A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Stripper

All right - calm down, calm down. During odd moments over the last month or so I have been doing a stock-take of what is still to be painted, and found 3 battalions which I bought in via eBay, supposedly painted to a fairly decent standard. I reckoned that retouching them a little and adding the odd missing command figure would be an ideal, lightweight painting project to get me started off in January.

Well, actually, when I sat down with the bright light and the magnifying specs I was in for a disappointment. Not only was the painting worse than I remembered, but there was a variety of other minor irritations such as base-flock in the varnish, some shades I cannot match properly, and evidence of original casting flash which had never been removed before painting. One thing I have learned is that you never get happier about a paint job you don't like much to start with. I see no point in investing effort into painting up a unit which is never going to be very pleasing, so I decided to strip the entire 3 battalions and start again.

As luck would have it, we just had enough thick bleach to do the job, so I did the whole lot over a single night - laid them out carefully in one of my trusty ice cream tubs, covered them up in bleach, put the top on the tub and left them overnight.

I am a bit of a born-again bleach user. I came to believe in it only fairly recently, and I owe everything I know to a very useful post in Ian's Hinton Hunt blog [thanks again, Captain]. The secret is to get the soak time just right. Too short and it's not effective - too long and you get some kind of deterioration of the surface of the casting metal. My current "best practice" guideline is 12 hours.

The figures came up well. Toothbrushing and picking off the remaining shreds of paint wth a penknife is a messy, long-winded business, so I set myself up in the kitchen with appropriate amounts of coffee and the Celtic vs Rangers game on BBC Radio 5, and just fussed away at it. One final rinse to make sure everything was clean and chemically inert and things were ready for the next stage. When I take a look at the castings, I realise that this will involve removal of 30-year-old flash and filing bases flat and then I'll ship them off to David the Painter. So it's time and expense I hadn't planned for, but I'm comfortable that it's the right way to go. There will, of course, be a bit of an extra delay before the units are ready for The Cupboard, but hey.

A couple of final thoughts

(1) It sometimes surprises me how poorly some figures are painted - this is not snobbery, or because my own standards are unusually high, it is simply that it is only a bit more effort to make a decent job of it, metal wargame figures have never been cheap and it hardly seems worth the work involved in doing something half-baked.

(2) Interesting things happen in the bleach - some colours and some paints are much more resistant than others. Gold metallic paint seems to be tough, and flesh-colour is notoriously stubborn for some reason. Black gloss is also hard to shift, and this time I had some figures which had their shako pompoms finished in a sky blue paint which came out of the bleach almost exactly as it went in! I must find out what that paint was, and do my shed with it.

(3) You have to be very careful that any resident midnight ice cream fanciers do not get a nasty surprise. My tub usually has a skull and cross-bones post-it in place, though I can see that this might still cause problems for pirates who like ice cream.

Anyway, they're all done now and will go for painting once I've cleaned the castings up. Happy New Year to anyone reading this - I hope to get some more posts on the forthcoming campaign over the next few weeks. I also note - in passing - that the rules for Commands & Colors: Napoleonics new Spanish expansion include some things which I had already improvised for my own Spanish armies - double retreats for a start - so I am pleased that GMT got it right!


  1. A Happy New Year to you and yours .

  2. What a bad boy you are, tempting us all with that pic of a buxom brunette and then.........the horrifying taste of bile!!
    Nice job cleaning the figures, the bleach method seems to work quite well!! What unit are the fine fellows going to be??
    And a Happy New Year to you and yours!!

  3. Hi Ray - when I add back in the unpainted ones and the command odd-bods, I should have a 2nd battalion for my 2nd Nassau (Kenningtons), a battalion of the Chasseurs des Montagnes and the 4eme Vistule (both lots mostly Higginses, but with the usual medley of command people from Falcata, Napoleon, Kennington...). All these units are officially listed for the campaign, so I'd better get a move on, or else station them in quiet areas!

    There is also a Hinton Hunt voltigeur hornist on the tray, but I've thought better of him and will keep him for a future French leger unit - instead, the Chasseurs des Montagnes will now have an Art Miniaturen drummer, which seems a bit exotic.

    Good New Year to you - Cheers! - Tony

  4. Hi Tony - a Happy New Year to you to. One thing I have found with the bleach method is that if any paint survives the dunking just undercoat straight over it. A couple of times I've tried a second dunking but that always seems to start to oxidise the exposed metal. I have figures I stripped and repainted over five years ago and they're showing no ill effects yet!


  5. Hi Ian - agree about the risks of a second go at the bleach. A quick brushing with Nitromors will shift any leftover traces that really have to go, but it's horrible stuff to use - known as Hand Remover here. One really good thing with bleach is you can swill it down the plughole and all it does is kill a few germs. If you wash Nitromors down the household drain you'll melt the plastic pipes! The very thought makes me feel faint...

  6. I've only once stripped any figures, some old plastic S&S for someone else a number of years back but I've been looking at stripping some old ancients that I want to convert to something else. Haven't tried bleach but we always keep it around what with a pack of dogs and a grooming shop in the house. I should do a tester to see how it handles acrylics, sort of the same stuff they make bleach bottles out of so who knows.

    The big problem is where do I get big lovely ice cream buckets in that shape over here!? I could see myself tackling the job of emptying it with an air of satisfied resignation. Oh well, I suppose it doesn't have to me ice cream.

    Happy New Year

  7. Foy, I really wish you would keep those pictures of your theatrical endeavours to yourself.

  8. I'm a Nitromors man myself (insert your own punchline) but i do use bleach to treat lead rot (the chlorine in the bleach halts the oxidisation) - which is why i'm surprised to see fears expressed over bleach causing oxidisation....?

  9. DC - interesting - thanks for this. I'm certain that your knowledge of chemistry is better than mine (it could hardly be worse!), so please bear with me here. I'm not sure what the reaction is - it probably isn't oxidation, but the "white metal" soldier alloy does degrade if you leave it too long in the bleach. The surface becomes etched and a bit grainy, and goes a dull, deep gunmetal colour. You may also get some traces of white powder forming on the surface, which will dust off if you work at it. Strangely, if you immerse a figure in bleach and leave (for example) a musket protruding into the air, that musket will go black, or very deep blue, which is why it's a good idea to make sure everything is well covered and that there are no bubbles.

    I have no experience of lead rot, but would like to know a bit about it - I'm not sure how much lead there is in soldier castings. I used to use a Lead-Tin-Antimony alloy when I did my own castings, but they were very poor, so it may have been the wrong stuff! I used to read with horror about how your soldiers would fall apart if the temperature got cold enough, but have never seen that either. I have been careful to keep them warm, of course!