Tuesday 17 July 2012

Movement Trays - American Civil War

I've finished painting another cavalry regiment for my collection of Spencer Smith 30mm American Civil War figures.

Here's a troop with bases already finished off with magnetic tape. Moving individual figures during an Old School wargame can be a bit tedious so I decided to make some super duper magnetic movement trays for this regiment. Here is how I made them.

To start I marked off some 2mm thick plastic sheet to a suitable size. My cavalry bases are 20mm wide by 40mm deep and I group them in troops of four figures. I add a little for clearances so I marked them off as 83mm by 42mm.

I make enough for the whole regiment in one go so that is 4 bases for the 4 troops and another 4 bases for the 'empty horses' and 2 smaller bases (62 x 42) for the dismounted troopers.

I cover the top of the bases with self adhesive steel paper cut roughly to size.

I turn them over and then trim the edges with scissors so that they are flush with the edge of the plastic.

It's important to get these cuts flush and perpendicular with the edge as you will see later. Turning it back over will show that it is exactly the same size as one without steel paper.

I get all my magnetic tapes and steel paper from Magnetic Displays.

I cover the underside of the base with two strips of magnetic tape. I use two strips as the widest tape on supply is 30mm. It doesn't seem to matter about the direction of magnetic poles on these bases probably because the contact area is so large.

Trim the edges with scissors again making sure the cuts are neat and perpendicular. The next stage will show why.

I mark and cut out 6mm wide strips on thin plastic sheet.

Make enough in total for all four edges of all your bases.

Using polystyrene cement attach the strips to the short edges first, wait until the glue sets and trim the ends flush with long edges. Make sure the strips cover all the layers of the base leaving about a 2mm high lip above the steel paper side. Similarly attach strips to the long edges and trim flush once the glue is dry.

As you can see a figure fits in neatly and is firmly held by the magnetic attraction.

The whole troop fits in nicely too!

The troopers can easily be turned into a 'column of two's'.

The movement trays can be painted and varnished to match the figure bases. A couple of coats of paint and varnish do not seem to interfere with the desirable magnetic attraction keeping the figures in place but still allowing repositioning and casualty removal.

So here's the whole regiment trotting off to their deployment area. Please ignore the hexes as I don't use them in my ACW games. They just happened to be covering my table when I did the photo shoot. I do use them for my World War One air combat games though!

Here's the regiment deployed in a firing line with horses and horse holders to the rear. Look at the space required for such a unit compared to its front combat line. Maybe the horses need to be taken further back from the firing line when in combat but they'll still need a bit of space.

The movement trays are fairly robust, particularly if you have cut the edges neatly and perpendicularly and the polystyrene cement makes a good welded join.


  1. Jim,

    An excellent 'How to ...' posting. I assumed that the figures also have strips of magnetic material fitted to their bases or do you just rely on the edges to keep the figures in place?

    All the best,


    1. Hi Bob

      Yes, the troopers are already based with magnetic tape. I think I said so in my second paragraph.

      The attraction is doubly effective here. The troopers stick to the movement tray since the trooper base is bottomed with magnetic tape and the top of the tray is steel paper. Secondly the bottom layer of the tray is magnetic tape which also provides attraction upwards to the trooper base through the steel paper layer but also downwards to the steel paper which lines the storage box. This way the troopers in their movement trays don't slide about inside their storage box. The edges also help keep the troopers ranked up nicely.



  2. Jim
    Thanks for the interesting tutorial- some things to think about there for me...

  3. Nicely done! I wish, straight, neat and perpendicular were all tools in my box of tricks.


    1. Hi Ross

      Yes, straight, neat and perpendicular make them work more effectively.

      Give them a try!


  4. Good looking troops there Jim.

    I must get on with painting my own!


    1. Thanks Greg

      I like them and some others seem to like them too!


  5. Hi Jim - very nicely executed sir - I have been looking at ways to get reams of ECW figures into large (180mm) movement trays securely and neatly - for a Baroque rule set. Although I will probably have to vary things a bit because of the size of the bases - some on 40x40 some on 60x40 etc - this will be a very handy guide!
    All the best
    Now all I have to do is prove I am not a robot for the site......

    1. Hi Dax

      Always happy to help the 'newcomers' to the hobby!

      There are two significant differences in the type of movement tray that I make.

      There are the ones described in this post which have the thin vertical lip all round to keep the figures neatly in place.

      Then there are others which are more like sabot bases where the edging is horizontal and gives you room for some landscaping. I know you have some like this already, you just need to figure out where the magnetic components fit!!

      Keep the 'impetus' up :)