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Codex Egyptium

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tools of the Miniature Painter: .177 Caliber Steel BBs

I'm always on the lookout to expand my repertoire of tools and tricks when it comes to the hobby of painting miniatures.  In 2013,  I wrote two pieces called the Tools of the Miniature Painter and both proved to be popular posts.  As I gain more experience, I learn a few more things and try a few others.  It's only fitting that I expand and continue to share what I've learned.

For those interested, you can revisit those initial posts HERE (for part 1) and HERE (for part 2).

Ok... BBs.  What possible use would you need BBs for painting? A very good question and a few weeks ago, I might have thought it a bit daft.  As my readers know by checking out some of my past painting guides, I am fond of using the Citadel line of paints.  Some people love these paints and others consider them sub-par.  They are also expensive when you consider the amount of paint you are getting in exchange for your hard earned cash.

Why do I use these paints so much?  It's simple really -- because I started with them.  The first set of miniatures I painted were goblins from a Lord of the Rings starter box put out by Game Workshop.  I had never painted miniatures before hand but I had committed to the first hugely successful Reaper Bones Kickstarter and figured I would get a bit of practice in.

As it turned out, I liked it A LOT.  The starter box contained a bunch of goblins, a starter brush, and an assortment of paints to do up the models.  I picked up a spray can of black primer and away I went.  I did the goblins and then I did a series of metal orc miniatures (you can see that post HERE).

As I got more involved, I got more paints and, at the time, I was able to get many of these paints discounted online.  Sadly, Games Workshop shifted their retailer policies and this is no longer possible.  To add insult to injury, they even raised prices a few months ago.  However, while I was able to get them cheaply, I did so though it still cost me a lot of money in the long run.  The Citadel line of paints is extensive. This is actually one of the nice things I like about the line.  There are so many nuances of shade and color available that it makes it easy to get the colors you want without having to mix them.  For this reason, and the initial investment into the line, is why I have stuck to the line.

If I was paying regular prices, I probably would have been using something like Liquitex Acrylics instead.  I much smaller investment though more mixing would have been involved.

The biggest problem I have found with the Citadel paints from time to time in the past 14 months that I have been using them is that some of them had a tendency to clump or otherwise a thick consistency.  Some paints seem to be more prone to it but it might also be regular use.  When I encountered the problem when I came to do my recent skeletons (the base), I decided to do a bit or research and realized that some people used makeshift agitators for the paint pots.  One of the preferred methods was using .177 caliber steel BBs.

Here's the thing.  It works well and I pulled a handful of paint pots where I had been experiencing some of these issues and dropped a couple in.  They are very small and still have a bit of weight to them so a couple in the paint pot when you shake it up will do wonders to help the consistency of the paint.  That said, there is a bit of a risk depending on the quality of the BBs themselves.  Avoid other metals such as copper though these days, you'd be hard pressed to find anything other than steel.  As such, it is possible that these may rust or corrode.  Those which are coated will cause far less issues and those brands which are 'premium grade' are likely coated to prevent corrosion problems.

If you want to play it safe, you could use bits of a plastic sprue to do the same thing but it just won't work as well as something with a bit more weight -- especially if the paint is starting to 'thicken up' some.  The other thing to consider is the actual amount of contamination should the BB corrode a bit.  Yes, the paint pots are small but these are so much smaller.  If there is a chance of rust, it's not going to disintegrate into a powder ruining your paint because you dropped in a BB or two in it.

Of course, it's a new pot of paint, there is probably little to no reason to do this until you actually start to run issues with it.  Another thing to keep in mind: Agitators alone may not do the trick.  If the paint (pigment) is not quite clumping but it seems to be getting thicker, it may also be time to consider an acrylic paint retarder or some sort of flow medium to it (no more than a few drops) as well.


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