Modifying or customizing plastic figures in scale 1/32 is a very popular practice, mainly motivated by the fact that some very popular kits like those WWII sets from Airfix and Matchbox come with a very limited set of different figure poses. In the case of the British Army, since most of their infantry branches share basically the same uniform, new figures can be created quickly by transferring heads, using a pose from another set and creating your own new figure in the original set. This is also fueled by the fact that several poses come duplicated in every box set, so you are not sacrificing a unique figure for you creativity’s sake.
Let’s see an example of this using a “plastic equation” so to speak:
Here we use a very cool standing Bren gunner, from the British Army (ETO) set, and combine it with a British Commando grenade thrower, one of the most repeated figures in this remarkable set, not very exciting but with one of the better defined facial features of the whole set, really well sculpted, unlike the source figure, which has a great pose, but lacks a detailed face. By transferring the head from the commando we now have a unique British Commando pose that will surely surprise most Airfix Commando fans, and by using a new angle for this well-detailed head, we now appreciate a completely different attitude or character on this figure, one of the rewards of doing these “Mods” or conversions.
I did not use glue but polymeric clay, once it air-dries it will bond the pieces together, it also fills the empty spaces and serves the purpose of sculpting a stylish scarf around his neck, so it solves the problem of bonding and also adding a new element, all at once. It was the material I had at hand in the moment of the conversions, but there is a better option called "Green stuff", a clay and bonder, all in one product. You can paint it when dry. It allows testing different positions for the head and it is easy to sculpt to give the appearance of a scarf, resulting in a very cool and stylish Commando.
This is another example to create a unique Commando figure by using a Matchbox British Army Bren gunner and a Matchbox Commando head with beret, these Commandos are very well sculpted figures but with not very action-oriented poses, nevertheless it is an epic set, rare and somewhat expensive, the plastic is very soft, easy to work with. The Commando set has much better details than the other Matchbox sets, the faces in particular are much better defined, and the British Army set provides some firing poses that this Commando set lacks, so it is a marriage of convenience. Again the same polymeric clay technique was used for this case. Once again our “plastic equation” to explain the conversion:
And a better picture, an actual shot of episode 1 of my new "Plastic Commandos" animated series:
Some figures provide wider alternatives for conversion, because they have their arms separated from their body and then you can try more radical transformations, with new weapons and intentions, but this is more difficult, many Airfix and Matchbox figures don’t provide this alternatives because they have a very monolithic design, arms and weapons close to the body, very difficult to cut and replace with something new, consider for instance the image above, very difficult to remove arms and Bren gun without damaging the figure, perhaps removing the gun if you are skilled with the cutter and adding another compatible (in size and trigger) weapon could be possible, but it’s difficult to achieve a polished result.
Sometimes you have more options, because the arms are separated from the body, and by replacing one or both arms the figure can be transformed to perform a very different and it can have more interesting combat roles.
|The original figure is not doing much, holding a knife with the right hand and doing nothing with the left hand|
|Arms from 21st Century Toys US gun crew figure were added, they are size-compatible|
and very useful for different tasks, weapons can be attached without glue
|This figure can also hold mortar rounds and play a role with the Fire Support Group|
|He can also be a prisoner about the be shot according to Hitler's Commando Order N°2|
With this old Matchbox soft plastic I had to use superglue, I think that "Green stuff" clay/bonder would also work, but I have not tested it yet. The arms are made of very rigid plastic, maybe some type of resin, which also needs superglue.
Another type of conversion is changing the weapon, for this the new weapon must be similar in shape, it must have similar handles and grab points, or maybe you are transforming the same weapon into a different version, like this Thompon MG with extra large barrel and drum magazine, Chicago Gangster style, not WW2 accurate but a cool example nevertheless:
Bty carefully removing sections of the machine gun (magazine and part of the barrel) and placing fragments of 1/35 kits, a new version of the Thompson MG gets done. In this case using the new plastic helps, because we can use Tamiya Cement for plastic model kits, and it's better than using superglue, gives more time to fix position of pieces, and performs its magic bonding the pieces because the new plastic used by Airfix is compatible with plastic model kits and the glues used for model building.
Removing the weapon and attach a new one is a much complicated conversion task. First you must have a nice 1/32 weapon, and it's highly probable that you will need to cut fragments of this weapon. Airfix multipose kits are a very good source of high quality weapons, depending on the kit (British, German, American) you can find light machine guns like MG42, Bren, BAR or MP40, Sten, Thompson, among other accessories.
In this case, which is a work in progress at the time of writing this article, this figure from the British Army set (Airfix) was holding a Thompson MG, which was cut out, and a fragment of a nice Bren gun was put in its place, the fragment had to be cut to fit the space in the best way possible, not perfect but good enough.
Its head well be replaced by a Commando head, I expect the end result to be very satisfying, considering that this is a figure with beautiful proportions and sculpt details, a good paint job should make it look very nice and unique.
There is also chance for small conversions or enhancements, like attaching a small piece of equipment to a figure, like in these cases, where a sniper sight was added to the rifle and a handle was added to the Bren gun. Both pieces were taken from 1/35 kits (Tamiya US WW2 weapons), and thanks to the new plastic, Tamiya's cement for plastic models was used with very good results.
I am about to receive that "green stuff" clay & bonder that many skilled toy soldier fans are using for advanced conversions involving sculpting parts of uniforms, as I could see on the internet, I think that this material will expand my conversion possibilities, since it can also be used to sculpt, for instance, you can convert an 8th Army short pant into a British Army trouser, it requires practice, but I am sure it makes the task easier.
I have done many other conversions using "Big 1/32" figures from TSSD and Austin miniatures, but now I am focused on Airfix regular 1/32, Commando conversions in particular, taking advantage that many Airfix kits representing UK army forces can be used for Commando conversions because they share the same basic uniform.