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Modeling to Scale

Modeling to Scale

 by Pete Albertsen

Over the years we have been called upon to produce a variety of models of all sorts for gaming purposes as well as for miniaturists and dioramists. In the process we have discovered that many people do not understand scale, particularly as it applies to gaming miniatures.

Curiously enough, miniature figures scales are all predicated on the same principle that evolved from the old tin soldiers produced in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. They were made to a general scale of 3/16″ of an inch to a foot. This worked fine until a truly accurate scale was needed to meet the demands of the true scale, historical, military miniaturist.

Sometime in the mid-20th century the universal military miniature scale became 54mm. This dimension was intended to represent an ideal average soldier of approximately 5′ 10″ in height but the 54mm represented not the total height of the figure but rather the height of his EYES above the ground. This standard was applied because of the huge variety of military headgear, which made it very difficult to find the actual top of his head. With the passage of time this has become a forgotten point of fact, but it is very important because all of the succeeding scales were based on the same premise.

The 25mm scale was created when the cost of 54mm figures became prohibitive for the average gaming collector. 25mm was close enough to half the size as to be undetectable to the average eye and a little easier to measure, but the concept was still the distance from his eyes to the ground.

The introduction of Fantasy Figures by a large number of manufacturers not familiar with the military miniature standard basically changed the sizes of figures and the true meaning of 25mm was lost in the shuffle. Still, the European makes maintained the standard which is why many European figures look bigger than their American made counterparts. Almost all the so-called 27-30mm are actually 25mm figures because they actually measure 25mm to the eyes. If they are a little larger, it is because the figure generally tends to represent a ‘man’ taller than 5′ 10″. This especially true of Fantasy and Sci-Fi figures.

As the cost of metal figures continued to rise and the interest in large scale battles rose it was again necessary to reduce the size of the figures, hence the 20mm and 15mm lines. The concept was still predicated on the old original measurement (eyes to ground) and for the same reason but as anyone in the hobby can tell you, the differences between 15mm and 20mm figures gets a little hard to determine from time to time. This because the ground) and for the same reason but as anyone in the hobby can tell you, the differences between 15mm and 20mm figures gets a little hard to determine from time to time. This because the measurement standard has been misconstrued.

However, since not all men are the same size, these little variances are of little concern to any but the purist. In war gaming, units from several manufacturers are frequently used to build a single army, and unless the difference is very evident, no one seems to mind. In single figure gaming the difference is rarely noticeable. What is very noticeable are the structures and equipment, which ate not built to a similar scale. HO Scale Buildings do not go well with 20 mm figures for example. The doorways are the easiest way to check. If a standard door is too short for the figure to walk in, the building is out of scale.

However, since not all men are the same size, these little variances are of little concern to any but the purist. In war gaming, units from several manufacturers are frequently used to build a single army, and unless the difference is very evident, no one seems to mind. In single figure gaming the difference is rarely noticeable. What is very noticeable are the structures and equipment, which ate not built to a similar scale. HO Scale Buildings do not go well with 20 mm figures for example. The doorways are the easiest way to check. If a standard door is too short for the figure to walk in, the building is out of scale.

This is easy to remedy if you build your own as many of us do. Gaming models generally do not need to be correct to the nearest 5/IOOOths of an inch as is required for professional or museum grade models, but if they are correct to the nearest I 5/1000 of an inch they are very realistic looking indeed, and they are really not that hard to do. One sixty-fourth of an inch equals 0.015625 of an inch or rounded up to usual scale, 0.015 or 15/1000 of an inch. The human eye can usually measure this closely without magnification.

Large scales of 3/4″ to a foot and larger ate relatively easy to keep in scale but their size also requires attention to the smallest detail, or “down to the cup-hooks”, as it were. In the mid-range scales of half or three-eighths to the foot, an error of 1/32″ or 0.031 is quite acceptable and is a very easy standard to maintain. Not only are they easy to maintain, but small differences within these scales are hard to detect. They also have the virtue of being able to either go “down to the cup-hooks” or simply imply their presence at your choice.

However, these days most modelers, dioramists and garners are working in the smaller scales beginning with quarter inch to a foot (otherwise known as “O” Scale or Admiralty Scale) down to HO Scale. Now, the “O” and “HO” scales are well known and widely used and have been for decades and there is much material available in both scales to be of use to anyone using those scales.

On the other hand, the scales that lie in between are not as well known or, as it toms out, even well understood. It is these scales which are most important to the garner, who is, coincidentally, the principal audience we are addressing with this article.