After you've painted a bunch of figures you'll start looking at them
and thinking "You know, this one would be so much cooler if only..."
Well, there's nothing stopping you from changing it. I use my figures
mostly with RPG's and tend to need a lot of customized pieces. The problem
with running your own campaign setting is that you can't yank pieces off
the shelf. Over the years I've converted hundreds of figures.
So let's see how it's done.
FINDING THE RIGHT BITS
If you have a general idea of what you'd like to try to build you can then
go digging around for the right bits. You tend to get more flexibility
with multi-part figures, since they're already chopped to bits. If you're
just going to go for a weapon swap or a head swap these are the best to
work with. They're also good if you just want to change the pose a little
Still, don't be afraid to hack off a piece of a single-part figure if it's
got the part you need! Just make sure to study how that part is connected-
is there a nice 'break point' between it and the body of the figure? If
not, are you comfortable filling in the missing bits with epoxy putty?
If you're not comfortable hacking metal to bits you might want to take a
look at some of the plastic and resin models out there. Citadel has an
extensive range of plastic figures already in "bits" form. The heads,
arms, legs, and torsos are separate. They also pack the sprues with lots
of extra things like alternate weapons, shields, spikes, little treasures,
Fenryll makes a line of resin figures that are easy to chop up for
conversions as well. Don't forget about regular old model kits either. For
that Necromunda or Inquisitor conversion you'd be surprised at some of the
useful parts in an old Revelle car kit. The best general purpose sci-fi
parts for model kits tend to come from the Glencoe Space series.
RAFM's Call of Cthulhu line is a good one for weird parts like tendrils,
tentacles, claws, guts, and creepy heads. As a bonus, each of their
blister packs comes with a little "thingie" that's thematically tied to
the main figure (for example the Great Race of Yith figure has a weird
trapezoidal door, the Cthonian comes with a little baby Cthonian, etc)
Multipart figures are like metal legos
Big kits give you the most flexibility with conversions. They're seldom a
single-piece figure because of the nature of molding something big and
complex. For demons and devils you should track down the old Global Games
"Inferno" line of miniatures. The Fiends from that line were all
multi-part figures separated at the limbs, torso, wings, and head. They're
also the same scale as Reaper's Abyst and Citadel's Bloodthirster.
If it's just a weapon swap you need then check out Reaper's Weapon pack
series. Each blister contains a couple sprues of different weapons for
28mm figures. Each is just thick enough that you can cut them to fit the
hand of another figure and pin them in place (using a straight pin and a
If you still can't find that perfect weapon or staff for your conversion
maybe you can make it. Most rod-like items can be made from brass tubing.
A simple staff can be made with 3/32" brass tubing with two small 1/16"
sections slid onto the ends. You can cap the very ends with the heads of
Remember to save everything! You never know what might be handy. Just
because all that's left of a donor dragon is a neck doesn't mean that you
won't have a use for it later. Hell, you might make it a tentacle arm, or
cut it in half as a carapace for something. Keep it all, no matter how
STUFF YOU WILL NEED
Here are some basic tools you will need before you can begin customizing
You can find these at any good hobby shop. They look like a standard
coping saw, but take super fine blades. Mine's from Xacto. These things
are lightsabers on plastic and resin, but go very slowly with big metal
pieces. The sawblades are delicate and may snap if you apply too much
downward force. This tool is absolutely ESSENTIAL- as is a large supply of
spare blades. The blades dull quickly and should be replaced after every
couple of conversions (unless you like spending an hour to saw the head
off a mini).
These will look like wire cutters, but are super sharp and designed so
that one side (the flat side of the blades) will cut flush and straight,
while the other side cuts a little "pinch line". They are sometimes sold
as "sprue cutters". Testors sells them under their Model Master line. Buy
from anyone, they're pretty much identical. One thing though- do not use
these to cut brass rod or steel wire! You'll crush a little circle into
the blade doing that. Only use them for thin bits of pewter, or as much
plastic as you can cut. If you ding the blade you'll have to retire that
pair as "rough snips" used to hack off ragged chunks of stuff (useful).
Heavy Duty Cable Cutters
Big, mean looking bastards from Home Depot's tool section. These are
designed to cut through 1/2" copper grounding wire. They'll slice through
a mini like a tornado through a trailer park. Not for fine detail (use the
saw) but good for rough work like cutting steel wire.
Small Pipe Cutter
Handy little rotary cutter for brass tubing. It looks like a c-clamp with
a wheel inside. You tighten the clamp down on the tube and spin it around.
Makes clean, somewhat tapered cuts. If you're going to slide tubes inside
tubes you might have to ream out the end or just cut it with a saw
instead. On the other hand, the tapered ends are good for endcaps.
Standard old #11 blade X-Acto. Useful for smoothing out seam lines and
flash. Not useful at all for cutting thick materials. Very useful for
trimming and shaping epoxy putty.
You'll need a round, half-round, and flat needle file at the very least.
Squadron tools sells a nice pack of five files that's useful for most
jobs. Here's a handy tip- don't bother with buying multiple handles for
them. Just put the half-round on the handle since you'll use that one the
most. Go to Home Depot and buy a can of Plastic Dip tool dip. Dip the
"handle ends" of your infrequently used files in it. Hang them up to dry
and then dip again. Now you have a set of files with rubber comfy-grip
Normally these things are for making fiddleheads and thingies in wood.
They also come in handy for those hard to reach spots on figures like the
concave undersides of cloaks and shields. They look like a file with two
curved ends. Not necessary for everyone's needs, but useful to have.
Unless you've got ninja reflexes and the precision of a milling machine I
don't recommend using a power drill to put holes in minis. You'll need a
pin vise. There's two models out- one looks like a bolt with two chucks on
either end, and one looks like a wooden ball with a bolt & chuck on the
end. The first one is from Xacto and will hold the tiniest of drill bits.
The other is from Squadron tools and will hold larger sizes. I recommend
both types and a wide selection of drill bits. Pin vises are also good for
holding needles and pins for epoxy putty work.
Teensy drill bits ranging from 1/64" to 1/16". Usually sold in a clear
caddy, which is a good place to keep them since they roll all over.
A great set of shaping tools is available from Squadron tools under the
name "Sculpting Set". These are nice dental tools used to shape fillings.
The most useful tool in the set is the teardrop shaped burnisher. It's
great at smoothing out epoxy putty (using the ball of the 'spoon') or
making fine lines and wrinkles (using the tip of the 'tear'). A collection
of different sized brass rods are handy for textures, and some pins and
needles are useful for sculpting details.
Dremel Rotary Tool
The only power tool you'll need (for this stuff anyway). The single most
important bit for this tool is the High Speed Carbide 1/8" Ball Cutter
Bit. This handy little bit will make short work of nibbling down hunks of
metal in precise, surgical strokes. And if you get the Flexible Shaft
attachment you'll be able to get in even closer and in harder to reach
For those of you who think that eye injuries only happen when you use
power tools, I suggest you rent Spalding Gray's "Gray's Anatomy" DVD and
watch the first fifteen minutes. Not for the squeamish. Protect your eyes.
Some texturing tools made from Brass Rod
Brass Rod Grab Bag
Check in the architectural modelling supply section of your local hobby
shop for these nice grab bags. About $6US will get you a hefty haul of
assorted tubes, panels, sheets, and rods. Make sure you sand the rods
before you start working with them. If you don't the epoxy, primer, and
paints might not adhere well. If you need them to stay brass then just
use a file to rough up the parts that will be glued.
Also known as Kneadatite or Green Stuff. This is two part epoxy putty sold
in ribbons. It's a two part strip, one side is yellow and the other
blue. Mix it together and it's Green Stuff! Games Workshop sells it, but
it's cheaper to get it online from any number of other places. It's used
to reinforce joins, add detail, and sculpt new bits. When using it make
sure to lube your tools with a little saliva or mineral oil or they'll
catch on the epoxy.
Rubber Reinforced Cyanoacrylate
Yeah, Super Glue is strong, but it's inflexible and brittle. One strong
mechanical shock and it'll snap and pieces will drop off your figure. Hunt
around for stuff labelled "Industrial Strength". It should be black, not
clear. It's got rubber particles suspended in the glue and so it takes
shock much better than straight cyanoacrylate. Trust me on this.
Another fine tool from Squadron. This looks like a tiny crochet needle.
It's handy for applying single drops of super glue to hard to reach areas.
Sometimes 30 seconds is just too long. Spray this stuff on the superglue
and BAM! Instant cure.
Squadron tool's scraper for planing down mold lines and flash, and seams
on plastic models. Not essential, but useful.
Used to make steel plating lines and marks on wooden and plastic ship
models, this little thing is SHARP. It looks like a slightly bent triangle
at the end of a metal shaft. It's excellent for gouging out clumps of
metal from mis-cast figures. Another Squadron product. Careful: I've cut
myself on this one more than any Xacto blade.
This little thingie is held down to your workbench (you do have
one, right?) and is the perfect size for holding slottabase style figures
while you hack 'em to bits.
If you're going to convert plastic parts, then you're going to need
plastic cement, right?
There's usually a hunk of thick gauge wire laying around somewhere. I had
some new outlets run in my house and now I've got a lifetime supply of 12
gauge wire for pinning parts. If you don't have any handy you can always
use that brass rod mentioned above to pin parts. Actually, for larger
pinnings brass rod works best.
Now that you've got your tools and basic supplies (you DID rush out and
buy them all, right?) you're ready to go over the basic techniques for
The simplest conversion you can do. Saw the head off one figure with the
saw. Saw the head off the figure that will get the new head. Make sure to
carefully saw only below the chin. If the figure has long hair and the new
head doesn't you'll have to make some after you finish mounting the new
A super simple head swap with no epoxy work
To mount the new head drill a hole in the center of the neck. Put a piece
of wire or brass tube in the hole and cut it down until just a tiny bit is
Paint a little black paint on the neck of the figure that will receive the
head. When the paint is dry you'll line up the new head and push it into
place. Push firmly and slightly wiggle the head. The small bit of wire or
rod protruding will scratch off the black paint and show you where to
drill the receiving hole.
Now that you see where the hole goes, drill it out. Make sure to match the
angle you drilled for the head's hole. Now wipe off the black paint.
Cut a new pin out of a piece of rod or wire that will go all the way
inside both holes. Test fit the head to the body. If there's only a
hairline between the head and neck then the Rubber Reinforced
Cyanoacrylate glue should fill the gap well enough. If the gap's pretty
bad you'll need to make a tiny ball of Epoxy Putty and roll it into a
teensy cylinder (about half the size of a grain of rice). Using a
sculpting tool, push this epoxy onto the neck of the body to make a
"gasket". Keep it close to the center hole. When the head is pushed down
the epoxy will squish out around the neck and fill the gap like spackle.
Now that the test fit is complete it's time to put it together for
real. Put a drop of the Super glue on one end of the pin and
insert it into the hole. Capillary action should help it fill the hole a
bit. Now put a slightly bigger drop on the other end of the pin and then
put it in the hole on the neck of the body.
If you had to use the epoxy putty to fill the neck-gap you'll need to
scrap the excess down a bit and then smooth it over with the sculpting
tool (the tear-drop shaped one is best).
Mismatched hair? How about mismatched BRAINS!
After all the glues are dry you can address the problem of mismatched
hair. If the hairstyles really just can't be matched between figures you
should take a file and file off the hair of the new head while it's still
on its original figure. It will make it easier to make new hair after it's
transplanted. You won't have to be too neat about it, since you'll cover
it up with Green Stuff anyway.
To make hair mix up some Green Stuff epoxy and roll it into a ball about
the size of the head. Now pinch the ball slightly on one side to make a
kind of bowl/spoon shape. Put this on the head of the figure, with the
head sitting in the bowl depression.
Now take an Xacto knife or a flat, pointed tool and begin tracing lines
where the hair would "flow". You'll see that you're dragging the epoxy
down while leaving a hair texture. Use other figures as reference if you
If matching the hair of the two figures make sure your tool ends up
pulling the epoxy down into the figure's existing hair, and continuing
with it's "grain". If it gets a little ragged you should make sure your
tool is lubed with saliva or mineral oil (don't lick the tool!). If it's
still getting grainy you can try brushing across it with an old brush to
smooth it out a bit (dip the brush in oil).
Sometimes the top half of a figure is great, but the bottom sucks. Or, you
just want to get rid of the robe on the mage and give him a snake body, or
make a centaur or something. If you're using multipart figures (mentioned
above) this is simple, since the vast majority have clean breaks at the
waists. Even if the figure doesn't come separated that way it's usually
pretty clean between the torso and waist. Belts and armor usually have
perfect "cut here" lines marked for this conversion.
If you've got a figure with something in the way there (like a cape or a
backpack) you might want to find a different donor. If you're comfortable
sculpting drapes out of Green Stuff, then cut through that cape with
impunity- or the backpack, you can always cover it up. If you're going to
do a cape to hide stuff just take a dremel and grind off everything that's
not going to be seen. The cape will get more adhesion and be smoother.
Using the basic cut and match system detailed in the "head swap" section,
cut and match your parts for the torso and legs change.
Here's where making belts comes in handy
Now, if the gap is visible between the two sections, and there's no
obstacles in the way you can apply a belt to the figure to hide the seam.
Roll up some Green Stuff and then flatten it out. Cut a thin ribbon out
with the Xacto knife and then apply it to the seam, making sure to smooth
out the inside bit to produce a slight concave look.
After the epoxy begins to cure, take the Xacto blade and press it flat
against the top of the belt. Slowly lift and press again a little
further along, moving across the waist. This will put a hard edge on the
top of the belt. Repeat for the bottom.
Using a tiny piece of brass rod which has been sealed on one end with a
smear of Super glue, press in the belt holes on one side of the belt. This
will make clean little punctures.
Now take a well lubed burnishing tool and re-smooth the middle of the belt
to get rid of any bumps caused by making the holes.
To make the buckle you'll need to roll a thin hairlike cylinder of
Green Stuff. On your table shape this into a square with an Xacto
blade. Cut off any excess and press the square closed.
Transfer this, gently, to the figure with a pin. Make sure the pin is
stuck in the part what will be covered by the "flapping end" of the belt.
Once the square is just lying in place, gently press the "hidden section"
flat into the belt with a tool.
Make another tiny strip of belt like you did before, but shape one end
into a slightly rounded tip. Transfer this to the buckle and "tuck"
the flat end into the buckle so that it looks like it's under it. The
"flapping end" should just be lightly pressed into place, and then
have holes stamped in it.
Snip the very tip off of a staight pin and insert this into the section of
the belt that is "tucked under" the buckle.
There, all done. Practice this on a piece of brass tubing first if you
No belt or cape, so match the skin texture
If there's no clothing or armor to hide the join, then try your best to
match the texture of the skin. Brass rods of various sizes can be pushed
into Green Stuff to make a pebbled texture (seen on dragons and demons), a
pin dragged across diagonally can be used to make diamond like "scales"
like those seen on Abyst. If you press in the top "points" of the diamond
shapes with the tip of an Xacto it helps them look real.
To make a cape or match a cut cape you'll need to roll out a flat piece of
Green Stuff onto a sheet of wax paper. Sit this in the freezer for a
minute or two to stiffen it up.
Cut the shape of the cape with the Xacto knife and then "test fit" it for
size on the figure. You can lightly tack it down around the shoulders at
this point and then bend and shape it to make folds.
Once the basic cape is cut to fit on the figure's shoulders and drape ok
on it's body, let it cure. Then make a collar for the cape the way you
made the basic belt strap. Details like runes or borders can be made by
rolling out a thin sheet of Green Stuff, chilling it in the fridge on wax
paper, and then cutting out the shapes like little stencils.
These can then be transferred to the cape. Alternatively you can cut them
out of thin sheets of plastic or paper and glue them down.
For capes please refer to other figures until you get a feel for it.
Adding wings is problematic. Usually they're not going on a figure that
was designed to have them. In this case you'll need to seriously study the
figure to see where to add the necessary "skeletal structure" to support
them. That is, add bulk around the wings to make it look like they were
supposed to be there naturally. Wings take several pins to steady.
Make sure that the position of the wings won't unbalance the figure and
Once you know where the wings will go, and can pin them in position use
Green Stuff to smooth out where the wings join the figure. You can then
try to match the feathers in a transition, or if the wings are in the
back, add a long mane of hair to conceal the joins.
The figure at the very top of this page shows wings added and the joins
hidden by a mane of hair.
Now that you know how to swap a head and torso, everything else is easy.
For weapons just cut off the old one, trim the new one to fit in the hand,
pin and glue.
Limbs work the same way. If there's fur, match it with your hair
sculpting. If there's only skin, try to match the texture- study how they
might have made those shapes and then practice making them off the figure
before you do the conversion.
I hope the above basic techniques will help you to customize your figures.
Remember to practice with the Green Stuff- that's the most critical aspect
of this work. Also, hoard every tiny little thing you can. You never know
what might work.
Head Swap, Torso/Leg Swap, Weapon Swap, and a tail!
There's no end of possibilities out there, and no reason you should have
to put up with "off the shelf" figures if what you want is clear in your
Good Luck, and happy modelling.
EXAMPLES WITH EXPLANATIONS
- Head Swaps
Examples of what you can do with just a simple decapitation
- Torso/Leg Mixing
Matching one figures torso to another's waist and legs can make a whole new mini
- Going Crazy
Here's where you go berserk and mix and match anything you can chop off an reglue- heads, arms, legs, torso, wings, tails, whatever!
© 2002 Mike McCuen
Questions or comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org