The Frugal Gamer

One thing that always frustrated me as a gamer is my eyes are always bigger than my budget. I am very good at coming up with cool army lists but they require things like 8 Space Marine drop pods ($400 at GW prices) or a dozen Valkyries ($720 at GW MSRP) or a squadron of 3 Salamanders ($115 not including shipping!). Who can shell out that kind of cash for toy soldiers?

Since I’ve grown accustomed to living indoors and eating regularly, there is no way I can afford to shell out that kind of coin on my hobby. But, if I could make a staff car for about $1, a drop pod for about $3, a salamander for about $2 (and make it convertible to a hydra or manticore for $3 more), and a Valkyrie substitute for around $5 then we are back in the realm of the doable.

This section of the site will show you how I did exactly that using items rescued from the recycling bin, cheap toys picked up at the local $1 shop, wooden off-cuts from the local craft store and even some cheap wooden toys I found in the craft aisle at Wal-Mart.

These models may not be legal at Games Day but if you are like me and most other gamers, that isn’t a big issue. I out-grew my tournament ‘Ard Boy phase about the same time I finished grad school (never mind how many moons ago THAT was…).

Conversion Toolkit on a Budget

  1. Cutting board: I use a cheap cutting board picked up at the $1 store to protect my work table from the razor knife.
  2. Foam Core: the standard thickness is 3/16″. It’s easily cut, and easily glued together. It sometimes warps when excessive amounts of glue are used for siding, however its benefits more than make up for that particular drawback. Besides, old buildings often warp! It comes in a variety of colors and can be had inexpensively from any office supply or craft shop.
  3. Cutting tools: all must be perfectly sharp, because dull tools are frustrating to work with and will cause mistakes. Box cutters are good for the really big cuts to carve up your foam core, you can often get them for free if you ask at your local grocery or they are 2 for $1 at most dollar shops. An Exacto knife is useful for cutting out doorways and windows. While some tools can be bought on the cheap, DO NOT skimp on Exacto knives, your fingers will thank you. The gate cutters (snips) are useful for quickly cutting balsa siding to length, Wal-Mart sells reasonably good ones for $5 in their craft section.
  4. Measuring tools: make sure the edge isn’t made of something that will be sliced up by your knives. I like metal  or thick plastic rulers for that reason, they can be had for free at most DIY stores (they are a promo gimme) or on the cheap at the $1 shop. A square is essential for marking your foam-core wall sections, a good one will run $10 but my $2 cheapo one has served me well for years. A good, cheap square is simply a piece of paper (their corners are perfectly square).
  5. Glue: white glue for working with foamcore – I get a bottle of Elmer’s Glue-All for about $2 at Wal-Mart’s craft aisle, Super Glue for metal and plastic, 4 tubes for $1 in the automotive section at Wal-Mart.
  6. Hot Glue Gun: I picked up a cheap glue gun for $1 at the dollar shop and I buy glue sticks (5 for $1) at the same shop, never had a problem.
  7. Hack Saw: Useful for cutting through thicker miniatures – again, my local $1 shop comes to the rescue.
  8. Pin Vise: I got mine for $5 on Ebay, but GW (yes, GW) makes a nicer one that can be had for about $14 from most discounters. Either way, this is a must have tool.
  9. Knead-a-Tite a.k.a. Green Stuff: Some versions are blue but in either case its the same stuff, it comes as 2 strips of different colored putty, when it’s kneaded together it changes color. Must have stuff for the serious modeler.
  10. Jewel Saw: Perfect for cutting bits off miniatures.
  11. Sanding Block: Useful to clean up the ends of messy cuts.
  12. Good Angled Tweezers: Useful for positioning decals and fiddly bits on miniatures – I picked up mine for $1.50 in the craft aisle at Wal-Mart.
  13. An Assortment of Emery Nail Files: I got a stack of these at the $1 shop, they are useful for removing mold lines and cleaning up cuts when doing conversions.

I was able to assemble my tool kit for under $30. I use my clippers, rulers, hack saw, and glue gun the most often but all of my tools see frequent use in my modeling projects

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