Pins and Needles

So you are attempting to assemble an old school metal miniature, and the super glue just doesn't seem to be holding in that arm like it should.  You let it set, but just a bump and it falls off again.  Or, as you will find if you work with miniatures enough, that metal spear shaft or banner pole breaks off. The joint is simply too small for the glue to affix properly.

The solution to this is pinning.  Pinning is where you put a thin 'pin' of metal inside of two model pieces to strengthen the joint.  It is nothing more than drilling a hole in each bit and putting a piece of gluing a piece of wire to hold these bits together. This may seem intimidating at first, but with a little practice it will become a natural part of your modelling toolbox.

Of course, you need tools to do this.  The first is a pin vice.  This is actually nothing more than a small hand drill that fits in and is meant to be operated with one hand.  I highly recommend  one that has a swivel attachment to fit in your hand - if you get one that does not then it will very quickly feel like you are drilling into your hand as well as the miniature each time you use it.
two types of pin vices
I have two pin vices - one I use for pinning - the other I actually use to store my standard pinning bits.  The collets are interchangeable between them - so I just take the collet with the correct size bit in it and put it in the good pin vice.
this one stores bits
Most pin vices will come with a two ended collet (or in some 2 of them).  These are what holds the drill bit using compression when you screw the chuck down tight.
collet and drill bit
Gale Force 9 used to sell a good pin vice with bits and wire, but that was before they became a game company.  Privateer Press has a nice pinning kit that comes with two bits and brass rods (wire) the same size. They also have expansion kits that give you smaller or larger bits also with appropriately sized brass rods.  0.5mm, 0.85mm and 1.25 mm give you a wide variety to choose from.

Like a lot of people, when I first started pinning miniatures, I would cut up paper clips and use those as my pins.  While these are plenty strong - they are actually not round and do not come in exact sizes, so it is difficult to find bits that match.    Pinning kits solve this problem.

I have found, unfortunately, that these very small bits can break easily.  Perhaps I push too hard or drill too fast, but they do not last me very long.  So instead of buying pinning kits, I found industrial bits and buy them in bulk.  I last purchased a gross of bits (12 packs of 12) several years ago (long enough that I can't remember exactly when) and will have to get more soon as I'm down to my last two packs.  At the time I think I paid about $0.25 per bit, but again it is long enough ago that I don't remember.
label for vice bits
You also need pinning material.  Pinning kits come with brass rod.  Several years ago I went to my local hobby shop to get more brass rod, and they were completely out of the size I needed.  They did have steel rod though, so I bought that instead.  First thing I learned is that brass is MUCH softer than steel - by ruining a pair of clippers trying to cut it.  So if you go with anything other than brass or paper clips - you will need much stronger cutters than you standard modelling and sprue cutting ones.  I use a pair of electricians needlenose pliers.
Mantic clippers and heavy duty needlenose pliers
One other material I found recently was aluminum tubing. This fits over the steel rod I was using, and I used it for rifle barrels and also for removable banner poles (put a pin on the base, then slide the tube with the banner on it onto the pin when using the banner, or remove it when not using it).  One caution when using aluminum tubing - you cannot use normal cutters to cut it as they will crush the ends of the tube - instead I use a sharp hobby knife rolling the tube under the blade to cut this.

pinning material - 1/16" aluminum tube, 1/16" brass rod, 1/32" steel rod, 1/32" brass rod
132 wire in 1/16 aluminum tube
My demo dwarf rifles on the ironwatch troops kept breaking under normal wear, so I used the 1/32 steel rod to make a pin and then glued the aluminum tubing onto this pin - making barrels that are significantly more durable than their plastic counterparts - even replacing the barrels on the models that were NOT yet broken.
Troop of Ironwatch rifles
Recently a friend asked me to assemble her Mantic Dwarf Bulwarkers (dwarfs with big shields and spears).  When I got the kits, four of the spears were broken - a perfect opportunity to demonstrate pinning!
One two-handed spear and three broken one-handed spears
For this I'm going to pin one of the spears back onto it's handle.  Let me also take a quick moment to thank my wonderful wife Diane for taking the pictures - they are much better (and much more in focus on the parts instead of my fingers) than my one handed attempts.  She used her new Canon 340 digital camera she got for Christmas, and did a great job!

So first I want to show the parts that will be fixed.  If you look closely at the tips, you will see they are fairly rough.  I can't even be sure these were part of the same piece, since three of them broke off.
rough edges
So the first step is to clean off the ends for a smooth join.  With these it is as simple as just cutting off the rough portion with a sharp hobby knife.
smooth edges
I have found that drill bits, even tiny ones for pin vices, do not like to stay where you position them. You need some type of guide for them.  I have found two ways to do this.  The first is to take your hobby knife and twirl the tip in the spot you want to drill.  This digs a small hole, that, while not deep enough to pin, is deep enough to act as a guide hole for the drill bit.
Making the guide hole

Nice guide hole
The second way only works an convex pieces (i.e. those that stick out, rather than ones that are concave - like the socket of a ball and socket joint).  Center you hobby knife across the surface and gently press down, moving it side to side slightly.  Then turn your piece 90 degrees and do it again.
This leaves a cross mark in the piece (which will be covered by the join).  The place where the two lines meet will now give a grip to you drill bit.
Cutting the cross guide
X marks the spot to drill
Now place your drill bit in your guide hole and slowly turn it clockwise, with a small amount of pressure towards the piece.  As you keep turning it, you should see spirals of metal come out through the groves on the drill bit.  For most pieces you want to go at least a 1/4 of an inch deep to make sure you get a good hold.

When drilling out the pieces, be aware that the friction, even going slowly, can cause the metal in the piece and the drill bit to heat up and expand - and this can cause the bit to bind in the hole.  This is especially true if you decide to use power tools (a multi-speed dremel with a flexible neck attachment works well (on lowest speed) when you are doing a LOT of pinning) as they can very quickly heat up, bind, and snap your drill bit blocking the perfect hole you were drilling.  And the broken bit is MUCH harder than the surrounding metal, so it is in there for good, and you have to make a new hole and get a new bit.  Binding can also happen if you angle the bit after you have drilled a bit - so it is important to keep the pin vise straight when drilling.
drilling the hole
and done

and done for the other piece
It is very important to keep your tools in good working condition.  If your drill it breaks then replace it.  But you also need to keep it clean.  Metal can get stuck in the grooves of the bit, and will make it much harder to drill the next hole as there is now no where for the material you are using to go as you spin the bit.
blocked up bit
Cleaning this out is quite easy, and should be done any time you can see build up in the bit.  Simply place your hobby knife in the back groove of the bit at the same angle, then twist the pin vice counter-clockwise and let the knife slide along the bit toward the tip.  It will dig out any material that was in the groove of the bit.  Be aware that most bits have two grooves - one on each side, so you will have to repeat for each of them.
cleaning the bit
clear and ready for the next hole
Next comes inserting the pin itself.  If there is any stray material on the piece from drilling the hole, use your hobby knife to clean it off.  I use a pair of needle nose pliers to hold the pin material.  A small drop of super glue on the end will hold it in place
steel rod with a drop of super glue
as you push it into the hole.  If you are using the same size rod as the drill bit, then it should be a very snug fit, and I've often found I need to rotate the pin as I push it in to make it slide all the way.
pushing the pin in
Once the pin is seated, then you need to cut off the excess rod.  I want to stress DO NOT use your sprue cutters to do this - metal is much denser than plastic, and if you use them on steel all you will do is put a divot in the edge of our clippers.  That is why I use heavy duty lineman's pliers.  You will also want to hold the other end of your rod - as when you clip it off, it can go flying and if it is short is can be very hard to find.  (This is a family friendly blog, so you can just keep those jokes about holding onto your rod and not being able to find it when it is short to yourself, thank you very much :-) ).
clipping the pin
In general you want to leave about 1/4 inch of a ping sticking out - this is what will fit into the other piece.  Remember you can always trim more off if you need to, but you can't put any back on if you cut it too short.  If you are doing larger pieces you may need longer pins, but the principle is the same.
Pin cut, ready to join
You may want to do a test fit to the other piece before gluing it.  This way you can see if the pin is longer than the hole is deep (and either drill the hole deeper, or trim the pin off to make it fit).  Once you have checked the fit, put another small dab of super glue on the end of the pin, and push it back into the hole you drilled on the other piece.  If you did a dry fit, then it may be a little looser the second time, if you did not then you again may have to maneuver it a bit to get it all the way inserted.
Here comes the other piece
Once the pieces are joined together, leave them to dry.  Even though super glue will bond instantly to you skin, it seems to take a bit longer to set on metal.  You can use accelerators to speed up this process - but be aware that accelerators generate heat, and can make the glue more brittle than without them.
You can barely see the joint, and it will be unnoticeable once painted
Here are two pieces - one that was pinned after breaking and the other unbroken. You can hardly tell the difference.
Comparing an intact spear with a pinned spear
Here is the two handed spear that I fixed.  I don't think I could tell which one was pinned if I did not know already.
Was it him, or him?
When pinning larger pieces, you often won't be able to tell the center point like you can on something thin like this.  In these cases you want to drill the small piece (the arm for example) and then fit in a pin that only sticks out about 1/16 of an inch or so (you want to be able to grab it with your pliers and pull it back out, but not so long you cannot fit the pieces roughly together).  Then fit the piece in place, and if the model is made of soft enough material, the little piece of pin will leave a mark indicating where to drill the corresponding hole.  If it is not, then put a small amount of black paint on the end of the pin, and it will mark the spot with a dot.

Because it is all fun and games . . .


  1. Great post, I'm a big fan of pinning. I like the cross guide and will give that a go in the near future.

  2. The hobby knife starter hole idea is new to me and seems obvious in hindsight yet I'd never have thought of it. Cheers for the great article! (And thanks for explaining why my bit broke in my Drexel that time ;) I've since bought a hand pin vice like I had as a kid.)

  3. Finally I’ve found your blog, awesome way of explaining each and everything really.I was searching the blogs for a long time and that is good to know that I have found such blogs here. Great working! Keep it up! click site

  4. Likewise really useful and simple to follow post. Pinning has always seemed a daunting prospect but will definitely give it a try now


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