With a tournament around the corner it’s easy to rush a paint job—we’ve all done it. As you develop your painting technique, countless troops will fall to your hasty brush strokes, but the seventh paint scheme doesn’t have to send that space marine off to dreadnought detail—we can erase those early missteps we took, and start a new adventure in painting. When things look rough, you can always turn to stripping.
My early experience with removing paint was not complicated—back in my day if you wanted citadel miniatures, you were collecting metals—the plastic Space Marines and Space Orks were great for a few games, but as your collection grew, repainting those miniatures might only be necessary for the odd tournament army list. So I take that back: globs of paint collected on those very first plastic miniatures I owned; I just didn’t know how to strip them.
Early on I’d strip my metal miniatures in methyl acetate. As far as being a teenager handing chemicals goes, I’d say methyl acetate is one you shouldn’t—I didn’t expect it to be as rough, as fast. My poor hands…
When you’re working with any industrial solvents you need to protect your tender skin, unless you’re actively seeking the mark of Nurgle. Invest in a pair of plastic gloves, industrial chemical protection will spare your hands the torment of a chemical burn. And hey tough guy—yeah you, younger me—you’re going to lose yourself in scrubbing your toy soldiers, so don’t think you can gauge the in and out of a quick chemical bath— wear gloves and always remember to wear your safety goggles.
Methyl acetate will strip a metal miniature in just minutes, it’s a bit too fast acting, and requires minimal scrubbing with brushes to remove stubborn paint. Methyl acetate even removes primer, and that pesky top layer of skin if you don’t wear gloves.
The problem with methyl acetate is, it eats through grey plastic. I learned this the hard way on an overzealous batch of stripping metals—and a quick case of amateur hubris saw this batch of plastic Space Marines completely wasted. I held onto them in my bitz box for a decade. And now it’s time for a formal apology, in the form of surgery. Call me Fabious Bile.
The melted plastics lent to modeling a set of Plague Marines. The decay only adds to the chaos. I turned to “Green Stuff” two-part epoxy and a set of sculpting tools to add bulging armour and exposed hoses. I ended the grieving process for the Emperor’s finest and embraced the potential of these repurposed traitors.
Nurgle turned out to be a great testing ground for green stuff techniques, as bulged and broken power armour doesn’t require precision. The respirator hosing was created from jeweler’s snake chain set into green stuff, which meant sculpting was a matter of working around the existing hoses to create cracks and decay.
Painting was the most interesting aspect of the ruined miniatures. I started off with a few coats of diluted acrylics, greens and browns thinned to washes over a base coat of beige. Because the paints were diluted with water, the existing textures from old paint and melted plastic caught the washes, creating decay in shadow.
There are similar if not more effective products on the market: if you’re shopping in the U.K., Dettol is your solution—if you can get your hands on a bottle of L.A. Totally Awesome, you’ll save a buck. For this example I’m using concentrated Simple Green, which you’ll find in the automotive or hardware store.
This 60mm base is loaded with a mix of plastic and metal miniatures, all on at least their third paint scheme, so 6-7 layers of paint. It’s time to clean up their act. If you can separate any gluing in advance, preparing a shallow dish allows for more conservation of your solvent.
I keep my miniatures mostly intact, as the solvent will break down the glue, making separation less anxious after a soak. Although the occasional seam will split on a weaker cast joint or where the miniature is hollow—nothing should break beyond repair by a bit of super gluing.
Fill the glass dish (or Tupperware equivalent) with enough concentrated solvent to cover ½ – 2/3rds of the miniatures laying face down in the container.
Now mix in water until the batch of miniatures is fully submersed in this diluted solvent. For this first batch I worked with a 1:1 ratio tap water to Simple Green.
Some miniatures may float up for breath. I drowned mine in another pour of Simple Green and an equal splash of water. Leaving some give for displacement when retrieving models after a soak, same principles as pouring any bath. Cover the dish with a glass top to keep in moisture and to keep out my pet; non-toxic or not, keep solvents out of reach of the kiddos and furballs.
Now comes the most challenging portion of this process; walk away from the soaking soldiers and don’t return for 24 hours. Don’t worry, this solvent, unlike acetone, is grey plastic friendly—your metal and plastic miniatures will withstand a day in the bath. I cannot vouch for the safety of fine cast or resin miniatures—in fact I kept my resin bases clear of the solvent entirely.
Do as I say, not as I do—I only waited 16 hours before I began scrubbing. But I recommend a full 24 hours. The longer the paint soaks in the solvent, the less adhesion it will keep. You can use lighter abrasion to remove larger swatches of paint, if you soak your miniatures for a full day. Because I jumped the gun, I was prepared for a two-part removal process—first with steel wool to be followed by a set of files.
When properly soaked you will be able to remove all but primer with a ball of steel wool. In the past I’ve used steel brushes, but the steel wool has a softer contact, made of loops instead of the gouging point of a metal bristle. It is possible to scar the plastics with too much strength behind a metal tool like a wire brush or a set of files, so scrub gingerly and be patient. Soak scrub, if not satisfied soak again.
When you’ve removed a layer of paint, and below it find another, it’s time to let the solvent do its work. Better to use solvent than harder tools at this point; what had been sealed by paint is now ready to be acted on by the solvent. I returned a few of these to the bath, before turning my set of files on the lot.
When using files on your stripped miniatures, it’s better to guide the application of pressure with the miniature rather than the tool as often as possible. That’s a very particular instruction, but I find it helps to preserve the plastics from gouging. Run the file along seams, and when faced with a difficult patch—return to your solvent. If your miniatures have dried, you want to soak them for an hour before tackling the tricky spots. I’ve used X-Acto knives to strip paint, but I would recommend sculpting tools as a softer edge does the trick without knicking the surface. You can also use a hard bristle toothbrush towards the end cleaning away flakes and residue.
After gluing back into place anything that soaking and scrubbing separated, you’re ready to prime your models. I find this process a fine time to reflect on mistakes I made on the last few paint jobs—finding details lost in the paint will encourage improvement faster than buying a replacement.
I encourage you to strip away any dissatisfactory paint jobs and give them the old college try—that effort alone will leave you feeling better about your skills as a painter. It’s this meditation on mistakes that invigorates the model painter, in a way that no other second attempt can. If you keep it up you won’t have any embarrassments about your toy soldier collection, unless of course there are ladies present.