Tutorial- The Great Naval Rebasing Project

About eight years ago I started collecting 1/3000 naval ships and painted them to what I thought was a satisfactory level. However, my hobby skills have improved over the years and I had several issues with the ships I completed. I also had a large number of ships that were never painted that I wanted to finish, so I decided it would be easier to redo the entire collection.

The first issue I had with my finished ships was their bases. I chose a clear base for my ships because I didn’t want to deal with painting or sculpting water. At first the clear bases looked really good and I was happy with the results. Once the ships saw their first few games fingerprints started appearing on my nice clean bases, so a water effect for the new bases was a must. Next quite a few of my ships never got a base coat of paint. They only got a rather spotty coat of grey primer. Normally this wouldn’t be the end of the world but the miniatures are made from not quite lead free pewter. So to avoid giving anyone who handles my miniatures lead poisoning a proper base coat was important.

This also solved the third issue I had with my collection. The complete lack of uniformity between paint schemes was annoying and giving all the ships a base coat of grey would solve that issue. It would also let me add deck lines to my carrier collection which I had either ignored or done badly years ago. Finally I didn’t go back and clean up each layer of detail after it was applied, especially with deck colors. The paint either crept up the superstructure of the ship or ran down the sides. In either case, it obviously didn’t belong and looked wrong on the table.

So, with the goal of solving these three issues not just with the ships I had already completed, but also with the ships new in the box, I set out to finish the entire collection. The step in this process was to run all my finished ships through the airbrush to give them a new basecoat. Even the ships that had been satisfactorily painted went through this step to ensure a high level of uniformity in the collection. Next I began pulling new ships out of bags and gluing them onto popsicle sticks for painting. I also numbered each stick and kept a log of what ship went on what stick. Without this it would have been a pain to identify each ship as it moved through the painting stages.

Over a few months all the sticks took two trips through my airbrush. First they got a primer coat of Badger’s amazing Stynylrez Grey Primer. Badger has a line of primer under the Stynelrez brand and their grey is the best I’ve found. The white and black primer works well enough, but I prefer Vallejo’s. For the basecoat I picked a shade from my collection, Badger’s Minitaire Base Grey. Annoyingly, Badger had some inconsistency in their early batches so I ended up with two very different shades of grey, but it didn’t cause too much chaos. Vallejo’s light grey sat somewhere in the middle and worked fine as a touchup paint.

Once the basecoat was down the next step was to paint the deck. I use several colors to paint the main decks of ships. For anything with a wood deck, Howard Hue’s Wood paint works perfectly. There are many different wood colors out there, but I started using this years ago and never bothered to switch. It is a very thick, full paint that needs to be watered down. The main downside is that it’s packed in a round tub and needs to be poured into a dropper bottle first. Modern Soviet and Russian ships have a red non-skid material on their main decks and I used Vallejo’s Dark Red to achieve this look. It is harder to clean up with grey so I have be very careful painting it onto the miniature. Russian ships also have a distinctive look for their flight decks so I used Vallejo’s Russian Green for helicopter pads. All other nations just use a darker grey for their non-skid material and Vallejo’s Dark Sea Grey looks good enough.

After the main coats are applied I clean up any mistakes on the hull or superstructure with a light grey paint, either the original primer or Vallejo’s Light Grey. Next it’s time to pick out a few details on the model. The three I choose are boats, stacks, and flight deck lines. Adding just that little bit extra to a model makes a huge difference. For any boats the ship may carry I use Vallejo’s Offwhite. The top of the stacks are painted Vallejo’s German Uniform, and the flight deck lines are usually painted Vallejo’s White, although I also used Vallejo’s Flat Red and Citadel’s Flash Gitz Yellow on occasion.

With all that hard work done painting the ships it’s time to make the base. I adopted this technique from a blog I found called Doctor Phoenix. I changed a few steps around due to the massive number of bases I’d have to complete, but the basic concept is the same. For the actual base, I custom ordered a massive number of transparent acrylic rectangles from Litko. I used the same material undecorated for my original bases and I love the material, so I stuck with it. I do wish I had changed the sizes around a bit, but they still work fine. Next I mark off ½ inch of the base for the label.

I use Excel to make my labels and once the ships are off the painting sticks they are the only way to keep ships straight. Because of space restraints I can only put three pieces of information on the label; ship name, national flag, and type of ship. So an American heavy cruiser would have the US flag, the name USS Indianapolis, and CA for the type. My smallest labels are three quarters of an inch by half an inch. The medium labels are one inch by a half inch, and the very large bases are 1.5 inches by a half inch.

To make the water I use acrylic gesso, the thicker the better. A big blob goes into a cup and then I add Vallejo’s Gunmetal Blue. In the original technique, the gesso went down onto the base straight and then the paint was applied after it dried, but I found that extra step too time-consuming and messy. So after mixing in enough blue to make a nice dark water effect, I cover the base up to the marked off portion and repeat a few dozen times. Then I use a toothpick to create a ripple effect for the waves. Finally the ship is dropped into the gesso and set aside. It takes a long time to dry so I make these using an assembly line.

Once the gesso is rock hard I’ll drybrush the base white to create a wave effect. Citadel’s Praexi White creates a beautiful effect with little work required. Then I create a wake by painting Vallejo’s White on either side of the bow and directly behind the ship. The final step is to glue down the label to the base and the ship is done. At some point I’ll go back and add a more detailed label to the underside of the base but that’s another project for the future.

-Michael Cummings
CSW Memeber

4 responses to “Tutorial- The Great Naval Rebasing Project

  1. Nice Work Mike!
    How many ships have you rebased now?

  2. I actually don’t know right now. I think I did around 1500 ships during that big push and I just managed to acquire at least another 500 to 1000. So it never really seems to end. After I get through this new batch I’ll do a proper count…

  3. Avatar

    timlillig says:

    They look really good and much improved, Mike. it’s been great to see you getting better at painting since you started.

    What games are you interested in using these for?

  4. Thanks Tim. I can mostly credit online tutorials for my improved painting skills. There are so many good ones out there now. As for rules, Naval Thunder is preferred for everything from around 1900 to 1945. We’ve played it once many years ago and it’s a fairly simple system that feels right on the table. I also have Victory at Sea by Mongoose that works okay.

    For modern games, I have tried Surface Battle Group and Naval Command. Neither one is too complicated which is often a problem with modern naval games. Authors of modern games tend to go crazy with systems and one game I played got so in-depth that I had to start my turn by adjusting voltage and steam pressure to all the major systems. That isn’t a game in my opinion, it’s a naval simulator.

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