Friday, September 9, 2016

Gunboat for Aboukir - Preparing our 2017 Tactica game...

Since our bloggosphere fellow Miles presented some lasercut kits from Laserdreamworks during the last painting challenge, I've been strolling around the 28mm ships Matthew Green and his team are offering. Lately my friend Bernhard and me were pondering about our Tactica 2017 game and I got roped into preparing some more boats too easily. Our game will address the British landing at Aboukir in 1801 and of course we'd like to have more than the two rowing boats we brought to Hamburg last year. However that brought me back to Laserdreamworks and made their kits even more seducing. Well... 'Landing at Aboukir' implies that we'll not likely present whole Neptun's ocean but a piece of the shallow Aboukir bay and a piece of its sandy coastline of course. So the larger ships dropped out and I went for one of those rather small gunboats.

The kit is based on an improved design by Commisioner Hamilton from 1806 or 1808 but it's well reported that the British employed larger ships than rowing boats at Aboukir before. Unfortunately I'm not au fait enough with naval history to explain the different types of tenders Royal Navy ships carried along during the Age of Sail but as far as I know from different pictures a launch of this gunboats size seems plausible.
The kit itself comes with a couple of laser cut plywood sheets, metal cast guns, wooden mastes and a small booklet with instructions. After all the pieces are cleanly and precisely cut. The wood looks very solid and durable and it's really easy to find the correct parts and to follow the assembly instructions. Nevertheless it becomes obvious rather quickly that this kit will produce a gaming pieces rather than a scale model. Don't get me wrong I'm absolutely fine with that since I didn't expect nothing more. The size of the models by Laserdreamworks which seems to be somewhere between 1/50 and 1/60 makes them stand out. They appear to by really big enough to represent accurate boats or ships and compared to those smallish 1/72 or even 1/100 ships we often see on 28mm tables they are in my humble opinion an excellent choice. Additionally they are rather robust which is likewise important for us gamers. Anyway the production process and the price don't allow to deliver serious model kits.

Firstly I discovered that at the ship's deck. I know I wanted to paint it by a simple drybrushing technique but was afraid that the planks might not by engraved deep enough for that so I took a steele ruler and a kind of graver tool to deepen the joints. Afterwards I assembled the hull wich is composed of six layers of wood.

After having the hull dry for about 24 hours I started to paint it. To begin with I gave it a thin undercoat of Armypainter spray paint. Remembering that wood tends to soak paint like crazy I thought that might get most pores closed. And luckily it worked. Then I employed my trusty collection of Vallejo Model Colors and painted the boat in a white / beige / black colour sheme.
To be honest I'm not sure whether or not the Royal Navy used this colour sheme at Aboukir but at least for a amatuer like me it looks credible. And it was used on boats of the 1808 type since I found an example of it in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
The hull clearly bears the typical stepped structur of laser cut kits. I don't mind that since it's a feature determined by its design but undoubtlesly it doesn't look realistic at all.

The smaller rowing boat is one by Britannia Miniatures. It's able to take a crew of ten rowing sailors, five seated marines, four men gun crew and two men for the rear bench seat. In comparison the gun boat would be able to harbour no less than 22 oarsmen and several further members of the crew. However I'll most probably leave it at eight rowers and a couple of crewmen for the guns and other duties. We'll see...

That's it for now with the hull. Although the rowing benches need to be added I'll turn my attention to the superstructure of the boat. Actually it's only a small cabin with a door and a shutter. To give the model more detail I'll add some new planks to the walls and make new doors and shutters from thin balsa wood. Maybe I'll add small hinges from ship modelmaking if I find some suitable pieces. Not working of course but for a nice detailed look.
By the way I stumpled over some pictures of signal boats used at Aboukir to guide the boats coming towards the coast. They seem to be average rowing boats with coloured flags on short masts. If anyone of you is able to provide more detailed information or - most desirable - better pictures please let me know. I'd really appreciate to get a better idea of those boats to ponder whether I could extemporise one for our presentation game...

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Conversion pieces - Press moulding with 'Instant Mold'

About five and a half months until Tactica 2017 in Hamburg. This time our club is preparing a Napoleonic game featuring the British landing operation at Aboukir in 1801. Although my friend Bernhard has overall control over the project I'm glad to take part in it and to contribute some humble pieces. After all there'll be one or two rowing boats, a larger gunboat and about 50 foot figures from yours truly meaning that I really have to start preparing and painting the stuff.

With the gunboat I'm on a good way as you'll see in a later post but with the infantry units I'm more or less in the starting blocks. As revealed earlier this week there'll be a highly converted unit of British Redcoats from my workbench. For that I'm using different plastics sets by Perry Miniatures to create rather early Napoleonic uniform variations. Namely some chaps with trumplines, overalls and stovepipe shakos. Since I didn't want to use all the trumplines from the AWI sets I needed to find a way to reproduce some of pieces. Unfortunately my sculpting skills are very limited so I turned my efforts to Instant Mold:
Instant Mold is a clear material which looks slightly like hot glue. At room temperature it's rather solid with only little flexibility. But exposed to higher temperatures it becomes very soft and flexibel. This way it is useful to create simple moulds to reproduce roughly two dimensional pieces like shields, structured surfaces and such. Anyway I wanted to have trumplines so I tried some more complex one piece moulds...

But let's do it step by step:
First of all we need our templates of course. for that I took the pieces I wanted to copy and unsprued them carefully. Then I removed all the cast lines and flash I didn't want to reproduce and glued them onto shashlik skewers to make them more handy.

Then you need to take an appropriate piece of Instant Mold and put it into hot water. The label says about 70 °C so I mixed hand-hot and boiling water - excellent opportunity to prepare another cup of tea by the way. After a couple of seconds the material becomes crystal clear, soft and somehow sticky.
Now take the templates and press them into the soft Instant Mold material. Try to reshape the material carefully because we don't want distorted castings later. Then let the stuff cool down. For the three dimensional pieces (the backpack and the trumpline) I pushed the templates deeper into the material and covering nearly the whole piece but leaving a slot insert and remove the impression material (e.g. greenstuff) later.
Now prepare a sufficient amount of greenstuff and fill the moulds with it. Use some pressure especially when working with deeper moulds and watch out for air bubbles that might get caught within the moulds. At the deeper moulds leave a sufficient amount of greenstuff outside to have a handle to pull out the finished piece later. Now let everything harden. I waited for about 24 hours to make sure that the greenstuff was really, really completely cured.
By the way now I discovered that the mould for the backpacks wasn't completely leakproof. Somehow a thin skein of greenstuff went through the Instant Mold material and created a kind of casting flash.
Anyway after evrything was dry and hard the pieces were easy to remove. Especially the trumpline turned out better than I dared to expect. Only the backpack didn't turn out too good. Maybe the piece is too large for greenstuff to harden completely evenly.
After some cleaning I applied the parts to a figure with superglue. Here's a WIP picture of two of the chaps:
Alltogether I'm really satisfied with the results. Propably the moulds will not last too long but the Instand Mold stuff is reusable if put into hot water again so it shouldn't be a promblem to create new moulds if needed. With some norman shields I tried Milliput as well which worked even better because the finished piece is easier to rework since it's grindable. On the other hand it's more difficult to cut without splintering. So maybe I'll try it but for the trumplines with the large handle to remove them from the mould greenstuff might be the best material.

In case that you're interested in this way of press moulding then have a look at Youtube. The search string 'instant mold' brings a couple of interesting videos: Link to Youtube.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Converted Napoleonics WIP

Yesterday evening I had another very pleasant video chat with Dave and Martin during which I kept working on my conversion unit for our Egypt 1801 game at Tactica 2017:
Work in progress
Basically I'm using the Perry Napoleonic British plastics as well as their AWI sets for British and Continental infantry. Those combined give the figures themselves in somehow unusual poses. For our presentation game I wanted to create something special so those and some additional chaps will form a unit which takes a small rest after the exhausting landing at Aboukir. Alan Perry himself inspired me to this conversion project with a Facebook post he published lately.

But a view conversions have to be made to make them credible:
Since the Napoleonic figures have the post-1805 trotter backpack I decided to remove its straps and add a trumpline instead. From my personal point of view that gives them a kind of early war look. Pretty useful for 1801.
Anyway since the cartridge boxes and the water bottles are part of the trotter piece I needed to cut them from the backpack and glue them directly onto the figure.
Luckily the remaining parts of the 1808-1815 figures work rather well because the stovepipie shakos was worn in Egypt as were such trousers or overalls.

On the other hand I didn't want to use 24 trumplines and leave all the AWI troopers without baggage. Thus I decided to make some of the parts I needed by myself. To accomplish this I used an incredible stuff called 'Instant Mold'. Very useful but more on that in another post.

The figures above are pretty much finished but I need to add the shoulder tufts for center companies. Currently I'm not sure how to add flank company soldiers. Most probably I'm not able to sculpt the shoulder wings myself so I'll need to work around that somehow...

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Shrubbery from Rubberised Horsehair

A while ago our fellow Dave presented an excellent tutorial about making hedgerows out of rubberised horshair. Actually it's a stuff from upholstery business but in the days of disposable low-budget furniture and synthetic padding it's pretty unusual. Due to this I foundered on acquiring this stuff until Dave kindly and generously sent me some of his clippings. Actually a pretty large amount of horsehair so I'll be able to tart my NWF collection up with enough shrubbery for a medium sized battlefield. Many thanks again, Dave!

Finally during those holiday weeks I managed to try working with the stuff and prepared a couple of test pieces myself. 

1.) Bases:

As most of us I have a pretty large amount of those green plastic bases which are supplied with the Perry plastics. Now I found a proper use for them and employed a couple of them as bases for my shubbery test pieces. For this I simply unsprued a couple of them and rounded the edges. Not perfect but sufficient for test pieces. For the real terrain pieces of course the shape should be much more irregular.

2.) Horsehair:
The I cut fitting strips of horsehair and glued them onto the bases with PVA white glue. To make it stick better to the surface I made some deep cuts into the green plastic. By the way I experienced that those horsehair mats are best cut with a pair of large scissors.

3.) Let the PVA glue set:
Since PVA glue needs some time to set I was afraid that the horsehair might be too light or might have not enough seating to be bond firmly enough. So I took a small weight to press it gently into the white glue.

4.) Major fault revealed:
Actually all went well. The PVA dried and the little bushes stick perfectly on top of the green bases. Unfortunately I underrated the transparency of the shrubbery. The green plastic clearly showed through the branches and I realised that I had no chance to bring sand and colours below them. Thus I decided to start a new test piece.

5.) Another attempt:
Having learned from my earlier attempt I took a larger piece of plastic and gave it a really irregular shape. Then I applied some sand and cork rocks and gave it an undercoat of Vallejo Model Color 'Green Brown' the standard base colour for my desert / sand bases.
On one part of the base I applied a small knob of rubberised horsehair. This time I used my trusted hot glue gun to stick the shrubbery onto the base and it worked even better as PVA glue. Just be careful not to use too much glue and - of course - don't touch the really, really hot glue with your fingers.

6.) Finishing touches:

As soon as the glue cooled down enough I drybrushed the sandy parts of the base with brighter colours. In this case I used Vallejo Model Colors 'Beige' and 'Pale Sand'. As last bits I added some tufts of static grass in a nice autumn colour.

After all I'm pretty satisfied with my first attempt. The base was finished in no time and overall the horsehair gives some really good looking pieces of shrubbery. Unfortunately the test pieces turned out slightly too low to function as a really useful piece of terrain. Next time I'll try to make it twice as high and much larger to have it provide a kind of light cover on the gaming table.

So that's it for now. During the next days I'll not be able to spend too much time at the painting desk because of some family business. But next week I'll have a look onto a WIP British gunboat and maybe a post featuring some conversion with Perry plastics I'm working on.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Back from holiday - Workbench snapshot

Ten days by the sea went by in a flash!
The family and me were in East Frisia since 11th August and spent a wonderful time of temporal deceleration there. The weather was rather fine and we enjoyed a couple of excellent day trips with the kids: Bicycle rides, a short cruise trip and a trip to the German shipping museum in Bremerhaven for example. About the last one I'll spread a couple of words here.

But now back to the workbench!
While we were on holiday my kit of a Hamilton gunboat by Laser Dreamworks arrived and I was very happy to find it on our doorstep just. So this MDF beauty will be one of the next pieces on my workbench. Nevertheless there is the next batch of NWF British to be finished before the ship:

As you see they are nearly finished but they need some highlights here and there and some finishing touches. Most probably I'll be able to present them later this week.

Until then enjoy your weekend !