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How to Cast Tin Soldiers


I have often encountered great difficulty in the actual casting of miniatures. It is an exact science, and takes great skill and experience. You'd think it was pretty straight forward; melt the metal and pour it in the little hole. For those of us who don't have the skill required to make our own molds(like me), and therefore buy molds, that is pretty much it. Of course, it takes a lot of practice and patience, as the castings don't always come out quite right. I have experienced having to cast the same figure more than ten times before getting a satisfactory result. Here is an example of a painted miniature cast with a store-bought mold:

This one has a fairly high level of detail, and the fact that the mold is proffessionaly machined allows for cavities like the space between the legs. On the other hand, if you make your own molds, a world of problems comes to life. One, it is very difficult to line up the cavities in the two halves of the molds, and it is nearly impossible to get any measurable level of detail. I tried making molds using plaster of paris when I first started out, but, after repeated attempts and about 2 kg of plaster, I had only one figure to show for it. Here it is:

As you can see, the level of detail is rudimentary. It is only shaped on one side, and it has no feet. Nearly all detail is painted on freehand. It was impossible to paint it by following the outlines in the figure, as there aren't any. Don't be disheartened by this seemingly pathetic attempt. I am confident that with a little research and proper materials, it is quite possible to achieve a nice result. Anyway, most people who make their own moulds use vulcanized silicone rubber. Basically you melt the stuff at 800 degrees and stick your model in it, I think. It's flexible, so you have a better margin if a bit doesn't quite fit. It can take hundreds of degrees, so can be used for nearly any kind of lead, pewter, or tin. I think it might even work with bronze or brass, but I'm not sure.This is simply the result of my first experiment. Remember: practice makes perfect.


Before I go on to explain how to do the casting, I'll outline some basic safety guidelines. The reason I'll do this is that people tend to skip the 'safety' section and just go on with the instruction. Casting tin soldiers is extremely dangerous, and should not be taken lightly. Molten lead(or pewter, or tin) is really hot, and it can literally burn your fingers off if you spill it. It will also destroy anything that isn't steel if it comes into contact with it, so be extremely careful. I will recommend wearing heavy gloves and goggles, but I won't preach about using them, because I don't. I really should and I have some small scars to show for it. Another thing which isn't quite as obvious, is that lead is toxic (lead poisoning). Although the chance of actually getting lead poisoning is very small, I wouldn't for example put lead in my mouth. It is also a good idea to wash your hands after a casting session, at least before eating. It probably isn't a big deal, but it's such a simple precaution that the risk really isn't worth it. You might want to open the windows too, and try not to breath in the fumes from the molten metal.


Now to get down to the actual instructions. These instructions are basic guidelines for casting small tin figures using moulds made of steel. The procedure may be slightly different for different types of molds. Read through all instructions before doing anything. I stress safety because casting tin soldiers is extremely dangerous, and is not something you just mess around with. The first time I tried casting with a home made mold, I set the mold at an angle in the clamp. I didn't think anything of it. When I poured the lead in, the cold plaster full of air pockets reacted with the hot lead, and a gob of liquid metal shot across the room, straight towards me. I was just able to jump aside, and the lead splattered on the floor, and solidified. I wasn't wearing any form of protection, and only a t-shirt, so if the molten metal had hit me I probably wouldn't be writing this website today. If I had tilted the mold upwards, or away from me, nothing would have happened. Also, if I had pre-heated the mold, as I later started doing, there wouldn't have been such a large temperature difference, and there wouldn't have been a pressure build-up. If I had taken the time to poperly research and learn from other people's hard earned experience, I would have already known about those factors, and I wouldn't have been at risk. Therefore I urge you to properly research, read all instructions, and of course, use common sense! If you don't know what I mean by that, I suggest you log off my site immediately and return to your mundane everyday life. I don't want any fingerless kids on my conscience.

1.Lay out the two halves of the mold. You might want to look at it a little bit, to make sure you'll know where to pour, as some molds have multiple cavities.

2.Spread a thin layer of talkum powder or soot on all cavities, and on the pouring holes. This is to make sure that the lead/pewter/tin fills up the whole mold, and doesn't leave air bubbles. Very often when you open it up the lead will just have filled in the figure's head or upper body, so it can be pretty frustrating. Using talkum or soot will not eliminate the chance of a poor result, but it will greatly increase the chance of a miniature turning out well. It is also a good idea to heat the mold before using it. This minimizes the temperature difference between lead and steel, allowing the lead to stay molten longer, and filling the mold better.

3.Close the mold, making sure to place any loose bits in their respective slots. These loose bits are very important, as they allow cavities to be cast into the miniature, paralell to the mold, without it sticking. A good example is cannons, which often have hollow barrels. Some figures also have interchangeable heads, so the figure has a hole into the shoulders, and there is a pin sticking out of the bottom of the head.

4.Stick the mold in a clamp of some sort, because you definitely can't hold it with your hands. It'll get really hot. You should put the mold on a thick layer of newspaper, so that if some lead flows over the mold, it doesn't burn the table. It also means you have somewhere to put hot bits of metal to cool.

5.Place a lump of lead in the smelting pot. It is essential to make sure that there is enough lead in the pot, because otherwise the figure won't be complete when you cast it.

6.Place the pot on a small burner, preferably gas, and turn it to full heat. Wait until the lead starts to turn slightly purple before taking it off the burner. This ensures that the lead is as hot and liquid as possible, so it doesn't solidify as fast. The longer it takes to solidify, the better the mold will fill, because the metal will have more time to reach all the cavities.

7.Being careful not to spill, lift the smelting pot off the burner and pour the liquid lead into the right hole in the mold. It is also a good idea to gently shake the mold as you pour, as this helps to settle the lead into the cavity.

8.Carefully open the mold. I would recommend waiting till it cools first, but to be quite honest, I am far to impatient, and usually open the mold the moment the lead solidifies. This is probably not a very safe practice though. Note:Never shock-cool molds or figures in water. I'm not sure why, but I suppose it might cause the mold to violently explode, sending lethal shrapnel flying around your kitchen. Unless you are wearing flak armour and want to test it out, it is probably a good idea to simply excercise the virtue of patience, and let hot components cool on their own!

9.Once the components are cooled, cut them from their sprues with som wire cutters. In som cases you may have to file the underside of the figure's base to help it stand better. There is also sometimes 'flash' around the miniature. This is a thin line of raised metal which is caused by the tiny gap between the mold halves getting filled. This can be filed down, or even just picked away with your nails or a pair of pliers. Figures that don't turn out right can always be melted down and cast anew. That is part of the beauty of metal casting. If you are satisfied with your figure(s), they are now ready to paint.