Monday, September 28, 2009

10mm Miniatures Transport Solution

For a long time, I've been looking for a safe way to store and transport 10mm miniatures, particularly the 10mm American Civil War miniatures I've been painting. There are a lot of companies out there who make storage cases and foam trays specifically for storing miniatures. I have several of the Games Workshop miniature cases, and those work great for 28mm miniatures, but for my 10mm figures I had different needs. Even though there are many companies out there making carry cases for miniatures, after searching the internet for months, I couldn't find a single case that would work for my purposes.

First of all, nobody makes foam trays with cavities that would be useful for me. For my Civil War miniatures, I'd want to store a single unit together, which for infantry would be 3/4" wide by almost 4" long, and for cavalry 1" wide by 4" long. Nobody had foam trays with spots in them that would fit what I wanted. That wasn't such a big deal, because several of the companies have what is usually called a "pick and pluck" foam tray. These are trays filled with perforated squares, and you can remove the ones you want and leave the others. Since I only need rectangular shaped areas to put my units in, this would work out great for me. Most of these kinds of trays have 1/2" squares, which would result in some wasted space, but would work.

The bigger problem was the cases. I wanted to store my miniatures so they would remain upright. Many of the Civil war miniatures have their rifles sticking up, and they are extremely fragile. I didn't want these being pressed up against anything. Especially since the thinnest foam trays are for the most part 1" tall. This left plenty of room above the miniatures when stored upright. Unfortunately, every single maker of miniature transport cases I could find online has it's handle on the side of the case. By that I mean, you put the foam trays in upright, then when you carry the case around, the trays are on their sides. This wouldn't do, because as soon as I picked the tray up, the miniatures would lay on their sides and likely press up against the top, bending all of those bayonets that are sticking out.

I really needed a case with the handle on the top, so you would put the trays in upright, close the lid, then carry the case in the same orientation. This does not seem to exist in the world of miniature carrying cases. In addition, most carry cases are made of some soft material, and I really wanted something rigid. If the case ever got accidentally kicked or stepped on or had something dropped on it, a soft case wouldn't protect the models at all.

Fortunately, most of the companies that sell these carry cases also sell foam trays separately. So, I wrote down the dimentions of all the foam trays I could find for sale that were 1" high with "pick and pluck" foam. Whenever I was out shopping somewhere that might sell any kind of case, I'd bring a tape measure along and try to find one that had dimensions that would fit any of the dimensions I had listed, and that would also be carried upright, so the trays would stay with the same side up.

This took a lot longer than you might think. I ever searched online endlessly for any kind of cases or boxes to try and find one with dimensions that would work that was also carried in the proper orientation. I never imagined it would be so difficult to find such a thing, but it took months. Finally one day at an Office Max, I found a file storage box that seemed like it would work. It would just fit the foam trays made by Battle Foam, and was carried upright. It did require two hands to carry, while I would have preferred one with a single handle on top. And it was much taller than I needed. But after searching for so long with no luck, I was willing to give it a try even if it was less than ideal.

One other issue is that the file storage box I got had these railings on the inside along the top on all four sides. These were to hang file folders on, but they were definitely going to get in the way of getting foam trays full of miniatures in and out of the box. I decided to remove them, which turned out to be another thing that was much more difficult than I assumed it would be. The railings were riveted on through the outside of the box. It wasn't easy to detach the railings from the rivets, and afterward I had to pound the rivets down even further so that they wouldn't fall out or move around with the extra slack. The first railing didn't go so well, but after that I got the hang of it and the other three came off without too much trouble.

Next up was the foam. I placed an order with Battle Foam for five 1" tall pick and pluck foam trays, and five foam tray toppers. They trays are 15.5" x 12", which is just slightly less than the interior space I had in the case, so they would fit fairly snugly but with enough room to get them out. Battlefoam, at no extra charge, allows you to add customized test or logos to the trays and toppers. I had no particular need for this, but I figured I might as well have it done. I was paying quite a bit for these trays, after all, at $17 each for the 1" pick and pluck trays. I only went with Battle Foam trays because those are the ones that fit the case I found, so I didn't have any choice. And it would be kind of nice to have each topper labeled with what was in the tray below it when unpacking my miniatures.

It took a few weeks for my order to arrive, I suppose since they had to customize the trays with my text. I assumed the text they added was painted or written on or something, but it is actually etched into the foam, which looks pretty cool. And they didn't misspell anything, so I was pleased with the custom text. On the other hand, based on the dimensions listed for the trays, and the assumption of a 1/2" border around the outside, I assumed there would be an area of 14.5" x 11" for the pick and pluck section, and had planned how I would lay out my units based on this. When the trays arrived, I discovered that the bottom border is actually 1" rather than 1/2", to make room for the custom text I didn't really want. Therefore the actualy useable area of pick and pluck foam is really 14.5" x 10.5". It wasn't a big deal to rearrange some things in my planned layout and get it to work, but for anyone considering buying there foam trays, you should be away of this so you can plan accordingly.

As for the quality of the Battle Foam trays, I wasn't impressed. They aren't terrible I guess, but nowhere near as nice as the Games Workshop foam trays I have that came with the GW carry cases. And considering how expensive the Battle Foam trays are, I assumed I was going to get a pretty high quality product. But I suppose when you buy their stuff, you aren't really paying for quality, you are paying for the customizability. So if you need a custom layout for your foam trays, or you really want the etched writing for some reason, they might be worth it. But if you just want good quality foam trays, there are probably plenty of better ones out there.

First of all, the Battle Foam trays had some wet, still very sticky glue coming out from between the pick and pluck tray and the base it was glued to. I noticed it right away and left them sit out to dry for a while before putting any miniatures near the trays, but others might not be so lucky. Also, some of the bottoms were glued on a bit crooked or off-center, so that was kind of sloppy. The bigger issue was with the pick and pluck foam sections. The ones around the outside of the trays, which had gotten excess glue on them sticking them to the bottom, were almost impossible to pluck out. In fact, they all left little mounts of glued down foam behind them. On top of that, many of the other squares, not around the edges, were extremely difficult to pluck out due to the perforations not going all the way through the tray, or not being there at all. I used an x-acto knife to cut through where I wanted to separate the blocks. Even then some were still very difficult to pull out, and several times while trying to pull out a tenacious block, I accidentally disconnected an adjacent one that I wanted to leave. So the quality control at Battle Foam is obviously not very good, and their pick and pluck foam is very difficult to use without accidentally removing blocks you wanted to leave in place. Again, I wouldn't really recommend them. The Games Workshop pick and pluck foam was much better.

Another issue I ran into was that so such a large number of pretty small spaces, I found I was removing a large percentage of the foam. Since the foam blocks aren't attached to the bottom at all (except the ones around the edges that got accidentally glued to the bottom), what remained was not very stable. The walls in between sections weren't sturdy and moved around a lot, and that caused two problems. First of all, I didn't think it would support the units and keep them still as well as I'd like. Also, that instability makes it much more likely for one of the perforations I left in place to be inadvertently torn, which would make the whole thing really useless.

This, combined with the few perforations I mentioned that I had accidentally torn while trying to pull out others, made me try out gluing the foam together. I first tried some good old Elmer's glue. That didn't work at all. It just soaked into the foam, and took forever to start to dry. I then tried out some super glue and some plastic model glue on some test pieces. The plastic model glue worked the best by far. It was able to hold two foam pieces together really tightly. So I glued back together the mistakes I had made and, once I had the foam pieces I wanted plucked out, glued the remaining foam down to the base. It seems to be holding pretty sturdy now.

So, after that epic saga, I now have a pretty good way to store and safely transport my 10mm American Civil War miniature collection. Below are some pictures of the results of all this effors. Hopefully this article will be helpful to other people tyring to come up with customized storage solutions for different kinds of miniatures. If you have any tips for others, please leave a comment.

Case Case Case


  1. I'm not sure if you want to know this now or not, but you can buy open-cell foam in various sizes and thicknesses from fabric and craft stores such as Hobby Lobby or Michaels. With some 1" and 1/4" foam and some glue, you can make your own tray inserts, you just need to spend some time with a sharp knife cutting out the spaces you need. If you want to get really fancy, use foamcore and magnetic sheeting for the tray bottom and metal figure bases. The figures stay where you put them, and the foam gives protection should you knock over or drop the case.

  2. Thanks for the information. I'll probably try that out once I need more trays. But I'll have to hunt around to find a place that sells plain foam sheets. I didn't see anything like that at the Hobby Lobby here, and I don't think I have a Michaels nearby. Plus, I find it difficult to cut foam with any accuracy, so I'm not sure how well that would have turned out, anyway. But it's probably good advice for anyone else that wants customized trays that aren't too expensive. Especially now that I know how well the plastic model glue works to hold the foam together.

  3. It should be in hobby lobby. Ask an employee where the pillow stuffing is at; it should be in the same area.