Thursday, August 27, 2015

Metal Figures: Casting Your Own



Older hobbyists like myself have a fondness for metal figures that some newcomers do not understand. Why not plastic? Two reasons. Hard plastic was too brittle and prone to breakage. Soft plastic was too flexible, and paint chipped easily. Metal held its form well and was less likely to lose paint if properly prepared.

About 35 years ago, I was introduced to casting my own. I enjoyed it immensely. Unfortunately, life roared in and I had to put the brakes to hobbies due to pressing matters. A friend sold me some molds around `05 and I got back into it with renewed interest. Since then, the overwhelming majority of soldiers I paint are cast here.

One problem is that after a while, one starts making a lot of the same figure. Here is the necessity for creativity and imagination and an eye for detail. Because many uniforms of a given era have a similar cut, all one need do is change the paint to change the figure. Of course, there may be a need to make adjustments to headgear or some other detail. The idea is to use castings as raw materials to make a whole variety of figures.

A problem with some of the older metal molds is that many of their castings are crude compared to newer figures from silicon molds. There are two ways to overcome crudeness. One is in how you trim the raw casting. A little extra filing and such can hint at details that may otherwise not exist. The second is the good use of paint. A good painter can make the crude figures look good. Combine both techniques and you are assured of acceptable figures.

Home casting can be a lot of fun. (I enjoy it!) It also gives you the opportunity to produce castings at a fraction of what it would cost to be them. Though the price of tin has skyrocketed in recent years, they still cost less than buying pre-made castings. I use a lead-tin-antimony alloy that makes good castings. The trick with lead is to handle it safely, and that is easier than you might think. A two or three hour casting session can produce 40 to 50 nice castings. One thing that helps is having enough molds. You have to let them cool a little - especially silicon and rubber. A silicon or rubber mold is good for three or four figures per hour. Metal molds can produce more and they tend to cool quicker. Metal molds also take a little more skill. Silicon and rubber are easier to pour.

Most of the molds out there are for 45mm, 54mm and 60mm scales. There are a few 65mm / 70mm German molds. Molds for smaller figures are available. They would be a plus for wargamers who prefer metal figures. The 54mm to 60mm ranges have the most variety. In my personal inventory, I have 54 to 60mm molds for World War II, World War I, Civil War, Wild West, War of 1812, American Revolution and Middle Ages. I also have a selection of 40mm metal molds for Renaissance and 18th century semi-round figures. And let us not forget the Yule holiday figures from skaters to Santa Claus and the Snowman.

The major makers these days are Castings Inc. (formerly Rapaport), Dutkins, Dunken, Prince August and Nurnberger Meisterzinn. You can often find molds on Ebay at good prices, provided you know what fair prices are. Download Castings Inc’ catalog (Miniaturemolds) and decide if you want to buy direct or go with Ebay. Also, look at each makers’ products and see if you like the style.

Rapaport was bought out by a former employee and renamed REB toys, and is also known as Castings In and Miniaturemolds.com. They make a large variety of molds, many of which are copies of other figures. Their old 3-cavity metal molds cover World War II Toy solders, Civil War and cowboys, with some semi-round molds making older type figures. Two other metal ranges are worth noting. One is a selection of single cavity Revolutionary War and Civil War figures. The other is a set of single-cavity Napoleonic figures. Castings has silicon molds that make knights, American Civil War, Scotsmen, Coldstream Guard types, Western figures, Greeks (copies of Herald’s Trojans), various chess sets, dragons and other subjects. Most of the Civil War figures from their silicon molds are very high quality pieces, by the way.

It is easier to view molds in their catalog than on their site.

Click here for the link http://miniaturemolds.com/

Download their catalog here - http://miniaturemolds.com/media/Catalog0225.pdf

Dutkins makes vulcanized rubber molds and has an extensive assortment. Sculpting ranges from good to caricaturish. For instance, some shooting rifleman were obviously designed by someone who never fired a rifle. Also, some of Dutkins’ figures run large. One of the Civil War guys, the Revolutionary War soldiers and a couple of World War I Germans looks to be 65mm scale rather than 54mm, Dutkins makes some artillery you won’t see from other mold makers, such as a Civil War Gatling gun and World War I French 75mm gun. He also has molds for 25mm figures for ancients, Civil War and World War II. The civilian range is very nice, by the way.

Click on the link below for the website, then scroll down to "Lil Army Molds"

http://www.dutkins.com/catalog/index.cfm

Dunken is a reseller of Prince August. He also has molds that make copies of toy soldiers from Marx, Airfix and Matchbox. His Civil War range has copies of Marx 54mm figures. The World War II are mostly copies of Matchbox brand figures. There are Airfix German paratroopers, Soviet infantry and Japanese., as well as Marx Japanese. They had an Alamo range and West Pointers.

Click here for their website http://dunken.com/

Prince August is in Ireland. They make 40mm semi-round 7 Years War figures, full round 54mm Napoleonics and & Years War Prussians, 54mm knights and 40mm Vikings. Supposedly, these guys don’t want folks selling extra copies of their figures without paying them a royalty.

http://www.princeaugust.ie/

Download their catalog here: http://shop.princeaugust.ie/content/pdfs/prince-august-catalogue-2014.pdf

Nurnberger Meistezinn made metal molds of semi-round Renaissance and 7 years war figures in 42mm scale. Some are closer to full round. The figures themselves are very nice.

http://www.meisterzinn.de/metallgiessformen.php

Casting Instructions http://miniaturemolds.com/media/Casting-Instructions.pdf

4 comments:

  1. Magnificent and detailed article on a hobby that I have loved since I was a young boy. Cast, cleaning and especially painting the "figs" has always brought me joy. Thank you Thor!

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    1. More good news. I have a Homecasting discussion group on FaceBook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/homecasting/ Come join us!

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  2. Do you know if you can use the moulds with aluminum?

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    1. The regular toy soldier molds cannot be used with aluminum. The standard metal, silicon and rubber molds are meant for metals heated to 650 degrees F or lower. Aluminum has a much higher melting point and so would destroy the molds. The melting point of aluminum is 1,221 degrees F.

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