Sculpting Tools and Putty
Epoxy putty is a two-part substance that hardens by chemical reaction once the two parts are combined. Commonly, miniature gaming figures are sculpted from a plumbing putty that will withstand the heat and pressure required for the mold making process. This putty comes in a blue part and yellow part that combines to a bright green color. Original sculptures, regardless of the color of the putty used to create them, are still commonly referred to in the industry as "greens".
What kept me from sculpting miniatures for many years was the inability to control the material of the actual "green stuff". I had compared it to sculpting with bubblegum. When I first tried my hand at it in the mid 90s there was no internet resource or community accessible for an isolated noob. After jumping back into the hobby again in late 2005, I discovered there was a wealth of info online and promptly completed my first few sculpts. I still didn't like green stuff very much because it was so different from the plastilene and polymer clays I was already so familiar with.
So, taking lots of tips from pros and others in the hobby I began to experiment with different putty mixing trying to get a better workability to what I was used to. The most frequently asked question I get is about the difference between green stuff and brown stuff. I have summarized it to this:
Green Stuff is a two part epoxy putty that has an elastic property making it suitable for organic sculpting. It stays quite flexible after curing. This also makes carving, drilling, sanding or scraping extremely difficult.
Brown Stuff is an epoxy putty the has a more traditional clay-like feel to it making it suitable for non-organic sculpting, like weapons and armor. This makes it very suitable for carving, drilling, sanding or scraping. This also makes it brittle and very susceptible to breaking.
Initially, I mixed the brown and green putties to get the best properties of both and greatly reduced the frustration of their downsides.
Then, in July '06 ProCreate was marketed and I found a superior all-in-one putty that works for everything. Depending on the mix of white to black the cure and hardness will be affected. I personally prefer mixing it at a 1:1 ratio. It can be carved, drilled, sanded or scraped with good results.
In all respects ProCreate works and behaves pretty much like the green/brown putties. The biggest advantages to me are the lack of "memory" (elasticity which makes fine details extremely difficult to get sharp), low tack (works well with an assortment of tools) and the overall neutral color (no green screaming into my eyes). There are a couple of things to watch for, though. When mixing it, there is a noticeable residue left on your fingers. This will create a "slip" if water is used as a lubricant during mixing. Be sure to wash your hands after your sculpting sessions. I cannot stress how unsanitary it is to lick your sculpting tools, that is defintely NOT recommended when working with this particular putty. Also, it seems to be very gooey when fresh from the package. I store my putty in little plastic jars and dig out a certain amount to work with. If this sits exposed for a couple of days, the hardener will firm up a little and make the putty more workable (unless you like it gooey).
ProCreate and other putty is available through these fine online suppliers:
Kraftmark - manufacturer's site
Jeff Valent Studios
The War Store
It is also worth mentioning another couple of putties that are extremely useful which are Aves Apoxie sculpt and Magic Sculp. Both of these are formulated differently from the green or brown Kneadatite and even the ProCreate.
According to the Aves web site, Apoxie® Sculpt offers economy as well as performance. This 2-part product has a putty-like, smooth consistency, and is easy to mix & use. It is safe and waterproof with 0% shrinkage/cracking! Working time is 2-3 hrs. Cures hard in 24 hrs., and has a semi-gloss finish. Adheres to plastic, resin kits, wood, metal, ceramic, glass, polymers, foam, fiberglass, & more! Can be seamlessly feathered before set-up, or sanded, tapped, drilled, carved, lathed, or otherwise tooled after set-up, without chipping, cracking or flaking.
Magic Sculp's web site says it is the two-part epoxy putty specifically designed to meet the needs of modelers, crafters and sculptors alike. One of the only epoxies that will smooth out with water. Its grain structure is finer than any other product available and will not shrink or crack even when formed in large structures. It can be shaped by hand or with modeling tools, sanded, carved, painted; you can attack it with a grinding tool and the cured material will not break apart or lose its shape. Magic Sculp will cure at room temperature.
Both of these putties have similar properties to Milliput Superfine White, but are less expensive than importing Milliput from England.
Curing is something the putty does on its own through a chemical reaction. Since the material is not polymer clay (like Sculpey, Fimo or Cernit) it does not need to be baked at higher temperatures for it to harden. You may hear sculptors refer to a "putty oven" and "cooking" their sculpts. This is similar to an Easy Bake Oven for your putty. Higher temperatures cause the putty to cure at a faster rate. Most putties have a working time from 1 to 4 hours and up to 24 hours for a solid cure. Sculpting in stages allows greater control over details and permits working on specific areas of a sculpt at a time. Rather than waiting four hours for a weapon to cure before it can be attached to hand, you can "cook" the putty under a hot lamp and then after it cools for a few minutes, proceed with completing that portion of the sculpt.
My cooker is a custom built job from a one gallon sized paint can, aluminum work light, a 60W bulb and some bit of cork. I trimmed the lamp shade with old scissors and epoxied the light to the top of the can. A similar rig can be made with a large coffee can.
Molds for the sculpts during the vulcanization process can run between 300F and 330F. I have clocked the temp of my putty oven at just over 200F which is plenty enough to make sure it is thoroughly cured before going to mold. I like to leave my sculpts in there from 20 to 45 minutes depending on thickness.
The opposite is also true, the cure time of putty can be slowed by placing it in the freezer. If you have mixed putty you'd like to use at a later time (like after lunch or an episode of TrueBlood) you can place it in the freezer to slow the curing rate. I don't have any data on how long it actually extends the working time but I've left it for a couple of hours and it was still workable. I also store my packages of extra putty in the freezer until I get ready to use it.
Here is how I have now pared down my essential tool collection. The tools I use the most are the absolutely necessary #64NW Double Ended Dental Pick which is similar to the Wax #5 tool. It is my "go-to" tool for about 80% of all my sculpting tasks. I had to grind a sharper edge on it and then keep it smooth with nail polishing pads. My other favorite tools are the Spoon Shaped Putty Knife # 60738 , a flat chisel and round tapered color shaper, a disposable #11 scalpel which has been dulled a bit with sandpaper or a file, and a "pokey" tool which has a couple of different sized needles on each end.
Other useful items are a container for water. I use a spent plastic blister pack with a bit of foam in it to make a sponge. This is handy to keep your tools wet without saturating them. I stick some blobs of putty onto a plastic divider from those Plano plastic case inserts. This makes it easier to cut off bits of putty to mix without having to dig it out of the packages each time. You can also use a plastic swatch cut from a clean milk jug instead of the dividers. I cover this with a bit of plastic wrap when not being used to keep it free of particles. A quick rip peels the plastic right off.
I also have a little spritz bottle of rubbing alcohol handy to keep my tools clean. Uncured putty cleans right up with a bit of rubbing alcohol. Vaseline petroleum jelly is very handy for lubricating tools and various smoothing techniques. If you experience trouble getting fresh putty to stick on areas that are cured after using Vaseline to smooth them, clean the area with a bit of rubbing alcohol first before applying the fresh putty. Alcohol can also clean metal to remove the talc powder that is used in molds and the putty will stick better. Purell handy wipes work wonders at getting your hands and tools clean too.
THE PROCESSAlthough in these examples I am using Pro-Create putty, it was a process I developed using regular green and brown stuff. So it is suitable for those putties as well.
I knead the two parts folding them over and over until the color is uniform. I tend to over-mix my putty a bit after the color is smooth. This firms it up a little and assures both parts are blended.Plano plastic case insert again. I find these little dividers very durable and will not curl up under the heat of a putty oven like milk carton plastic tends to do.
Here I begin by sticking the putty to the plastic card and begin to shape a pile of stones for a figure's base.
Plastic wrap is also very useful! It is extremely handy in smoothing large areas, especially with a bit of Vaseline applied. Once the area has cured, the Vaseline can be cleaned off with a little alcohol and fresh putty applied for the next stage. The best trick I learned from a class with Werner was belts and straps. A blob of putty can be stuck to plastic wrap and then cut to shape. By popping the shape off of the plastic wrap with the side of your scalpel, it can be applied to the sculpture and then smoothed into place. The best plastic to use for this technique is heavy freezer storage bags cut into 2" squares.
This rambling collection of tips hopefully has encouraged you to give sculpting a go. It wasn't intended to give any instruction in actual sculpting, that is a whole 'nother topic! But, this should give you a good starting point to using and handling various sculpting materials. If you are already doing figure conversions, you are half way there to making full figures. Give it a shot!