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

Friday, 15 June 2012

Avec Mes Sabots – the attraction of magnets

This follows on from the Magnetic Spaniards post from earlier this month. So impressed was I by the sturdiness of wargame units fitted with magnetic sheet (stuck underneath the bases) standing on steel paper (fitted, and painted, on top of the "sabots") that I have immediately set about a whole new project (distraction) to extend this system to my entire Napoleonic collection.

This little sub-project breaks at least 3 well-established rules from Foy’s Book of Wargames Lifemanship for Boys, viz:

  • do not change your bases, and especially do not change your basing standard for an existing army – this is the road to heartache and depression
  • do not allow any fleeting idea to fire up a project which  diverts time and effort away from something you really wanted to do
  • if your collection contains something which you have had for a great many years, think carefully before you throw it out or replace it
However, I have convinced myself that it is worthwhile on all counts, so am going ahead. Thus far, I’ve done all the Nationalist Spanish, and am now about half-way through the French army. To illustrate what is involved, consider this example - I have my line infantry units mounted as 4 bases of 6 figures measuring 50x45mm standing on a 110x110 sabot, which sit well with my 7" hexes. Neat patches of mag sheet, cut to size with scissors, fitted to the existing bases, and a 100x90 footprint patch of steel paper on the sabot, painted in the baseboard/tabletop colour, requires a small investment in materials and time, but greatly simplifies handling both on and off the battlefield.

Naturally, any self-respecting hobby project has to sprout arms and legs, and in this case the add-on task is to replace the tattier specimens of sabot. Most of my troops have been rebased within the last 7 years or so, so the bases are very good, but the sabots are variable - recent ones are good MDF, but the older ones are horrible curly cardboard, and it would be foolish indeed to put steel paper onto these. So I ordered up some custom sizes of laser-cut MDF from the excellent East Riding Miniatures (which arrived within 24 hours, as always) and am taking the opportunity to replace any sub-standard sabots I come across while I am fitting the magnets.

My sabot sizes? I have 4 standard sizes:

Type A   (line infantry)        110 deep  x 110 wide
Type B   (skirmish units)     110 x 90
Type C   (light cavalry)       110 x 160
Type D   (heavy cavalry)    110 x 135

Each of these gives me 5mm spare on either side of the troops’ bases, to make it easier to pick up units by the sabot. There are other odd sizes, but I just cut those myself as required. Why no artillery sabots? – I don’t use sabots for artillery, and all the artillery has already been fitted with magnets in order to store them in box files.

In pricing this little “improvement” project, I am not going to include the cost of the replacement sabots, on the grounds that this is something that needed doing anyway – thus I estimate that the cost of the magnetic materials, including wastage, works out at rather less than £0.75 per unit on average, which seems very reasonable.

Because I promised to do it, I’ve featured a picture of some Sideways Frenchmen formed into line on the fridge door. OK - I've done it now - I do not wish to talk about it again.

Tips and things I’ve learned so far – not much, really:

  • you can easily mark the paper side of the steel paper with a pencil, but the mag sheet has to be marked out on the shiny plastic backing sheet, which is resistant to most known forms of writing medium. A very thin Sharpie marking pen does the job, but you have to keep wiping the ruler clean. Holding the ruler still on the slippy sheet is tricky, too, but a steel ruler will attach itself nicely (aha!).
  • the scissors get badly gunked up with the adhesive, so it’s necessary to clean up with Sticky Stuff Remover or isopropyl alcohol or similar every couple of hours
  • only observed practical downside of sturdily mounting figures on the sabots is that if you catch them by accident they will not tip gently in the traditional forgiving way, so watch out for those bayonets – if you have to wave your arms around while explaining a point of the rules, take care!
  • the magnetic sheet is glossy and slippery – if I put magnet-fitted bases on a non-steel-paper sabot, they are even less stable than they were, so this is an all-or-nothing effort 
And, finally, Avec Mes Sabots is the chorus line from an ancient French song, which I seem to have learned in my early childhood. Here you can join in and sing along – it’s through the Square Window, boys and girls.


  1. Oh, there was supposed to be a "not" in those rules. See how much trouble a mistake in transcription can cause?

    Sounds like a change that will stick. (sorry).

    I have been having another go with these same two materials, only backwards with magnetic paper on the sabots and paper steel on the bases (partly because some of my troops are on metal washers which also stick to magnets, partly because if the magnets work out, I figured redoing sabots would be less work than redoing bases.

    SO what exactly did you say the game function of the little red and yellow smiley face markers was? Some sort of disorder perhaps?

    1. Hi Ross - come to think of it, I don't think anyone has used smiley-face markers as morale indicators, but it has a certain appeal. Have you seen the websites giving free uniform patterns for Napoleonic Lego soldiers? - I think plastic smileys would be just the thing for them.

      Using the steel paper and magnets the other way round was an early version of my plan, but it finished up this way - I think mostly because I didn't fancy painting the mag sheet.

      You will, of course, have to fit mag sheet to your fridge door.

      Cheers - Tony

  2. Ive never seen this stuff in theform it is used to base figures, at least I don't think I have. I have seen fridge magnets of course. This is a major operation from the sound of it. What do you mean by "all or nothing effort"?

    Are you lining the soldier cupboard with steel? - Cheers - Lou

    1. I mean simply that if I put mag sheet on the bases of a unit then I have to put steel paper on the sabot - the mag sheet is too slippy otherwise.

      When I've finished, the army will look exactly as before, though any crappy old sabots will be replaced with smart new ones. The Cupboard will be untouched.

      Actually, the Cupboard has lost some prestige, since it is now supplemented by a growing number of magnetised box files. It's a sort of high-profile failure to cope with its principal mission statement. It could do with a treat - maybe some pampering. Maybe I could oil the lock. I had thought of putting smart labels on the shelf edges, to identify the parts of the army, but

      (1) I keep changing my mind about where everything goes
      (2) It would draw attention to the fact that not all the armies are in there any more
      (3) It would draw attention to the absurdity of having a formal, glazed display cupboard which no-one can see into unless the doors are open

      so I probably won't.

  3. That magnetic sheet looks very good stuff Tony, could have resulted in broken bayonets and much cursing had it not held there on the fridge door. Speaking of which my wife will only allow magnets on the side of our fridge, the kids and I generally abide by that rule. I did once stick my ganja smoking Rastaman magnet on the front when I was feeling brave but it promptly returned to its usual place on the side :-) There I go again, off at a tangent.

    Great Spanish flags in the previous post,


    1. You would have laughed if you could have seen exactly how many cushions I had piled up underneath this apparently "casual" wacky photo - if they had fallen off they would have dropped about 3 inches max onto a very soft place indeed.

      In fact it was just as likely that the door would fall off the fridge. If the surfaces are flat and smooth the air pressure holds everything tight.