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Guide to Basing Materials

Although DBA is very precise in specifying the exact size of your element bases, the type of material you should use for basing is left wide open. Consequently, gamers use a wide variety of basing materials, depending on their budget, their concerns about durability and transportability, and their previous experiences.

Some common (and not so common) basing materials include:

  • Balsa/Bass Wood
  • Card or Cardboard
  • Formica
  • Leather
  • Matte/Illustration Board
  • Plywood (Marine Plywood)
  • Pre-cut Metal
  • Plastic/Styrene Sheet
  • Sheet magnet
  • Scrap Wood

In selecting your basing material, there are a number of things to take into consideration. First of all is the thickness of the material, since you are unlikely to want your miniatures to tower over those of others because of their bases. Whatever material you choose, base thickness should be no more than 3-4mm thick, unless you are providing all the armies or are going after the psychological heighth advantage.

Durability is an issue for many gamers. Rebasing can be a chore, and so they prefer a strong, durable base that will hold up to frequent gaming. Softer materials such as matt board or even balsa wood are fairly durable, but can get smushed corners or splinter when subjected to extensive wear and tear. Pre-cut metal and hard wood bases are stronger and will sustain more abuse.

Another consideration is the ease of adhering miniatures and flocking to the basing material, which will vary according to the glue used. White glue (PVA) will work very well with wood and matte board, allowing you to remove your miniatures fairly easily if you ever wish to rebase. Superglue, Zap-a-Gap, or any brand-name glue whose active ingredient is cyanoacrylate, creates a strong bond between miniatures and metal, plastic and other surfaces. The bond is almost permanent on plastic, but can be very fragile with metal bases if subjected to twisting forces. Contact cements and epoxies create strong flexible bonds, particularly with plastic.

A third factor is ease of handling. Loose bases will slide around in a container when transported, causing breakage and paint chippage. Precut metal bases placed in containers lined with sheet magnet can be easily transported with little concern that the miniatures and their bases will shift about. You can get the same benefit from mounting your miniatures directly on sheet magnet and transporting the bases in a metal container (e.g. a tool chest). Alternatively, you can affix thin magnetic sheet or "Papersteel" to the bottom of your basing material and get the same benefit.

Heavier basing materials such as precut metal can damage commercial foam and/or scratch-built terrain pieces if dropped on them (not to mention fingers and toes), so some gamers opt for lighter (balsa/bass) wood or matt board bases.

Cost is often a consideration with many gamers. Precut metal bases, fancy beveled wood or formica bases, and other commercial basing materials can be comparatively expensive. Balsa wood, plastic, matt board, or scrap wood can often be purchased cheaply or salvaged at little or no cost.

It is possible to use various basing materials in layers to enjoy the benefits of each material. Pre-cut metal bases can be topped by wood, matt board or thin leather to provide the desired gluing surface while enable use of magnetic sheet in transportation.

There is no right or wrong choice in basing material. Whatever material you choose to use, it should reflect whatever factors are most important to you (e.g. cost, durability, ease of rebasing, glue preferences, etc.). Here is what some other gamers have to say on the subject:

Gamer Feedback

L. Anderson on Basing With Polystyrene: I started out with polystrene basing since I had some from modelling. I use an old lever arm paper cutter to quickly clip off the pieces I need. I recently decided to do the magnetic base thing for travel, so I buy the magnetic sheeting with adhesive backing--this is pretty thin and easily cut with an Exacto Knife. I put the stand on magnetic sheet, cut out, and then trim every edge with the Exacto at a bevel towards the underside of the base- this helps seal the edges of the magnetic sheet to the polystryene base a bit better. Then I paint the base and flock.

Mike Grudowski on Matte Board: I use matting for pictures. It is just thick cardboard that is easily cut and is still rugged. You can get a huge sheet at any framing or hobby store in this part of the country (Oklahoma) for about $3.00 for a 4 by 5 feet piece.

Brian O'Leary on Sheet Styrene: I see alot of guys using balsa, bass, and pine for basing figures and think I've found a better alternative. I started out using 1/8 inch balsa, but quickly switched to 1/16 inch bass wood. The bass wood was less intrusive due to the thinner material, but I semi-frequently had stands get broken. I tried magnetic matial, but found that the paint I used at the time took forever to dry on it. I then tried metal, but found that it was unforgiving when dropped on my foam terrain. Finally, I started using sheet styrene from Evergreen plastic. It is easier to work with and more durable than wood, more foregiving than metal, and cheaper than either. For larger scales I use .04 inch sheet. Scribe the appropriate size bases, bend and snap. You don't have to actually cut all the way through the material, and there is no wood grain to interfer. The sheet comes in a 17' x 12' size for about $6 dollars and readily accepts any of the flocking materials and paint that I've tried. The sheet styrene comes in a variety of sizes and thicknesses, and can be used to base buildings, stands of trees, etc. My experience is that most hobbyshops carry a little and it can be ordered through Walthers model railroad catolog. Hope this is useful to some.

Colier2 on Formica: I have some pre-cut formica bases from Musket Miniatures in Colorado that I have used. They are finished off very nicely and are colored green on one side. The only problem is that they are thicker than pre-cut metal bases, and could make 15mm figures look a little bit taller than those on metal bases.

David Kuijt's Basing Technique: My first couple of armies I used pre-cut metal. I needed metal to stick to the magnets on the bottom of my shelves. I got tired of that method because it was nearly impossible to move the elements without picking them up by the figures (very bad for the paintjob).

Now what I do is glue a layer of 5oz leather down onto the precut metal bases. Easy to do if you have the leather around (I do). Total width is about 4mm, which is thin enough to not look stupid, but thick enough to move and pick up by the base, not the figures. Another benefit: it isn't possible for one base to slide under another when you are positioning the army, which makes it easier to keep an army line in line.

When I get some money I'm going to buy a couple of bags of the bevelled 4mm bases from Renaissance Ink, and save myself a bit of time and effort.

Stan Olson on Matt Board: I use picture framing matt board for DBA basing. It comes pre-coloured (for almost finished armies hurriedly prepared for a demo-tourney). It takes good quality white glue well (and crazy glue). Metal bases can damage other figures, matt board will not. Plastic can shatter, matt board will not. Balsa is more expensive. Archival quality matt board wins all round and overall.

Here is a description of how to make many DBA bases, of accurate size and durablity:

  1. Go to a suitable Picture Framing shop. Select an archival quality matt board. These can even be green-brown-sand with an interior core of card that is black or another colour, i.e., not just white. I use dark green mattboard with a black core.

  2. Carefully mark a (new) square matt board along 2 opposing edges, in identical DBA base depth measurements, e.g., 15mm, 20mm, 30mm, 40mm (15mm scale). This is the time consuming part, but do it yourself; remember the picture frame shop employees don't know what you want.

  3. Get the shop staff to use the Matt board cutter that runs along little rails (not a Guillotine-chopper) to cut your marked board into strips.

  4. Pay for the matt board and the assistance of the staff in using their expensive matt board cutter. Exit the store . Return to your place of residence.

  5. Determine how many elements of each Base Depth, you need for your DBA army(ies). Take each strip in turn and use a ruler and pencil to mark out the 40mm base width. Then use a small adjustable carpenter's angle to finish marking the 40mm base width. Take a pair of good Aviation Snips and cut the bases at the marks, taking care to observe from the Side of the snip blades so they cut the marked line, straight & true.

  6. Attach your painted figures with a good quality white glue and enjoy your vast supply of DBA bases;.

Actobul: I have tried mat board, plastic, balsa, and metal. I prefer metal for one reason: transportation. I can place my armies in any sturdy box lined with magnetic sheet and rest assured that they will arrive intact. I have never damaged any figures with the metal bases, although I will admit that the corners of the bases may need touched up from time to time. Mat board would be my second pick. Plastic is dead last in my book. If you have ever had to rebase figures super glued to plastic, you will understand why!

Larry Nellinger, Jr.: I do the opposite of Actobul, I put the magnetic strip on the bottom of a balsa wood base and use a small metal ammo box. Adds a little more height if you believe in that psycho stuff. The real advantage to tall bases is that they are easier to handle, you handle the base not the figures.

Joe Mann: I use commercial paint stirrers (2 cents each at my local hardware store or one free with each gallon of paint you buy, I usually go the two cents route) since I get four Really Big Bases (RBB) from each stick as they are one inch wide already. Lined off with a builder's square and cut with a coping saw, finally finished with a rasp. For deeper bases I use wood from fruit crates.

Advantages: CHEAP, even cheaper than professional matte board, easy to work with, very sturdy (definately wont be degraded when the river of pepsi laps at your soldiers' feet), thick and tall, and, at least with the fruit boxes, they give me an environmental sense of re-using something worthless that would otherwise go off to the nether world of garbage.

Disadvantages: Inevitable warp, ranging from slight to intolerable, seeming unending appetite for paint (raw wood really sucks up the greens and browns i apply before flocking).

(David Kuijt adds: "To solve the warp problem, and the unending paint sucking, simply prime the sticks before using them. Dip them in brown paint, pull them out, let them dry. Once dry they won't warp again, and once primed they will take paint easily and consistently.")

Jay ViaCava: I use metal bases for ease of moving and transportation. I use small pieces of magnetic sheet for movement trays. If I have 3 elements of cav on a flank or a 6 element pike block I put them onthe right size peice of magnetic sheet. The sheet moves easily over the table unlike metal and speeds up movement by keeping your lines dressed properly. All my transport boxes are lined with magnetic sheeting. If you get the right strength of sheeting you can turn the box upside down and no stand will fall off. Sheeting can be bought at sign stores and is not too expensive.

I also use wood to change the thickness of my metal bases. This allows me to use different size figures and get a standerd base height for my armies. A mixture of a little electrostatic grass from GW, sand, ballest and flock seem to give the effect of all the stands being the same thickness I have tried every other method posted on this list. This way solves the most problems for me.

Eric Lindberg: I've found thin magnetic material at hobby or hardware stores. It's like the stuff that flat refrigerator magnets are made of. A poster (I can't remember who) on the DBM mailing list says that you can also get this stuff very cheaply from professional sign-painters.

It cuts easily. The figures are easy to store in metal carrying cases. I also find it useful for my Italian Condotta figures, particularly the general's stand.

I base two generic command figures on a 2/3 size base, and then have a collection of flags for different city states on a 1/3 size stand. Using a 40mm X 30mm metal stand to connect a flag to the two command figures, my Italians can literally fight under a different flag in each battle. Seems appropriate for a mercenary army.

David O'Brien: I use mounting board for all my basing needs. This can be bought in most art supply shops in varying thicknesses but for 15mm figures 1-2mm card should be thick enough. The main advantages of the board are that it is easy to cut, if it warps it can easily be bent back into shape and if the figures need rebased for any reason the top strip of the card can easily be peeled off. A number of friends have tried magnetic basing which they thought was great for transporting figures but difficult to get out of the box. They ended up damaging the figures more trying to get out and on one ocaission they even pulled a figure of at the ankles

Tom Ryan: I use illustration board, available at art supply stores. I assume it is the same as mounting board or matt board. I haven't had any problems with durability and it is easy to rebase. I do handle elements by the figures but have had no problems with damaging the finish. If I do start seeing metal, I will put a little more paint on it. I just noticed that the corners of some elephant bases are warping up just a bit - not enough to be a concern, but I will have to keep an eye on it. Maybe I will use a slightly thicker board next time.

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Last Updated: Feb. 3, 2000

Comments, suggested additions, and/or critiques welcome. Direct them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.