Thursday, April 26, 2012

Arnica: Sneak Peak Behind the Scenes

Not much time for blogging today. I'm busy pouring resin to fill orders, as you can see from these pictures of what I poured last night.

Here are the molds filled with tan resin on my work table last night. As you can see from the empty cups, I poured four cups of resin,. Each cup is 300 grams, so that means I poured 1200 grams of resin. That's about 42 ounces of resin, or about 2.5 pounds.

Here's the rest of what I poured. Today I will de-mold them and then store the pieces until I can sand them, which will probably be on Sunday. My goal is to pour about this much again tonight. In fact, I'm off Friday, so I will probably do an afternoon pour of roofs and extra bits that we like to keep on hand.

See you back here Tuesday

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cool Tool: Booklet Creator

Sorry to delay the Arnica news, but I've been busy this weekend with my day job (Technical Writer for various Oil & Gas companies) and I needed a specific tool for a specific job that might actually have some use in game development.

Sometimes I need to create Saddle-Stitched Booklets for game props or prototypes. Now, a saddle-stitched book is basically a magazine. It's a set of pages stapled in the middle and folded like in this picture.

It's called a "Saddle Stitch" because it looks kind of like a saddle when you hold it up by the spine it bows out a saddle. It's nothing particularly special, but the pages need to be arranged in a specific order to get the booklet to print correctly. Here's how the pages normally look, one after the other:

In this case, I made the odd-numbered pages blue so they will stand out more in the next picture. As you can see above, this is nice, normal and orderly. The pages are perfect for when you're printing the pages to staple together in the upper-right corner, but not so great when you need a booklet. Booklets have a special page order so that they will print correctly. Take a look at what I mean below. 

Pages organized like this
are called SPREADS
To make an 8-page booklet, you need two sheets of paper. When folded in half, that yields 8 pages because there are two pages per side of paper (2 x 2 x 2). This is also why all magazines MUST have page counts that can be divided by 4. If you ever think you've found a saddle-stitched document that is not divisible by 4, then you've probably miscounted because you're letting the cover or a "blank" page throw you off. This is one of those laws of physical reality: Unless you have tipped in a page and are holding it in place with glue or some other odd technique, then you MUST have a page count based on the number 4.

 It all makes sense if you look at them spread out below -- when you do you can see that this is a little more complicated than just putting the pages out and hoping they will fall into the correct order.

The Right Tool for the Right Job
Reordering the pages and resizing them in something I can do easily if I'm printing from a hgh-end page design program like InDesign or QuarkXPress. Both of these are industry-leading tools and have those tools built right in. These are great time-savers when I use those programs to create my documents.

But what if I'm using Microsoft Word or PowerPoint? Most of the time I just fall back on the "Booklet Setting" built right into my printer. It's a great little feature in my Brother 4070-CDW color laser printer. BUT, it resizes the pages when it does it, usually by shrinking them. This is great for proofs, but not something I need to take to a print shot.

For this one task, I found a great little tool that I wanted to mention: Booklet Creator. This is a simple application that does one thing and one thing only: It does the following:
  • It takes an existing PDF document
  • Resizes the pages if needed
  • Reorders the pages (definitely needed) 
  • Outputs the finished spreads so you can print them at home or professionally
This program has only one screen as an interface. You pick your input file, make a few minor decisions like page range or or output page size (I left it on auto for my first job and it guessed correctly that I wanted to take my 5.5 x 8.5 inch pages and output them to a single sheet of 8.5 x 11 letter-size paper).

In other words, this program is a one-trick pony. It does one thing, but from what I've seen, it does it VERY well. If you read this review and are thinking that you can't picture when you would use this program, then you're right: You won't use it and you won't need it. But, if you're reading this and are thinking this sounds like something you might be interested in, then you're probably doing some print jobs where this will come in handy. If you're in the latter camp, I suggest getting this. It does what it says it does and at a very reasonable price.

This program is available for both Windows and Macs. I'm running it on Win7 64-bit. Get it for only $19.95 from the publisher:  I downloaded the trial (which only does a 16-page sample document, but does not add any watermarks or text that I could see). I bought it and was e-mailed the registration/unlock code in less than 5 minutes.

By the way, if you're interested in how to saddle-stitch a booklet without a long-reach stapler, I wrote instructions about that for Mike's Workbench over at the Hawgleg Website:

See you back here on Thursday, amigos!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Arnica: Lights, Camera... Bubbling Rubber!

I've been busy this week on all things Arnica Real Estate. Not only did I get the new mold for the Boardwalks made, I also made a replacement mold for the side walls to the board & batten buildings. These molds got ripped to shreds last Christmas. One wall went because of malfunctioning mold release agent and the other went due to an error mixing resin. Mostly, though, they went because they were old and had outlived their capacity.

While I was making that mold, I whipped out my trusty camera phone and shot a short video of what the rubber looks like while we're sucking the air out of it in the vacuum chamber. It's not much of a video (just 2 minutes), but I think you'll all get a kick out of watching the rubber bubble around as it "came alive."

If you'd like to watch it over at YouTube, Click Here.

More About Molds
You see, molds don't last forever. As they age they get brittle and lose the slickness that is necessary for the easy removal of the cured resin. Without this slickness, the mold fails and tears when you pull out the finished piece. One question that's been asked a lot is, "How long do these molds last?"

The Arnica Work Table
Well, pilgrim, there ain't no good answer for that. You see, we use different types of silicone mold rubber and they each have different properties. As you can see in this picture, we use three types of rubber: purple, green and yellow.

Yeah, I know it's more of a teal or a turquoise or soa foam... I'm a guy working with chemicals and power tools. Right now, I'm just going to call it "green."

Each of these is slightly different. The yellow is made by a major company called Alumilite. We use their Quick Set Mold Silicone which sets in about half an hour (and completely solidifies in 4 hours). This is a good, fairly stiff rubber that is good for holding details and is justly famous for its long-life and durability. It's a bit expensive (the boardwalk mold had 410 grams of rubber and cost about $20 to make). That might not sound like much, but when you consider we've got 40+ molds... well, it adds up. We also have to be careful of that stiffness, as it can make it harder to de-mold smaller parts.

A look at the pump and the pot (vacuum chamber)
The Green is the 2125 from MPK Enterprises. The company is run by a guy by the name of Mike, and he's one of the nicest and most helpful guys out there. You can reach him through his site at This particular silicone rubber is very flexible which makes it ideal for small parts like the awning posts you can see in the photo above. It also has the advantage of holding details very well. In addition to small pieces, we use it for some of the roofs, as the flexibility makes it easy to de-mold the large flat panels. Finally, it only runs about $10 a pound, so it's less expensive than the Alumilite. 

The purple is the pleased spiritualist -- er, I mean "happy medium" between the two. We use MPK's Extra-Firm 135 because it's more flexibile than the Alumilite, but more rugged than the green. If I had to pick just one rubber to use for all occasions, I would choose the purple. Fortunately, I don't have to pick just one. As with any job, you need to use the right tool for the task at hand. Figuring out which rubber matches which mold master is a bit of an art, but I'm getting better at it.

Just as there are different molds for different situations, we use different resins for different applications. Come back next week and we'll talk more about why sometimes we use white resin and sometimes we use tan.

See ya then, amigos!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Arnica: Making a Replacement Mold

In case you didn't know, Hawgleg Publishing also manufactures and sells resin buildings to use while playing Gutshot. We sell these buildings under the name Arnica Real Estate (we inherited the name when we bought the Arnica line of buildings from Mark McGraw a few years aback). You can see the complete line of buildings over at

Right now we're only offering buildings from our Western Collection:  But I hope to start making some molds for the Adobe Collection later this week. Mosey on by the site to check out what we've got ready and what's next on the list.

Making buildings takes a lot of time and energy, as well as some specialized equipment. This week we launched a new Spring Reopening, so I'm working to fill orders and to replace some molds that have been damaged over the last year. One of the most important molds (at least in terms of sales) is for the boardwalks. There are three to a pack and, up until now, I've been operating with just two molds, and one of them actually tore across the bottom but is still usable. But, the truth is, it's gotten a bit rough and it needs to be retired. So, I need to make a new mold that will let me pour two boardwalks at a time (and with the other good Boardwalk mold I still have, I'll finally be able to pour a whole set at a single time).

Here's a quick photo strip of what I did tonight while making a new mold for the Boardwalks:

Two resin masters glued to a board.
First I prepped the masters. They were already attached to the masonite board, so all I had to do was seal the edges.

You see, if there are any gaps between the resin master and the board, the rubber will seep into it and make it very hard to pull off the mold rubber after it solidifies.

Painters Tape seals it, the walls add structure.
The next thing I did was build a mold box around the masters. Now, I'm bound to get some criticism form people for how I do this. I know most people use wooden boards and either clay or epoxy to create the walls around the masters. That's not how I ride, pilgrim.

I use 3-inch wide painters masking tape to adhere 1-inch thick Styrofoam blocks around the masters. These form the box walls.

I use this method because the Styrofoam is light, but at this thickness won't bend or bow against the weight of the rubber once the box is full. The painters tape forms a perfect rubber-tight seal (I use special corner joints to make sure there are no gaps at those crucial points).

Be careful to brush into the wood grain.
Once the box is built, I then heat Petroleum Jelly in the microwave oven for about 5 minutes at 70% power. This softens it enough to make it easier to brush on.

I cannot stress the importance of this step!

It is absolutely VITAL that every tiny bit of the master is coated with a thin layer of petroleum jelly. If the layer is too thick, you'll lose the wonderful detail in the wooden planks of the boardwalk. If it's not thick enough, though, the rubber will probably tear during the de-molding step (which we'll look at on Thursday), thus wasting your work and your mold rubber.

No kitchen is complete
without a vacuum pump!
It's also important to coat the tape on the walls and the bottom of the mold. If you don't, tearing will almost certainly be in your future.

I took a picture of the next step, but you can't see it clearly enough to make it worth the effort to post it. The next step I take is to put a small 1/2 inch square wooden dowel along the edge of the box and mark a line with a pencil. I then put another one on top of that and mark again. This gives me two continuous pencil lines around the inside of the box to act as guides when I level the box after its full of rubber. I also use this line to make sure that my molds are at least a half-inch thick. Any less than that an there is a significant risk of tearing the mold as you work with it.

Next up, I get out the mold rubber (in this case, Alumilite Quick Set) and mix it according to instructions (I'll discuss this more at a later date). Then it goes into the Vacuum Chamber. This is a vital step because mixing the rubber introduces a lot of air into it. Air can lead to bubbles which can lead to ruined molds. Our Vacuum Chamber is not your typical kitchen food-saver. This is a powerful 1/3 horse power motor capable of creating a pure vacuum.

In a vacuum, no one can hear you bubble.
Once there is no air in the aluminum chamber, the mold rubber loses its surface tension, rises up about 2 inches and begins to "boil."

This is a COOL thing to watch. The thick goo looks a lot like pancake batter (with this rubber, it's particularly pancake-like because of its color and the way the bubbles pop on the surface). The bubbles keep roiling about until I finally break the vacuum and let the air back into the chamber. I actually took a video of this through the top of the chamber's clear lid. I'll post it to YouTube some time in the future.

By the way, yes that is dried resin in the bottom of the pot. I had an accident two weeks ago and the boiling resin overflowed the cup. I keep meaning to clean it up, but I keep getting sidetracked.

It must sit flat.
After the resin has been degassed, I pour it into the mold box. The painters tape ad the Styrofoam walls hold up perfectly. Sorry I don't have any photos of me actually pouring the rubber, but it's sticky and I needed both hands to get the rubber into the box. In other words, I didn't want to get sticky rubber all over my camera phone!

Also, the pencil lines I mentioned help me level the mold as it cures. This particular type of silicon rubber takes about 4 hours to cure. However, I prefer to let it set for at least 12+ hours before I consider demolding it, and I won't use it for 24-48 hours, as that helps it cure more thoroughly.

It is very important to level the mold as the silicon rubber cures (i.e. hardens). If you don't, then the mold will be lopsided and every time I pour resin into it the final items won't be flat: one side will be thicker than the other. And that, of course, just ain't how we roll. The final step is to use a vibrator (the big type for your neck or back) on the table to help it jostle loose any bubbles that might be trapped below the surface. This is just a precaution as the degassing step removed most of them. This last vibro-step is "just in case" some air got caught beneath the undercut of the edge of the boardwalk.

If you'd like to take a gander at what we're going to make with this mold, you can see (and buy) it here:

See ya Thursday for the demolding, and the first pour!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Arnica Store (briefly) open...

Howdy from Arnica!

You’re getting this email because you have ordered from us in the past or you have asked to be placed on our mailing list.  If you’re the former, thanks amigo! If you’re the latter, then welcome aboard!

I wanted to let you know that we’ve opened the shop for a few days to clear out some inventory (we made some buildings for a convention that we wound up canceling), so we have some pieces ready. We’re also ready to buy some more rubber so we can cast some new molds. Our plan is to duplicate the existing molds and ship them to Murphy so he and I can share the workload and, thus get more buildings out there. Plus, if he’s filling orders then I can focus on getting new stuff ready. This process is long overdue

The shop is open right now to accept orders. Every available item has a “Buy Now” button in front of it.

FAIR WARNING: There’s nothing new from the last time you ordered (sorry, but there are no adobe buildings available yet). I just wanted to give you first crack at ordering before we announce it to the general public.

Mike Mitchell

PS: If you have a discount coming to you from a previous order, please do NOT use the shopping cart to check out. Just send me a list of what you want and I will then send you a custom invoice from PayPal. It’s the best way for me to include your discount.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

S&S: And the Winner Is...

Well, this is certainly a first. I'm actually announcing news here at the Hawgleg Blog before it hits the front page of the Hawgleg Website. The winner of the Jury Prize in the Showdowns & Shootouts contest is none other than our good buddy, Dan Hash for his great adventure, Hurrahin' The Sky Pilot!

Now, before yuh go gettin' any ideas about us playing favorites, keep in mind that a whole bunch of those fellas in the contest are our saddle pals. Hheck, Richard Nelson even played Gutshot in some of the very first playtests we ever ran, and so did Dion Duran for that matter -- and at the time he started, he could barely see above the table. Now he's heading off to college this year or next! It's amazing how much 10 years can change a boy, ain't it?

Dan Hash won by three votes (28 to 25). His victory didn't surprise us too much, as he got an early start, but other folks started catching up on him and, to be honest, at the end there we weren't sure who was gonna cross the finish line first.

We'll talk more about Dan's victory in a day or so, and give yuh a peek behind the scenes as to what went into his adventure (we used it to debut a new Specialty called Fight to the Death that will make it into the next edition of Gutshot).

See yuh back here on Thursday!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

WIP: Waiting for the Jury Prize Announcement

I had originally planned to announce the winner of the Showdowns & Shootouts Jury prize selection today, but that is not to be. As you will recall, the voting on the contest closed this past weekend, so we had our winner. It was actually a fairly close race, with the winner being decided by only three votes!

We sent an email to the winner but we haven't hear back from him. Since we don't want him to read about this before we've personally contacted him, we're going to put off this announcement until next week.

In the meantime, here's a sneak peak at the Work In Progress (WIP) illustration that will run with the story. Once again, I'm using Strata 3D CX6 to create this image. BTW: You might recognize the cowboy on top of the trophy as being the miniature that was in the bottom of last week's whiskey bottle image.

This image is still very rough (and, of course, I removed the winner's name from the plaque). So far, I'm mostly happy with the design (which, I must admit, is loosely inspired by my own Origins Award sitting on a shelf in my office). So far, I like the general shape, but there are some technical issues I need to resolve to make the image look better. For example, flat surfaces do not really look great with reflections. They tend to look lifeless and uninteresting. I may need to add some curvature to the name plaque, or get creative with my reflection maps in order to make this work.

Anyway, hope you enjoy this sneak peak of this image. Oh, and if you're interested in this sort of thing, here's a wire frame view to show you what the image looks like as raw geometry without the pretty textures applied. As you can see, there is a lot of detail on the cowboy figure, which was actually exported from Poser and placed in Strata 3D. It actually has a lot more detail than I need, but I don't feel its worth the hassle it would take to create a good, lower-polycount version of the model.

See you next week when we finally reveal the winner's name.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gutshot Rotgut: Our Annual April Fools Joke

Yesterday was April Fools Day, and as I explained last week, I enjoy creating pranks for the holiday. Since 2006, Hawgleg Publishing has honored the spirit of the day by announcing the release of a fake product.

This year, our product was gaming-themed whiskey. That is to say, a boutique line of whiskey with a 25mm Western miniature in each bottle. We release the story at our Website ( and TheMiniaturesPage. The story is a bit naughty, but for the most part it's workplace safe -- and it was a BIG hit at TMP. In fact, since April 1 fell on a Sunday, we were apparently the only company that took the time to create a joke (some years at TMP, there are easily a dozen fake products, but this year we were the sole provider, which actually helped us pull the wool over people's eyes more effectively than usual).

I also think the quality of our artwork helped sell the joke:

I created this image in Strata 3D, which is a 3D illustration program I've been working with for a long time (probably more than 10 years). It's a powerful, but lesser-known tool with a lot of horsepower there waiting to be unleashed -- as I hope you can see in these images.

I think this time I came very close to achieving photo realism with these images. They're not quite 100% perfect, but they definitely do a good job of looking like real product artwork. I also got several complements on the quality of the label:

I even had a few people ask for a full-size label so they could print it out and put it on their own whiskey bottle. As one guy said, he wanted to see if anyone would notice. If you'd like to see the full-size label, you can get it by clicking here. I wish I could take all the credit for the label, but I did start off with an existing label from a Chivas Regal bottle. You can compare them by clicking here to see what I started with.

See ya Thursday!