Hereís a step-by-step illustration of how to strip the paint off an assembled, painted miniature using Simple Green, a non-toxic, bio-degradable household cleaner.
Here is a metal Chaos Dreadnought (for the Warhammer 40,000 game) I bought some time ago from eBay. It came assembled and painted. Now, the paint job was certainly not bad, but of course I need to practice my own painting skills, so I decided to strip the paint.
Hereís the miniature as it arrived:
It was assembled with superglue, and not pinned. Iíve found that itís much easier to strip paint if the miniature is disassembled first. My method to disassemble a super-glued miniature is to leave it in boiling water for about 20-30 minutes. When the miniature is heated up, the metal and superglue expand at different rates, thus weakening the bond. Or so Iíve been told by those in the know.
Afterwards, I cooled the miniature in running cold water, and applied gentle pressure to twist loose the superglued parts. With very little effort, all parts came undone:
However, dried superglue bits are still encrusted on the miniature and those are pretty hard to get off. Also, dried superglue tend to be rather brittle and sharp and itís not the most pleasant thing to have little shards of it going flying everywhere if you were to pick at it with a tool. So, the next step is to dip the parts in a solution of acetone. I actually used the cheapo nail polish remover:
I left it covered outside for about 30 minutes. Thatís usually enough time to loosen the super glue from the metal parts.
When working with acetone (or nail polish remover or any kind of solvent based chemicals), BE VERY SURE to safeguard yourself. Not only is good ventilation a must, but wear protective eye and breathing apparatus. Something like this particle filter respirator from 3M. Itís not cheap (around $40-45), but itís well worth it. The cheap dust masks are worthless for protection from solvent fumes.
As you can see, super glue becomes rubbery and tensile when soaked in acetone. Very easy to pull off using a pair of tweezers:
All done! Whomever assembled this miniature actually did not use too much superglue (thank you thank you). Iíve had a Dreadnought in the past that mustíve used 2 or 3 bottles of superglue.
Now for the actual paint part. I left the disassembled parts in Simple Green overnight:
Hereís the front torso of the Dreadnought, ready to be scrubbed with an old toothbrush. You can see that parts of paint have already begun to slough off.
The legs after one light scrub motion with the toothbrush. 95% of the paint came off with very little effort.
Ö and here are all the parts, cleaned up and ready for my own assembly and priming. There are recesses and crevices that still have paint residues. A scribing tool such as one shown below is excellent for getting those out.
A close up of the front torso. As you can see, most of the paint have come off, but there are some still left inside the mask and in the recesses behind its sides. Iíll get most of those off, but once I prime it, whateverís left wonít be noticeable.
And thatís it! A nice overnight method of getting a metal miniature to its (almost) pristine condition. Note that this method wonít work for plastic miniaturesĖboiling will warp the plastic, and acetone will attack and craze it.
With plastic miniatures, if the parts have been assembled with superglue, theyíll usually come off if enough shearing pressure is applied after theyíve been soaked in Simple Green for at least 24 hours (Simple Green seems to somehow weaken the cyanoacrylate bond). If theyíve been assembled with plastic cement, then it becomes more complicated, as plastic cement melts two parts to form a very strong bond.
Simple Green definitely does not work as well on plastic miniatures as it does on metal miniatures. If lacquer- or solvent-based primer was used, then thatís almost impossible to get off with Simple Green. My guess is that the chemical reaction that takes place to adhere the primer to the plastic is beyond Simple Greenís capacity to weaken. Acrylic paints do usually come off, but takes much longer than metal figures and even then, it doesnít work as well.
Below are three plastic Lord of the Rings High Elf Warriors that I bought primed and painted. The middle figure was scrubbed after 24 hours in Simple Green, and the other two were soaked for 4 days. As you can see, the outer two look ďcleanerĒ, but even so, the white solvent-based primer on all three have not been affected materially.
Probably the biggest advantage of Simple Green is how well it works, considering itís non-toxic and bio-degradable. There are other cleaning agents that do better jobs ó oven cleaner and brake fluid to name two ó but they contain nasty, toxic chemicals that I definitely do not want around my family and pets. Highly recommended!