Useful Finds

While I’m working on other projects, I’ve been taking stock of things on store shelves that might be of use at some future date.

I was at JoAnn Fabrics this weekend and found a number of interesting things.  Apparently – I didn’t know this – “fairy gardens” are a thing.  From the way it was explained to me, people have these small gardens wherein they create small diorama style themed settings for “fairies.”  Gnome villages, beaches, 1950s Americana – you name it, chances are you can find small components with which you can create a miniature park.Resized_20170602_151306.jpeg (2)

What first caught my attention was this set of “concrete” planters; it was probably their size, as they’d be perfect for a table using either 28mm or 54mm figures.  I’m guessing they’re either ceramic or resin, because they do have some weight.  Although marked at $13 for the set, JoAnn’s had marked them down significantly; I think I shelled out just over $5.  Given what’s here, it’s almost worth it.

My problem, as you can see, is the rather pathetic looking greenery included.

Let me get you a better view:

Resized_20170602_151343.jpeg (2)Yeah, that’s some hopeless looking vegetation.  I’m guessing that there were limits on just how much of this green colored lichen (or sawdust, I can’t really tell) was used, because no one  planter has more or less than the next; it’s like each was specifically measured out and that was that.

 

I could have left them alone, but then I’d have nothing to discuss.  That’s when I brought out my secret weapon:

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Ten minutes later, it would seem that I’d developed a green thumb:

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I’m not completely satisfied with how they look – I mean, this foliage is really just shredded foam – but at least now the planters have something that resembles a bush.  These might make some interesting hedgerows if I use them with Bolt Action, or they might factor into some other tabletop game.  In fact, they might work nicely with something else I found on JoAnn’s shelves:

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I picked up resin naval cannons, which are a part of a pirate themed set.  While none of the other naval items were to scale (or applicable) for me, the cannon – with all of it’s imperfections – just called out to me.  Frankly, I think it was the fact that they were about $3 each (down from $7).  I’ve yet to do a more scientific comparison, but they appear to appropriate for 28mm to 54mm use.

Which is good, because look what I just happened to come into?

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I’m Back, Pt. 2

With the whole Star Wars/Trek thing currently on the back burner, I’ve been dedicating myself to some new interests, specifically, the idea of wargaming.

I’d gotten into wargaming some years back, but it was never serious.  Rather, I should say that I never got the chance to get too serious about it, as components were rather expensive and rule sets were (at least in my neck of the woods) hard to come by.  I did manage to piece together a really nice set of expensive 15mm US and Soviet vehicles, but I never got to use them, as my lovely nephew discovered them one evening, and thought they’d make wonderful projectiles to skip across a nearby pond.

Yep, I’m still ticked about that.

Anyway, I hadn’t had much to do with wargaming until recently, when I was intrigued 81oeiWfuyhLby the release of the 2nd edition rules for Osprey’s Bolt Action (BA).  I’d heard about it in passing, but knew nothing else.  Virtually no store in my area carried BA products (save for an occasional supplement book), and I knew no one who’d had any experience with the system.  But once the updated rules were released, I was curious.  I did some investigating and research, and eventually decided to just order a copy of the book.  I should add that what really got me motivated to act was my curiosity about a companion rule set, Konflikt ’47 (but that’s another post entirely).

I got the opportunity to watch the game being played at a local store and immediately fell in love with what I’d seen.  My only problem was in the costs, as fielding a basic force can be a bit expensive.  With me wanting to try the game at home (and possibly recruiting others into it), that meant I’d be paying for at least two armies (so double my prices), as well as all of the books, accessories, and who-knows-what-else would be involved.  What am I talking about dollar-wise?  The starter kit for one force runs about $120, and that’s essentially a collection of 28mm scale soldiers (between 25 and 40, from what I’ve seen), a copy of the rule book, and several smaller accessories needed for the game.  Vehicles could run another $25 to $50 each, and then there’s the costs involved in creating a realistic looking playing area, and that depends on what one is trying to do – but it can be pretty expensive, not to mention time consuming.  By the end of the day, I’d determined that I’d probably shell out several hundred on a game that might get used, and that was a bit rich for my blood.

Then, as they say, something happened.

Resized_20170523_094627.jpeg (2)I remembered that a few years ago, I’d gotten bit by the modeling bug.  There were a couple of really good hobby stores in my area – now since gone – where I’d gotten some basic 54mm scale Tamiya models on the cheap.  Some had been assembled, others sat waiting for action.

I’ve been questioning whether or not it is possible to play Bolt Action with figures larger than the 28mm scale.  Without a lot of table space, I’m guessing that it’d be near impossible to conduct large scale actions, but I’m wondering if one limited oneself to smaller, squad based activity – would it still be feasible?

I have so many models that would work that it seems almost silly not to try . . .

Trekking Again

While I’m waiting to work on my newest Star Wars project, I figured I’d revisit my Star Trek collection.  Like many people, I’m both excited – and apprehensive – about CBS’s newest project, Star Trek Discovery.

I could rant and rave all day about what I’ve seen thus far, but the bottom line is that what information I have is limited, so I’d best just wait until the official unveiling.  I will say, however, that I’m disappointed that the series, which was promoted as not being a part of JJ Abrams’ Kelvin Timeline, seems to fit right into it.  I’m sure that it’ll be “edgy” and “dark” (if the trailer is any clue, then you’ll need night vision goggles just to see what’s happening), but I was hoping for something that would bridge the gap between Enterprise and The Original Series.

I’m not a die-hard Abrams hater, despite some of the things I’ve said in the past.  In fact, in a recent conversation with a friend, I admitted that there were two things Abrams could have done that would have left me firmly on his side of the line in the Great Star Trek Debate.  Just two things: Demonstrated that this was a true alternate timeline, and not make James Kirk a cadet. The first is a minimal complaint.  Actually, it’s nitpicky, and I can take it or leave it.  But the second point is valid, and it’s the reason that I’ve never fully warmed up to this Kelvin mess.

Take a seat, because I’m going to explain my problem with this series.

Specifically, Kirk is presented as a ne’er-do-well, angry at the world for the troubled upbringing he’s had in the wake of his father’s death.  There’s also the suggestion that his father’s sacrifice at the beginning of the film was so well-known, that young Kirk resents having to live up the legend, thus explaining his tendency to act out.

No problem thus far.

But he’s not in Starfleet.  Every other member of the principal crew, however, is – whether as a cadet or as an officer.  And despite this, their careers literally stop in time while his just breezes along.  In fact, by the time Kirk goes through the Kobayashi Maru test – supposedly given as a part of one’s final year’s training – he’s taking the exam with everyone else by his side.  You know, people who should have long graduated before him.

Then there’s the craziness that is his promotion to captain at the end of the film.  Starfleet has been decimated with few capital ships surviving, yet we’re going to give command of one of our last major vessels to a guy who has not graduated from the Academy.  Kirk has no experience on a ship – in fact, there’s no suggestion that he’s even been on a ship since his birth – and he has demonstrated no understanding of how Starfleet functions, yet let’s give him our biggest surviving ship!

A simpler – and more logical – path would have been to have Kirk as a “ne’er-do-well” Starfleet officer who was throwing his career down the tubes by acting out.  That avoids everything in my previous paragraph, because Kirk would have had that training, and he would have graduated the Academy.  He’d have been an officer with issues, not a spoiled brat.  His redemption would have been earned, rather than conveniently given to him to satisfy another origins story.

Ah.  I feel better now.

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Having said all of that, there are some things about the Kelvin timeline that I do like.  Certain props come to mind, and, as you can see, the various patches and badges that are now a part of the franchise’s canon.

This Kelvin set starts with the badge used, ironically, on the Kelvin, the first ship seen in the 2009 film.  Mine is a resin cast that was given to me as a part of a grab-bag of items I’d collected a little more than a year ago.  I cleaned it up, painted it copper, and that was that.  The three metal badges are all from QMX Online.  You can’t tell, but the last one is the colored version as shown in Star Trek Beyond (which I still haven’t seen, unfortunately).  But the patches are all Anovos, and they’re fantastic.  My regret with these patches is that I’ve only one of each.  I may have to rectify that soon.

What I don’t get with the Kelvin line is the lack of available toys and props.  When the 2009 film came out, Playmates flooded the market with Star Trek toys.  They weren’t well-made, and were criticized as being too toy-like, but now they command a pretty penny.  I’d hoped that there’d be a new line with Into Darkness, but nope – that didn’t happen, nor were any made for Beyond.  It’s like CBS turned its nose up at collectors and enthusiasts.  Their loss, I guess.

They must have realized that, given this week’s announcement that McFarlane Toys is going to handle future merchandizing.  We shall see.

I’m Back, Pt. 1

It’s been over a year now since my last visit to this page; at one point, I’d planned to delete it as it wasn’t serving the function I’d hope it’d serve.

But I’m glad that I’ve opted to give the page a second shot.  In the last year or so, I’ve gotten more involved in my various hobbies, and this gives me a way to both show off what I’ve got/done, while getting feedback, advice, and the like.

A new title, a new start, and a new set of hobby goals . . .

So what have I been up to?

I’ve toned down the Star Wars interests – both RPG and prop making – because it didn’t see it going anywhere.  I reluctantly sat and watched The Force Awakens, and have yet to make the effort to see Rogue One.  Can’t say that I was burned out, but it was clear to me that my Star Warsish enthusiasm had diminished.  I listened to debates about how the series had gone off the rails, I listened to people whine about how it was now too child friendly, and I read about people who’d abandoned the franchise for something else.  As for me, I made a handful of props – some good, some not – but nothing else came of them.  On to the backburner they went.  Until today, that is.

Despite my numerous complaints about Anovos and their ability to deliver their products, I’m still a fan of theirs.  I’d wanted to take advantage of their recent Star Wars 40th Anniversary Sale, but the window was so tight (one day) and the selection so limited (virtually every I want is a pre-order, if it’s still offered at all), that I missed out.  I was surprised to see, for example, that they no longer offer the olive Imperial Officer Uniform or the cap, as I’d been waiting for those to come in stock.  Honestly, I’d wanted the cap more than the uniform itself, but still – if you’re going to offer a product, then offer it; don’t tease potential customers for years that “it’s coming.”  I’m not a fan of the Empire, but you have to admit that they do have some nice looking threads.

What surprised me most about the sale, however, was the fact that they’re now offering the Imperial belt and belt buckle.  The buckle is available now for a whopping $35 (!), while the full belt and buckle (due this winter), is a reasonable $50.  Star_Wars_Imperial_Officer_Belt_00

So let me get this straight: The buckle is $35, while the whole belt is $50.  The buckle (I can’t emphasize this enough) is 70% of what it costs for the full belt.  I don’t have a problem with the cost of the belt; I have their Star Trek II belt, and honestly, it’s better than anything I could have dreamt of making.  I spent three years trying to make a decent copy of that belt, and it was an expensive disaster.  The Anovos version – boom, baby!  It’s perfect.  Now if I just had $2,000 to drop on the rest of the uniform, I’d be on Cloud Nine.

My problem is with the cost of the solitary buckle.  You’d thinkStar_Wars_Han_Solo_Buckle_00 that the leather and workmanship of the belt would cost more than the metal plate acting as a buckle, right?

Oh, I get it.  But then again, I don’t.  Still, it’s their bat and ball, and my guess is that licensing fees to the House of Mouse are figured in there somewhere, so they can pretty much do what they want.

So . . . rather than rant all day, I decided to do something about it.  I’ve ordered the data discs from an online source and will – hopefully – simply make my own buckle.  If I play my cards right, I might even be able to craft the whole belt (albeit, not as fantastic looking as the one above) for less than what Anovos is asking.

That’s the easy part.  Anovos’ other new product that I do want are their Data Cylinders.  I mean, take a look at these babies:

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Aren’t they sweet?  And a set of three for $45, that’s not bad at all.  I made a set of cylinders on the cheap about two years ago.  They were decent in a sort of “used by the guy in the far background” way.  But these look stunning, and they’re almost enough to tempt me into putting together a full pilot’s uniform.

Almost.

So, that’s one of the many projects I’m looking at this summer.  Making an Imperial belt.  I might revisit my cylinders, now that I have an idea as to what I’m doing, but anything I put together is going to be trash compared to what Anovos has done.

‘Star Wars’-ish Binoculars

Inspired by an excellent post on constructing prop electrobinoculars from Star Wars, I decided to try my hand in making a variation.  The end result is as follows.

My purpose wasn’t to out perform (or what have you) the author of the cited piece.  In fact, had I the time, resources, and patience, I probably would have followed his detailed instructions to the letter to create exactly what he created – a reasonably decent replica of a film prop.  Frankly, I like what that gentleman did and give him major credit for posting his easy-to-follow instructions.  At the same time, howBinocsever, I started thinking on what I could do to make such a project my own.  The end result was that I wanted to create a “knock-off civilian” version of the electrobinoculars, something that could have been used for non-military purposes, but that eventually found use during the Rebellion.

Now, realize that this does happen in our own world, so it should be seen as ridiculous when considering a fictional one.  I have three pairs of civilian binoculars manufactured in Paris before WWI, yet all three came from the estates of veterans who, after arriving in France, purchased them for use in the field.  So why not here?  It does not strike me as strange or odd that a Rebel soldier, pilot, or sympathizer might have use of something non-military to help them in performing their mission.

* * * * *

Rather than cutting down a plastic water pitcher to create the body of these binoculars, I Suppliesopted instead to find something that was reasonably suitable right from the start.  In this, I was fortunate to find a Rubbermaid 10-cup storage box with lid.  Nothing fancy about the container or the lid, and save for the imprinted “Rubbermaid” logos and some miscellaneous stamping on the bottom, the storage box is free from any major disfiguring marks.

For the eyepieces, I picked up two (2) 1″x3/4″ PVC Bushing Reducers, and a 1-1/2″ PVC Slip Joint Trap Adapter fitting for the main lens.  I also used several 4-1/2″x1/8″ wooden dowels, random plastic bottle caps, a pair of rubber test-tube stoppers, and a pair of D-ring picture frame mounts.  Finally, I had some 1/2″ rubber bumpers (the four white squares in the center) to use as buttons.  To this, I added several wood screws (for appearance), and a cotton-tape strap (although leather works just as well).  You can see the end results below – front, back, top, and bottom.

Front Back Top BottomSide View

You can’t tell from these shots but the Trap Adapter is actually in the case – I cut a small hole to allow the male screw portion of the adapter to come out and then affixed the cap on the outer side of the box.  This was much easier (believe it or not) than trying to glue the cap on to the outside of the box.  It also allowed me to create a lens (which you can see if you zoom in on the first photo).  The bushings used for the eyepieces are also cut into the lid and glued in place.  They too, have lenses.)

I toyed with painting the entire thing in white or a light gray, but in the end, I felt that an olive drab green would be the best choice.  Later, I painted the eyepieces in black, the various “buttons” on the front and side in black or aluminum, and the then used a brush with a flat steel colored paint to create the illusion of wear and tear.  In some spots – notably that large spot in the center of the bottom (last photo), I went over it again, this time using a rust colored paint.  I used a clear sheet of polystyrene (.10″/.03mm) to create “lenses” for the eyepieces and the front lens, using black on the inner side to darken up the lenses.

The project took about three (3) days, although if I had been focused exclusively on it, I could have finished in maybe half of that.  Technically, I ‘m still not finished, because I’d like to seal it all with a coat of dull clear paint.  My home already smells like a chemical factory; I figured that I’d give my olfactory nerves the day off.

It’s hard to put a price on the project because some of the items used were things I already had.  That said, were I doing this fresh, the entire project would have cost less than $20 USD (not including paints or epoxy).

I’m contemplating making another pair in either a sand (which for Testor’s paints is techincally a faint yellow), or in white.  Having made this pair, I have some ideas on how to improve any subsequent version – mostly correcting errors that I made.  The binoculars have a little heft to them, but not much.  As I’m only doing this for me, I have no idea as to how they’d hold up at a convention or in game play.  But they look great on the shelf and in the limited use that I’ve had for them.

EDIT:  I added a side view (the last photo) that should have been with the initial set.  The only difference that the right side has from the left are the inclusion of the two dial buttons near the D-ring.  (I figured I’d better add some sort of controls to the equipment.)  The left side lacks those dials but makes up for this with more ‘wear and tear.’