There’s something undoubtedly cool about adding working lights to a wargmaing model, adding that little bit of extra realism to really bring the kit to life. For this reason, we are pleased to bring you a complete guide to lighting the interior and exterior of wargaming vehicles written by Jennifer Smith of JS Miniatures. We’d love to hear how you get on with lighting your own kits in the comments below. – Graven Games
This tutorial covers installing LEDs and fibre optics into a 40k Rhino tank using our lighting kit (available at smallscalelights.co.uk) but it is also suitable for other tanks including Predators and Land Raiders.
The contents of the kit include:
- 4 x 3mm pre-wired LED in chosen colour
- 1 x 5mm pre-wired LED with 9x fibre optic strands pre-attached (8 x 0.75mm & 1 x 1.5mm)
- 1 x coin cell battery holder kit (contains holder & on/off switch)
- 1 x connector block
You will also need:
- Hot melt glue gun for LEDs and fibre optics
- NB: You can also use 2 part Expoxy glue such as Araldite or ordinary CA (superglue) but not plastic glue for the Warhammer kits as it may melt the wires / damage the LEDs
- Electric drill
- Various sizes of small drill bits (0.75mm, 1.5mm & 3mm in particular)
- Small flat head screwdriver for connector block#
- Cocktail stick or BBQ skewer
- Sharp scalpel/Craft Knife
- Green Stuff / Milliput or a similar self hardening putty
May be useful:
- Pin vice with micro drill bits for more precision
- Pair of pliers
Step 1: The first step is to decide where to drill the holes you need for the LEDs and wiring. Positions can be changed if desired but the interior positions work very well for hiding the wiring.
It is best to start with a small drill – around 1-2mm and work up which helps with precision and you can use the drill point to mark a centre point or a bit of masking tape to stop the drill bit slipping. Start slowly. I used a pin vice for some of the initial holes for extra precision.
Step 2: Drill the holes for the headlights. You need to drill 2 smaller holes side by side, no more than 3mm dia and then use a sharp scalpel to cut out the rest.
The headlights themselves (not pictured) have a separate moulding. You need to carefully drill out the headlight moulding and the two small moulding details next to the headlights. The headlights need a 3mm hole and the small detail lights need 0.75mm holes for two strands of optic fibre. Start with a small hole and work up.
Step 3: The rear of the front section for the headlights needs to be chamfered. Cut away with your scalpel so that the LED can fit through at an angle. You can test with the LED and the headlight fitting to check if you’ve cut away enough.
It’s best to cut away a bit and then test so you don’t cut away more plastic than necessary.
Step 4: Drill the holes for the strands of optical fibre in the computer console. This is optional. If you wish to place them elsewhere, to light a marine in the top of the tank or other details then you can drill these out to suit.
I drilled 0.75mm holes for the small buttons under the computer screens along the top and on the main console and a 1.5mm hole for the larger button on the main console. There are 5 holes in total. Drill from the front side so the visible hole is neat.
Step 5: The 3mm LEDs with the 6” long wires are for the interior lighting and need to be bent to shape. It is best to do this using the tank side as a former. Place the LED through the 3mm hole you’ve drilled in the side so it sticks through enough to be visible but leaving the wider base of the LED at the back of the hole and then bend the legs of the LED down approximately 90 degrees and the wire around the door of the tank. You can use masking tape to hold it and check the two side pieces of the tank fit together properly. (See step 6 for photo)
Step 6: This photo shows the two interior LEDs glued into position. It is best to use hot melt glue because it won’t damage the LEDs or the plastic and it is quick to set so you can glue the wires in position very quickly.
Other glue can be used if required but I wouldn’t advise using the same superglue provided by GW or similar because it’s designed to slightly melt the plastic and thus weld the edges together and this could melt the plastic of the LED wiring or damage the LEDs.
Step 7: Close up of the LED glued in position. Start by holding the LED in the hole and then put a bit of glue down the side of the door, place the wire down and hold until set. Next glue the wire under the door and finally glue the wire going through the hole into the front of the tank.
Step 8: This creates neat wiring that won’t be visible once the tank is assembled and won’t impact on the tank fitting together.
Step 9: To neaten the hole for the interior lighting and make it look like part of the tank you can use a moulding, self hardening putty such as Green Stuff / Milliput.
Mix up a small piece as per the instructions and roll out a very thin snake. Make as thin as possible. You don’t need very much.
Step 10: Place the snake round the LED head on the interior of the tank side.
Step 11: Smooth the putty down around the LED to secure it.
Step 12: Cut off the excess with a sharp scalpel so it is square. I followed the edges of the column. Leave to harden for a few hours (follow directions on packet).
It should then look like part of the tank interior and can be painted to match once dry.
Step 13: Drill the hole in the base for the switch. You need to start off with a smaller hole and work upwards, checking the fit until it fits correctly and snaps into place.
Drill from the outside in to get a cleaner hole on the visible exterior. It should be around a 6mm hole but please work up in 0.5mm increments to allow for tolerances in the switch construction. The back of the hole can be chamfered to allow the switch to fit more easily without making the hole too large.
Step 13 con’t: How the fitted switch should look. The button fits through entirely and the larger base snaps into the hole. Check the switch can be pressed properly.
Step 14: Take the LED with fibre optic strands and fit these carefully through the holes in the computer console (or where you’ve decided to put them). 2 x 0.75mm strands need to be left on each side (4 in total) for the headlights. The fibre is fairly flexible because it is thin but care needs to be taken to feel for resistance and not push it too far or it will snap. Get it as close to the back of the panel as possible. (see photo below)
Step 15: Once the strands are fitted in place use hot melt glue on the back of the panel to hold them in place. You can then snip off the excess strands on the front. Using wire snips or a sharp scalpel or the thin sprue snips is best.
A technique called mushrooming can be used to slightly melt the ends of the fibres creating a lens which gives a better light output. Care needs to be taken to not overheat the plastic. Use a craft embossing heat gun or soldering iron held away from the end of the fibre. Not an industrial heat gun!
Step 16: Feed the wires from the shorter (4” long wires) 3mm LEDs for the headlights and the 2 x 0.75mm fibre optic strands left earlier, through the holes in each side and then carefully slip the computer console/ hatch panel down into place and glue.
Position the headlight LEDs and fibre optic strands and use hot melt glue to stick these in place. It is best if the top piece of the tank is fitted and the LED and the fibre optic strands fed through the headlight moulding before gluing the moulding onto the tank top piece as this makes it easier.
Step 17: Twist the LED wires together – all the red wires and then all the black wires as shown and fit into the connector block. The battery wires go opposite the LED wires as shown.
This can be fiddly but it’s best to twist the wires together as tightly as possible, adjust the screw to roughly the right height, place the wires in the hole and then tighten the screw down to secure. Glue the switch in place once the wires are all connected with hot melt glue.
The finished tank interior with red night vision lighting.
The finished tank headlights with additional fibre optic spots. The on/off button is visible underneath. This can be painted to match the tank if desired.
Note: The LEDs come with a tiny resistor that is a small bump located on the leg of the LED and is covered in heat shrink tubing. It is vital for the longevity of the LEDs and the battery that the resistor isn’t damaged so please take care with these.
If you have any questions you can contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Smith is a specialist in lighting for scale models and recently started producing kits for Warhammer 40k models.
She runs two websites: Small Scale Lights and JS Miniatures and can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/jsminiatures where you can see some customer examples of lighting in 40k models.