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The Care & Feeding of Lead Miniatures


Painting Dog
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I have recently come into some very old (late-1980's) Ral Partha lead miniatures that I'm very excited to work on.  The only problem:  I have never, ever painted lead figures before.  Would anyone be able to point me toward a resource with information about how to clean (soap and water?) and protect (against lead rot?) minis like these?

 

Thanks in advance for sharing the wisdom.  ::D:

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I’m not sure where a good single resource would be.

 

I have a few old lead figures. They can be cleaned, as pewter minis are, with dishsoap and warm water and a toothbrush never to be used for any other purpose.

 

Do not clean them with vinegar. Acetic acid is what triggers lead rot.

 

Likewise, never store them in cardboard or wood, both of which can outgas acetic acid and start the process of lead rot.  Ziplock baggies are okay for storage.

 

Acrylic paint is naturally alkaline, so I reckon a light priming on a clean lead mini will act as a bit of a buffer and keep them secure from acids until I can paint them. This, however, is only my opinion, not rigorously tested or anything. 

 

I always wear nitrile exam gloves when handling minis for painting. It’s an even better idea if the minis are lead.

 

Once primed the figures can be painted as any pewter mini can be.

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Late '80s should be fine for lead rot, by that point most companies were using alloys that really aren't particularly susceptible to it. That said, @Pingo's recommendations are good.

 

Soap and water are fine for cleaning. Make sure the minis are completely dry before priming.

 

Use a real primer (and consider priming the bottom of the figure if you're worried about lead rot). Paint is not primer.

 

Lead minis bend more easily, which can sometimes be very nice, but repeated bending can cause fracturing. Try not to bend any more than you absolutely have to and consider how you're going to store and transport the figures once painted. I wouldn't recommend using something like pluck foam by itself, as it is quite abrasive and pressing the figures into the foam can cause bending of thin parts.

 

Metallic lead isn't particularly problematic from a toxicity standpoint. Ral Partha was required to test its employees very regularly for lead exposure and never had an abnormal result for the entire time they used lead even though there was molten lead all the time and the employees handled the figures constantly. That said, do your own research, understand the hazards you're undertaking, and take the precautions that you deem appropriate.

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Thanks, guys. (Just curious -- @Pingo, do you know everything? :lol:). I love having access to such a font of information. 

 

I wasn't worried about toxicity issues, or anything like that. Wasn't planning to lick the figures, and as @Pingo said, using nitrile gloves is never a bad idea. I was mostly unsure about things like whether toothbrush + dish soap was still OK for cleaning, or whether I needed to do something special as far as priming prep and storage. I really appreciate your suggestion about priming the base and avoiding the foam, @Doug Sundseth -- those are two things I didn't even consider!

 

Thanks, guys!

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8 hours ago, Painting Dog said:

Thanks, guys. (Just curious -- @Pingo, do you know everything? :lol:). I love having access to such a font of information. 

 

Hah! What Pingo has is an arts background, an arts degree, a modest arts career, and a certain nosy inquisitiveness. Oh, and teachers in the family.

 

And you are welcome.

 

@Doug Sundseth, I shall have to remember your advice about priming under the bases, because it is so obvious to me I have not mentioned it before.

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3 minutes ago, Harrek said:

I wonder once you have the lead figure clean and dry if you are worried about lead rot, wouldn't a coat of sealer work to keep it good?

 

If a thin coat of acrylic primer can provide some protection to a lead figure (no guarantees that it can, but theoretically it looks helpful), then probably so can a thin layer of sealer.

 

I personally prefer primer because it is easier to paint over. Sealer tends to be a little slick.

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56 minutes ago, Pingo said:

 

If a thin coat of acrylic primer can provide some protection to a lead figure (no guarantees that it can, but theoretically it looks helpful), then probably so can a thin layer of sealer.

 

I personally prefer primer because it is easier to paint over. Sealer tends to be a little slick.

Bet the Badger primers would be nice and sturdy for this!

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Don't smoke around where you are working on anything made of lead.  Sucking lead particles/vapours through the cherry of a lit cigarette is one of the best way to get lead poisoning (maybe even better than being a very young child chewing on the window sills in an old house); the heat oxidizes the lead and activates its toxicity.  Wash your hands carefully and go outside before you light up.  If you must light up.

 

Really not a big concern for a hobbyist working on a handful of lead-age minis, but its one of those things people get worked up about more than what might be reasonable.  So I say, better safe than sorry.  Even if chances are you're really only saving your own peace of mind.

 

FWIW, I seem to remember my friends and I having not much good luck stripping the Testors Enamel paints off lead minis with Pine Sol back in the day.  It seemed to cause corrosion of the minis.  Possibly we let them soak way too long, but there are definitely better paint strippers (and paints) available these days to chose from...

 

Good luck, looking forward to the pictures -  I love old school minis from back in the day!

 

Kang

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1 hour ago, Painting Dog said:

What about paint removal?  Some of these are already painted -- I think with acrylics (they aren't glossy), but I'm really not sure. Is the usual Simple Green soak still appropriate?

 

Simple Green works fine for lead-alloy minis. Though thick enamels can be hard to get off.

 

If it's really recalcitrant, you can try a cheap ultrasonic cleaner with Simple Green or go to one of the more ... aggressive cleaners noted here:

 

Note that many of the more aggressive cleaners are, IMO, significantly more hazardous than lead, though. I'm willing to handle lead minis for hours at a time, brake fluid or acetone, not so much.

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I have a complete AD&D Grenadier Gold Line all bought on ebay within the last seven years. I stripped them all with Simple Green or Pinesol. Pinesol was used for enamels and stubborn paint. All were primered on EVERY bare surface after stripping and cleaning. I still examine the ones that haven't been painted yet on a yearly basis. Pingo and Doug pretty much covered everything else you need to know.

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