modellers want more variety. I'm a wargamer. Perry kits generally have the least assembly, Victrix French Guard and Austrians a little more than that but not a great deal more, and the earlier Victrix British and French have the most assembly required.

Assembling the blighters does seem to be a headache or source of confusion for some out there though, and I have some empathy for this experience from my first attempts. But it gets better with experience. Therefore as I was assembling my next lot of 'plastic fantastics' I decided to do a post describing how I go about it. No guarantee this is the best way to do it of course - but it works for me! 

Assembling the Legions

For this post I am using two boxes of Victrix French Guard, one of Chasseurs and one of Grenadiers. I had put off doing Guard units for some time, but for 1813/14 battles you actually need quite a few of them! In our Waterloo refights last year it turned out that we had many very disciplined French players with no Guard units(!), so we were short of them! Time to rectify this imbalance.

I'm building four units of 24 from these boxes (which will make two units of 36-48 figures for General de Brigade). As I've said in a previous post about painting, I like to paint in batches of about 100. This will leave 12 rank and file and 12 command left over. I'll use the spare command figures for my Perry line infantry great coated figures, and the 12 spare rank and file will likely become skirmishers. 

Below are the tools for assembly. Craft knife and Plastic Sprue Cutter.  Also a little needle file, but that is less important. Also as is described below, Limonene cement is great, though any good plastic glue will do.

The most important thing is to keep the craft knife sharp! If the blade is dull you will make a mess of the figures, and risk the knife slipping and cutting something you don't want cut - like yourself!

Here's the steps I follow. First cut out all the rank and file bodies using the sprue cutter.

All done, about 10 minutes to do 96 of them. The 12 unneeded ones are placed aside.

Next with a craft knife the sprue tags on the bottom of the base are removed so the bases will stand level. Once this is done, I break off the craft knife blade so as to have a fresh edge for the next step.

Now the most time consuming bit. Each body is cleaned up. I just pick one from the pile and start cleaning. Plastic figures generally have a faint mold line down each side of their body. The secret to removing this quickly is to hold the knife at a 90 degree angle to the figure and scrape. Try to avoid 'cutting' away at flash where possible. Filing can be used to smooth any areas where you get a bit vigorous, but try to avoid too much of this.

All done, depending how much effort you put in this will probably take a couple of hours - if like me you are also watching You Tube, getting a coffee, talking to the wife etc, at the same time! Plus these are the Guard so extra care taken this time around! As I do each figure I place it into a group of similar torsos. There are six different rank and file bodies in this group. Two lots are already in march attack. 

And once this stage is done, time for a new craft knife blade again!

Most of the rest I also want to be march attack, so I cut out all the march attack left arms with the sprue cutter and clean them up.

Now onto gluing. Don't use superglue! It sets too fast, is messy, smells, and if you get it on yourself it will glue your fingers together or plastic bits to you. Awful! Instead get a good plastic cement which is what these figures are designed for. Liquid plastic cements in bottles I find better than the tube versions.

The one I use is Limonene Cement from Tamiya. It is made from Citrus fruit extract so it smells like Lemon/Oranges. Won't stink up the house and so it is much nicer to use than other plastic cements! Here's a You Tube review of plastic cements.  The single bottle in the photo below has already been used to assemble over a thousand figures already and it is still half full so great value. The bottle cap has a brush attached and that's what you use to apply the glue.

When gluing, I put a small dab of cement on the place where the two pieces will join, but don't join them immediately, and do this for 4-12 figures at a time. I'm doing eight torsos and 8 march attack arms here. Once you finish the dabbing the glue on the last piece, the first ones will be a bit tacky and ready to hold together well, but you will still have enough time to wiggle it around to fit exactly how you want. If at any time the glue has got too dry you can just apply a little more. If the glue slops in the wrong place, just don't touch that area and it will dry without affecting detail too much.

Here are a few I'm doing at high port position. There's an arm with the musket, and another arm which needs to attach to the musket and opposite shoulder. I put glue on both arms (including the hand that will hold the musket), and both sides of the torso, and then put the whole lot together. Once again, you can wiggle them around until you get them in the right position. Make sure the hand holding the musket is tight against it.

Plastics also allow you to do quick and easy conversions. Here I decide I want the gun in the loading position (figures on left) to be held upright. I cut the hand and gun off at the wrist, and re-glue it into an upright position. Easy.

And here I want a figure waving a pistol in the air. So the hand is cut off, and pistol hand attached in it's place. (Note the pistol and holster I'm using comes from the Victrix French line infantry kit not the guard kit! It's easy to swap pieces around with plastic kits).

And done, I should probably also snip off one of the pistols from the holster, but then again maybe this Guardsman Pistols Pierre is a hero with three pistols...

And all the rank and file done. Most are in march attack posture, but there's some gesturing, waving etc to add interest. 

Lastly command figures, which I'd already completed earlier together with 12 Middle Guard command. Quite a bit of chopping and converting with the officers for these. For example the figure on the far right is the same as that immediately to his left, but I snipped off his left arm and head with the plastic cutters, and added different arms and head. Additionally I replaced the plastic banner poles with brass wire, something I do with a few of my plastics, and definitely with all metals. 

All done and on their bases ready for undercoating. One other detail here is that I make sure troops of the same or similar pose are grouped together for assembly and painting as much as possible (so all the same torsos on a base for instance), as this speeds up both painting and assembly. Each figure is the same as the last until you get to the next batch. This means you get into a quick pattern with where each clean up scrape, or painting stroke should go. Less cognitive load.

As to time to do all this, it probably takes me a good day to prepare 100 figures (whether plastic or metal), but this depends upon the quality of the casts. Quickest would be Murawski Poles which are very clean casts (or at least the ones I got were), and they would take less than half this time. Perry metals have a fair bit more flash and work needed than Murawski so time is similar to these plastics.

So there we go, I hope that is helpful to someone out there! Thanks for reading. And let me know if you have any ideas to speed this up further! :)


  1. This is a really good approach. Still makes me tired just thinking about it though!

    1. Thanks Rodney! Just think - 365 days a year, that's 36,500 soldiers assembled if you really put your mind to it! :)

  2. thanks for sharing! do you wash the sprues prior to cutting pieces off?

    1. Cheers Blancard, not anymore, I used to but apparently it's not so necessary these days or so I'm told. Haven't noticed a difference anyway.

    2. good to know :) best of luck with your Guard project!

  3. Nice post, always good to see how it's done!

  4. Awesome Article, thanks for sharing!


  5. Great6 guide to mass assembly of plastics... even if I plan never to make use of it! :-)

  6. This is a good example. The great thing is you do each. Thank you for your work - it inspires! You're doing fine!!!!

  7. Having just assembled over 500 plastic figures for my ECW project I can concur with much of what you have said.

    The only difference I would add is that once you have cut the bodies from sprues glue them to your bases (I use 25mm washers) This means you can handle the base and not the figure when you are gluing on the arms, heads etc

  8. Nice article!

    I like using the small file as well, but one thing I learned was the use of cheap cardboard nail files for when I want to work an area to make sure its flush. The only drawback is my wife is now making me buy my own instead of swiping hers.

    1. Thanks, I might have to get some of these myself :)

  9. As I am rookie level on a steep learning curve,in my 50's ,I found your guide full of helpful hints and cool eye candy !
    I did modify one bent arm to get another March Attack figurine to hold the loose musket from the sprue .I had ran out of arm options .
    Also due to my rookie levels i will try basecoating and painting off the sprue next time ,on the next box .I just cant get a steady aim on chest straps and coat as yet .I could do without the arms and musket in the way .
    .Any way cheers from across the Trench

    1. Hi Rusty, thanks for the feedback and glad you found it useful! Good luck with assembling and painting your forces! :)

  10. Excellent guide Mark. I am preparing to put together three boxes of Victrix Austrians and your step by step will be very useful mate.

  11. Very useful guide. I would crumble having to batch paint so would be very interesting to see how you paint these.