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How to Build a Custom Model Through Kitbashing

Sometimes you are going for a unique look, other times you want to add new dynamism to a model. Either way, learning how to build a custom model through kitbashing is an excellent way to make something truly yours.

Tutorial on building a custom model with bit bashing and scuplting

For my examples, I use a Space Marine Dreadnought. They are boxy, unwieldy beasts of a model that are cool, but static looking. I want to fix that problem and show you how I took a Blood Angels Furioso Dreadnought and turned it into a charging Ironclad for my Mentor Legion.

Making a Plan

As with any project, it’s important to have at least a rough idea of where you are going. It can change, reform, and flow as your build the model and get further inspiration.

Blood Angel Furioso Dreadnought

Model by Games Workshop (used without permission)

For this dreadnought, I had a Furioso model sitting in my bits box from the Baal campaign box set (really got it for the Tyranid models). I needed something to build and paint to create these tutorials for Dreadtober and thought it would fit the bill nicely.

That and it looked like it would be a fun model to hack.

So my plan was simple: take the main components of the Furioso and create an Iron Clad for my Mentors. This required a few modifications to the base model: removing any Blood Angel iconography, repose the model in a more heroic manner, and sculpt/bits bash new icons for my Mentors.

For your model, think about what you are trying to create. Maybe do some quick sketches or find some inspiration from the web.

The plan will help you figure out if you need to buy more supplies like green stuff, bits, or whole new models.

Find the Bits

Now it’s time to rummage through your bits box. Open up those kits in the closet of doom. Or maybe hop on one of the bits order sites and find the pieces you need to build your modified model.

And don’t be afraid to take parts of bits and use them for completely different parts of a model. Just look at some of the crazy-awesome models that appear in the Inq28 circles (D Powers, KS, Wiehlem).

Add bits you think you may use in a piece of tupperware

When I’m starting a new project a grab a Tupperware bin and just start piling any bit or doodad that might be interesting. If I don’t use it, I later add it to the bits bins. But as I’m building each piece, I don’t have to go back through them again and again.

Rough It Out

Here is where sticky tack becomes your best friend. You can use it to hold pieces together, fill in some gaps, or even repose arms by adding a bigger blob. Before making a single cut or a drop of glue you can get a feel for how it could look.

Using Sticky Tack to hold Custom Model Together

If you are brave and going to be doing more sculpting work, rough out the armature with wire. You can then add the bits onto the wire and see how it looks.

Removing Details and Modifying Pose

First off, don’t cry. Take your hobby knife and start cutting those lovely little bits.

Often the only way to get the desired custom look is to remove incredible details so carefully worked into the model. My Furioso Dreadnought here has some amazing details for Blood Angles – but not so helpful for my Mentors.

So let’s remove some of them.

Removing details

Bits Bashing Tools for Custom Miniatures

I have few primary tools for removing features:

The biggest key to removing details, or indeed any hacking at the plastic, is to remove small bits at a time. Not only are you more likely to cut yourself by trying to cut too much, but it is much easier to cut too much off the model.

Using a Hobby Knife to Scrape Away the Details

So instead, whittle away at the detail until it is mostly gone. Then use the files and side of the blade to smooth it out.

To get the interior details, I switch to the #16 or #17 blades and chisel away at the detail. The half-blade of the #16 works well to get into the nooks and crannies on interior details.

Finally, you can hide any remaining imperfections with added bits, or as I show later, purity seals and other parchments.

Using Pins to Adjust the Pose

The Dreadnought is a cool looking model, but the arms are pretty much stuck in an up or down motion. Not much room for a dynamic charge right?

Well with a bit of drilling and minor sculpting, more range of motion becomes possible.

Pinning originally was used to hold the heavy, impossible to glue, metal models together. After a few blisters and broken bits, a hole was drilled in each piece and a cut paper clip glue in place.

The idea is similar here, except rather than just using the pin to hold to pieces together, I’m using it to keep them slightly apart.

1. Get the Supplies

Pin you models with nails using a hand drill

There are two things you will need: micro-dill bits with a hand vice and a pin. I like pins meant for sewing as they come it long and short lengths and are stiff. Alternatively, a paper clip can work.

2. Drill the Hole

Find the bit that is the same size as your pin and drill both sides of the model. Attempt to get as close to center as possible, but since we creating a bend anyway it’s not super important.

For the dreadnought here, there was already a too-large hole from the old peg. You can fix this by adding extra plastic or sprue to the back side of the hole and then drill, fill it will green stuff, or (what I did) find plastic rods that fit and  narrow down to the pin size.

I used plastic tubes to fill in too large of a hole to pin

3. Make the Pin

I start with cutting the pin about twice the length I expect to need as it’s easier to work with. It can later be cut back down to size. Next, add a small bend to the pin so that it changes the angle between the two pieces

4. Test Fit

Using a bent pin to adjust the pose of a plastic model

Now push the pin into each side of the model and make sure it fits well. You may need to use a bit of sticky tack to keep it in place. The important part here is to ensure the pin isn’t too long (or short) and bent to the right angle.

5. Glue in Place

Once you are happy with the pin and placement, add a touch of super glue to one end of the pin and place into the hole. Allow it to set for a bit before adding the second pin. Many times I didn’t let the first side set correctly and pushed the pin right into the hollow model!

If the plastic areas of the model press against each other (such as the top of the dreadnought shoulder here) add a touch of plastic glue as well. The second glue joint will actually help to provide a strong joint.

6. Fill the Gap

You now have a newly positioned arm/tentacle/something! But you may also have a gigantic gap in the model. Not cool right?

To rectify this problem you can cover it up (which is easy for Space Marine arms) or fill it in with green stuff – which I cover in the next section.

Plastic Bender

For some pose adjustment, it may require slight abuse to the plastic so that it bends a different direction.

Bending Plastic Bits to Adjust the Pose

For my dreadnought, I wanted him striding forward. Some of this required cutting the legs apart and moving the joints. But others, such as the foot wouldn’t be as easy.

For small modifications that aren’t possible with cutting and re-gluing, I find it best just to bend the plastic. I start by adding small cuts to the backside of the bend (only if needed, the feet didn’t) to force the bend line. I then slowly turn the piece the direction I want.

The key is only to bend a little at a time, readjust and bend again. This prevents the plastic from snapping, but if you bend it slowly, it will stretch a bit.

For harder to bend pieces, and to set the change in place, you can add a bit of plastic glue. By melting the plastic a bit, it will soften and become easier to bend. Once the glue dries, the plastic sets into the new position.

Filling Gaps

Even with building kits straight from the box we are sometimes left with gaps between pieces. As you start adding bits from other kits or modifying the pose, those gaps will get bigger and more complex.

So let’s look at how to fill them.

Small Gaps with Plastic Glue

For small gaps between plastic pieces, the easiest way is to re-melt the edges.

Plastic glue can be used to fill small gaps in models

It works best on flat areas such as armor panels here on my Dreadnought (1). Add dots of glue along the seam (2) and let sit for a minute. Using your finger or maybe a tissue, rub the glue and partly melted plastic around a bit (3).

After it dries, you can take your hobby knife and files to smooth it back out.

Hiding Gaps and Holes

For small gaps and holes that aren’t important or easy to see, don’t spend too much time on them. Add some green stuff into the hole, smooth it out, and let it dry. Do a bit of clean up if needed but as long as it won’t cause a distraction, don’t worry about it.

Alternatively, just cover them up with purity seals (see below).

Ribbed ‘Soft’ Armor

For those large gaps between armor plates, adding ribbed or ‘soft’ armor fills the need nicely. For non-robotic/marine models you could switch this out for clothing or even sculpted muscles (for the hardcore!).

Note: while I use the term Green Stuff, really I mean two-part, air hardening putty. In my case here, I am using Milliput’s Black.

Start with pressing some green stuff into the gap and build it up until it is flush with hard armor edges. Use a silicon shaper to smooth it out and allow to dry for a few minutes. I found this causes it to be less sticky.

Using putty to fill in large gap by creating soft ribbed amor

Then taking a sculpting knife, add a line to the middle of the largest section of the gap. Follow up with second lines on either side of the center. This breaks it up into four parallel ribs, add more or less depending on what you need.

Drag the middle line around the diameter, keeping to the middle of the gap. Then do each side which may force the lines close together where the armor panels meet – which is eactly what we are going for. Think of an accordion stretching one way.

You can then go back over each cut and make them deeper and smooth out the tops with the silicon shaper.

Purity Seals and Parchment

Imperial armies for the 41st Millenium like their blue ribbons – and they can be a kit bashers best friend. Have a goofy seam or odd matchup between pieces? Try to hide it with a well-placed purity seal.

The same idea and techniques work for parchments as well for any army. That’s what I did on one of my Leman Russ Demolishers that had a terrible accident with its sponsons.

Cutting small strips of paper for custom purity seals

The first step is to cut the paper itself. I’ve used standard printer paper which works well for stiffer parchments but found receipt paper works well for purity seals.

The first step is to cut a piece that is about twice as long as you want the two pieces to be, mine were about 15mm. Then cut thin strips ~1mm wide, trying to be as straight as possible. Now either fold a piece in half or cut in half to create equal sized strips for the purity seal.

Place a small dot of super glue where you want the seal to be placed (tip: use a toothpick to put the dot to keep it from running). Place both strips onto the glue, keeping each at slightly different angles. At this point, you only want the place where the seal will be to have glue on it.

Once it dries, coat both pieces in either more super glue or white glue. Super glue will be harder and dry quicker – which means you have to work fast. White glue gives you a bit more time to shape the papers. But either way, when the papers are wet with glue, try to push and pull them around the model so that they hang with gravity or sway with motion. Add some interesting wrinkles to them.

 Creating custom purity seals with green stuff

After drying, you should have a pair of papers that look nice but are oddly attached to the model. Time to fix that with the wax seal!

Make a super small ball of green stuff (or black stuff here). Cut it in half to make it even smaller. Maybe even cut it again. You need a tiny, little ball of the putty for these.

Place a small dot of glue on the papers with a toothpick and add the ball of putty. Using the flat bottom of your hobby knife or similar, gently press the ball flat.

To make an emblem in the wax, use the toothpick to push just inside the rim all around the seal. Add a few more shapes to the center circle. Deform the out circle. Add some small interest to the seal to make it look more than a clean circle.

Once the clay hardens you have a nice looking purity seal that flows around your newly built model.

Wrap Up

Bringing all that together, I present to you my completed Mentor Legion Ironclad Dreadnought built from a Furioso kit.

Customized Dreadnought for the Mentor Legion

The legs were a combination of cutting and bending to achieve the striding look. Both arms were repinned and ribbed armor sculpted in the gap. Details were scraped away and new ones placed. The force weapon was replaced with a chain blade (with the flamer tucked in there), and a couple of purity seals to finish him up. The base will be a follow-up post.

I hope this extra long tutorial has helped inspire you to build a custom model for your army and start to play with the poses.

Your Tips

Have some awesome tips you want to share and add? Leave them in the comments below and we can start a conversation!

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  • Good ideas and I really like how your conversion turned out. Bravo.

    The joy of working will such a poseable kit. You took full advantage of it and made it yours.

    • Thanks Rory! It was a lot of fun to pull all the pieces together.

  • Nice tutorial, and excellent outcome on that Dread!

    I’ve come to really appreciate the classic brass rod for pinning. It’s incredibly strong and unlikely to break when bent, even at extremely thin diameters (I use 1/32″, which is thin enough that I’ve pinned the blades on Lightning Claws with it, and I’ve never had a break), and a couple of bucks will get you enough to last for years of projects.

    • Thanks! I could see how that would work really well, much easier to cut and bend than steel nails I’m sure. Thanks for the tips and I think I have a rod from a really old project.

  • Wow! Talk about the complete guide to converting a Dreadnought. This is an awesome, detailed and complete tutorial. Bring on #DREADTOBER!! Can’t wait to see it painted.

    • Thanks Adam! I’m taking Rory’s advice and doing a multi-part tutorial project, it just happens to co-inside with Dreadtober 🙂
      I’ve got most of the base colors done for next week’s tutorial… hmm still got to write that one too

  • Nice tutorial! Simple and easy to follow.