Slice and Dice
Cutting up mercenary jacks has become a bit of an obsession of late. It’s not that the stock models are bad, in fact I like them a great deal; it’s just that they are so much fun to destroy! And if you’re just getting into converting, it’s probably a great place to start. First because the Nomad and the Mule’s mechanical parts are easy to re-create, and second, because as mercenaries no one is going to blink when you make a mistake, they’ll just assume you were going for that rag tag look. So with a little bit of a window for slop we can move on to the chop… almost.
Before we get started there are a few things you’re going to make sure you have on hand.
- Razor Saw
- Drill Bits
- CA Glue (I prefer Zap-A-Gap)
- Needle Files
- Steel Cutter Bits
- Sanding Disks
- Styrene Tubing (Various sizes)
- Brass Rod (Various sizes)
- Sculpting Tools
And that’s just about it!
While I’m sure there’s folk out there talented enough to do a killer conversion with a butter knife and a wad of gum, I’m not one of them. I need good tools. After doing some real quick math on the list above, I come up with about 200 bucks worth of stuff needed to cut up a 20 dollar model. Converting is its own hobby. Just like painting it requires some dedication and persistence to get right, and just like painting the better the tools you start with, the better the outcome of the final product. That’s my stance, and I’m sticking to it.
Scalpel: Making the first cut
So now that you’ve gone shopping and have the latest and greatest in metal gutting gear, what’s next? Where do you start the hack-job? Most conversions are about re-posing, and poses are all about joints. Knees, elbows, wrists, hips, and ankles are all good starting points. Remember in the case of a Warjack, there are fewer anatomy restrictions to worry about. There’s no musculature to have distorted. The forearms, upper arms, legs, thighs, groin and torso are all static structures. So all we really have to do for a killer pose is mess with the joints.
Sometimes you can plan a good pose; sometimes you just have to start cutting and fitting. In the case of my Nomad I know I want something different. At this point in my article I’m just conceptualizing. I’ve yet to take saw to metal. In my mind I see my Nomad in a bullfighter-type stance parrying a blow. I see the buckler down in front of the body helping to glance the blow aside. At least that’s the plan. Trust me when I say nothing ever really goes according to plan. The pose in my mind has the right leg straight but angled back. The foot is angled down and flat on the base. For this leg alone, this means a knee rebuild and an ankle rebuild, and if I’m going to rebuild one, I may have to rebuild both even if the other leg doesn’t require it.
You’re wondering why, aren’t you?
Easy; because of shrinkage, (and no I’m not referring to what happens when you get out of the pool.) I’m talking about metal shrinkage. Most of the models we use are built with the same plastic and brass rods, yet despite this when we try to replace pieces one for one, they wind up looking bigger than the original stock part. The reason for this is because models cast in metal shrink slightly after the casting cools. This means the part that was exactly 1/16th of an inch in its original form may be more like 3/64ths when cast and cooled. In normal everyday items this is no big deal, but in the case of a scale model, this kind of disparity becomes fairly apparent. So I prefer to eliminate the problem completely by replacing any left/right matching/mirrored parts at the same time. Yes it’s more cutting and filing, but the end result is better. But before you get too cut crazy take a look at your parts. Despite all I’ve gone into about shrinkage, you can still get away with the stock parts now and again.
Now in the case of the “matador” pose, I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to rebuild that second leg anyways. I know at the very least I’m going to have to rebuild the left leg because the image in my mind has it at almost a 90 degree angle. Don’t worry about trying to visualize it yet. Lucky for you, I brought pictures.
Now I’m deliberately keeping the upper portion of the pose vague in my head. Some things I have in mind may simply not be possible, so I’m leaving room to fiddle to find what just looks good. Most of conversion is fiddling. So while not on your supply list, bring an extra bag of patience.
Kneel before Zod!
The following images illustrate where to cut and at what angle. I start with the right leg and cut it in 2 places. I cut straight across the ankle, where I’m careful not to nick the receivers of the ankle piston. The next cut is the lower thigh above the knee. I use a razor saw for these and carefully spend some time sanding and filing the parts.
Next I drill holes to reposition the leg. I’m not really getting the pose I wanted out of it. I think the ankle is a choke point so I mess with it further. Here’s the final build.
I’m not overly satisfied with my completed ankle here. I suppose had I rebuilt the full piston, it’d look better, but I’m tired of messing with it. I’m afraid reworking it now will cause more structural harm than aesthetic good. So I leave it. Sometimes knowing when to stop is as important as knowing where to start.
So now I’ve got a straight leg, but it isn’t really in the pose I desired. I had the toes far more pointed in my original concept. Here’s where keeping an open mind works for you. I drill a hole in the base to see how the angle really works and dry fit the leg to the hip joint. Once there I can tell the angle isn’t right for my idea, and the cuts I’ve made are going to require a lot more rebuilding than I think I want to attempt. The leg is fairly drilled out and there’s not much metal to offer structural support if I add yet another hole. So I just examine what I have.
Once in on the base, I start to see some forward motion possible in the pose, and my mind changes gears. Instead of a dodge, I see more of comic book, super-hero-esque kind of charge. Pulling a page out of Prime (page 5 that is) I decide to change up the pose and go for a more balls to the wall attacking pose.
I cut the left leg above the knee and stick with close to my original 90 degree plan. A quick cut, grind and pin later and I’m ready to go. I choose NOT to reconstruct the left ankle after the mess I made with the right. Seeing how far apart the two pieces will be in the final configuration lets me fudge any size issues there might be between the pieces. I’ve got the legs where I want them and now I just need to clean up my cuts with some Greenstuff. A little dab will do ya and I fill in the holes.
A Call to (Dis)arms
The Nomad is really cool for this; almost unique. The arms can be cut just before the elbow and reversed. The forearms are symmetrical from a top/bottom standpoint. You can just cut them at the end of the fore arm, sand, pin and rotate to the desired location before gluing. This can easily make the right arm left and the left arm right. I do this to both arms before tackling the next part.
I love the single stack on the nomad, but it always felt out of scale to me. Like it was one “dot” too long. A little sawing, grinding and gluing correct the problem. I use a sanding drum in my Dremel to get the shape I want. Note how the grind is offset to still give some forward mass to the stack. This just saves me from resculpting later. Anything I don’t have to re-do will look better in the long run.
That’s pretty much it. I could stop here, attach the hands and call it a day. I’d have a really swank conversion, but since I’m still trying to master the “evil green gum”, I decide on one more embellishment. The Llaelese crown and stars on the bucker.
I begin with a wad of greenstuff and flatten it out. With an x-acto knife (#11 blade) I cut the rough shape of the crown I then use a wax tool to shape the crown. I don’t worry too much about keeping it level, I only worry about the shape because I can always sand it flat later. I make 3 small balls and flatten them into discs below the buckler. These will later become the stars. Once the greenstuff dries (over night) I cut the discs in to stars and I file the whole thing flat. I later add a disk to the center of the crown for gems.
Here’s the brute in his finished form. So from 11 pieces to 17. Converting is fun!
Keep yer saws sharp.