Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How To Base Figures

Someone asked me how I do my bases. I would direct you to the master, who taught me what I know, and that is Frank Hammond of Minden Miniatures fame. Click on the link to view Frank's excellent tutorial on terraining bases and applying static grass:


Whenever you see one of my bases that has a darker ground and has static grass, then you will know that I am using The Hammond Method.

The other bases that use flock employ the Old Fritz Method. I have to rush off to dinner right now, but I will be back to explain that and add more detail.

OK, I'm back from a fine curry dinner that Mrs. Fritz made. I love that gal!

Old Fritz Bases

I used to (and sometimes still do) use quarter-inch foam core for movement trays. These are easy to make as you just slice them up with a Box Cutter Knife, watch out for those fingers, and then slap some magnetic sheet on top of them.

The main drawback to foamcore bases is that they don't have a nice finished look to them. Oftentimes, the knife blade gets dull and as a result, big chunks of foam are gouged out of the edge as you cut your base to size. It doesn't look very good. When I started using this method for movement trays, it was always intended that these would be temporary bases. My plan was to eventually remake all movement trays from MDF wood. So this is what I am gradually migrating to. (never end a sentence with a preposition).

My new system is to purchase premade or custom made (bespoke basing to those of you in the UK) MDF bases from a local entrepreneur who sells the bases under the name of "Georgo Bases". I presume that his first or last name is George. Georgo will also cut bases to any size, so this what I am doing now. For my SYW armies, which are mounted on one-inch square metal bases, I find that I need about a quarter inch overlap on the length and width of the movement tray. So a 15 figure stand of five files by three ranks (5" + 1/4" = 5-1/4" wide by 3" + 1/4" = 3-1/4" deep) has the dimensions shown in the parenthesis. This gives my chubby little fingers some extra room to pick up the movement tray if needed.

You can buy premade Georgo bases from the Games Plus hobby store in Mount Prospect, Illinois or from The Last Square in Madison, Wisconsin. Both stores have on-line web pages that you can google. Whenever I need a custom size base, I simply call the owner of Games Plus and give him my order requirements and he then passes the information on to Georgo. I usually get the custom sized bases back within a couple of weeks, sometimes sooner.

For the figure bases, I use precut galvanized steel bases made by Wargame Accessories. Many stores in the US carry this line of bases and I usually get mine at Games Plus. I use 1" square for the Seven Years War and 3/4" square for Napoleonics and Colonials. I think that the 3/4" square bases look better, as the soldiers are packed in closer together. However, many of our Surens and Redoubt and some other figures have large bases that will not fit on the 3/4" base. This is why Bill Protz and I went with the larger bases for our BAR SYW armies.

OK, so I clean and prime the figures, then glue them to the metal base and then prime them all in one shot. This covers the metal with a coat of dark primer (I typically use black primer) so that the shiny metal doesn't pop through the basing material and detract from the appearance. I used to glue the painted figures to the shiny metal base, then paint the base brown, then cover the base with spackle mixture.

Then I had one of those "DOH!" moments and realized that I could eliminate the time consuming step of repainting every single metal base black, if I just sprayed it with primer at the same time that I was priming the figure.

At this point, my method is similar to Frank Hammond's other than the fact that I use flock instead of static grass. This is faster, since it can all be done in one easy step. However, it doesn't look as nice as Frank's Method.

I mix brown paint into a quart pail of Red Devil Pre-mixed Spackle Compound, which you can buy at any hardware store or home improvement chain store. I like the texture and consistency of the Red Devil brand. I don't like the generic or store brands of spackle as much, even though they cost less. Mix in the paint directly from the paint jar and stir until the goop looks like chocolate pudding.

Then, using a small artists' palette knife, I trowel in the spackle compound around the base and between the legs. I quickly sprinkle some Games Workshop or Gale Force 9 fine gravel onto the wet spackle. Then, just as quickly, I sprinkle on some Woodlands Scenics "Burnt Grass" flock and presto! I am done. Set the figure aside for about an hour or two, afterwhich it will be completely dry. If you want, you can then dry brush some tan or light colored paint onto the parts of the base where you did not put any flock or gravel. This provides some highlights. Now you are done. I find that it takes me about 30 to 60 seconds per figure to base up a battalion or a squadron

You might have noticed some flat pieces of wood that are embedded into the 2" diameter round command bases. These are strips of mahogony, cherry or walnut that I buy at a local hobby shop. Eventually, I will print out the name of the general on my laser printer and glue the label onto the wooden plaque. It gives it a nice professional looking finish.

When I have a lot of time and am not in a hurry, I now prefer the Frank Hammond Method of basing. But when I am in a hurry, I resort to the Old Fritz Method. Either one will do the job.

Happy basing everyone!


  1. Thanks for your method! Jeff Lista, of Wargame Accessories, also makes plastic mounting stands that are magnetized to hold the steel individual stands. You can order the magnetic stands or the medal stands to any size you need from his web page....

  2. Jim,

    An easy fix for your foamcore bases is to glue thin strips of balsa (or other wood) to the sides, this covers up the foamcore holes and makes a nice side surface.

    Also if the strip is slightly higher than the foamcore, you get a nice protective lip on the base. It also makes it a bit easier to glue.

    Your local hobby store probably carries such strips (almost certainly if they cater to the fellows who build remote control airplanes).

    Finally, when I make figure trays I like to paint over the magnetic sheet with a color that is close to the main color of my bases . . . this makes it look better when a few figures have been removed . . . and it doesn't interfere with the magnet.

    -- Jeff

  3. Thanks for sharing your expertise and or link to Frank Hammond's tutorial. It was just what I was hoping for!

    With much appreciation!
    ~ Tom T

  4. Vielen Danke Alte! The tute was very useful as is the link. I tried a similar method a few years ago with balsa sheets and sticks which were used to provide the lip on the tray. I finished them off with brown paint and a light railway balast flock. The finish looked good but I really wanted something magnetic to fix the figures to. I saw metal sheet movement trays recently but they were too expensive to do for a large army like mine the Wargame Accessories ones sound like just what I'm after.

    Thanks again for the tutorial.


    BTW - some new postings on my blog about a command stand I just did: