Saturday, July 28, 2012

Making my own stuff with Hirst

For a long time I known about Hirst Arts and their molds. By using plaster and other substances once could cast bricks, doors, and other parts to make your own dwarven forge style props for your miniatures. Even complete buildings could be made if you wanted too.

About two years ago Kelly Anne, my wife, got me an inexpensive mold kit, from the science section of a craft store,  that allow me to make plaster rocks. Which was useful as props for outdoor encounters in my game. I found I liked doing it but still didn't rush out and get the Hirst Molds as they were expensive ($35 to $45 per) and wasn't sure how durable everything would be.

But then out of the blue, my friend Dwayne of Gamers Closet, got several. I went over to his house to see him casting and came away very impressed.  The molds are built to last being made out of a heavy silicone rubber.  Definitely worth the premium one paid for them.

So when Kelly Anne was looking for a gift for me this years, I asked for one of the Hirst Arts Molds. I picked #85 Cavern Accessory mold (scroll down to find) as I rarely used the Dwarven Forge props I have (other than the doors) but use the numerous furniture and item props I own a lot.

They take paypal and soon I had my mold in hand. It comes dusted with powder to keep it in good condition when shipping, so per instructions I cleaned it and prepared my first cast. Got some parts out of it but many of the pieces with thin walls broke. Eventually following the excellent tutorials and instructions on the Hirst Art Site. I was able start casting good parts reliably although I still working on getting rid of all the air bubbles.

My brother-in-law is a dental supply technician so I decided to bite the bullet and ordered a box of Die-Keen dental plaster from him. The stuff is like wow, mixes very thin and sets (hardens) very quickly. Plus it is twice as strong as any of the plasters found in the store. Parts still can break but very chip resistant. Air Bubble are still a problem but I am working on that.

I am probably going to pick up #250 Small Brick Mold next so I can build fireplaces and other small stone miniature props.

The above show some of the pieces painted. In this case the sacks of grain/stuff/etc. along with some crates and chests. The pieces up at the top has only been primed but it illustrates that you are not just limited to the obvious choices in the molds. Many of the pieces are in halves or sections so you can combine in interesting ways. Here I glued the stone doors together along with two of the small pillar halves and the lion face to make a shrine to Mitra, the lion goddess of honor and justice.

If the molds have one disadvantage is that the brick molds require a lot of castings to get enough to build even the simplistic projects.  Many of the most avid users of Hirst Molds get multiple molds of the same type to speed up production. While other set aside a short period of time daily to setup a casting . After a few days they have enough for their project.

Last you find that you have extra parts that you don't plan on using which makes for a nice surprise gift to you fellow gamers that also use miniatures.


David The Archmage said...

The trick to getting enough bricks it to do frequent castings. When I'm in brick production mode, I cast one before going to work in the morning, another when I get home, and another before bed, and I usually cast 5 molds at a time, so in a work week I've got 15 casts of each mold, and on Saturday I can start building with those well dried blocks.

Anonymous said...

Dental plaster also sets up faster, which really helps in casting a lot of stuff.

Really, just make casting your primary activity. Always have a mold going. So when you hit the workshop for a session of modeling, set up your molds to the "wait about 30 minutes" stage and do other work.

When making a building, you have to build in layers and let the layers' glue dry. It doesn't take terribly long, but it means you can have a few buildings in process.

Making dungeon tiles usually involves preparing a base material (cereal box card for tiles up to 2" square, or 1/4" plywood for larger tiles I find works well). It does take a minute or two to cut up a cereal box into large smooth panels. Also, dungeon tiles with walls require a few stages of construction like any structure, so you can do a bunch up to stage 1, then later do them all to stage 2, etc.

Painting takes some time too. I like to prime a boatload of finished structures at once. When dry, I drybrush the deep layer on all at the same time. Then later drybrush the next layer all at the same time. The helps with color consistency. And of course, your clear coat seal spray is best done on a bunch at once.

If you add other stuff, like sand basing or foliage, it's an extra step that should be done after construction is finished.

So if you just start out pounding away at casting until you have enough pieces, you'll be waiting a while. Instead, get enough to start construction and just keep the molds going. In between you won't have enough time to do all the other stuff to make a model house or whatever anyway.


As for bubbles, I found that the jet-dry dip before mixing and pouring plaster works wonders. I hardly get any bubbles, and when I do I can often turn that piece to hide it.

Hedgehobbit said...

Here's an old set of videos about making these things:

Anonymous said...

Also get a dehydrator. They're cheap, just hunt around in thrift stores. I have one with 7 racks, each rack can easily hold 4 molds worth of blocks.

You demold when the blocks are dry, but then stick the blocks in the dehydrator to cure overnight etc. It cuts your curing time down to hours instead of days.

My system for rack replacement means I know that the bottom-most rack is always the wettest. Load bricks into the bottom rack, then a new rack gets put under it and the older one moved up, etc. By the time you're out of empty racks the top rack is probably cured.

Curing time is affected by humidity and temperature, so working in a basement is problematic. Then again, you don't want your plaster hardening too fast - I've had it harden before being able to pour it all! Certainly it can harden up before you scrape the mold level. Ideally you'd have a cooler place to get the mold to the "long wait" point, then move it to a room-temperature dry place.

Don't heat the molds or leave them in the sun!

It can also help to have some trays to move the un-set molds and to organize your cured blocks. Prep the mold on your plate on the tray, scrape, and wait until it stiffens before you move the tray.

Gothridge Manor said...

They look great Rob. Looking forward to a f-t-f game where you can use them.