Friday, 25 January 2008

A Tale Of Milliput and Solder

I have all the infantry I'll need for my version of Blasthof Bridge, the next on my to do list is some cavalry. The Stadden range is very limited here, the only (albeit very nice) Prussian SYW cavalry on offer being hussars. A quick look at the photos in Charge has convinced me that the heavy cavalry used in that book are Edward Suren's Willie figures, so I'm happy to follow that lead. After all there can't be many Charge fans out there who don't rate Kornberg's Cuirassiers. To echo the words of the good Brigadier: 'It is our odious view that the Best is Good Enough'. I have departed a little from original: I will mount the Willies troopers on Stadden horses - these horses are such works of beauty that they cannot be ignored. From what I've read on other sites I am not alone in this view and not the first to pursue the policy.

With foresight rather greater than is my usual practice, I sent off for some samples some time ago. I usually paint up a single example before committing myself to a paint scheme: finishing a dozen or so figures and then deciding on a major change has no appeal. As an essay into the problems likely to be encountered on these, I've decided to start on the cavalry by painting up one of the standard bearers. This figure will need a lot more work than any other.

My starting point was a little strange: The standartentrager is an NCO and so should have much of the same gear as the rank and file. Despite this, I've used the Willies Officer figure: I'll lose fewer fingers adding features using milliput than I will cutting things off with a craftknife.

The first problem was to get the figure to fit a larger than intended horse. The Willies saddle cloth didn't look large enough for the horse anyway, so cutting that off dealt with the size problem. I'll use paper saddle cloths printed off on my printer as a replacement. This seems like a pretty happy solution as any cast saddle cloth has to be overly thick to be castable, unless saddle cloths are two inches thick in real life.

I decided to remove the cast reins as these were positioned far away from where the trooper's hand would reach. The replacements were made from the thinnest wire I could find, beaten flat. These weren't very successful. Next time I'll drape them correctly while they still have a circular cross section, they didn't seem to bend where I wanted once they'd been flattened.

The horses mane where the reins had been cut off was repaired with milliput. That was very easy as there was enough of the original sculptor's detail around the damaged area to act as a guide. I next added a frilly ornate sash running diagonally across chest and back from shoulder to waist. Again made from millput, the trick is to roll a cylinder of millput to a diameter of about 1mm, drape it round the figure and then press it flat with a wet knife. I then dimpled the edges with the knife's edge. The folded blankets behind the rider was just a single block of millput. I fitted the block onto the figure and cut off some excess to get the shape right. The three straps holding the lot down were then cut into the block using a knife. Then I marked out the details of the division between top and bottom blankets and their respective folds.

I have to say that this relatively simple piece of sculpting with milliput (my first attempt) was easier than I'd imagined. To be honest, the hard work was done years ago by Edward Suren, and adding little details like these is trivial by comparison with what he did. This isn't like sculpting from scratch or from a dolly, something I'd never try to do.

The flagpole is brass rod, buyable at any model train shop, with a spear point at the end hammered and filed to shape. When I'm doing this I prepare the rod by wrapping a sticky plaster around the rod immediately below the bit being hammered. This protects the rod from inaccurate hammer blows and makes it much easier to grip when filing. The ornamental cords will be added after the paper flag is glued on: these are simply twisted copper wires with cotton tied around the ends to simulate knots.

Things left to do are to file off the officer's waist sash, and glue on a cardboard sabretache. The officer had ornate shoulder straps and these also have to go.

Thats a lot of work for one figure, and completely impractical for a complete regiment. The rest of them will certainly get the paper saddle blankets and maybe replacement reins. But, with sixteen troopers and several officers per side (two squadrons each) in my first batch of figures, thats all I the time want to spend on remodelling what are first class figures anyway.


johnpreece said...

Absorbing stuff.

You can find other horses that will fit Suren in ranges by Elite, Bicorne (old) and some Old Glory.

Having said all that, I agree that using the lovely Stadden horses will tie all the cavalry together nicely.

I look forward to seeing the painted result.


abdul666 said...

Very involved and impressive work - compliments!


Bluebear Jeff said...

As an alternative to paper saddle cloths (if their fragility is a factor) might be the heavy metal foil that comes from the tops of some wine bottles . . . and, of course, you shouldn't let the wine go to waste.

-- Jeff

Stokes Schwartz said...


Your standard bearer conversion is indeed lovely. Very nice description of the conversion process, and I'm looking forward to watching your process with the rest of the initial cavalry regiments as they take shape.

Best Regards,


tidders said...

A nicely converted figure, excellent modelling.

-- Allan