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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

woodcarving for beginners......

            I had a request from a reader about converting MDF figures and if a tutorial would be possible. Here it is

            To be fair to Walt of commision-figurines the range is quite large now and can with a bit of creative painting cover most types you will need. High comb helmets are said to be on the way and I understand he has Prussian landwehr available off list. If you have a particular need, talk to Walt he can probably help . There are cases however  where conversion is necessary and Bavarian cavalry are a troop type you need to convert and is the subject of this tutorial. The first principle to remember is the figures are not like 28mm plastic, they are 6mm and wooden. So we start at small and fiddly and a media that will split and split very easily. So what you can do is very limited. Most of a conversion consists of a paint job. The only really major conversions you can easily attempt are head changes and minor detail additions.  


                       The vital tools are minimal. The first requirement is a VERY sharp knife that's comfortable to use. ie fits the hand and is simple to guide and hold.  When I say the knife has to be sharp I mean super sharp, almost new and slices through paper etc. I use a Swann Morton knife for which I have a large number of new blades. I guess that's a habit learned from living in Spain and buying everything by mail order. The knife I use is a wonderful little beauty. You can see it here my swann-morton . A nice pair of tweezers will help in locating parts. A decent pair of pliers with flat faces serve in making flags etc. Some end cutters preferably for cutting wire are essential. The final essential tool is a bottle of Loctite super glue three and some nozzles. The super glue makes use of the porosity of the MDF and gives you the strength in depth you need in putting on the heads as it soaks into the wood. The nozzles are vital for getting small quantities of glue in exactly the place you need. These are the type I use extender tip . There are many suppliers for this, you just have to find one in your area. With regards to the craft knife I have three in use. One is super sharp almost new. The second is for normal work and gets the new blade once the edge has gone. The third is rubbish and gets the blade from the second one heheheh


                          The figures I will be prepping are the Bavarian cavalry. There are two types one with square shabraque used by the dragoons  and the other with the light cavalry, long pointed style used by the chevauxlegers. In this case I will make the dragoons  The basic figure will be a French dragoon without plume and head removed with a helmeted head from the infantry. the figures we will make are

9 basic cavalry
1 trumpeter with bicorne side to side.  (head from bicorn infantry
1 commander with bicorne front to back (head from bicorn infantry)
1 standard bearer with helmeted head.
I will be adding plumes to the helmets and carbines. (from cartridge paper)


First gently scrape away any imperfections left by the burning. Not a lot of this but at 6mm it can look ugly.

 Now we start to get fiddly. Cut the head from the figure using a downward slice at the shoulders and remove the head. Try to leave a flat, horizontal surface at the shoulders.

Carve away the remnants of the horsehair on the back. 

 Lets start with the bicorne. First thin the bicorne. They are a bit chunky. Then cut off the head at the shoulders . Again try to keep it flat and square.
drop a small drip of superglue on the shoulders and let it cure as it soaks into the MDF when its almost dry add a drip more and glue the head in position! Can't pretend here this is really fiddly.Hold the position till the Superglue cures. . 

Now do the same for the general and the standard bearer. 

For the standard bearer, drill a 0.5mm hole at the end of his foot to take the support leg of the standard.  cut a piece of 0.45mm brass rod to roughly the size required and make a short L shaped support at the bottom. 

repeat the process for the head applying a troopers head and then superglue the short leg of the "L" into the hole drilled previously. Make sure the standard passes roughly where the hand should be and superglue in place leaving a small blob in the right place to form the hand when painted. 

cut the plumes from cartridge paper and shape with the sharp knife. Superglue the plumes in position. I use the blade of my blunt knife , wet it with spit and use it to pick up the plume.  

 finally cut a carbine from cartridge paper and glue in place on the trooper.

That is more or less it!. Simply repeat the trooper 8 times and the unit is ready for painting. If things don't go well to begin with keep trying.

 It sounds easy but is really quite fiddly. Took me a while to learn the tricks.

Hope this has been of use!


  1. Hi
    Thanks for this
    You have given me food for thought.
    One more question please, how and where on the polish lancers do you fix the lance.


    1. The lance is done exactly like the standard. I simply drilled a hole a little furthrt towards the back of the figure and used an "L" shaped lance glued into the hole and to the horse passing where the hand should be. BTW the figure is a lighthorse man with cuts on each of the shakos corners to taper it and a small square of paper glued on top.

  2. Very interesting, I have some cavalry from Commission to do as well


  3. Don't be put off if your first efforts take some time. It took me a little while at first to get the knack. It's all about a steady hand and the right tools for the job.

  4. Hi

    You can say that again. Need a sharper knife and new top of finger. On the plus side I did get a nice straight line on cutting off the head. Your tip on gluing works a treat.


    1. I should have mentioned it often pays to put elastoplasts on the top of both thumbs and first fingers . Saves a lot of pain heheheheh