Wednesday, August 17, 2016

HOW TO: Assemble Wargaming Miniatures

Today in The Cube:

It's been a while, folks, but it's good to be back. I thought I'd share with you some thoughts on one of the more maddening, complex, but often rewarding bits of the wargaming hobby: actually assembling the miniatures. Feel free to drop me a line if you have comments or questions!

Here we go!

These vintage West End Star Wars Sandtroopers are excellent examples of
great minis that don't require any assembly.
About 75% of all the minis you’ll see out there in stores or online need some kind of assembly. The big exception are most miniatures told by Fantasy Flight, Reaper, Hasslefree and similar companies. (Some older Citadel/Games Workshop and West End/Grenadier minis, to name a few, also usually were produced fully-assembled). Miniatures that are not fully assembled, however, usually fall into one of three stages of “assembly.” What follows are my own terms, not those used in the industry:

1. On the Rails: These are miniatures that are often in 2-3 parts, but have specific ways that they are meant to be put together - often indicated by a “peg-and-hole” assembly scheme. If you want to customize these minis, you’re usually out of luck unless you want to do serious surgery. (More about customization in a later "How To.") A good example of these minis are larger Reaper minis like Giants or Dragons that need to have arms or wings glued on, etc., or minis that have two halves that need to be joined together. Most GW minis that are included in their large starter sets or their board games (like Space Hulk) fall into this category. By and large these minis are ostensibly made so that they’ll snap right together and you won’t need glue. DON’T be fooled – if the fit isn’t tight (i.e. the parts jiggle around), then the mini WILL likely fall apart at some point. Use a spot or two of glue (I recommend LocTite Gel Control super glue - see below) to hold it together.

2. Partial Assembly: Similar to “On the Rails” minis, these minis are mostly assembled except for a piece or two that need to be put into place: an arm holding a weapon, a backpack, a head, etc. Most of these pieces allow the modeler some choice in placement, and therefore some opportunities for customization. These WILL need gluing together. A good number of metal miniatures fall into this category, in my experience.

3. Full Assembly: These miniatures come in multiple pieces that need to be glued together to form a complete figure: torso, legs, head, arms, weapons, etc. The benefit of this is that it allows the modeler a HIGH degree of customizing possibilities. The problem with this is, clearly, that it is more time consuming and complicated. Most of the GW, War Machine, Hordes, and other miniatures that you’ll buy in box kits at game stores fall into this category.


Everybody seems to have their own favorite glues to use to put miniatures together. Note that you will need to use SUPERGLUE to assemble miniatures. Elmer’s is not going to cut it.

I’ve used a bunch of different glues, and I’ve found that LocTite Gel Control works the best. You can find it in most U.S. grocery stores in the office supply aisle, as well as in craft and hardware stores. The setting time is very quick, and the glue doesn’t run all over the place. Plus, it’s quite cheap – about $2.50 per bottle. One little bottle will go a long way if you’re prudent with the amount of glue you use. Another added benefit is that there is no harmful odor to the glue, and it's safe to use indoors. It will usually set initially in about 10-20 seconds. I swear by this stuff, and other modelers I’ve communicated with do as well.

NOTE that with the LocTite, the way it reacts with plastic, it may turn the plastic white in places if the plastic is a different color. I recommend, obviously, that you assemble the miniatures before you prime and paint them, so that discoloration doesn’t become an issue.

AVOID: Any glue that has a thin or watery consistency. It takes WAY too long to set up and will just outright frustrate you. The Privateer Press P3 glue, and Testor’s Blue glue fall into this category. This loose glue has caused some of my early minis to have droopy heads because I left them to set all night without support.

AVOID: Any glue that has a harmful odor and/or is meant to be used in highly-ventilated/outdoor areas. Testor’s Red, a traditional “airplane” glue that you’ll find in hobby stores, falls into this category. Simply put, you’re going to want to model indoors most of the time, and so such a glue is simply inconvenient, redundant and, frankly, dangerous.


The back of my finished Privateer Press Woldwrath. A
real pain to assemble, due to the blend of metal and resin parts
Don’t laugh. This WILL happen to you, at least once. It’s happened to me multiple times.
First thing’s first - don’t panic. 
To deal with it, either run your fingers under water OR put a little olive oil/vegetable oil on your fingers and work your fingers back and forth until they become unstuck.
Superglue can stay on your fingers for days afterwards. It can get annoying, but it’s no big deal.


First, “dry fit” the pieces of the miniature to make sure you know how they’re supposed to go together. Some people pre-assemble their minis with sticky tack first to try out poses and make sure they know where all of the bits are going to go. I've never done this myself, but it's not a bad idea.

If the miniature is all plastic, apply a small spot of glue to the piece you want to attach, and then attach it in the position you want, holding the piece for 10-20 seconds, or until it’s “set” (i.e. - it’s not slipping or moving). Repeat.

If the miniature is metal or you’re gluing a metal piece to a plastic or resin piece: I recommend applying a good amount of glue (maybe 2-3 times what you’d use for a plastic miniature) to both the surfaces you want to join. Wait 30 seconds to a minute for the glue to start to set. Then join the pieces, holding them firmly for 30 seconds to a minute. This may not work the first time (or the fourth, or fifth...), and its possible you may have to repeat this process, with or without more glue, more than once.


You may find that the way a mini has to be glued (i.e. the necessary attachment of one part of the mini to another) will necessitate that the mini be propped up in a certain position for an extended period of time. This might happen, for instance, if you're gluing a large and/or heavy part of the miniature on to the main body and there's not an obvious way for the mini to stand/sit while it dries. This is a fairly common issue. Don't be afraid to lay your mini on its side, prop it against a box, put books under it, etc. — really, anything you need to do to keep the part in position while it dries. You'll thank me later.


While superglue is a very strong cement, it’s not infallible. Generally, you can break off a piece you want to re-position without much of an issue.


I'm the father of a 2-year-old and, while I love that fact that he is often fascinated with "Daddy's guys," as he calls my minis, I lament the fact that he's broken more than one back into its component parts. Well, that's not so bad. As I mentioned before, even if the mini has already been painted and is done, if for some reason the mini breaks (you drop it, step on it, etc.) you can generally re-assemble it without an issue. A broken miniature is not a dead mini.

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