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How to Build a Painting Station for Miniature Painting

A dedicated paint station can significantly improve the amount of time you get to spend painting your miniatures or doing the hobby that you want to.

In this article, I will go through how to build a painting station from scratch. A paint station will be able to hold all your painting equipment, so it is easy to sit down and get something done when you have a small window of opportunity.

Think about it: how much time do you spend setting up and taking down your equipment? For most of us, that answer is too long!


Why you should get yourself a painting station for your hobby

Like many people with a leaning towards art, crafting and making, it can often be hard to dedicate a space in the home for those activities and to get the time to do them.

Alright, what I mean is my wife wants to know why all ‘that stuff’ has to be scattered around the dining table and left there for weeks on end. I guess she has a fair point.

So, the question many a fellow miniature modeller and I ask, is how to get all that stuff out and packed up again in an easy way that maximises hobby time?

If you don’t have this space ready to go then it becomes a chore to get all the materials and tools out, set-up, sit down and start working, then pack up and put everything away.

In fact if you’re working on projects that take time or require a lot of materials that effort can exceed the time spent on the hobby and put you off entirely!

I’ve mentioned before that my background is in acrylic painting and getting on with painting more paintings was helped by having half a garage to leave everything in place.

When I didn’t have that space I didn’t paint.

I find that’s the same now with miniature modelling, when my stuff isn’t set-up I tend not to sit down and paint that much. Out of sight, out of mind and all that!

A paint station will significantly reduce the time you spend getting ready to paint

One trick many have found to help with this is to have a crafting station, painting tray or maker area set-up and ready to use – so that it’s not a huge mission to get on and make something awesome.

Afterwards you can just carry the painting station back to its tidy storage point ready for next time.

The point being – if it’s accessible it’s easy to sit down for 10 or 20 minutes and make some progress on that stack of plastic we all have.

Come on, I know it’s not just me…is it?

But, what exactly should this mobile workspace, Painting Station thing be?

Lets think about the issue here. Most of the time you will be setting up some, if not all, of the following items: 

  • Dozens of pots of paint
  • A handful of brushes
  • Some prep tools
  • Models that are in various stages of work in progress
  • A jar of water
  • Something to mix paint on
  • Tools for cutting models out
  • Glue
  • Plus a whole bunch of little things you keep in your tool box for the hobby 
All of the various things I need to set up when I paint

Looking at the list, it is easy to see why having a mobile storage system can really help you out in the long run.

As I talked about in this article about organizing my hobby, maximising time spent on the actual hobby and minimizing time spent on areas around the hobby is key.

Therefore, the obvious thing a painting station should be is a place to store the majority of stuff you use on a day to day hobby basis.

In addition to those paints, brushes, models, etc. is the bigger items such as basing materials, a How to Paint Citadel Miniatures book or your Mortal Realms folder with build and painting instructions.

For those, you can either try and incorporate storage into the Painting Station or keep them separate, the more you can include the better, but you will need to be pragmatic to keep the Painting Station something you can move around with ease.

How to build a painting station step be step

1. Make an initial design and rough design sketch

Given that you now know sort of the stuff you want to store on the paint station, you should now do a rough design of a basic, mobile Painting Station, that includes ways to keep all your day to day stuff together and perhaps a few extras just for tidiness.

If you make a rough design on paper first, it’ll save you cutting up expensive materials just to ‘discover’ what you might want it looking like and you can change the design bit by bit until it suits your needs.

Most people don’t like sketching, but bear in mind this design doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be a guide for what you most likely will build in the end.

Once you get building the actual Paint Station, the design will likely change anyway.

A rough design on a DIY painting station

2. Make a mock-up of your paint station

Now that you have your rough design, you need to build it!

However, before you rush out and buy all the woodworking tools and boards that might be needed – try and make a prototype first.

A prototype or mock-up is a first try at building a design and seeing if it actually works and if you can actually build it.

Your mock-up is just like how architects make those little wooden models of the buildings they’ll make or technologists making a mock-up of that new phone or other cool tech they plan on mass producing.

It will help you prove if your idea holds water and of it looks good on the desk. It can make sure you weed out any mistakes and can let you make an accurate design for transferring onto wood.

For the mock-up I suggest you just grab some cardboard.

Sturdy cardboard that is rigid and not bendy is all you need.

If the cardboard is a bit bendy, cut two sheets and put the ‘ribs’ in opposite directions, criss-crossing over each other and glue the sheets together.

The ribs will oppose each other as they bend in their weak direction.

Plenty of glue between two ‘opposing’ sheets makes for a strong panel

In fact, if you’re unable to buy the wood and equipment needed, due to cash or availability of materials – don’t stress it. Just use cardboard for the final design.

Really, my first Painting Station was from cardboard that once wrapped a washing machine.

Heck, my first desk was a huge box, flipped over, with a hole cut in the side so I could pull my chair in. We all start somewhere!

Following the rough design you made, cut up the cardboard and glue and tape it together.

As we can’t nail or screw cardboard together, you might want to leave some ‘flaps’ on key edges of the panels so they can be glued to the opposite panel, just like they do on cardboard boxes.

The completed cardboard Painting Station mock-up

Take your time building out the design and don’t be afraid to cut new pieces, change lengths and add bits on as you see fit.

3. Test the mockup painting station for a few paint sessions

A cardboard mock-up complete and in use

As you can see from the picture above, I have made a very simple design.

I have space putting my paints on the top shelf and beneath that I have plenty off space for various hobby tools. I can also sort of hide some minis below the shelf.

On the shelf I have cut some holes for my brushes to sit on.

I suggest using your mock-up over a few painting and crafting sessions.

Place all your items on it, build and paint a few models, move the tray around a few times and overall just make sure the design works for you.

If not, get out the craft knife and chop it up!

Well, cut it carefully and make relevant adjustments, unless you really don’t like your initial design in which case WAAAGH! all over it and start again until you’re happy with the design.

Keep adjusting it until your are hobby with the design.

4. Make a final design version of your painting station

Now that you have the mock-up complete from your rough draft design, there are two ways to approach the final build of your homemade Painting Station.

  1. Use the mock-up as a direct reference to measure from and cut our wood up the same
  2. Or make a more accurate design so you are exactly sure what wood is needed and to what sizes

There’s nothing wrong with the first approach, by now your mock-up is a good model of what you want – so measure it up and get cutting that wood!

However, I’ll take the second approach as I like to save my money for models and paint instead of generating wood scrap (which I do too often).

Therefore, I am going to need a more accurate design now, with exact measures.

If you’re not used to drawing like this here’s a few hints:

  • Use a 30-degree set square for drawing straight lines at an angle consistently. This will give your design a realistic perspective. All lines should slope away at 30-degrees, all others are horizontal.
  • Get a ruler of at least 40cm, longer is better as it gives you room to see your paper and design underneath while keeping your hands away from the pencil lines.
  • Get some decent pencils if you want to shade designs you draw. The B (blackness) range are for shading, i.e. an 8B or a 4B, whereas the H (hardness) pencils are for drawing lines, i.e. 6H or 2H. You probably have a HB on your desk, it’ll do at a push.
Tools of the Trade for drawing up your design

Scaling down your design

When drawing the final design you’ll need to scale your drawing against the sizes in real life.

In order for a 300mm wide design to fit on an A4 page laid out in landscape, you need to make each 2.5mm your draw on the page be the equivalent of 10mm in real life.

That’s a scale of 1:4, meaning your design is one quarter or 25% the size of the real thing.

Adjust the scale to fit your design.

The drawing will start in the bottom left of the landscape-oriented paper, with the image of the Painting Station expanding up and to the right.

Referring to your original design and the mock-up you built, start re-measuring all the lines and re-drawing your rough design as an accurate build plan for the Painting Station.

Make sure to add in all the dimensions for every panel of wood.

You can have some measures left off that could be worked out from other dimensions – to make life simpler later, add them all in as you draw.

Here’s a list of items for drawing up an accurate design of your DIY project:

5. Build the final version of your DIY painting station in your preferred material

With the final design ready, you now need to build the final (for now…) version of your Painting Station.

In order to build your Painting Station from wood, you’ll need to buy or borrow the list of items below.

These items will be used in future articles where we’ll show you how to build more things for the hobby such as display racks and terrain pieces.

Below is a list of tools and other items you’ll need in order to build with wood:

  • Drill – A small power drill, that’s ideally cordless (1)
  • Drill Bits – To drill holes of various sizes for your brushes
  • Craft Saw – A pull saw that’s perfect for small woodworking jobs
  • Panel Pins – Small nails to secure the panels of the Painting Station
  • Wood Glue – Stronger than PVA but can be used in the same way
  • Wood – 5mm Birch Plywood sheets to build the Painting Station from
  • Sandpaper – Various grades to smooth the edges of the wood you cut

For building with cardboard, you’ll just need:

List of panels to cut out for your design

Whether you’ll be making a Painting Tray from cardboard or wood, here’s a full list of all the pieces you’ll need to build your design along with all their dimensions.

Measure out each item on your chosen material and carefully cut them out.

Cut cardboard or wood panels to the following sizes:

  • Base Panel x 1 : 45cm x 30cm
  • Side Panel x 2 : 18cm x 12cm x 11cm (then join the front edges at an angle)
  • Back Panel x 1 : 45cm x 20cm
  • Tray Panel x 1 : 45cm x 11cm

If you’re building in wood, after you’ve finished cutting all the pieces out, take some time to sand the edges to make sure there’s no rough areas that might give you splinters. 

Now take the design for the Tray panel and draw in the location of each hole for the paintbrushes.

We’ll drill them later when the tray is in place.

Ideally, each hole should be 2cm apart, but work out what’s best for you given your brushes and design.

Making a build plan and building the paint station

As there’s only five pieces, the order you should build the Painting Station isn’t critical, but here’s a few suggestions to make the build easier: 

  • Glue both Side panels onto the Tray panel to make a sub assembly from it
  • Glue the Side & Tray panels on top of the Base panels

Make sure these panels are square to the back edge of the Base panel and let the glue dry thoroughly so the four panels become a solid assembly.

  • Glue the above assembly to the Back panel, if you lay the Back panel down flat and place the above assembly side on, then it will glue in place under its own weight and be easier to align
Simple Painting Station design with measurements

If building with wood, you may want to now tap in the Panel Pins to be assured the Painting Station will stay together for a long time.

At this point you’ll also want to drill the holes for your paintbrushes into the Tray panel.

Work out which brushes should go where and drill an appropriately sized hole for each at the location shown on the design.

If using cardboard, carefully cut them out with your craft knife. Add some expanded polystyrene ‘steps’ to elevate the paint pots so you can have several rows. Beyond that, make it your own design!

That’s it! – you now have a working Painting Station.

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