Clockwork Temple Base-ics

It’s been a while. As one of my projects lately, I’ve been starting a Convergence army for Warmachine and posting these to the Warmachine/Hordes Painting group on facebook, where I also help run the #pointaday challenge. If you are on facebook and aren’t in this group, definitely check it out.

Anyways, since Convergence are the clockwork art deco robots faction, I’ve been making my own clockwork themed bases, loosely inspired by some sort of clockwork temple. I’ve been getting a couple and comments on them, so I figured I would do a basic tutorial.

What you will need


  • Privateer Press bases
  • 0.020” and 0.040” plasticard
  • Round wound guitar strings
  • Little gears – from watch parts, steampunk jewelry, or model car gears
  • Plastic cement (optional)
  • CA glue


  • Circle Cutter – I use the OLFA CMP-1, which is a compass style circle cutter
  • Hobby Knife
  • Sanding block – I have the Goodman Models super sanding blocks which I love, but you can make your own sanding blocks by gluing sandpaper to a block of wood
  • Scribing Tools – you have plenty of options here, from a simple hobby knife to purpose-made scribers and chisels
  • Cutting mat
  • Side cutters or some tool to that effect
  • Straight edge (a small L-shaped ruler works best)

Sampling of tools. Top to bottom: circle cutter, pin vise rivet punch, Tamiya scriber, hobby knife, MadWorks chisel with 0.2mm tip

Scribing and cutting

Before we get started, I want to talk for a minute about scribing – that is, the process of carving additional detail into plastic models. There are a lot of tools you can use to scribe details into plastic, but I want to talk here about the simple hobby knife and the difference between scribing and cutting.

To illustrate this, consider the simple hobby knife. If you run it across a sheet of plastic, you will get different results depending on if you are using the front or the back of the blade. If you use the front, sharp edge of the blade, two things happen. First, the blade cuts as it presses into the plastic. But the plastic that you are pressing into with the knife has to go somewhere. This means as you make the cut, the plastic that you are cutting into gets pushed to the side and creates a raised area on each side, kind of like how a snowplow piles up snow on the side of the road.

If you use the back of the blade, you can see that it behaves differently – it creates some debris, be it plastic dust or little curly bits. This is because instead of cutting into the plastic, it’s scraping away plastic. This also means that it doesn’t pile up on the sides like with a knife, because the excess plastic is being taken away.

Understanding this difference is going to be important for a few steps in this process – sometimes you want to cut, sometimes you want to scribe, and sometimes you want to do both.

1. Make circles

For each base, what we need are two circles – one in the 0.020” plasticard, and one in the 0.040” plasticard. While you can use different thicknesses for the thick piece if you want, I find at 0.020” works best for the thin piece because it’s about the thickness of the depth of the inside of a PP base rim. The diameter of the circles should be close to the inner diameter of a PP base. It’s probably better to err on the side of slightly too large as you’ll probably want to sand down the edges with a sanding block just to clean them up anyways.

To make these, I use an OLFA CMP-1 circle cutter, which is a simple tool that can be used cut circles with a variety of diameters. It has a needle for the centerpoint and a cutting blade that can be set to any diameter from about 1cm to 15cm. Simply press the needle into the center and spin the tool so that the cutting blade cuts a circle into the plastic.

While this tool wasn’t really designed to cut through plastic this thick, there is a workaround. I find it easiest when cutting these circles to go back and forth between clockwise and counterclockwise with the circle cutter. It is like switching between the front and the back of a hobby knife – going forwards to make a cut, then going backwards to scrape it deeper and wider. Eventually you will cut and scrape most of the way through, at which point you can take a sharp hobby knife and cut out any parts where it’s just barely hanging on.

0.020″ and 0.040″ thick circles, of same diameter as inside of the bases

2. Add Scribed Detail

Now that we have circles in both thin and thick plasticard, we’re going to use the thin pieces of plasticard as the base for our work and our greeblie layer, while the thick plasticard will represent the floor plates that the model is standing on. We need to do two things to the thick pieces – cut away sections to create recessed areas for greeblies, and scribe detail into the floor plates.

There are a lot of different scribing tools you can use for this. The back of a hobby knife is something you already have and can use, though it’s not always the best or safest. Tamiya makes a plastic scriber that comes with retractable hook-shaped blades that works nicely for things like this. I also have a set of MadWorks chisel tips which range in width from a needle to a 1.5mm thick chisel; I find the 0.2mm is a good thickness for these sort of panel lines.

Simply run your scribing tool of choice across the surface of the plastic, guided by your straightedge, to create a scribe line. This will take multiple passes, so be gentle, especially on the first couple passes – it’s better to press lightly and go over the panel multiple times to get the desired depth than to press too hard trying to do it all at once and have your tool skip out of the groove.

To cut away sections, simply scribe all the way through with your scribing tool of choice, and clean up the edges by running it along a sanding block. You can also use your circle cutter to make curved scribe lines or cut away round sections that might match the diameter of your large gears.

For rivets, I made a simple tool out of a piece of brass tube that I sharpened the end of and put into a pin vise. By pressing down into the plastic with this, you can create a circular impression. However, since it is pressing into the plastic like the front of a knife, it does create these raised piles of plastic around the rivet, which can be easily fixed by scraping it off with a hobby knife and running the face of the plastic over a sanding block to sand away any excess.

There are other rivet ntools you can try – from leather punches to pattern wheels to the tip of a mechanical pencil – depending on what you have around and how big of rivets you want.

But for bases like this, I generally like my rivets to be big and chunky.

Finally, glue the thick piece on top of the thin circle. I prefer plastic cement for this, but you can use CA glue in a pinch.

3. Add greeblies

Greeblies are random details that are used in science fiction modelling to make objects look more complex. They are most famous for their use in the studio models for the Star Wars movies – ships like Y-wings are just covered in random crap like hoses, grates, and, if you look closely, you can see a shovel from a model tank kit on the back. We’re going to use greeblies to make our bases more interesting.

Hoses are simple – cheap roundwound guitar strings, cut to length, make great hoses and take paint and washes quite nicely. As for the rest of the greeblies, since we want to give a clockwork vibe, we want to incorporate a lot of gears and such into our greeblies. I’ve found a few sources that I like, all easily available from your friendly local online retail corporate overlord, which I will run down here.

My favourite are the baggies of random watch parts that you can buy online. In addition to gears, they have other cool-looking clockwork parts that can be incorporated like plates and wheels and shafts. You can also get similar gears which are decorative only for steampunk nail art that also work great.

There are also these larger metal gears for steampunk jewelry. They have a lot of very nice patterns to them and are great . The down side is that they are a little tricky to work with – you need some nice big side cutters and some metal files if you want to cut them to fit the edge of a base.

Finally, there are plastic gears for things like model cars. Since they are made of plastic, they’re easier to cut and sand and work with than these big metal gears. However, they don’t have very much detail; I find that I’m drilling holes in them just to add some additional detail and break up the big flat spots.

Using a thick CA glue, simply glue the greeblies in place quasi-randomly. Depending on the size of the greeblies, you might need a good pair of pointed tweezers. Some of them you may need to cut and file to fit how you want them, but most of these greeblies are thin enough and made of soft enough metal that a decent pair of side cutters with a decent sized handle to give you good leverage will take care of that.

Greeblified base toppers

Final Steps

At this point, what you should have is a cool looking steampunk base topper. Simply glue it into place on top of a PP base, and you’re ready to start painting. Which… may be another article as there are some cool tricks you can do with oil paints to make it very easy.

One thought on “Clockwork Temple Base-ics

  1. Pingback: Clockwork Temple Base-ics part II: Painting | Ice Axe Miniatures

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