Making life hard for myself

Right now, when I have a minute spare and enough enthusiasm to sit down and squint through a magnifying visor at tiny metal men, I'm in the process of preparing a bunch of 15mm early medieval spearmen for painting and basing.

These little guys are (I think) from the now-defunct Tabletop Miniatures. I've had them sitting around for so long that I don't remember exactly what they're supposed to be, but when it comes to 11th-12th century Europe, one lot of heavy spearmen look much like another

That's the beauty of medieval European armies when it comes to wargaming; figures for one army will fit seamlessly into just about any other without looking out of place. An English peasant or soldier looked pretty much like a Spanish or French or German peasant or soldier. There are differences in detail of course, and some troops are visibly unique, but you can get away with a lot in scales as small as 15mm.

Anyway, I undercoated these guys many years ago, and dry-brushed their armour, and then put them away and forgot about them until yesterday. I found them languishing in a drawer and decided to finish them off.

The figures were originally cast with hefty great telephone-pole-like long-spears, and the metal being quite soft, they had ended up looking like those long foam noodles you give to kids to beat each other with without risking any actual injury — you can see some that I've cut off in the photo. If there's one thing I hate on a wargames figure, it's a bendy, noodly spear. So, I decided to get rid of the cast spears and replace them with nice new straight one made from wire. Or, in this case, dressmakers pins.

This is where life got difficult. Not very difficult you understand, just a bit tricky. Removing the upper part of the spear is straightforward enough, but the lower portion is cast into the figure's hauberk, and so has to be carved away. Then the hand has to be drilled out to receive the new wire spear. That's not too bad. The fiddly bit is actually making the spear.

I've seen spears made from wire that have just been cut and a blob of silver painted on the end to represent the spearhead, and from any distance at all they look fine, but my obsessive-compulsion forces me to go further. I hammer the pointed end of the pin flat, and then reshape it into a more-or-less spearhead-shaped wedge with a grindstone, then cut off the head of the pin and superglue it in place in the figure's hand.

All this takes, what, about 12 or 15 minutes per figure. Not much really, but it mounts up; this bunch are 20 figures, so that's four to six hours prep work before I even get on to painting the little bastards. So far I've got one guy finished and painted, another seven with nice new spears, and another twelve to go. And then there's the next unit of spearmen. And the next.

Sometimes I try to convince myself that maybe a bendy spear isn't that bad... but I can't. I just cant stand seeing the poor little metal buggers out there on the battlefield armed with nothing but a foam noodle.

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