People have often asked me “Why convert your army? The models already look incredible,” to which I completely agree; but nothing feels better than taking a truly unique army to face off against your opponent.
Win or lose you can walk away from the table with a sense of accomplishment granted by knowing your army won (or lost) looking awesome. After over 20 years in the hobby, I can guarantee that most of you will spend more time modelling and painting than playing; why not aim to make the most of this time spent on the hobby and walk away from your workstation feeling like you’ve “won”?
With that, let’s throw down what I’ve learnt over the years about doing cconverting miniatures and doing conversions.
1. Start with a great idea, concept or theme
The very first step is creating a theme or concept for your force; the last thing we want is a ramshackle army that looks like they don’t belong together (unless that IS your theme…).
The projects where I spent a bit of time actually thinking through what I want the force to be thematically always ended up better than converting just for the sake of converting.
Want to play Slaves to darkness but from more refined or regal background than barbarians? Or Free People from a particular realm? How about Nighthaunt that have carried out a long campaign in Hysh, the realm of light and now radiate with brilliant luminance? Or creating your own chapter of Space Marines that’s more than just “they wear a different color armour”.
Come on, you can do better! And by starting with a clear understanding of what your force is supposed to be, you will end up with a one-of-a-kind army that will impress your opponents and give you the same level of satisfaction that winning a battle would.
2. Get the necessary tools and materials for converting miniatures
Next, some universal tools and materials you will need (and some others that may not be universal per se).
Obviously the tools needed for basic mini assembly to start:
These should already be in your tool kit if you’re building minis.
There’s a few extras you’ll need to start converting:
- Greenstuff (buy in bulk online; trust me, you’ll use it)
- Strong thin wire (such as lockwire or even thin paper clips)
- Fine saw (the smaller the teeth the better)
- Hand drill (not powered). The Citadel one is perfectly fine but there are cheaper alternatives that will work just as well)
- Sandpaper or files (like the saw, you want these fine to achieve a smooth finish).
Optionally there are some other things that I have found incredibly helpful along the way:
- Greenstuff molds (for making chainmail, ropes, chains, etc…)
- Epoxy adhesive (very strong and dries clear for some very interesting model options like magic weapons/spells and water/ice)
- Materials for basing (which I’ll probably cover in a different article).
With all your supplies, now what?
3. Find the miniatures and extra bits you need
Obviously we will need the minis we’re going to be converting. It easiest to start with the actual miniature you intend the final product to represent, but this doesn’t always have to be the case.
Based on your original idea, get the minis that will best suit your planned outcome; it would be more difficult to convert actual slaves to darkness minis into our regal servants of the dark gods as mentioned earlier, so we could look elsewhere for good starting models that fit our theme; Stormcast Eternals would convey the heavily armoured aspect of chaos warriors but with the higher class aesthetic we are aiming for.
If you start looking across the entire catalogue available, you will find the look you want somewhere (just keep in mind model and base size as varying from this too much may land you on the receiving end of accusations of modelling for advantage).
But how would we make our sequitors look like chaos warriors? This is where our bits boxes come in; using assorted bits collected over the years (or buying individual bits online, they are out there), you can greatly alter the appearance of your models.
So based off your planned aesthetic/theme, start sourcing the models and extra bits you may need. It helps to start looking at minis not as completed models but a collection of bits with which you can build whatever your imagination leads you to.
If you are completely new to conversions, ask your hobby-friends if you can dig through their bitbox for something to borrow.
4. Start by testing out a conversion
So you’ve picked up a unit box and found some cool bits from other kits… now what?
Start with one model and dry fit before gluing taking note of the way the new joints will fit together. There will undoubtedly be some extra cutting, filing and/or filling required as not all bits mount the same way.
When starting a project like this, I will often begin with a cheap hero or unit to check not only if I can make it work but if the pieces will come together the way I want them to while achieving the desired aesthetic.
To truly get original and unique looking forces, you’ll need to abandon all notions of what you “can and can’t do” with a model.
5. Do some basic bits swaps or “kitbashes”
A bit swap or “kitbash” is where you use another head, arm weapon or what have you from another kit of miniatures. It is a quite easy way to get into conversions. Just doing a simple head swap will make the miniature radically different.
Start looking at bits not as the object they are intended to be but their shape or what they could be.
That spear tip could be a spine/horn, that spare skull a helmet (or even head), that mount could be the actual body of your centaur wild rider or even putting new riders on the mount like a Lord-Celestant on manticore as your regal chaos lord.
Once you see just the shape, pieces begin fitting together in more interesting ways. Often pieces won’t fit together well enough for glue to hold them together alone or the mating surfaces will have insufficient surface area; this is where “pinning” becomes a vital tool in our conversion toolkit.
Pinning is when a very small hole is drilled in both pieces and a small metal pin/piece of wire/paperclip is used to reinforce the joint. This will add considerable strength to the joint and take the strain off the glue.
For best results, drill small holes then fill them with greenstuff before inserting the pin as this will hold the pin in place.
6. Progress to more advanced techniques and add flavor to your conversions
Once your comfortable with cutting your bits to make more interesting outcomes and pinning bits is second nature, you will start to see how far you can push things.
I don’t want my slaves to darkness looking like sigmarines so what do I do?
Things like spikes, skulls, chains will add the chaos flavour to make sure your models don’t just look like you’re using one army to play as a different army.
Cut off a pauldron and replace it with a large skull, cut, file and sand the hammer into an axe (or swap the bit), give him/her a third arm or tentacle… don’t be afraid to experiment and make the models look like they fit the faction you want them to be.
There are many ways to blend the model or models you start with to obtain the desired final product. Keep in mind that the paint job/colour scheme will also help convey this but this isn’t the place to cover that.
7. Try your hand at basic sculpting and working with greenstuff
Many people are hesitant to work with greenstuff, not knowing where to start so let’s put those apprehensions aside and jump straight in.
Greenstuff is extremely useful for many things, from filling gaps in joints that don’t match up perfectly to adding texture or elevation to your base (because we all know heroes stand on higher ground than their foot soldiers, right?) to straight up sculpting new textures or bits for your model.
I want these free people to be from Ghur… well, give them fur-lined clothes/cloaks made of greenstuff.
I don’t like the shape of this sword… try cutting it down smaller and sculpt the shape you want with greenstuff.
Know that greenstuff will behave much like plastic once dried so you can cut and sand it much like you would other pieces. I find when using greenstuff it always helps to add just a little more of the blue component as it makes it cure slightly harder making it less flexible and more like plastic.
Keep your tools wet with water, oil or Vaseline to stop the greenstuff sticking to them, I will sometimes allow my greenstuff to cure slightly (about 15-30 minutes) before working with it as it becomes slightly harder and less sticky.
Lastly, there are plenty of molds and sculpting aids available online to help you make what you need to add to your model, and plenty of tutorials for sculpting a particular item or texture. Go look on the great web for specific tutorials on sculpting.
In Conclusion (things to remember when converting miniatures)
- Start with a theme or plan. If you have a good understanding of what you’re aiming to achieve, you will be more inclined to figure out the rest as you go.
- See shapes, not bits. If you see all the possible things a bit could be, not just what it is, your possibilities will be almost endless.
- Pin, pin, pin. There’s nothing worse than your converted army falling to pieces in your games. Glue will hold a well-mated joint, pin everything else.
- Add flavour/character. When you put your army on the table, your opponent will want to know what is what. Make your models distinct but identifiable. Make sure your Chaos lord/Loon boss/Freeguild general look like that’s what they are.
- Size matters. Your beautifully converted models should be equivalently sized to what you intend to play them as. People might choose not to play with you when you point to your 25mm based Lord-Celestant on Stardrake.
- Enjoy yourself. As said before, you will spend more time building and painting your models than you will playing (trust me, I know) so make sure you make the most of the experience. Take pride in planning, designing and creating a truly unique army that you can look upon with pride and take to the battlefield with a sense of achievement before any dice are rolled.