Monday 20 October 2014

The Helpful Hobby Guide - How to store models ?

We hobbyists all have one thing in common, no matter what game or range we use, no matter if we're painters, collectors or gamers mostly. STORAGE. That's right storage. This hobby has an unavoidable problem : it takes space. The more models you collect, the more you paint, you will have to put them somewhere... every time you finish a model you can hear it, that is the sound of inevitability Mr Anderson...

So what I'm offering today is my take on the subject. It's probably not the best solution ever and there are many ways to solve the problem but this is the one I found and have used for 10 years now.

"I'm super excited, how do I do that ?" I hear you say. Alright, alright, here's my recipe. (Just bear in mind that all measures will be in metric system and currencies in euros, but I promise it won't matter much really since all of you wonderful people are super good with google).

What you'll need first is one (or many) of these aluminium cases you can find in all good DIY stores.
That's the stuff you're looking for
Main advantages ? Here they are :
  • They are relatively cheap : I've always bought mine between 15€ and 20€
  • They're light : (thanks to the aluminium) and believe me, when you plan on filling them with lead, that's not a point to overlook.
  • They are relatively strong : I remember dropping one accidentally in stairs and the case (and its content) was undamaged one storey below. Most of them have also undergone 5 house moves and the brutality of people helping me to move home and no harm has been done to them either.
  • The size is standard : As surprising as it seems, I've never had the problem of looking for the same size since they are all the same. The black ones like the one above have rounded edges unlike the grey ones but apart from that they are just the same.

The second thing you'll need is foam. It will be used to make trays in which models are collected. I received a big bag lately containing 7 trays to make new cases. For this purpose I go to foam sellers (they are ussually selling mattresses and things like that too) and I aim for the lightest foam (usually 14 kg/m3). Heavier foam means it's stiffer so that can be an advantage but so far I've always found the light one is good nough (and it's cheapest).
(A google search will help you find one in your own country, if some french are interested about it, I can give them the link to some very good providers)

Main advantages ? Here they are:
  •  Foam is cheap : the 7 trays below cost me 18€ so that's under 8€ for a case
  • Foam is light : same as before, you're going to fill the voids with lead so better keep the rest as light as possible.
  • you can make it as you want : the real advantage of this is that foam is bought by weight. This means that no matter what shapes you order, it costs the same to get 2 thick trays or 4 very thin ones. (it has to be rectangular cuts though).
  • You can do what you want with it : Foam is really easy to work with, you basically just need a pen, a fresh hobby knife and a good TV program.
Now I have all the basic parts (I assume you already have a modelling knife and some music/TV/film series to listen/watch or failing that a friend or wife/husband to talk to) here is what you should have in front of you:

Case and foam : CHECK
 First part is to unbox/unwrap everything, let's face it we all love to do that because of that little Christmas vibe it has. Now you should be up to that point :

Now if you open your case you'll see that it's full of rubbish for people who want to use these to store tools and things of the sort. We don't need that. Just throw it away. Be sure to keep the keys though, the lock is not that strong to resist a burglar but it can definitely prevent from an unexpected opening so keeping those keys is a wise move (another good point is that most keys for these are the same, on about 10 cases I only need 2 little keys to open them all).

A briefcase full of rubbish
 Now you should be up to that point (which is starting to look super cool) :

A briefcase full of promises
 Now is the time to do some thinking, There are 2 ways to do this :

First way is to cut rectangles. This is very convenient to draw and very convenient to fill (every model can go in an other's space. I highly recommend this solution for armies with lots of similar models (Space marines being one very good example).

The other way  gives you more flexibility but requires a little more time and it involves tracing the shapes of each model on the trays :

If you plan on making a whole case this way it will take you a whole evening while watching TV or chatting with your partner. Otherwise if you just add new slots as you paint the models it's actually real quick.

Now there is one thing to consider : the thickness of the trays.

As I said, all the cases I've bought so far are standard size. They are 135 mm high inside (can't remember the other dimensions right now). That means 3 trays of 45 mm will fit just fine. Good thing is 45mm is sort of a standard size for foam. It's also a very convenient thickness because it is ideal  for models based on 25 mm bases (just count 15 mm of foam below and 5 mm of air above and you're good). 

For models based on 20 mm bases, trays of 30 mm would be enough wich means in a case, you can have a tray of 45 mm and 3 of 30 mm. Considering you can roughly put about 60 marines per tray, just imagine the possibilities for smaller models...

The real excellent thing about this method is that you can combine all shapes if you plan thing a little. Here is an example of my Bretonnian army case. 

It contains :
  • One 90 mm thick tray on the left taking half of the lower part and which is used to store big pieces such as the trebuchet or the hypogryph and pegasus knights.

  • 2 trays of 45mm stored on the right to store the men at arms and all models on a 20 mm base

  • one final 45mm tray to store all the knights (cavalry bases are 25mm wide).
One case contains enough models for a 3000 pts WHFBgame (numbers may vary depending on rules edition but that's a low etsimate)

Same here for my undead case (to be filled) just to show how it works :

This one has :
  • One 90 mm thick tray for big pieces.
  • 3 trays of 30mm stored on the right to store loads of skellies
  • one final 45mm tray to store all the knights and large bases

Just to give you an idea, the chaos army displayed below is contained in less than 2 cases (more like 1,5 case actually) :

That's my WHFB chaos army (so far)

How do we get from a case filled with foam to those wonderful lead containers ? Well that's where a permanent marker and a modelling knife with a fresh blade come in handy.

For this example, I opted for the custom solution instead of the rectangle one because this case is meant for my Rogue Trader adventurers which have very varied sizes and poses. The method applies the same to rectangles though.

First operation, trace the silhouette of the models with a permanent marker in the foam, just like below. Don't try to make too complicated shapes because you won't be able to cut them.

You should have something like this :

Now adapt the size of the blade to leave between 10 mm and 15 mm then lock the blade, it will help you keep a consistent depth of cut. The depth wil depend on the models and trays of course, for 45mm trays meant to take 25mm based models, having 15mm of foam at the bottom seems a good compromise to me, if you don't leave enough it won't be as strong and rigid and will not protect the model as well.

that's about the right depth of cut
Now this is where you really want to have fresh blades, you are going to cut along the lines you've traced. If the blade is sharp, you will cut through the foam just like through snow really, making the whole process easy as pie. If you wan't to be cheap and use an old blade, you will most likeley rip the foam and tear it everywhere and you will have to use force until you cut yourself. Do yourself a favor, put a fresh blade on.
You just have to cut round the traces and then you're good, do not worry about cutting below.

Once all the shapes have been cut, then grab them and gently tear them away. Once you get how it works, it's really easy, there may be one or two mistakes resulting in holes. It's not a big deal, you will learn real fast how do do it and you can use the modelling knife at first to help you.

Here's the glorious result, holes and funny little foam shapes vaguely looking like your favourite models ! (you can use these as ethereal forms of you favoutite characters in game if you want !) 

You then just have to insert your lead goodness in its foam coffin and get on painting that lead Anapurna still waiting for some love...

So is that worth all this effort? Well, as I keep on using this method I'd be tempted to say yes, but why?

Consider you want to use GW's solution :

- It will cost you 50€ to store 108 models. My solution costs 28€ tops to store 180 (many more if you're storing smaller models with smaller bases (I'm comparing with Space marines as a basis but with goblins, skavens or this sort of modelsit would be even more profitable).

- You can  precisely adapt the trays to your needs so you don't need a case for big pieces and one for smaller models. you can basically have one case per army.

If you want that flexibility you can check ready made solutions on sites like  KR Multicase  but the price will be on a whole different level.
In the end it's all a matter of what time/budget/result you want. My solution fits my bill because I'm ready to sacrifice an evening to make a custom case for my latest army and to save money to get more models (and because I like to make thing myself when I can).

In the end though it all comes down to the same problem : STORAGE, you have to put the damn cases somewhere like in your work place...

Or the dressing (sssshh don't tell the wife)...

Only thing is that this way you can pick an army very easily and you know your models are protected form harm, loss and humidity (which causes things like stinky clothes and the dreaded leadrot above all).

So what do you say? Is that your way to do things or do you prefer the cheerful mess of cardboard boxes stored in the garage?


  1. Excellent post! I really must get on the case (See what I did there) and do some custom foam trays.

    1. Huhuhu ^^

      Honestly considering the amount of time/money/energy spent on those models, the least of things is to spent a fraction of it on proper storing I think.

      Thansk a lot David !

  2. something I've planned on for some time, just trying to find cheap storage solutions for foam trays at home, like a couple of large plastic tubs as I have enough cases to carry armies around in.
    great tip for the custom foam though marker pen plus extend craft blade to required length next to outer of foam, last time I tried doing something similar I didn't measure and pretty much cut through all way... It was a looong time ago that... =)

    1. Looks like we've all learnt the hard way !
      What I like about that solution is that you can also use half trays to transport them in cardboard boxes (the flat ones, wonderful how so much things are compatible !
      The permannet marker is also near mandatory, I tried tracing the outlines with a regular pen but all the ink finished on my fingers and I ended applying a blue glazes on many models before realising the damage being done...

    2. " I ended applying a blue glazes on many models before realising the damage being done..."
      ouch... hope that ended well, after the initial obligatory swearing etc.

    3. Well, good thing is as the ink wouldn't stick toeither foam nor fingers, it didn't to the models either but it did frighten me for a couple of seconds !

  3. Great article on a perennial issue. I still like to store my miniatures in units, so I have to go through the rigmarole of magnetising miniatures and making metallic movement trays so the entire unit is then stored in a box with foam surround.

    Is this somehting you have tried?

    1. Not tried but considered, I'm not a gamer enough to appreciate magnetised bases enough I'm afraid but I've seen people transport magnetised units in toolboxes and thought it was utterly cool. Your solution seems like the best of both worlds ;)

  4. A perennial issue indeed.
    Great post JB, I wish I had thought of this before dropping a large amount of dough on a big GW case (with foam trays most of my old minis don't fit in) - I noticed your custom cut tray in another post a while back and meant to ask.

    1. I noticed you noticed so I hurried to post it before you asked !

      More seriously though, I've seen many ways to transport models but I've always stayed fond of this one, tehre's something in building a little nest for my beloved models ^^

  5. Interesting stuff JB. I must admit to being a fan of KR cases - I'm looking at a pile of 5 of them right now. Custom foam is tempting, but it does lock you into those particular models (not necessarily a bad thing!)

    1. It does lock opportunities but I keep trays with rectangular slots to pick what I want. This way I can make a selection of whatever I want in one case.
      In the end though it really is all about what floats your boat so one man's solution won't be another's. I know this kind of storing is not the best suited for resin models for instance as they tend to bend over time.

  6. My friend, I may be about to blow your mind:

    and for multi-level storage:

    The first can hold around 15 - 20 models, more if you squeeze. The second can hold upwards of 50 - 60.

    1. That rocks I agree, but I'll have metal over plastic every time though !

      Joke aside it is a good solutin but the volume taken by the case is quite big compared to the volume stored which is a crucial point for some of us. Letting people believe you're carrying guns though can be fun? Excellent finds Matt !

  7. Vraiment super classe tes caisses de rangements, mousses sur mesures c'est le top. 9a demande du boulot mais il n'y a pas mieux y a pas photo.
    Le seul problème (et je le connais bien) c'est que les figurines sont "cachées" dans des mallettes, elles serait tellement mieux dans une belle vitrine mais bon... c'est pas donnée à tous le monde. Perso j'en ai zéro :( mais ça va changer je le sens bien :)
    A+ Et bien vu pour le tuto.
    Ciao Nico

    1. Ben honnêtement je trouve que c’est une solution pas chère et puis passer une soirée à faire une ou 2 mallettes de temps en temps c'est pas la mort, c'est pas tous les jours que t'as 300 figs à ranger alors bon ça va, l'investissement temps est raisonnable !

      Pour les figurines cachées, c’est un mal et un bien en même temps, déjà faut avoir une vitrine et le soleil ternit la peinture donc bon, quand je vois ce que çà fait aux reliures de mes bouquins je préfère protéger mes figs, deuxio, j'adore ouvrir des valises que j'ai pas ouvertes depuis un moment et retrouver des figs que j’avais oubliées ou qu'il me reste à peindre mais que j'avais déjà archivées, c’est comme feuilleter les vieux catalogues mais en 3D !

      Merci à toi ;)

  8. Oh this is brilliant. So simple. It is obvious but I never considered not cutting all the way through the foam!! Thanks for great description and pictures.

    1. Well gluing a piece under can be a real pain in the butt and leaving foam make the trays stiffer which is better. just tearing the foam off is easy and can make you adapt th eshape to that of the model.

      Glad it is of help !

  9. Excellent ce post ! Effectivement plutôt que de taper tout de suite dans du GW, utiliser davantage d'huile de coude permet d'obtenir mieux et moins cher !!

    Bravo mon Cher Asslessman (et tu n'oublieras pas ton haiku hein ^^) !!


    1. Les grands esprits se rencontrent, j'y pensais justement ce midi après avoir lu ton post, j'ai fait 1 ou 2 essais mais il me fat encore trouver la bonne approche pour le mot "porte"...

      Pour les caisses toutes les autres solutions me paraoissent affreusement chères et dépenser un peu d'énergie au lieu de dépenser de l'argent me parait toujours plus sain et profitable (point de vue entièrement personnel). Merci à toi.

  10. Vraiment sympa ton tuto tu m'as bien fait triper t'es un vrai dingue mais c'est une super bonne idee !!! de faire ça meme pour les petites figs et merci le lien vers mon blog ;-)

    1. Ben franchement ca prend pas tant de temps que çà, faut se prendre une soirée devant la télé ou à discuter et puis il suffit de tracer et découper, avec une lame fraiche ca se fait en un rien de temps !
      Content que ca t'ai plu et le lien vers le blog était tout naturel ;)

  11. Good stuff! Time to get some foam


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