Copyright 2004 T. Sheil & A. Sheil All Rights Reserved
Model Soldiers are a hobby in their own right, as well as an essential part of Miniature Wargaming. The standards of Wargaming do not exactly match those of Military Modeling. Wargaming standards are skewed towards the game, whereas Model-Making is concerned with making a realistic scale miniature. The presence of miniature figures is where the hobbies meet.
There are four hobbies which intersect: Wargaming, Military Miniatures, Model Building and Model Railroading. Though similar, each has its own goals and mechanics.
Wargaming: the ideal is an attractive army which is of a consistent enough size to play. To the wargamer, "scale" means figures that look to be a consistent height on the playing area. Wargamers tend to measure their scale by the height of a basic figure, in millimeters. (e.g. 54mm, 30mm, etc.)
Military Miniatures: the ideal is realism, with precise scale dimensions. The scale modeler is looking to make an accurate miniature that replicates the real world. Her is willing to cede consistent appearance, if it is not entirely realistic. Military Miniature makers might use fractions or the height of a standard figure to denote their scale. (e.g. 1/32, 1/24 or 54mm. 75mm. Etc.)
Model Building: Like Military Miniaturists, model builders seek realism. Some make models that replicate the real thing ,as it was when it was new. Others prefer to age, and weather, so the model looks like the real thing after use. Scale is as crucial to the Model Builder as to the Miniaturist. Model Builders tend to use fractions to denote scale (e.g. 1/72, 1/32, etc.)
Model Railroading: the majority of model railroaders are scale model builders. Some are not, being "tinplaters." Tinplate railroaders are less concerned with scale. Model railroading deals with two factors. "Gauge" is the distance between rails, and denotes the track a train uses. "Scale" is the train's relationship in size to the real world. Model railroaders use a letter system to denote their scales, which are standardized:
Here is a chart explaining the Model Railroad system:
|Model RR Letter||Fractional Scale||Height of 6' Man in that scale|
|G||1/20, 1/22.5, 1/24||3 5/8, 3 3/8, 75mm / 3"|
|O, O27||1/48 (US) 1/43.5 (UK)||1/4"|
|S, O27||1/64||1 1/8 - 27.5mm|
G scale is an anomaly. Purists claim the G is 1/22.5, based on the old European 1 meter Narrow Gauge (1 meter = 45mm). In actual use in the US, G can also include 1/20 and 1/24.
O27 is a smaller version of O gauge. It runs on O track, and can use a version that has a tighter curve. O27 is not a "scale," though most O27 cars range from 1/48 to as small as 1/64.
O is the old 1/4" scale in the US, but is 1.43.5 in the UK and 1/45 in Europe. For practical reasons, most hobbyists p-refer the US 1/48, which is workable for model builders.
The following chart equates scales of miniatures and wargaming figures with other hobbies and systems.
|Millimeters||Inches||Fractional||Model Railroad||Inch / Millimeters to scale foot|
|90||3 5/8||1/20, 1/22.5||G||5/8" - 15mm|
|75||3||1/24||G||1/2" - 12.5mm|
|60mm||2 1/2||1/29 - 1/30||Large Scale (Aristocraft)||10mm|
|54mm||2 1/4||1/32||#1 Large Scale
|3/8" - 9mm|
|51mm / 50mm||2 inches||1/35||8.35mm|
|40mm||1 9/16||1/43.5*||European O||6.67mm|
|38mm||1 1/2"||1/48||American O||1/4" - 6.5mm|
|28mm++||1 1/8||1/64||S Scale||3/16" - 4.66mm|
|25mm ++||1||1/72||1 pica (1/6") 4.15mm|
** Many regard 20mm scale as OO. However, at 4mm to the foot ,a six-foot soldier would be 24mm. Therefore, among wargamers, some regard 20mm as HO, and others as OO. Model Diorama Makers insist in more precision than Wargamers in this matter.
++Discrepancies in size often revolve around how a figure's scale height is measures. Among Wargamers, some makers measure from the bottom of the base, and others from the bottom of the figure's foot. Among scale modelers, the measurement is always from the bottom of the foot.
Knowing the scales, it is convenient to use items from another hobby and get scale-like results. One of the best resources for model soldier hobbyists and wargamers is model railroading. The railroad hobbies produce many things that would be accessories, such as scale miniature buildings and structures, trees, and other terrain. Model railroading companies produce an extensive range of structures for use as scenery, and most can be converted for use in military dioramas and wargaming terrain. One need merely consult the chart and find items of a scale that equates with his own.
A problem in America is finding scenery that is precise OO and 1/72. OO is popular in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is so rare in the US that no American suppliers make OO accessories. In the years after World War II, HO eclipsed what little OO remained here. While 1/72 models are common and 1/76 tank kits are available in good numbers, buildings and structures usually have to be imported from Britain.
Another issue is O gauge, which had been ambivalent about scale. One major maker, Marx, produced 1/64 scale trains to run on O27 track. Marx's buildings were close to 1/64, but its miniature railroad people were 1/48! Plasticville, a major source of O buildings for decades, is close to 1/48 in doors and windows, but building footprints are smaller than real life would dictate. This, some buildings sold for O might be as useful for 1/64, or 28mm.
The main point is how "scale" you wish to be. Wargamers can take some liberties with scales, whereas serious military modelers cannot. It is a good idea to ask friends who are knowledgeable about scale model railroading. They will know which products tend to be scale ,and which may take liberties with scale.
Model railroading figures can be converted. However, they can also be expensive. Most figures made for the railroad hobbies are civilian figures. Combat figures are only included in toy sets with "army trains." The railroad hobbies are great for structures and terrain, but a sparse source for military goods. Be aware that the railroaders are making scenes. In the US, only the Civil War era has combat scenes on the railroads. All other eras only have military items when transporting combat vehicles via rail.
Another strange issue for military modelers and wargamers is what railroaders call "Narrow Gauge." While major railroads run on standardized track that has 4' 8.5" distance between rails, some short-line railroads use a narrower gauge. (Gauge is the distance between rails) There is meter gauge in Europe, and 4', 42", 3', 30" and 2' gauge in the US and UK. G track is an example. The distance between rails on G track is 45mm, or 1 3/4". In 1/20 scale, that distance would be three scale feet. In 1/22.5 scale, it would ne one scale meter. And in 1/32 scale, G is called #1 gauge It represents the standard gauge of 4' 8.5". Narrow gauges were used in the Colonial Era in India and other parts of the world.
There are cases where "scale" is not an absolute. We have already mentioned O Gause. The buildings by Marx and Plasticville are not perfectly scale. Neither are accessories. O is called O Gauge. You may have noticed the O trains have an additional rail in the center of the track. Trains with this rail are often not to scale. Their dimensions may have been altered, so that they would run better on tighter curves. Marx, Lionel, Williams, MTH and K-Line make both offscale and scale trains. Weaver and Atlas make scale trains only.
Wargaming has its discrepancies, caused mainly by the way soldiers are measured. Some measure from the bottom of the base, others from the bottom of the figure's foot. Likewise, many Wargaming figures are made with heads, hands or other features that are larger than normal. This is to facilitate painting, so as to make an attractive miniature rather than one that is entirely scale. In Wargaming, appearances can outweigh the considerations of "being scale." this is why it is always good to see new makes of figures, before adding them to your existing army. Look before you buy. One man's 28mm might be another man's 25", and another man's 30mm!
In the 1960s and 1970s, 1/72 was the scale for model airplanes, and 1/76 was for model tanks. Somewhere in the late 80s, 1/72 became more popular. Plastic figure makers were making 25mm pieces, whereas the original Airfix were closer to 20mm. (Airfix upsized its figures staring in the 1970s) 25mm scale is 1/72. However, some tanks and vehicles being sold as 1/72 are actually older `/76 kits! Back in the old days, 1/76 vehicle kits were made by Airfix, Matchbox and Fujimi. Hasegawa made 1/72, and their kits were slightly larger. Recently, we have seen all of these touted as 1/72, either by manufacturers or vendors. Be aware that there is a minuscule difference between 1/72 and 1/76. Some won't mind, but some will.
Knowing what "scale" means, you can access related goods from other hobbies. It is important that you first determine just how "scale" you need to be, and what you wish to accomplish. You can find rich sources of supply that will enable you to do the kind of miniature work that will be the envy of all your friends. Be sure to ask questions when looking into the resources of other hobbies. Like wargamers and miniature soldier fans, other hobbyists are more than willing to steer you in the right direction.
Army Men Homepage: everything about toy and model soldiers
All Gauge Model Railroading Page: everything about model trains
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