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Guide to Flocking Bases

You may have wondered what exactly other gamers are referring to when they mention "flocked bases" or the process of flocking. Quite simply, flocking refers to covering the otherwise flat top of your DBA element bases with material that creates the visual appearance of grass, sand, brush or other terrain.

Many, but certainly not all, gamers flock their bases. Those who do flock usually do so for aesthetic reasons to make the miniatures more lifelike in context and thereby make their armies stand-out visually. Those who don't flock typically are in a hurry to start gaming with their figures and/or they hate the mess or trouble involved in flocking. Some wish to avoid the almost inevitable shedding of flock that occurs as a result of wear and tear over time.

Exactly how do you go about flocking your bases? Here are some notes on flocking materials and basic techniques followed by several alternative approaches.

Flocking Materials

Most gamers cover their painted bases with "flock," which actually consists of fine shavings of appropriately colored sawdust or ground-up foam in various grades of coarseness, and which is designed to simulate grass. This type of flock is also known as scatter or ground foam. Most shops that sell model trains will offer a variety of commercial flocks such as Woodland Scenics Turf, which comes in various grades and colors. In a pinch, you can create your own flock from dried grass or kitchen herbs (e.g., dried basil, iregano or basil).

"Static Grass" is a special type of ground cover that can be used like regular flock (i.e. sprinkled on diluted white glue), but which will stand up straight (giving the appearance of tall grass) if carefully blown or lightly brushed (to cause static attraction). It is very fine, so make sure you have your nose and mouth covered when sprinkling.

As an alternative to a grassy base, you can flock with earth-colored flock which is also available as a colored sawdust from commerial sources. Or you could just use real earth, sand, or any granulated substance (ranging from granulated cork to instant coffee).

A variety of other materials can be used for ground cover, including gravel, coral sand and pebbles, wire grass, etc. Since battles were rarely fought on manecured lawns, the idea here is to represent the brambles and weeds typically found underfoot.

In lieu of flocking, you can also cover the base with a ready mixed joint compound or wall filler (latex-based works best), a modeller's paste, or a thick coat of glue to give it texture that can be painted and dry-brushed to create the appearance of natural growth. Commercial products, such as Flocking Gel or BaseTex, are also available.

Basic Flocking Techniques

Here are suggested steps for flocking your element bases:

  1. Prime your bases (any color will do)
  2. Paint your base color in the desired ground color (normally green, brown, or other appropriate earth tone)
  3. Adhere your miniatures to the base. (It is probably a good idea to put a protective coating on your miniatures before adhering and let it dry before flocking)
  4. Fill a small box (e.g., cigar box) or rimmed plate with flocking material.
  5. Mix white glue (i.e., PVC, Elmers, etc.) with an equal amount of water to thin and apply thickly to the base, trying to keep it off of the miniatures feet/hooves as much as possible.
  6. Put still wet base into box of flocking material and shake the box side to side or drop flock over the wet base until the glued areas are covered.
  7. Lift base up and shake off excess flock (some prefer to leave the figures in the box until the glue dries to ensure best coverage).
  8. Let dry then spray figures and base with protective coating (and/or cover flock with a top layer of diluted white glue).

Notes

When flocking multiple bases, apply glue and then flock one base at a time. If you apply glue to multiple bases first and then flock, the odds are that the glue will have dried enough on the later elements to discourage good adherence of the flocking material.

After you have let the glue dry (step 7), you can use a hair dryer on a low setting to help remove excess flock.

You can get good results without thinning the white glue assuming you work reasonably quickly; otherwise, the water-thinning helps the glue from forming a dry skin that the flock will have trouble adhering to.

You can color white glue with acrylic paint so that any glue that shows through the flocking will be less noticable.

If a layer of flocking looks too thin (i.e. the surface underneath is showing through), don't hestitate to apply another layer of glue and flocking over the top once the first layer has dried. You can apply as many layers as you would like.

For an even simplier method, some miniaturists report reasonably good results just by using a thick coat of normal latex paint in the desired color and sprinkling flock over the wet paint.

It is possible to flock the edges (as well as the top) of a base, but edge flock will be prone to disappear fairly quickly due to wear and tear. The most common practice is not to flock the edges but to make sure they are painted a complimentary color.

You can substitute sand for regular "grass" flocking materials to achieve a very durable surface. After the glue dries, paint the sand in a dark ground color and then dry brush the surface with successively lighter shades to obtain a lifelike effect. By the way, Gary James (of Terragenesis fame) suggests using sand sold at pet stores for use in bird and reptile cages since it has crushed shell and coarser grains, which gives a better texture more suitable for painting than the fine grained sand sold at building supply stores.

Advanced Flocking Techniques

You can spruce up your flocked base by adding odds and ends such as tufts of grass, reeds or small bushes, rocks, debris, and discard/broken weaponry.

Dyed hair purchased commercially as "field grass" by Woodland Scenics or otherwise acquired can be cut to length, painted and glued in place to make bushes and overgrown grass. Similarly, thick string (especially string made of coarse hemp) can unraveled, glued in place, and painted to create convincing tufts of grass. Or you can use the bristles from old brushes (including tooth brushes) to make reeds and patches of tall grass. Boil them first to make them more flexible.

Lichen can be employed as ground cover or to make small bushes. You should be able to find lichen dyed in various shades for sale in hobby/train stores, as well as many craft stores. If you're fortunate, you may even be able to collect it in the wild.

Model train stores sell commercial "ballast" for model train "loads", which are basically very small pebbles of fairly uniform size and color. One source is Woodland Scenics. For bases representing rough rocky (grassless) soil, I have had good luck mixing these rocks in equal parts white glue (PVC) and water to create a glob than I apply to the base with a stiff brush or hobby stick.

Tips from Other Gamers

See Ted Willcock's Tips on Flocking Bases.

Chris Arundel: I have given up on conventional flocking recently, and have moved on to using dry sand. You need to make sure that the base is either landscaped with a bit of miliput or scored to get good purchase and use a thicker glue mixture. I usually stand the glued up figure in the sand box for five minutes or so then brush off the excess. Paint the base matt black then then dry brush with succesively lighter shades of my chosen terrain colour. A bit long draw out if you are trying to get an army on the table quickly, but results are very good especially if added touches like clumps of that nylon grass stuff that stands up, or small rocks et. are added.

Bob Beattie: I have mixed ground and fine chopped cloves into my Moghul Indian flocking (a basic woodland scenics blended green with some coarser green mixed in). It gives the box in which they are stored a wonderful fragrence and looks like dirt too. Paprika in the Hungarian flock adds no sensual delight but does give a nice reddish soil look. Oregano has an excellent dried grass look, I use it for Italians. Basil for the French. Brits with tea, Ottomans got pepper.

Antoine Bourguilleau: I usually use Basetex because I find it easy to use but it's really hard to get in France so here is a technique I used which works very well for a minimum of time spend on it. Paint the base flat earth. Then use a brush to put a few irregular patches of PVC glue and flock with grass flocking. Wait and then shake the base to remove the excess flocking. Paint the rest of the base with a light brown (I use Ral Partha Leather but GW Bestial Brown will do) but leave the border of the grass unpainted (flat earth that is). Et voila, les amis !!

Kevin Boylan: I apply plain white glue (undiluted) liberally enough to cover the entire stand to about 1/16th of an inch thick, and carefully spread it onto the top of the figure bases using a fine brush or a pin. I then simply dump flock onto the stand until the figures are almost buried, and leave it overnight. I've learned that applying the flock more thinly, or applying it and then flicking away the excess, makes the figures look like they're standing on a low mound because the glue does not settle. I have found that this technique yields very dense, realistic-looking flock with a minumum of effort, and helps blend thick figure bases in with the rest of the stand.

Dave Cashin: Plain Clay Kitty Litter is super for adding rocks to your bases, and terrain. A five pound bag of Kittly litter can be bought for less than the price of a tiny bag of Railroad ballast. It can be stained or painted any color, or I use it unpainted. Once you apply your layer of glue to the base sprinkle a little kitty litter onto the base, then sprinkle on your choice of flock. Depending on the terrain you can add as much or as little as you want. It also makes excellent rubble for fallen walls, ruins, etc.

Chuck (a.k.a. Minadmiral): I mount figure(s) to base and paint base and base of figure with thick green paint, dipping in flock while green paint is wet. Since figures are dry, hopefully, I get flock only on base. Will try brown next time.

Dasandersx: [To basic green flock,] I mix in a couple of very fine ballasts, grey and brown. It breaks up the field look. I also occasionally add a small stone, or really small twig (log).

Steven Goode: My only real experience is with basing 2-4 15mm figures per DBx base (40mm by 15-40mm). I take an old paintbrush, dip it into the paint/glue mix, and then carefully cover the individual bases of the figures. Then I dip the figs in flock, shake off the excess, and let them dry. Once all my figures are dry and pre-flocked this way, I superglue them to primed bases (this way, if I want to remove the figures later, I can do so without worrying that the superglue will rip off the legs of my troops - instead, it rips the primer off of the base). I then flock the base in the same way I flocked each figure. The reason I do it this way is it's very hard to flock the ground between a figure's feet when he's in the middle of a bunch of close-formed infantry. It's not much easier to do mounted troops, and even skirmishers can be a problem.

Marshall Gulley: If you want to avoid painting bases I would like to suggest using art board for your bases. The kind I use is dark green with a black backing. This looks good unpainted. When I flock this I use Howard Hues grass green. Using a blade brush. I push the paint up to the figure then dip the base in the flocking. I glue the figures with Elmers white glue since this allows easy remounting.

Jeff Kimmel: Check the spices in a kitchen store (no, I'm not joking). I mix dill weed and thyme in with the railroad flocking, it breaks up the uniform green and looks like other bushes, wood, etc.

Larry Kochan: If you don't want to paint your bases before flocking, use an acrylic floor finish like Future floor wax. It works best on stands made of art board or card. Simply take the stand with figures already mounted and dip it into a container of the wax being careful not to allow the wax to get on the figure. Let the excess drip off then sprinkle your flocking on. When it dries your cardboard stands will be hard as rock and water proof also.

Marks: I basically use the same technique (ocasionally mix a little plain sawdust in with the green grass) but I always paint the bases with a flat green undercoat first--then if the coverage isn't perfect the fact isn't so apparent. Of course, spraying with a final protective coat is important to keep whatever DID stick on the base in place.

John McWalters: I have found that fixing the minis to the base before priming the base works best for me. The bottoms of my minis are usually bare metal and this adheres better to the metal bases that I use when I Crazy Glue them together. The metal to metal join is stronger than a metal to paint join.

I recommend putting the base in the middle of a large piece of paper and pour the flocking onto the base, instead of dunking it in a box of the stuff. Gently pat the flocking into the white glue. This is less stressful on the minis and their paint-job.

Also, you can simulate small depressions/bumps in the ground by pressing harder in some places or gently smoothing an area of the flocking before the glue sets. The glue should flow away from the pressure reating some unevenness in the "ground". This avoids a flat "artificial turf" look.

Larry Nellinger, Jr.: I've had great sucess using the flock on wet paint method, it worked great on my Epic 40k figs.

Martin Rapier: I also mix a fine dark brown ballast with green flock - when the bases are flocked it produces quite a pleasing 'muddy field' look - which is great for boggy European terrain.

SaxonDog: My method seems a bit hard compared to some but I mix a little sawdust into medium green flock. Add some sand and assorted ballasts to taste. Crumble in some lichen left to dry and raid my spice rack. Depending on your scale there are all kinds of things in your kitchen to liven up a base. (Warning: I have some Selucid troops with cat chewed spears, seems they like the smell of my troops.)

Subatai7: I mix three colors of flocking, green, yellow, and a paler green called "burnt grass." I have used ballast in the mix for larger figures (25mm) but prefer the flocking only for 6mm.

Glenn Williams: If you mix in a little of the gray, chunkier ballast, you get randomly distributed rocks on the bases. Itty bitty wood chips give you twigs. Looks great for just about everything 'cept science fiction.

Peter Womack: One easy way of showing off figures (mine are 15mm) to best advantage is to glue the painted figure to the pre-cut cardboard base using a reasonably strong glue but not superglue so as to aid re-basing if necessary at a later date; I use Bostick. Once the figures have set I then paint the edges of the base green or sand coloured as required and so that when the basing is complete that the board does not show through. When the paint is dry I apply a watered down mix of PVA glue and scenic flock of various shades, cork, gravel and whatever else you may want on the base. The mixture at this stage is pale becuse of the water and PVA but when dry will be the colour of the materials used. I then "paint" on the mixture to the base using an old paintbrush between the figure bases. It does not matter that much if the figures feet are covered as when dry the mixture has slipped off partially. Besides, if part of a figures feet are covered this merely looks as though they are hiden in the sand of grass etc. You can adjust the mixture by adding more flock, water or PVA as required to ease the application to the base. Then leave the bases and figures to dry overnight and you will be surprised at the result. The PVA will keep the figures firmly in position but will still be possible to prise from the base using a knife if need be. Furthermore, the flock will be firmly stuck to the base and none will fall off as in some other methods. I then sometimes drybrush the base with the same paint colour as the edge of the bases to give a consistent effect. Finally I spray the figures with matt varnish. This may sound long winded but does not take as much time and effort as most other methods I've come across and is realistic and durable.

Concluding Notes

Don't be dismayed by the prospect of flocking your army. If you find it intimidating, don't bother. If you're willing to give it a try, start with a simple grass flocking job and work your way up to more advanced techniques. If you are lucky, you may find that flocking gives you a creative outlet every bit as enjoyable as painting your figures.


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Last Updated: January 22, 2002

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