In 1990 I bought my first Games Workshop miniatures. I tried to paint and glue them and made bad choices, as most do when they start out. The wrong glue, cheap paint, lack of colours, a bad brush: all can ruin what you’re trying to do. Many of those miniatures are in a bag of shame, waiting for me to one day go back and help them.
Slowly, I learned better techniques. I bought better paint, took care of my brushes, and established a relationship with superglue. I made models for roleplaying games, Warhammer, and Warhammer 40,000, and kept working on them. I like seeing my models on shelves; they remind me of the times I’ve shared with them in games and the effort I put into painting them.
Many people give up with miniatures. The gorgeous box art of vehicles and soldiers in their comic book action poses are a definite draw, but replicating anything like those images with paint, glue, and patience is incredibly difficult. It is arguably in the moment when a teenager is surrounded by a box of expensive plastic parts that they learn whether they like wargaming or not.
This is why you see a lot of abandoned wargaming projects appear on eBay after Christmas. These are often presents that an enthusiastic would-be gamer tried to put together before losing their way. Perhaps they used spray can paint and damaged the plastic, perhaps there was too much glue involved, or perhaps something broke. Usually the results have a defect or flaw that has drained enthusiasm for the project — and the bits and pieces find themselves for sale online.
If you are an omnivorous wargamer or just a hobbyist who likes painting and building this kind of stuff, these sort of discarded projects are a great place to start expanding your collection. It is also substantially cheaper than going to the shops! However, you do need to know what you’re looking for — and what you can cope with.
I get a bit of a buzz out of fixing things and making stuff from discarded pieces. I rarely get a chance to play Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000, so the modelling and painting is my main focus. I’m not the best at either, but I enjoy what I do.
I began exploring eBay back in 2006 when I revisited my miniatures collection. Gradually I’ve progressed from quick paint-and-glue fixes to stripping models and converting them. I’m now dabbling in scratch building. I try to keep track of what I’m buying and compare that to published retail prices, so I can get an idea of how much I’m saving.
Here’s an example of an eBay haul; a box of bits bought in 2016 for £114. So far, out of that box I’ve managed to make:
2x Vindicator (price each: £25.99)
1x Land Raider Crusader and 1x Land Raider (price each: £50.00)
3x Landspeeder (price each: £16.00)
2x Salamander Command Tank (Forgeworld exclusive, now unavailable)
1x Hellhound (£31)
1x Predator (£30)
2x Dreadnought (price each: £26)
2x Basilisk (price each: £33)
3x Leman Russ (price each: £26)
1x Destroyer (Forgeworld exclusive, now unavailable)
2x Rhino (price each: £20)
2x Chimera Transport (price each £20)
1x Atlas Recovery Tank (Forgeworld exclusive, now unavailable)
2x Armoured Sentinel (price each: £16)
1x Scout Sentinel (price: £16)
I’ve included estimated (discounted) retail prices against all the items here. These aren’t the prices you’d pay in a shop, but can quickly be found online. There’s been a lot of fixing, cutting, and gluing (and, three years later, I’m still not finished) but that’s about £600 worth of models! Not only that, but the bits box is still pretty hefty, so I think there will be several more models I’ll be able to make from it.
Back when I started pretty much everything miniature-related on eBay was a second-hand sale. That meant you were bidding on models that had been left in cardboard boxes in people’s lofts or under the bed, and there was always a chance you’d find something special. These days, eBay is more like a shop, with a lot of online sellers, and prices for common items have evened out.
When I began, I was still collecting lead and white metal miniatures. These days almost everything is plastic — or occasionally resin, for a particularly specialist piece. My rule of thumb was always to pay no more than £1 for a miniature figure. I still try to stick to that for the most part, but I buy a lot more plastic these days.
The time of the week you browse, and the time of day an auction ends, really affects the sale price. Miniatures put up for auction that’s due to finish at the weekend usually go for a fair amount more than those whose auctions finish during the week.
Saving stuff on your watch list is a good practice — but bear in mind that, these days, the watch list information is collated and used to promote popular auctions. The more people ‘save’, the more likely an auction is going to appear on different pages.
Making use of the ‘Ending Soon’ function is a good idea if you’re browsing and not too fussy about what you pick up. Things often go unsold, so keeping an eye out for what’s expiring is a way to find something that may have been mislabelled or misspelled.
Keep a note of your keyword searches. Fairly generic terms like ‘Warhammer’ or ‘40k’ will get you long lists of results. More specialised searches related to specific armies are good, and so are phrases like ‘job lot’ or ‘bitz’, as these will show you more general lots. What you’re really looking for are the items that are being sold by people who are not wargamers or modellers, as these people are more interested in getting rid and are less concerned with how much the items might be worth to a collector.
Going through the pictures and looking for things you recognise is a great way to identify things you are looking for and need for a particular project, but be careful — your ambitions can explode on you! I was looking for some Sentinels recently to complete my squads (as they can be fielded in threes), so I browsed some listings and ended up with a bunch of extra tanks that clearly needed some rebuilding.
The last two minutes of an eBay auction are when most people send in their bids, so you need to be prepared. Either set a high bid limit or be ready to watch and counter someone else’s bid. A lot of users use automated software these days that can send in bids in the last few seconds, so don’t count on winning something until you’ve actually won it. And if you don’t win, don’t worry — something else will come along.
It’s great fun receiving parcels through the post. Whenever I get a box, it’s a little like Christmas again — opening up a packed parcel of plastic miniatures is exciting, particularly when you start looking at what you have received and seeing what other bits you have in your collection to match them up with.
Detailed below are a few tips on how to fix up what you’ve bought and make something cool to add to your collection.
The things you have bought have come from someone else’s home, so you may need to take some care with how you handle them at first. When I first started collecting miniatures I was working with lead figures. Lead is poisonous, so washing hands and taking other precautions was a sensible idea. With plastics there is much less risk, but you may want to either a) regularly wash your hands, at least to begin with or b) wash the stuff you’ve bought. The latter can be difficult, particularly if you have small parts in the box.
The army list and rules
If you’re looking to make something for an army, it’s important to check what weapon options the soldier or the vehicle in question has. Most information can be found online or in the latest publications. Luckily, newer editions of the rules tend to expand options rather than render older ones obsolete, but it does happen. Warhammer 40,000 is in its eighth edition at the time of writing, so it’s worth checking.
You’ll also need to determine what you are making your army for. If it’s for games with friends, you’ll probably have fewer restrictions on what you can do. There are plenty of parts in all sorts of model kits that can be useful. However, if you’re going to try to play in Games Workshop tournaments you may well have to stick to using only Games Workshop-produced parts.
Paint and glue stripping
Most models you receive will have been painted with water-based acrylics. Back in the 90s lots of people used enamels, which are horrible to remove. You can get some fairly good environmentally-friendly paint stripper these days, which is much easier to use than the methylated spirits of old. An old toothbrush and some hot water helps. You do need to be patient with it and prepared to put in some work!
Repairing and modifying: plasticard and Green Stuff
Both plasticard and Green Stuff are really useful if you’re looking to fix vehicles and larger models. Green Stuff (also known as Kneadatite) can also be useful when working on smaller figures, particularly if you are looking to adjust the position or remake a broken foot or similar. The plasticine-type stuff comes in yellow and blue strips which you mix together and shape to suit your needs. I usually use a blunt knife for this. If the knife blade is wet the Green Stuff doesn’t stick to it, so keeping a glass of water to hand is useful. You can also get liquid Green Stuff, which you just paint on — but your brush is not going to be usable for anything else afterwards, so I don’t recommend it.
Plasticard requires a bit more work and is usually useful for something structural on a vehicle. Measuring and cutting your pieces to size is important — particularly if you’re making panels for both sides, as you’ll need them to be the same dimensions. Making a template with cardboard really helps with this. Sometimes, the cardboard template is easier and better to use than the plasticard!
Finishing your work
Making and painting models is something of a never-ending task, when you get into it. You may find yourself bidding on a lot to get a certain part to complete a project you’ve already started, and end up with a set of new projects to work on. Painting and sculpting something to a standard you’re happy with should be the objective, and knowing when to put your work down to start something else is important.
If you’re inspired to bid on some unwanted models and save them from bad glue, thick paint and broken bits, do write in and let us know: [email protected] We would love to see what you create.