Tutorial: Display Bases for Miniatures

Crafting a Wooden Display Base
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Wood conditioner being applied.
Minwax Wood Conditioner - Display base secret #2. You can see that my can has lasted a long time.

Incidently, I don't normally do this sort of work on my drill press, but it was convenient for the photography.
f the Forstner bit trick was Secret #1 for this tutorial, proper preparation of the wood for stain is Secret #2 -- and what an important part of the tutorial it is!

Most people overlook doing this step, some not even aware that it should be done. Allow me to explain. Wood, as everyone knows, has a grain, which is the alignment of the wood fibres. When you stain a piece of wood, the sides across the grain will absorb more stain than the sides with the grain, resulting in one side becoming much darker than the rest. For lighter stains and denser woods, this may not be a huge problem. In short, unprepared wood, and especially soft wood, absorbs stain unevenly.

Never fear. This problem has an easy fix, and it's called "wood conditioner." I use Minwax Wood Conditioner but there are other products that do the same thing. Wood conditioner can be oil- or water-based, so make sure you buy the type that matches your stain. Apply it with a brush and wait no more than a half hour. Then break out the stain, because it's time to make this thing really start looking like a display base!

The Finish

Socks and old t-shirts work better than anything else for applying stain.
Socks and old t-shirts work better than anything else for applying stain. It's messy stuff, so be sure to wear gloves.
Using stain should be the least daunting process of the project for a miniature enthusiast. After all, we paint things all the time, but we'll be doing something a little different than just dabbing it on with a brush.

I'm again using a Minwax product: Red Mahogany #225. The Minwax brand is readily available for good prices at not only hardware stores but hobby shops and WalMart so it's a good choice. Don't limit yourself to just what's on the shelf. Stain can be tinted, so if you really need a blue or green to match your theme, have at it. What shade you pick is really up to you. Applying it is fairly universal.

I guess this tutorial is filled to the brim with dandy secrets, because here's another one: do not use a brush to apply stain. Instead, use an old but clean sock or t-shirt. Dip one end into the stain, let some drip off, then rub it onto the wood. Use the other end to wipe off the excess, and repeat this until the wood is completely stained. You'll be able to apply stain much more uniformly this way. Hopefully it goes without saying that you'll need to use gloves and hold the project over a box lid or trash can to prevent a real mess.

Let this dry as long as possible, preferrably overnight. I'll also turn a box over the base while it dries to keep dust off, though this is mostly because I stain in my workshop and want to keep the dust from other tools from ruining my work. If you have a cat or a child, setting on an unreachable shelf is also a good idea.

<a class='miniLink' href='http://www.dickblick.com/zz029/18/'>Envirotex Lite</a>.
For a hard, thick protective shell, or for a wet shiny look, use Envirotex Lite to cover the display base. Only the sides have been coated in the photo.
Once the stain has completely dried, the next stage is the clearcoat. I've seen some people skip this step, though it's really not a good idea. You want that extra level of protection, even if it's only a spray gloss.

There are two approaches that I prefer. The first is the hard shell protective coat of Envirotex Lite, an awesome resin product designed specifically for shiny finishes (it also works great as water on miniature bases). Envirotex takes some practice to use well. The box contains two bottles: resin and a catalyst. Mix equal parts from each bottle in a plastic cup fully for three to five minutes. The product directions recommend that you pour it directly onto what you're coating and then spread it out with a disposable brush. This technique works very well, but you should not cover the top of the base if you're planning to texture it later. Glue does not stick very well to the glossy surface of the resin.

Instead you can use the disposable brush to apply it directly to the sides of the base. It's very important to elevate the base slightly by putting it on top of a small piece of wood which is itself over newspaper or paper towels. This ensures that drips do not cause the base to stick to whatever it's sitting on as well as making sure those same drips do not land on something important, like carpet.

Clear coat.
Spray gloss works pretty well for those in a rush or who don't want to mess with resin.
The first coat of the resin will need to be thin to prevent unslightly drips. It'll also be partly absorbed by the base. That's normal, it's far better to use multiple thin coats than one heavy, drippy coat! It takes at least two to three coats to get a good, even coverage (it'd take as many as six to seven if we didn't prepare the base with wood conditioner). You may be tempted to tap the resin when it looks dry -- don't. Let it sit at least overnight, covered and safe from dust, cats, and kids before applying any more coats.

Once dry, you may need to use a sharp hobby knife to shave off any errant resin bumps that have formed on the bottom of the base. After all this effort, you'll be rewarded with a finished coat that is very solid and well worth the trouble.

Still, you may be the sort who would rather not mess with resin, don't have Envirotex Lite or an equivalent product available in your area, or waited until the last minute to work on your display base so you don't have time to wait for drying resin. No problem! Spray gloss works quite well. The process is the same as when clear coating miniatures. You'll almost certainly need to apply multiple coats, but these will dry faster than resin.

Integrating the Display Base
The final stage in completing the display base is to integrate it with your miniature's base. If you've based your miniature with sand, ballast, or the like, then the process is virtually identical. I do need to stress this one more time: be sure the resin or clear coat is completely dry before gluing any terrain or basing material to it!
Texturing the display base.
Integration of the miniature into the display base can be quite varied, ranging from the simple addition of basing materials to complicated layers of plasticard.
You'll definitely want to protect the resin or clear coat on the sides of the base from errant glue, spray primer, putty, or scratches incurred while trying to drill a hole for a tree or two. Masking tape is the answer. Though masking tape is not a particularly sticky tape, it will pull clear coat from the base if it isn't fully dry (resin is resistant to this).

As with much in miniature painting, it's better to apply several thin layers than one thick. Oddly enough, the same is true with masking tape. Use small strips rather than lengthy ones and cover everything that you don't wish to be painted or glued. Newspaper can be used to cover large areas. Once everything is covered, handle your base work the same as you would for a 28mm or 40mm base. The only real difference is the scale of what you're covering, though you should also avoid getting glue under the edges of the masking tape.

After you've finished whatever basing process you prefer (sand glued on, primed, painted, grass or rocks added, etc), clear coat it as normal, then slowly peel the masking tape off to reveal your brand new display base.

Never again shall your best miniatures suffer the indiginity of being the same height as their lowly compatriots!


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