Iron Wind Metals
Last Friday I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the Iron Wind Metals factory. For anyone who doesn’t already know, Iron Wind Metals is a company specializing in creating pewter figures for games such as Battletech, Crimson Skies, and Shadowrun just to name a few. Iron Wind actually crafts many of the original Ral Partha miniatures that I used to ogle over eighteen years ago when I first became interested in Battletech and painting pewter figures or “cool robots” as I referred to them when I was a kid so this was especially cool for me.
Upon our arrival, the owner of Iron Wind Metals, Michael Noe, very graciously gave us our tour of the factory. I must say, Michael really increased my interest in the miniature crafting hobby. I’ve always loved Battletech, but this experience really helped to evolve my interest towards the art and the industry as a whole. The process of crafting miniatures is very interesting; I never realized how much effort actually went into creating these highly detailed figures. This trip really gave me a new appreciation for the miniatures I build and paint.
Our tour of Iron Wind began in Michael’s office with a very interesting story of the history of Iron Wind Metals. I would love to be able to repeat the history, but I’m sure I would mess it up, I was pretty overwhelmed by everything to see and learn. I was able to find another post about the history of Ral Partha and Iron Wind Metals at Purple Pawn, but if you are really interested in learning about the history of Iron Wind Metals, I would highly recommend chatting with Michael if you ever have the opportunity. It’s all the little facts and interesting side stories about the items that litter the factory that really made the tour great. Rare figures, original artwork, interesting photos, Viking funerals and random treasures throughout the shop made the trip worth it in itself.
We continued the tour throughout the rest of the factory, learning the processes from sculpting to casting, to shipping. I will do my best to try and re-explain some of the process of how miniatures are created, I think the next time I do something like this I will need to take notes or film it. It was very hard to retain all the information while being overwhelmed with excitement.
Iron Wind uses a method called spin casting to create their miniatures. Once a new design is sculpted, the model is pressed into a rubber disk that when heated liquefies around the model, when the rubber hardens you are left with a master mold. These master molds will later be used to create the final production molds used when casting the pewter miniatures.
This master mold looks very clean; take a look at the difference between this mold and one of the production molds.
The production molds are the actual molds that are used to create the miniatures that you receive at home, it’s important to have these production copies to ensure that the original master mold is not damaged. An interesting difference you may notice between the original master mold and the production molds is the large amount of grooves coming off the mold. These grooves aren’t cracks; they are purposely added to the mold. Ever wonder where flash (excess pewter off a model) comes from? It’s because of these grooves carved into the rubber. These are added to the mold to allow air bubbles and excess pewter to escape as the mold fills up. The spin casting process uses centrifugal force to disperse the pewter into the entire mold. As the mold spins the pewter continues to be forced out through the vents allowing any trapped air and excess pewter to spill over to these areas. This helps to ensure air bubbles are not left in the final model providing a higher quality piece.
After a production mold is created, it’s time to cast the miniature. Large stacks of solid pewter bars and vats of molten metal can be found throughout the workshop. When a new miniature needs to be crafted the production mold is selected from its shelf and placed in the centrifuge, the liquid pewter is then ladled into the mold through the top.
In about a minute the pewter hardens, and solid pewter disk can be removed. At this time the miniatures are inspected, any models that have any flaws are returned along with the pewter disk to the pot to be reused for the next batch.
Thousands of molds were lined up around the factory; among them were some of the original Ral Partha master molds. Many of these models are no longer produced, but it sounds like the possibility does exist that some of these very cool originals could resurface at some point in the future.
Another very interesting surprise learned during the trip, a new scale of Battletech miniatures are being produced to be used for the new Battletech Quick strike rules. These smaller versions will later be available in a box set. These Mini-Mechs are just as detailed as their larger counterparts, they look great. I definitely plan on getting a few sets of them for large scale battles.
Before rummaging the shop for some great loot, I had the privilege of having a beer with Michael.
Thanks Michael, we had a great trip.