Kamui’s Workbench: Fitting the hobby into a busy household

Hello all,

The hobby of miniatures wargames is filled with a wide variety of challenges.  It is a complex and diverse hobby that on the surface includes the strategic challenges of the game and painting of the models themselves.  As you dig into the modelling side of the hobby things branch out rapidly into various painting and modelling techniques, terrain vs. units, converting, sculpting, casting, etc.  For the most part these various aspects of the hobby are covered pretty well across the internet.  One aspect that isn’t as widely discussed but it equally important as the others is where to actually do all of these things!

That’s not to say this topic hasn’t been discussed at all.  I’ve recently read the posts on Greggles Tabletop about his new paint rack and his new lamp (plus his compiled recommendations from others) and it got me thinking about my own hobby workspace.  As a husband and father of two I have to balance my hobby needs against my family’s needs and a reasonable budget.  I do most of my modelling and painting in my dining room:WorkbenchThose lights are dimmable LEDs that put out decent quality light when turned all the way up.  I can see the TV from here and easily get to the fridge when my beer glass runneth dry, so it seems like prime real estate!  I can’t just pick the most comfy spot in the house and pile my hobby stuff around it (well, the living room sectional is the most comfy, but difficult to work from.)  So I’ve laid claim to one cabinet in that hutch on the right.Workbench (1)

This cabinet is large enough to hold at least one of my current projects plus any materials and tools I need to work on it.  For my modelling projects I usually use a wooden or plastic tray and an organizer box or two.  The model(s) go in the tray with most of the materials and tools I’m using while the organizers hold tools and bits that I might need.  For painting I built myself a tray that can hold all of the paints I’m using for a given model or unit along with my brushes, wet palette, and water can.  The wet palette keeps the paints I’m using in good shape for days at a time so I don’t have to dispense and/or remix paint every time I start again. Workbench (2) Here’s a shot of the paint station set up and the LED lights on full brightness. Workbench (3) Having the paint or project tray stashed in the dining room cabinet like this keeps the clutter out of my family’s way and hidden from the sight of any visitors but still makes it easy for me to pull out my latest project and start working without a lot of setup.  I find I can make a lot of progress by working for 20-30 minutes between getting ready for work and actually leaving each morning.  Taking this moment for myself each morning also puts me in a better mood to start the day.

I also have a more permanent workstation in the basement.  I use this space when I am airbrushing so that my family doesn’t have to deal with the noise of the compressor, and so that I don’t spray paint all over the dining table.  I sometimes work on other modelling and painting down here but it’s not as well lit and in the winter it is colder.  It is a heated basement but we keep the temperature lower down here and I’m not going to waste the fuel to heat it up for a 30-minute morning painting session.  If I ever invest in a more expensive hobby organizers and lights then this is probably where it will go.  With a better setup I might prefer working down here more often.  Right now sitting here just reminds me that I need to finish that wall some day, so I usually just stay upstairs! Workbench (4)


Here is a quick shot of the “light booth” I use when I want to get a nicer picture for finished models.  Like most of my hobby stuff it has been cobbled together from odds and ends because I’m too cheap to buy better.  The top light is a random SAD therapy light I picked up somewhere.  It would actually be fairly expensive but I got it from someone who didn’t feel it helped them and didn’t have another use for it.  The side lights are cheap clip on lamps from an old terrarium setup, one with a “daylight” incandescent bulb and the other with a soft-white CFL.  Home Depot recently dropped some of their LED bulbs to less than $5 so I might try a pair of those out soon.  The backdrop is an old shower curtain.  When it was time to replace it I cut off the dingy sections and kept the clean parts for this.


Workbench (5)So that’s how I fit my hobby into my house without driving the rest of my family nuts and while saving more of my money for the plastic addiction.  To maximize on your limited hobby time you need a way to keep your current project easily accessible so that setup time does not become a barrier for you.  A dedicated space is a great way to do this but a portable workspace that can be quickly stashed away also works well.  There are a lot of nice accessories out there to help you set up a top notch workstation but if you can’t find the money and/or space for a setup like that you can get by just fine without it.  With a little bit of thought you can find the space for your hobby in almost any home and budget.

Now you’ve seen how I squeeze the hobby into my life.  What kind of workstation do you have set up?  What are your tips for making the most of limited hobby time?

  • I have it easy in that I have my space setup in my office. The downside is it’s on the 3rd floor. I used to paint in the dining room and it was great for quick sessions. If I had to boil water in the kitchen then I’d walk 8 feet and paint for 5 minutes. I tend to paint less often now without those short bursts of painting but when I do paint it’s for hours at a time so it all works out in the end.

    • A dedicated space is nice to have. I am slowly working on getting mine organized but I often prefer to work in front of the TV for my longer painting sessions (when the wife is away I can watch all those anime series on Netflix that she’s not interested in) so the dining room is better. The basement workstation is likely to become more airbrush dedicated.

      • Understandable. I prefer to avoid distractions so when I work it’s usually in utter silence. I normally don’t even listen to music unless I’m doing mindless stuff like cleaning flash and moldlines on a bunch of models. I’m just odd like that.

        • I’ll admit that I do often lose time to distraction while watching TV. When I’m really looking to get something done quickly I also prefer to work in silence. However, when Vicki it out for a few hours I often like to watch movies or shows that I know she’s not interested in.

  • It appears the web ate my response. Now I’m sad. Just imagine a super nicely written response that was so beautiful it made your mini’s cry. (new GW technical paint, the tears of your foes!)

    Lets try this again.

    One thing I failed to talk about in my article, was how important the placement of the painting area is. I originally had a dedicated space to paint, but it was away from the rest of the household, mainly my partner ladyfriend. I began painting on the table, because I could hang out with her while I Did so.

    The current position of my workspace is setup so I can still talk and take breaks to hang out with her…something very important when integrating your hobby and your life.

    • Yes, that is in important factor. I sometimes paint in the dining room while my wife watches TV. I haven’t done it as much lately because she’s been very busy with various theater rehearsals/shows so when she’s home I tend to stay on the couch with her. Sometimes it is nice to paint without isolating yourself from your family.

  • TheRhino

    It’s interesting to think of all the places I used to paint, and where I paint now.
    When I first started as a kid, I painted at the island in the kitchen. When I started up again in college, it was at my desk in my dorm room, and then at the table in the apartment kitchen.
    Once we moved down to southern Maine, I painted on the couch in the living room of our apartment while watching TV. My first Space Marines were painted while I watched Bruins games and old movies while hunched over the cedar chest we used as a coffee table.
    When we bought our house, I continued painting on the couch over an old end table, then moved to the kitchen island again, and then finally onto my office desk.
    The enemy of my painting has always been cats, so my wife bought me a nice old roll-top desk to defend all the little parts and projects from feline predation.
    In pictures throughout the years, you can often spot my box of paints in the background on a table, or a 40K codex or rulebook laying out someplace.

    • I’ve spent a lot of time hunched over on various couches throughout the years as well. As I’ve gotten older I find that can bother my back after a while so now I usually try to paint at a desk or table. I prop my elbows on the table to bring the model closer to my eyes without hunching down as much.

      I have often thought a roll-top desk would be a perfect option. It has the benefits of a dedicated work space but with the shutter down your stuff is protected from predation of pets and kids, and it is also hides the clutter when you’re having company.

      • TheRhino

        One thing to watch for in a roll-top desk is that they tend to be narrower than other desks. I lost about a half a foot of depth when I switched from my old desk to the roll-top. Of course, I gained a bunch of drawers and my old desk was just the remnants of what used to be a huge office desk from Staples. I’d slowly thrown out sections of it as I moved it around the house. Particle board snaps when you move it or take it apart and reassemble it too much :).

        • That is a good point. Most of the roll-top desks I’ve seen tend to be small. Even with the extra drawers I would probably have to keep only my most widely used items plus what I need for my current project in the desk, with a lot of other items stored elsewhere.

  • Knight_of_Infinite_Resignation

    I am also an early morning hobbyist. It seems better than eating into time with my wife in the evening. I’m lucky because I work for myself from home, so after my wife has left for work and I’ve had breakfast but before I start at 9 I have an hour to build and paint.

    We live in a really small space, so all my hobby stuff is kept in a shed just outside which doubles as the packing room for my business. I have an old metal toolbox with fold out shelves for paint and hobby supplies, and whatever I’m working on is on an old wooden tray, so I can carry these things into the living room and have a peaceful hour painting and reading blogs!

    • It is nice to have your hobby built into your daily routine. Even if I don’t make a lot of progress in each session it feels good to be making steady progress over the course of the week. For me it is a little like a morning meditation.

      The project tray works really well for me as well. It is a great solution when your hobby stuff has be kept out of the way.

  • JD Brink

    Very nice article! And illustrates the challenges of “growing up” while maintaining the fun hobbies of our youth (now that we can actually afford them).

    • Thanks! The trick is to appear mature and responsible without actually growing up…

      You have some particular challenges to tackle with your recent move! Having to decide what to take and what to store is tough and I don’t imagine you have excess living space in your new residence. I would be interested in seeing how you manage those challenges.

      • JD Brink

        I would be interested to see how I do it too! We definitely don’t have any excess space in Japan, which is why I only brought a portion of my 40K stuff. We’ll see how it works out–IF it works out. :)

        • I hope you find a way to make it work. Even just a little hobby time can be a huge stress reliever!

  • Young = resource poor but time rich. Grown up = resource rich but time poor. It’s a hard balance, time versus hobby. I have learnt in the last 13 months or so (after the birth of daughter #1) that family wins. Sometimes out of necessity, but more often than not, because they’re so much fun to hang around.
    Time will obviously change that: kids will grow up and become snot-nosed-punk-teenagers, so I think that you should enjoy it while you can. After all, “they’re only little for such a short amount of time”.
    Putting the hobby on the back burner has been my solution. I have a dedicated Mancave, but the door is pulled shut at the moment, only to be opened once everyone is in bed. I guess it means that I don’t have to worry about monoplolizing the kitchen table and the inevitable stress of a baby trying to eat something that she shouldn’t.
    To make the most of the time, stop looking at projects as a whole and start focussing in very tightly on a small part that can be achieved in whatever time you have. Sometimes it may be cleaning up a heap of models in preparation for undercoating (next time), or it may be just painting one figure.
    I have come to the realisation that time is limited and I am doing this hobby to relax. The time that I get is used as best I can and maybe I won’t get to that tournament with a new army, but I’d much rather watch my daughter learn to walk or play soccer out the front with Son #1.

    • Very good points. Family does need to come first because you can’t get that time back. I do most of my modelling and painting when the kids are asleep and the wife is out pursuing her hobby (theater) or in that short time before work when nobody else is out of bed yet.

      It does help a lot to tackle things in small pieces at a time. Like you said, time is limited so you have to make good use of it. I could go weeks or months without a 2-3 hour block for modelling. It’s much easier to fit in 15-30 minute sessions and even small amounts of progress add up over time.

      Lucky for me, my daughters are a bit geeky too so I am sometimes able to mix 40k and family time. Both of them have a small collection of orks that they like to pull out once in a while. As they get a little older I am hoping to get at least one of them interested in actually building an army. It’s like
      having your cake and eating it too!

      • Son #1 shows a passing interest in all things geeky. We have bought a Skaven and Lizardmen army together. It’s a long term project, but I’m not pushing him to adopt the hobby unless he wants to. He’s inherited a bit of the hoarder gene from me and is more interested in the collecting than the gaming. The occassional game of 4+ is about the limit although we came up with a game involving his Trash Pack models which took for a while.
        I’m not planning on pushing him into hobby unless he really shows a lasting interest: pushing kids into doing stuff does not work, especially when he’s an obstinate little bastard (can’t IMAGINE where he’s learnt that; I blame … erm … the school system!). So having kids who are actively interested is a boon, but I reckon you have to wait until they’re a bit older to see if they’re really serious about it or not. This is not a major surprise for anyone with kids and their flights of fancy.
        Doing stuff when you can (in even 15-30 minute blocks) and focussing just on one part of a project is frustrating as progress doesn’t seem as fast, but you have to take your victories where you find them!

        • Hah! I think this hobby attracts hoarders, my daughter and I have that in common too. Her desk at school is a legendary disaster of random junk. My wife stopped giving her pistachios for lunch because she was saving all of the shells!
          I agree with you completely about not pushing the kids into anything. It’s a surefire way to lose their interest. I try to leave the option open for them when they’re interested but not push it too much. Right now she’s really into Pokemon and wants to play the card game so it looks like I’ll be learning that. I’m happy to encourage any gaming tendencies.
          The short sessions were a little frustrating at first. I would paint one or two colors the have to put it down. But as I saw how much progress I made by slipping in five such sessions in a week it started to feel really good.

          • I still have all my cards from when Son #1 was into Pokémon! It is a pretty good system and a good fast game to bash out every once in a while.

            • Nice! I have the old starter set (the one with the foil Machamp card) but it didn’t really hold my interest at the time. So I let the girls play with it and now my older daughter wants more for Christmas. My wife and I might start our own decks so we can play with her too.

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  • cadianshock

    Dude! You’re doing it all wrong, you just need an Ice Cream tub! http://cadianshock.com/rapid-deployment-painting/

    • Nice! I have used shoe boxes in a similar fashion. I have a couple that are just big enough to fit one of my foam trays on top of the paints/tools so the models are well protected when stowed. It’s a great solution when I want to travel with a project, or when we’re staying with my in-laws because we’ve sold our house and can’t move into the new one yet!

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