Wooden Wars: Wooden Soldier Project - Part 6: Painting - is timing everything?

"In war, the general alone can judge of certain arrangements. It depends on him alone to conquer difficulties by his own superior talents and resolution."
Napoleon Bonaparte

I've had a few queries recently as to how long it takes to paint up the wooden soldiers.  So, as the above quote from the Emperor  somewhat paraphrases, I took it to task to find out. 

The Hapless Romantic ViewI am the first to admit that I am in no way a fast painter. If I try to be quick about it, I start to get sloppy which just means I then need to clean up my mess, and the time gets away from me anyway!  Plus, I really enjoy painting; so much so, that I have a degree in it. Rush-painting fig's just to get them done (convention deadlines aside) makes it feel like work.   Sitting down with a few sables, on the other hand, mixing my own colors, flipping wistfully through reference books on a chaise with a hot cuppa - that's the life for me!  

Okay, maybe something in between…
In general, I paint a 28mm figure from start to finish in a 40-60 minute timeframe.  I have been known to spend double that time if it is a Hero figure (see last blog) and even more if they are mounted or a competition figure. With these metrics in hand I started timing myself with my wooden soldiers.  I have found that I am consistent, which actually shocked me, the models being bigger and all.   I worked on refining the process a bit more.  With my new foot officer model in hand, I set the timer for 20 minute intervals, and captured my process at each interlude until complete. 

My inspiration for this uniform. This fellow oozes panache!
20 minute shot. Base colors, trousers are still natural wood.

At 20 minutes, the model was mostly covered with paint and could easily be put onto the battlefield as-is.  Another 20 minutes had the model at a fairly finished paint job.   Okay, it was actually 23 minutes on this guy for a total of 43 minutes, but come on- I have two colors of NMM going on! (see Hapless Romantic, above). 
43 minutes and ready to take command. 

Gold and Silver NMM- what was I thinking?!
 The Pragmatic Romantic Speaks
When painting up larger units of the same fig, and then armies of them, it helps to have a bit of an assembly line system to speed thing s up.  With the first challenge under my belt, and output being on par with my expectations, I decided to raise the bar.  10 minute increments!  I grabbed another foot officer (this time without a hat, in order to shave off a minute, or three...) and reset the timer.
The young captain at the 10 minute mark.
And finished. Note the natural wood coming through the white

On this fellow, I went with only one color for the jacket, and two colors for the NMM.  (I may have used 3 colors for the face.)  In 20 minutes, I came away with a creditable paint job.  But, could I do this again?  One more challenge to go, but this time - a basic soldier model. 

Wall flowers await their turn. These are all variants of the same model.

A Different Approach
To try and speed things up I primed this model white. Normally I paint on the bare wood with acrylics and inks.   With the timer set at 5 minute increments, and an all white model in one hand and a brush in the other - I was off once more!

White primer
17 minutes. I cannot lie, I am gonna go back and spiff him up a bit.
After 3 timer ”dings”  of 5 intervals, I still could not call this guy done; adding a couple more minutes cleaned him up to a level I could live with, equaling 17 minutes total.  I am not sure if the white actually sped up the painting.  I had to go in and do some wet shading with black, where normally the natural wood color and the laser cut etched lines creating black lines and shading  worked great when painting up to white.  I now know that I much prefer painting on the raw wood.  But with that being said, I am definitely going to try airbrushing larger colors on and see how that works.  

So, lessons learned...?
I'm not sure if there were any great takeaways from this.  Knowing your paints and blends really speeds up painting, and I want to set my internal timer for about 25 - 30 minutes per rank and file troops.  I'm more than okay with that.  I tried different techniques to see how paint would take to the wood and to see what method worked best for me: dry brushing vs. wet brushing vs. staining.  I found that wet brushing (ie: blending with the paints still a bit wet, like using watercolors)  is what I most commonly deploy on the larger surfaces.   This technique works especially great on horses.   Using the "traditional" Kevin Dallimore school  of layering up the rest of the model in 2- 3 colors afterwards fills in the rest of the model, , just like with my 28mm miniatures.  

A few notes that may come in handy when painting on wood. 
·        I mix my paint wetter than for normal, standard miniatures and draw the brush up against the laser etched lines to allow the paint to flow into the area I want to cover. Be careful not to water down the paint too much or it can bring up the wood grain.
·         I tend to use larger brushes, like #3 Sables. They load up with more paint yet still have a great point and accuracy to them.  Pull, don't push the brush, and let the paint flow...
·         Painting light to dark, especially with the red, is faster. Mind you, the dark to light gives a different, and sometimes fuller, look. (See Hapless Romantic...)
·         Re-use colors. A brown used for the knapsack and the musket stock and the hair don't have to be different browns - especially when one is on the front and the other on the back.
·         Glaze type paints work well, but they tend to "grey" out a bit; you may need to cover the area in question more than once.
·         GW foundation paints ROCK on Wood!
·         Look at Steve Dean, Kevin Dallimore and David “SaxonDog“ Imrie’s blog sites often for inspiration.    Warning- this does not aid in the reduction of painting times!
·         At the end of the day, it's really up to you as to how much or what style you want to paint your troops. 

Experimenting with bicornes.

This fine fellow took about an hour and a half for himself and the horse.

Does size matter?
Wooden Wars unit sizes are 12-24 foot soldiers, 5-10 cavalry, and batteries of 1-3 guns, with 4 crew models per gun. To play Wooden wars you really only need one unit per side.  At the convention games I run, each army has 8-12 units, with players controlling one or two each.  Comparing that to my In the Grand Manner French brigades each with 4 battalions of 36 guys, Wooden Wars units may take the same amount of time per fig, but as they have fewer fig's, it goes faster.   Oh, and might I remind you, you get to toss balls at them!!!

So, now that we have some paint on these lads, and some balls to toss, Next time we'll take a look at units and maneuvers! 

Thanks for tuning in, and as always I enjoy your comments and feedback so keep'm coming!


  1. Fantastic article - thanks for experimenting. The vibrancy and level of detail even when you're just using flat colors with little or no highlighting is amazing. Good job!

  2. Great post. I love it when you share how you paint. I always pick up something new each time you share about how you paint. How well do craft paints work?

  3. Blkthrn- I have tried craft type paints like the Americana brand from Micheal's arts and crafts. Its low pigment to vehicle ratio makes for a thin coverage. You can use it, and it works fine for a "wash" style, but if you want to paint more opaquely you have to cover several times. My opinion is you get much better results, or at least less work with better quality paints.

  4. Hmmm peel and stick decals for the truely lazy............ ;)

  5. Alfrik- Belive it or not I did look into decals, or even having the pieces screened already painted. This Leads into lots of money for the initial pieces, and does not allow folks to paint them or color them or dip them to create their own armies. I am considering wee stickers of medals to award your troops though. And there is always the option of buying pre painted by me :)


  6. Just discovered this and I'm amazed by the dedication and execution. Beautiful concept and beautiful wooden soldiers. I wish you all the luck in your venture Sir - looks like luck has nothing to do with it though with such a quality product.


  7. Frank- I'm Blushing from your comments! Wooden Wars is truly a "follow my heart" kind of project, and the affirmation that there are others who can grok where this is going and enjoy it as well, is both humbling and inspiring.

    Thank you very much, and please keep posted for more!