Wednesday, 11 June 2014

6mm Napoleonic basing tutorial

This post goes through a step by step guide on how I base my 6mm Napoleonics. I have added a bit more detail than I originally planned on the flags given the queries I have had about earlier posts.

I am basing the 2 battalions of the 1st Portuguese infantry regiment. 

First comes the painted figures and the bases: 

Each battalion is 24 men and I use 18mm by 15mm by 1mm thick plywood bases with 6 figures on each. I used to cut them out myself but now you can get laser cut bases I can't see why I would go to the effort - it is hard work and difficult to get perfectly square after sanding the sides. I use ply partly because that is what I started out with, but having tried plastic I find that ply works much better with white glue - it dries quicker and bonds better. Most places I have seen tend to have thicker bases than I use and are mostly plastic or MDF, but I found these guys that use ply and the thickness I had always used: Fenris Games 

Over the years Adler have updated their figures but they have also changed the spacing on the strips. Back in the 1980s I could fit the strips (or sections of 3 figures in this case) on a base. The later strips then had more spacing between figures and I could still do this but it did make the figures a bit too close to the edge but with the Adler figures now available the figures are just spaced out too much and I have to cut them out and glue them individually on the bases. Makes it a bit of a chore!

The only gripe I have about Adler figures is that the bottom of the figure is not very level and needs to be made level to glue on the base. I know some people sit the figures in green stuff and that works fine on the large bases used for may rules systems. But for my small bases it would create too much of a cliff as the figures are close to the edges [I use these smaller bases as I want to be able to represent the different formations as well as give a good impression of a dense mass of infantry - I created my own sizes by scaling down the base system used for the In the Grand Manner rules set, but works well with any rule set].

As part of preparing to glue on the base I also cut off the flag poll cast on the figure just above the top hand (or where I have painted from the start I usually do that before I begin to paint).

So, worst bit over and figures all glued on bases ready for next step:

Next I use sand as the basing material. For 10mm I use a sharp sand from the DIY shop with the larger stones sifted out, but for 6mm I use a normal sand without any stones in it [hopefully the picture below makes this clear - but still a huge bag from a DIY shop rather than the expensive sand that games shops sell]. I apply white glue to the base with a small brush to get it around the figures and without getting it all up their legs. I suppose most white glues would do but I have found SEAWHITE PVA a good all-round white glue and works better when gluing flags etc. than others I have tried

To paint the sand brown I use a watered down acrylic paint. When I first started I used a thinned down Humbrol brown bess enamel from their authentic range. When I could not get this any more I wanted to find an equivalent so that my bases matched. After a good search around on the web for brown bess paints I came across Asphaltum which matches very well:

To make my life easier I pre-mix the paint in an old Games Workshop pot (I go through their brown wash at a rapid rate for painting WW2 and these just need a simple rinse to reuse for other purposes). The paint needs to be thin enough that it spreads across the sand when applied, but not so thin that there is not enough colour - when I mix up a new batch I need to test it out and add more water or paint until it is just right. The edges of the bases are painted with paint straight from the pot.
Next I dry brush the sand. First with a coat of Vallejo German camouflage orange ochre (70824) and then white. Very liberal with the orange ochre but more sparing with the white - some patches that are more of a distinct white while most being a light dry brush or left as the orange ochre. For 10mm I use Games Workshop Ushabti Bone as the last dry brush but for the small bases for 6mm the white makes sure that some 'stones' stand out at a distance. But you could easily substitute a different  light colour for the final dry brush. The picture below shows the three stages; just brown, with orange ochre and finally with white:

I use static grass on the bases but the method may seem a bit convoluted so I will just run through my approach. For 28mm figures I just apply patches of white glue and then the static grass (pressing in gently then shaking off the excess); this gives the effect of thick grass or tufts and works well. For scenery bases this would take ages and for 6mm buildings the grass would look too thick (at least I found that). So I developed an approach when doing large scenery tiles to apply heavily watered down PVA and then sprinkle over the static grass (but not press down, then shake off the excess after allowing time to dry), and to get the desired effect apply more watered down glue in patches and a lighter static grass. I have used this to good effect on the bases for 10mm WW2 but with the very small bases for 6mm the grass looked too thin, particularly because I want to leave some patches of brown showing. I originally just used a K&M scatter on my 6mm bases and to add static grass to these older bases I applied the watered down PVA to the existing scatter. This helped to get some thickness to the grass without making it too clumpy. Since I did not get a good effect by just applying watered down glue to the base for the static grass I still put the K&M scatter on as part of my basing procedure!

So step one, with a small brush add small amounts of PVA glue across the bases. These need to be small patches and not too close to each other as when the static grass is applied later it spreads further across the base. Picture of the K&M scatter below as well as the bases once applied:

I use two layers of static grass in two different colours. The first is a mix of shades - I think it was called autumn or something but I added in more of a lighter green. The second is a mono colour lighter green:

I mix up some watered down PVA in an old paint pot lid. I'm not sure that the picture makes it totally clear how thin this is but it is like skimmed milk, i.e. white water rather than runny glue.

Again using a small brush I first apply the watered down glue to the scatter and sprinkle over the darker static grass mix. Once left to dry and the excess shaken off I add more watered down glue to the existing static grass (generally where it appears thin or close to the edge of the original areas) and sprinkle over the light green. The two layers have the effect of giving slightly thicker grass with more coverage of the base area as well as the final lighter green making the whole thing stand out more. The two stages are pictured below:

There is a bit more to do on the bases but I add the flags next. I use flags I download and print off (see my Useful Napoleonic links page to see where I get the flags). For most flags, including the Portuguese, I scale them to 23% of original size (I insert the jpeg files to a Word document to do this). For French I use 39%. I make my flags bigger than they should be for an accurate in-scale flag, but 6mm figures are small and properly scaled flags just don't stand out and look 'wrong' so I make my flags such that they have a nice effect. As the French had very small flags in relation to other nations I therefore scale them down less. It is purely personal choice but by scaling down the jpeg files further you can get any size you want using this approach.

The printed-out flags are cut with a very sharp craft knife and a ruler to just give the flag. I then glue this to a pin. For nations that have a spike on the top of the standard I use the sharp end of the pin sticking out (but filed down a bit unless you want an exciting life picking up your figures!); for French standards with an eagle I have the flat head of the pin at the top - but filed down to make it flat as pin heads and slightly rounded. I then cut of the eagle from the Adler figure and super glue it to the pin head (this is very fiddly!). When gluing the flag to the pin I first fold the flag so that the two sides match up, this makes it easier to get a good alignment when putting the flag round the pin. I put water on my brush before sticking in the PVA glue so that the glue is a bit thinner; this helps to make the flag move a bit to get it positioned to align both sides properly - neat glue I find makes the paper stick almost instantly. It is important to not get too much glue on the flag as it will squeeze out all over the place when you fold the sides together around the pin (so only need to apply to the inside of one half of the flag plus a bit for where is goes round the pin). The pictures below show some Portuguese and French flags - both freshly cut out as well as glued to pins:

Once dry I paint the edges of the flags otherwise it is just the white of the paper. Eagles glued on first though. So for these examples, the edges are gold for the French and matching the red and blue areas of the Portuguese flags. I water the paint a bit when applying so it soaks into the paper easily and avoids mishaps with getting paint on to the face of the flag. I then cut the pin to the required length with pliers and shape the flag a bit by bending it (just need to be careful not to fold and crease the flag). The length of the pin below the flag will depend on the pose of the figure - it need to be long enough to sit on the base and be a good height above the figures. I sit the flag on the ground as this allows it to be glued securely in place. Some flags below ready for gluing to the bases:

Having glued the flags on - gluing the bottom of the pin to the base and glue on the hands of the figure to fix it to the figure - I add strength to the flag by putting some white glue from the hand and round the side of the pin. A couple of applications will do it. This not only holds the flag to the figure better but also make it look like the figure's hands are gripping the flag pole. Picture shows this process before the glue dries - hopefully the white glue forming the hand at the top of the flag pole is clear enough:

The flap pole is then painted the appropriate colour (paint just rubs off if you try and paint before attaching the flag) and the final bit of foliage added. By doing the final bit of foliage after the flag is attached it can then be used to mask where the pin has been glued to the base. I use Woodland Scenics Underbrush (light green FC135) and pull small pieces off and glue to the base where the grass seems unrealistically patchy. For infantry I don't actually add much but I use more for cavalry and artillery as there is more clear space around the figures and the chance of odd looking areas when the base of the figure stands out too much.

The final step is to just gives the figures a once over and repair any damage to the paint job from the constant manhandling through the basing process. This will often be around the edges of helmets or the heels or toes of boots. The complete battalions:

If you have a preferred way of putting the grass on bases then you can easily substitute that to how I have done my basing - particularly if you use larger battalion bases as there are many more options in that case.

You can see a good selection of the figures I have based over on Perfect Six (see my recommended links).


  1. This is a really useful and informative basing tutorial I will add a link from my blog

    Great work

    Richard perfect six

  2. Excellent tutorial! Are cavalry based in the same dimensions?

    1. John

      I base cavalry on 20mm deep bases and either 2 on a 20mm wide base or 3 on a 30mm wide base depending on the squadron strength. Most light cavalry I use 4 squadrons of 6 figures each and usually just base in twos. French heavy and Russian cavalry have 8 man squadrons and I base in 2 threes and one two for each squadron