Self-Taught 1:6 “Woodworking Wonder”
At a time when most customizers of 1:6 scale action figures, vehicles, weapons and related equipment are working with high-tech aids and materials such as 3D printers (see our previous article HERE), complex resin compounds (see HERE), electro-static flocking machines (see HERE), styrene plastics (see HERE), and even metals (see HERE), longtime modeler and customizer, Mike Conrad, of Ontario, Canada, has decided to eschew modern methods and materials and return to “the craftsman’s roots” by working predominantly—with wood. For even the most talented 1:6 customizers however, working with wood is believed to be severely limiting. Outside of a pile of campfire logs or some tent poles, there would seem to be little else that 1:6 scalers could convincingly create out of the material. Conrad dispels such notions.
How is Such Fine Work Possible?
Typically, when you think of wooden toys, you think of standard flea-market finds such as wagons, horses, choo-choos and other such simplistic children’s fare. But Conrad’s work isn’t made for children. Rather, each piece is a miniature work of military fine art, replete with perfectly defined parts and realistic details. The fact that nearly everything is made out of wood is literally mind-boggling. It’s the kind of 1:6 custom work you have to see up close and in-person to believe. We asked Mike to tell us about himself and his background, expecting the requisite story of intensive training and years spent apprenticing with master woodsmiths and artisans. Surprisingly, he replied:
“I was born and raised an Air Force “Military Brat.” Our family packed up and moved away from friends and familiarity every 4 years. In 1982, we moved to Lahr, West Germany. I was 12 at the time. Shortly after we arrived, I happened upon something that a lot of us built as a kid (when the costs were cheaper)—an almighty, 1/35th scale TANK. I fell in love! My passion for model-building snowballed from that point on to include planes, ships, submarines, corvettes and most recently, 1/6th scale WWII.”
“Of course, while growing up, we never had much money, so when it came to model building (or as I like to call it now, ‘model creating’), I had to make do with whatever was available at hand. Whenever images or ideas were in my head, the next step was scrounging and hunting for the various parts and pieces in my Dad’s parts bins in the basement and garage. (Thanks, Dad!). I’ve always been good at picturing the finished product from all sides and how to go about building or creating it. I have never had any formal training in model building or painting, but I’ve won numerous awards for my ‘Creature Creations and Prop Building,’ having also worked for a professional theater In Halifax.”
Despite a lack of any formal art education, Mike has clearly become a VERY talented and gifted artist. And his decision to work in wood makes his creations all that more special. We confessed to Conrad that we were surprised he had chosen to create his 1:6 scale customs out of wood, when there were so many other more “toy-like” materials available. He replied:
“I’ve used anything and EVERYTHING I could find; from the wood panels off the sides of a small tangerine box (see my current .30 cal machine-gun project), to the hardwood dowels I found at local Dollar Stores (those stores are a good hunting ground for bits and pieces, by the way). No matter what materials (or media) you decide to use, I say to kids out there… Put down that video game controller or cell phone. Scrounge around the house. Raid your Dad’s parts bins. Use your imagination. And for Pete’s sake… START CREATING!”
Going Against the Grain
Of all the materials to work with in 1:6 scale, it seems that wood would be the most artistically challenging and work-intensive. But such thoughts don’t appear to concern or deter Conrad, who describes his preference for wood thusly:
“Well, the idea of working with wood came to me just because of the simple fact that (in my head) I’m always looking for other uses for house-hold materials, and there was always scrap wood sitting around in the garage, basement, etc. And of course, it was FREE.
Personally, I find that wood is very easy to carve. If I make any mistakes—there’s always good ol’ wood filler that I can make myself out of sawdust and glue. It’s also non-toxic (and FREE). I hate waste, so I try to find uses for EVERYTHING. Gimme a dremel tool and some wood and I can make practically anything. I’ve actually just finished carving out the button for my new U.S. walkie-talkie.”
“I’m also building a 1/6 M2A4 scale tank, all out of wood, using wooden packing crate boxes for oranges that I picked up from the grocery store and some other scrap wood I found lying around. If the tooth of a gear ever breaks, I can just cut out a new sprocket, because—it’s FREE! I just rough cut the circles out on my band-saw, then spin them using my drill press and a long nut and bolt, using it like a wood lathe. Whatever I make is just for my own personal collection. I’ve never really thought of any other options, such as selling them. But if such an offer ever came up, I’m sure I would consider it!”
Bottom Line: Our sincerest thanks to Mike Conrad for his contributions to this article. His extensive use of wood as a customizing material gives his 1:6 creations a unique tactile and artistic esthetic that few others can claim. And Mike’s suggestion of using inexpensive (i.e. FREE) supplies is great advice for hobbyists of all ages. There’s no better way to begin an artistic pursuit than boldly jumping in and spending practically nothing. He’s also living proof that you don’t have to have a formal or expensive art education in order to begin creating your own 1:6 scale masterpieces. Remember, anything created by you becomes an instant keepsake and family heirloom, possessing far greater memories of satisfaction and accomplishment than ANY mass-produced hunk of plastic. So, as Mike likes to say… “For Pete’s sake, start creating!”