This How to Sculpt series is my attempt to demystify the idea of sculpting your own miniatures. It seems that more and more people are taking cracks at it these days as the means of production are getting so very cheap. Whether you take it on the old fashioned way, with rubber and resin and lots of painstaking sculpting, or via the Quick N Dirty route of 3D CAD/Printing, the Internet has offered the instructions and made cheap the tools required to make your own models. This has lead to third-party miniature companies growing like mushrooms, increasing the diversity of 28mm scale models out there to a degree that was never previously imagined.

(Mr. Pink from the blog Modern Synthesist will be doing some articles here on Faeit 212. This is his first of his tutorial on sculpting. It makes for a great introduction)



Still, no matter how many head-swap bits are retailed, there is going to come a time when you have an awesome idea for a miniature, and there might not be a compatible, ready-made bit. You're going to have to make it yourself. I speak from experience when I say this is a daunting prospect. I am not a Sculptor. I was not professionally trained, and I dropped out of Art after the tenth grade on the belief that I wasn't talented enough to continue. Anything I know about sculpting, I learned by doing, and I learned it trying to make better models. All I can tell you is what I have learned, but it is my hope that through some simple articles, I might be able to impart all the basic knowledge you need to get started at sculpting. After that, it's all up to how much you practice :)

I wasn't sure whether to start this series with Tools or Materials, but I've elected to go with Tools. In this article, I'm going to give examples of the kinds of tools I use along with photos of each one.

Sculpting becomes much easier once you have some proper tools to work with, but that isn't to say that you should head out to your local art shop and buy up every sculpting tool they have on hand. I have been rather disappointed to find that the majority of the tools in my local art shops are for sculpting clay, and they are nowhere near fine enough for the kind of work you want to do when sculpting miniatures.

Here is a look at all the tools that I currently have in my sculpting toolbox:


...however, anyone who shows you that many tools is clearly trying to make up for something. Though I have all of those tools, the reality is that I keep the following tools in a separate pencil case, and they are my go-to tools of choice:


If the Tyranids actually showed up, and we had to flee this planet in a hurry, I could pare that essential set down to the following:


And, we're I forced to evacuate my interstellar refuge ship when it got overrun with genestealers, and I could only take a single tool into my escape pod with me, I would choose this one:



All this is meant to illustrate that, no matter what I tell you and what tools I recommend to use for various projects, your own preference and style will eventually narrow things down to one or two tools that you absolutely can't do without. For me, the tool I can't do without is this spoon one. Unfortunately, I can't give you the full name for it because I never bought it; I swiped it from Brother Pink way back in the day when he was working clay and I was making my start with epoxy putty. When forced to research it last year when I was hoping to buy one for someone else, I discovered that it is a dental tool called an "elevator" or some such nonsense. The set of wax-cutting tools I bought off eBay for cheap came with something similar...

...but it's just not the same. I've kept my eye open for this tool in surplus stores stocking dental tools, but I've still been unable to find another one.

Though these are the tools I rely on, the reality is that you can sculpt with anything. I once heard a story of someone whose favourite sculpting tool was a Howling Banshee power sword. Over the years, Hydra has gifted me several tools that were everyday household items taped to the end of old paintbrushes. For example, he uses two nails, filed down to different levels, in a way very similar to how I use my ball burnishers.


He also fond of making his Tyranids even gribblier by giving them multiple eyes, and one time he brought me an empty pen casing because it's flared-out end was the perfect thing for stamping these eyes. As I result, I now collect the ends of pens and pencils in different diameters for stamping things like eyes.


Another thing to know about sculpting tools is that you should always be on the lookout for your next favourite tool. Upon his most recent visit to Canada, Hydra was preaching the wonders of the silicon/rubber clay shapers. He was so taken with them, and so adamant that I should use them, that when he left the country, he left behind one of his shapers, and it has very quickly become one of my favourite tools.


The soft, smooth end of the tool makes it perfect for sculpting fleshy bits on the Haemonculus Coven Grotesques and Wracks as you can slowly work in indentations without leaving any sharp lines from a metal tool. The shaper is also great for smoothing areas as it is part firm and part pliant, meaning no annoying lines or marks like you sometimes get from metal tools.

So, though we've been over how sculpting tools are all a matter of personal taste, if you wanted my recommendation for a good place to start, I would suggest a cheap (likely Made in China) set of wax carving tools, like the following ones I got for super cheap off eBay:



That set includes all kinds of clones of tools that are sold individually elsewhere, like, for example, the Games Workshop Sculpting Tool:

ABOVE - CHEAPO WAX CARVING TOOL
BELOW - GW TOOL

In fact, I'm not even sure that is a GW sculpting tool. It may be a much cheaper version of the same tool that I procured from a sculpture supply place here in Toronto. The GW tool is a good tool, so if you've already got one, that's great; however, I just wanted to demonstrate that you can get all 12 of those tools online for about the same price as the single GW one. The metal work on them is a little rough, but not in a way that is going to significantly mar your sculpting.

This type of wax carving set will, honestly, do you, but if you have a few more bucks (which is likely as those sets run about $15US max), and you're willing to shell out for three more tools, I'd recommend two different sizes of double-ended ball burnishers (also called embossing tools), and a smaller one of these new-fangled silicon clay shapers. The toolkit would wind up looking a bit like this...



...and it shouldn't run you much more than $30US.

Which, I think, pretty much sums things up as far as tools are concerned. I hope this has been useful, and if there is anything I did not cover in enough detail or something you have questions about, please feel free to ask.

In my next "How to Sculpt" article, I'm planning to focus on the materials: things like epoxies or polymer clays and how to get the most out of them/make them last longer and respond better to your influence.

8 Comments:

  1. This is a brilliant idea - thanks for this Natfka and Mr Pink, I'm just starting to try my hand at using green stuff. This series will be really useful for people like me who don't know quite where to start.

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  2. Thanks you two, this is an awesome article theme and one that I'm sure most readers will find helpful! Really looking forward to the rest!

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  3. This is where handy manny and bob the builder go to do their model sculpting XD

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  4. Hey Natfka, don't know if you noticed yet but there's this online catalog up for Double's weekend which is in June/July, and on the last page it looks like pretty good confirmation for that allies rumor you posted a while ago. Specifically it lists that a Tau and Space Marine alliance as "Brothers in Arms". Here's a link for it, http://www.games-workshop.com/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m2290501a_40K_Doubles_Pack_June_2012.pdf

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    1. thanks, its been out since thursday, I have just been slow to get that one out.

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  5. This is very solid advice, in particular the one regarding wax sculpting tools. Personally I have also had some good experience with the engraver tool of some cheap Dremel knock-off.
    I'm eager to read more of this, both to improve my sculpting skills and as it is always interesting to see another hobbyists take a completly different approach than yourself. Either way you learn something new, so it's all good.

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  6. Going to love these articles! Thanks guys!

    Natfka, are you going to add a quick link under your header as well?

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  7. :) Glad you guys are enjoying the articles. Natfka's done a lot of hard work bringing us all news, so I'm happy to be able to contribute to his blog.

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