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

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Death by MDF Bases - a stocktake

Sorting out the MDF bases - first find them all, then sort them, then count...
I’ve become very used to my laser-cut MDF bases now. There was a time when I would happily cut up my own bases with the trusty Stanley knife and a steel ruler, and I still do this (obviously) for any odd sizes that I need, but – however hard I try – the home-cut ones look scruffy next to the bought-in laser jobs.

As part of this move towards decent bases over recent years, I made a valiant attempt to standardise on my base sizes, to limit the confusion and make stock control easier. I’ve mentioned my base sizes before – it probably wasn’t interesting then, either, so I’ll assume I’m safe to mention them again!

When I think about it, my Napoleonic frontages come from old WRG rules. I can’t remember which rules, or which edition, but 15mm per figure for close-order infantry, 25mm for heavy cavalry and 30mm for light cavalry became rooted in tradition here, and – for obvious reasons – once the base size has been in force for a while, as long as it works OK, it’s not a great idea to change your mind about it.

So I have made a conscious effort to go for a small number of standard base sizes. I won’t go on at great length about this, but there is always a subtle pressure towards increasing the number of sizes – just one more new standard…

I use large numbers of the following (all measured in mm wide x mm deep):

50 x 45           line infantry (2 rows of 3 men) and heavy cavalry (2 figs wide)

60 x 45           light cavalry (2 wide)

25 x 45           single heavy cavalry figures

30 x 45           single light cavalry figures, also generals & staff

and then there’s

80 x 25           infantry skirmishers (open-order line of 3)

80 x 20           alternative skirmisher bases – used in mixed order units

60 x 80           field gun + crew (2 guns to a battery)

and then there are standard sizes for different kinds of unit sabots, and bases for artillery limbers, caissons, wagons, mule trains – and this is where the number of variants keeps increasing. When I started collecting siege guns and equipment, some new, more compact sizes appeared, to keep the footprint down, and because the siege pieces have smaller crews. I’m currently preparing some guns for the French Peninsular War siege train – there will be 3 batteries of 24 pdrs, 2 of howitzers and 2 (maybe 3) of mortars – I am reminded that for the big siege guns I use a base of 45 x 90, and for the mortars (apparently) I have adopted 45 x 65, which is an odd size but seems to be a bit more roomy than the existing 60 x 45. I conducted a proper stocktaking exercise (the first part of which was identifying the 4 separate boxes which contained random mixtures of fresh bases). I’m proud to say that I have now an official note of how many of each size I have and need, so an order will be going out today. I have promised myself that I am going to keep the spare bases in properly labelled boxes, so stock control will be much easier [what do you think? – do you think I’ll keep it better organised in future? – no?...].

I’m going to be working on the French siege stuff for a while – I have lots of gunners to paint up and everything. I’ll put some pictures up as and when items are finished.

For a while I had a brilliant idea that a French siege train, with appropriately nondescript colouring of the equipment, could also serve as a Spanish one, since the artillery uniforms are very similar. When I thought further about it, though, I couldn’t remember the Spanish army actually besieging anything, so this might not be a very high priority. [Please don't anyone mention Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren.]

Over the next few nights I will be putting together 20mm scale cannon kits, so I will get a chance to try out my new superglue accelerator. This should be an exciting advance, you would think, but I find I am mostly apprehensive. Of what? I’m not sure – I think I must be worried that the accelerator will not work; I find these little disappointments loom larger as I get older…

This post is quite long enough, but I realise that I have not mentioned my ECW basing system, which is different. Only comment I might make is that I cunningly adopted 60mm square bases for both foot and horse, and this has been a great success, except that sometimes, when I am being especially honest with myself, I wish I had chosen 55mm square, which would have fitted my hex-grid tabletop just a bit better. No matter – everything is fine. I promise I am not changing anything.


  1. Excellent ramble on the benefits of pre-cut bases! I have this same discussion with myself often. The tedious process of "Cut My Own" (and a few wounds too!) has been eliminated by the proliferation of manufactured bases. No turning back. I tried your approach of keeping an inventory of my base stockpile. It really did not survive contact with the enemy. I wish you better luck in that regard.

    Great insight into the workings of a well organized and tidy craftsman.

    1. Thanks Jonathan - "a few wounds" is right! - this is why I can only order a maximum of 3 beers in a noisy pub...

  2. I've been a firm believer in laser cut mdf bases for quite a while now - reasonable cost considering the time they save!

    1. Absolutely - it seemed an extravagance when I first bought some (mind you, it was - the first lot came from Litko, in the US, who insist on putting the invoice on the outside of the package, so I also got hit for tax!) but the saving of time and blood pressure is well worth the cost. I get them from ERM and Supreme Littleness now.

  3. I'll chime in here as a very recent convert to laser-cut bases from Litko. Why it took me so long to get on board with these and save what's let of my remaining fingertips, I'll never know. Definitely worth the reasonable cost to order in bulk and have them on hand as and when needed. And not an uninteresting post at all. But then my mother always said that I am easily entertained.

    Best Regards,


    1. Since we have a new Prime Minister here in the UK (as from yesterday), by some lateral route it might be appropriate to recall that one of our previous PM's, John Major, was noted for being spectacularly uninteresting - some bright spark marketed videos bearing Major's name, which featured actual footage of grass growing, paint drying etc.

      I've never seen them, but in my heart I've always fancied the idea...

  4. Handcut? Pffhah. I'm into power tools now.
    Well, only because Litko only does thin plywood and I'm trying to match some 15 yr old 1/4" masonite bases from the sadly apparently defunct Rennaissance Ink. Yes that sounds thick but less noticeable with 40mm troops and they are easy to pick up and have a pleasing heft. Of course I have no masonite but do have big hunks of old 60's paneling which appears to be virtually the same thing. Its not so bad really, I'm really close to straight cuts and square edges. Very close, yup.

    1. As I use more diorama-style castings these days in my armies - especially for command figures - the increasing delicacy of swords and plumes and so on has resulted in a firm house rule where all figures here are now handled by bases only. The bases also sit on chunky sabots for bulk movement, and for my big games I do very little tactical adjustment of formations, and I do not remove casualties.

      This is all very fine, except it is only a small further step to a new house rule where I leave them in the boxes permanently.

  5. Oh yes I do also have a drawer full of bags of misc sizes of Litko laser bases all trim and prim. of course there's even more have become a loose sea of little wooden bases. Dipping in to get a particular size is a bit like a carnival game.

    1. Ah yes - you've reminded me that Litko's bases are plywood - I'd forgotten that. In fact you've reminded me of a conversation I had with Michael from Supreme Littleness a couple of months ago, in which he explained to me that plywood is the normal base material in the Americas, laser cut MDF being a European eccentricity. Is this the case? - at the time, I idly wondered why.

      I have found plywood (I think it was 1/16 inch) is fine for small bases, but for bigger pieces it tends to warp a bit if you paint it on one side. A lot has to do with the quality of the material, I guess.

      Few things beat the smell of a newly-opened bag of MDF "biscuits", fresh from the cutter, though I also learned that it's not advisable to spend much time inhaling them, since the burnt resin is unhealthy stuff.

    2. I'm not actually sure I have ever seen mdf in person, I have googled it without being wiser, looks at bit like particle board but apparently lighter and stronger and based on hardware store websites it doesn't come in standard 4 ft x 8ft sizes. If I get my nerve up, I'll ask my local shop to show me a piece for recognition purposes.

  6. This post and discussion reeks of anorak, but I'll chime in and say that my laser cut MDF bases have saved me from dying without all my fingers, though I have given myself carpal tunnel syndrome from all the years, like you, cutting MDF with a craft knife and steel ruler.

    1. The carpal tunnel business is not funny at all, as I know - ouch. Another good justification for investment in the posh bases.

      Anorak is good - I appreciate that - I was recently taken to task by my friend Musaeus Grammaticus for running a blog which consists entirely of rants about things I dislike; I think his assessment is not entirely accurate, but I can see where he is coming from, so I am working to keep the anorak quotient up to a decent level. My next post is going to involve a return to the exciting subject of superglue, so I'm hitting a real purple patch.

      In actual fact, given recent political developments in Britain and the relentless series of atrocities in France, I'm best to keep my head down and just talk about the little soldiers.