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The Prime of Your Life

Priming Miniatures using a priming stick and rattle can spray primer

It’s summertime. Warm temperatures. Flowers. Sunshine. Cool breezes. Birds singing in the trees.

Yes, it’s the season when a wargamer’s fancy turns to thoughts of priming.

(Insert sound of needle scratching on vinyl record here)

Yes, you heard me, priming. I’ve kind of set up my hobby schedule so that it goes in shifts. Spring and summer are the seasons for building and priming, and also clear-coating, because the weather is excellent, and for finishing up old projects. Fall and winter are the seasons for painting what you’ve built and primed over the spring and summer months. It tends to work out very well.

I don’t necessarily enjoy priming, per se. It’s not that engaging in terms of hobby activities, but it’s generally necessary; nearly every mini you buy requires some kind of primer on it, or else the succeeding layers of paint you slap on it may not stick.

The question is, how is it best to prime your minis quickly while also achieving a good coat of the primer so you don’t have to go back and re-prime large areas?

This is something I’ve been puzzling over for years. One the one side, there’s hand-priming – literally holding a mini in your hand while you slop a priming layer of paint on it with your brush (for me, usually white or black or dark brown). For a single, small mini, that’s fine. But for bigger models, or a large number of minis, it’s not going be feasible to get it done in an acceptable timeframe.

There’s airbrushing, but as I don’t own an airbrush, we’ll just push that off to the side and leave it to the experts.

Then there’s rattle-can priming – that is, priming with a can of spray paint (which rattles when you shake it, you see).

This, for me, is pretty obviously the best choice. The paint goes on evenly, it’s quick to do, and you can spray paint quite a few minis in just a couple minutes.

But, unfortunately, rattle cans have their drawbacks.

First and foremost, you have to have a light hand when applying spray paint to minis. If you aren’t watching what you’re doing, you can literally cover your mini in so much paint that you can’t see the details. That’s a horror story waiting to happen, especially if you’re priming an expensive mini.

Second, rattle cans only cover what you point them at; spraying from one angle will not cover everything you want. To make sure you get spray paint into every crevice of your minis, you need to be able to expose them to the paint from a host of angles.

How do you do that? Well, you could line up your minis on a piece of cardboard and paint them that way. But that has its drawbacks – to get all the angles, you’ll have to pick up the cardboard and move it around, with the chance that you’ll knock the minis over. You can stick the minis down with something to lessen that, but the cardboard still presents an inelegant method.

You could put on a latex glove and hold the minis one by one as you spray them. It’s a good method, allowing you freedom of movement for the mini. However, when you’re trying to spray an army’s worth of miniatures, it’s not productive from a time standpoint.

This is where the miracle of the priming stick comes in.

The priming stick for painting Wargame miniatures

The concept of a priming stick was introduced to me on Twitter, and it has become the solution to my priming problems. I use a stick of about 36 inches that I got from the deck-building area of my local big box home improvement store (it was very cheap to purchase). It has squared-off sides measuring about an inch or so.

What I do is lightly stick down my minis in a row on the stick (leave about an inch and a half of space); some use double-sided tape, I tend to use a drop of super glue. Then, when they’re good and secure, get your favored primer and a latex glove and go to town. With the stick, you can turn the group of minis around and get them from all of the angles at the same time, lessening your priming time greatly.

The priming stick in action

It’s not a fool-proof method (it’s best to leave space at each end of the stick so you can hold it properly when you have to prime the backs of minis) but it’s the best method I’ve found. Give it a try!

About the Author;

Peter Kuebeck is a writer, gamer and award-winning mini-painter living in the Midwest. He wages a constant battle against the ever-growing tide of unpainted minis in his basement, and occasionally GMs role-playing game sessions with friends. Catch his hobby shenanigans on Twitter at @popculturecube

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