Steel Fist

Almost three years after the launch of their Kickstarter, I take a closer look at Steel Fist's ever expanding new range of 'true 15mm' ECW figures. 

I must point out that it is inevitable that I will hold them up against Peter Pig's offerings for comparison (because my armies are almost exclusively PP). I'll be very honest; my armies are pretty much complete. I'm only really looking for a few extra figures here and there: characters, specialist figures, certainly not in the market for another 100 or so foot or horse. Steel Fist are unlikely to be able to retire on the profits made off my purchases - sorry.

Update August 2023: I've just taken delivery of two packs of the new dismounted harquebusiers. They arrived securely packaged in a small box, wrapped in bubble wrap. I am pleased to report that all figures arrived intact (see my comments below).

I regularly see advertised new 28mm figures, and look on somewhat jealously at the breadth of inter-range compatibility of different manufacturers' ranges, and well... just the scope of figures available. So, with that in mind I looked on with a certain degree of happiness of a new 'true 15mm' range of ECW figures coming to the market.

Firstly, a big thank you to Steel Fist for having the courage to release a new range of 'true 15mm' ECW figures; 15mm has slowly been stretched over the years, and most new/active 15mm ranges are getting very close to 20mm.

I really like the kneeling Royalist musketeer with ammo pouch (rather than a bandolier with chargers) - a pose I would normally run a mile from 

Initial impressions gleaned from the web are usually on the lines of "they are 15mm? I thought they were 28mm"; which may hint at one of the root causes of my concerns.

The Kickstarter campaign billed the range as "a range of superior and historically accurate English Civil War figurines" which is a terribly brave, and bold claim. Particularly as you know that saddoes like me will nitpick.

Picture from Steel Fist's website 

Take the above figure from pack ECWH 13 "Sir William Waller and Lord Brooke – Parliamentary Command". The figure is meant to represent the 2nd Lord Brooke (he of the purple coated short lived London based Regiment of Foot, who was killed at Lichfield in 1643), and is modelled upon the 'Lord Brooke armour' on display at Warwick Castle. The armour may well have belonged to a Lord Brooke, but not the 2nd or even the 3rd (who died in 1658).  The helmet, at least, most probably belonged to either the 4th or 5th Lord Brooke.

It's really good to see this style of helmet appear on a  15mm figure, but sadly such a design dates from the mid-late 1660s not the First Civil War. 

Sorry. I'm turning into one of those button counting people aren't I? I'm actually not that bothered, it's all about giving a feel rather than being accurate. Accuracy is impossible - so don't claim to achieve something that is impossible. But I digress...

The figures themselves are beautifully sculpted, they stand up to being overly magnified on computer screens. The character figures actually look like their corresponding contemporaneous portraits. Men and horses look more 'anatomically correctly proportioned' than almost every other range of 15mm ECW figures on the market (including those that are nearer 20mm in height). 

Some time ago I purchased a pack of foot command figures, and more recently, after much prevarication, I finally pressed 'buy' on a shopping basket of two packs of mounted commanders, and a 'sample' pack.

On both occasions, the figures arrived very quickly; packs were separately bagged up, all protected by a jiffy bag. Unfortunately, just being packed in a jiffy bag has resulted in crushed horses, and more than likely been a contributory factor in swords having been bent double (although that is probably not the only factor).

Command strip left to right: Steel Fist, Steel Fist, Peter Pig, Steel Fist. All other figures Peter Pig (the officer with sword raised has had his sword replaced with one made from a staple)

My first pack of foot figures had two sword wielders - one of the swords was bent double and snapped as I tried to straighten it. I put it down to a combination of a too thin sword and a pinch of bad luck - these things happen from time to time. 

L-R intact sword that did not survive straightening, miscast sword, miscast and bent sword

But then with my latest order: of four drawn swords in this batch, only one arrived intact, two were miscast (and too short), another sword broke as I carefully attempted to straighten it. 

From six swords in total that's 1/3rd good, 1/3rd miscast, and 1/3rd snapped on straightening. Giving  2/3rds as 'unusable' without remodelling - not very promising. I have now lost faith in the integrity of Steel Fist swords; in future I will automatically snip the swords off all SF figures and replace them with new ones cut from staples. (Rexel 56, 26/6 or 24/6 size work best, in case you need to replace any of your own.)

Partially prepped riders, replacement swords fitted and greenstuff hand reinforcement in progress. The figure on the right has had a replacement scabbard fitted too. 

Simon from Steel Fist did offer to exchange the figures for better castings, but as I had decided upon alternative solutions, I turned his offer down. 

Then I started cleaning the figures up ready for priming: whilst cutting the casting sprue from connecting a rider's leg to his scabbard, one scabbard broke off. Yet another job for a cut down staple. 

I have the skills, and confidence required to repair these figures, not everyone has though - if I was expecting to be able to use these straight out of the packet, with only minimal preparation, I would be very disappointed.

Swords might be 'to scale', but if they can't be cast, posted or survive being used then there is a problem. In comparison to the hundreds (and yes, I really do mean hundreds) of sword bearers I have had from Peter Pig (oversized swords), I've only had one miscast sword from PP (which can be replaced with Arrow JT21 1/4"(6mm) #214 staples for a near perfect size match).

It is only fair that I share Simon's comments about the swords: "I'll discuss with Oliver how he can make them slightly thicker on future sculpts to lessen the chances of this happening".

The horses are beautiful, anatomically correct, and there are some great poses (the standing poses are quite possibly my new favourite horses); unfortunately, the bridle sculpting seems to be only present upon the side of the horses' faces, not over the front (some do have the browband, I have yet to find a noseband). Ring head bridles (which don't have a noseband) were as much a rarity in the C17th as they are today. Van Dyck does depict Charles I with a horse sporting such a bridle in one portrait (Charles I in the Hunting Field, c.1635, on display at the Louvre in case you were wondering).

Getting ready to reattach a tail

The galloping horses (those with just two feet on the ground) are a very different story. I attempted to straighten the legs of two of the galloping horses (three horses had been crushed in the post and were no longer standing square upon their bases, I didn't even attempt the third): both suffered a broken ankle in the process, rendering them useless. Coupled with two tails snapping off when I was cleaning up the flash* (of which there was a lot, along with very noticeable mould lines). I have lost faith in the strength and integrity of the galloping horses and will instead mount them upon Peter Pig horses by default. Expensive figures just got a whole lot more expensive. 

Snapped ankles, and another tail broken off 😞

Yet another crushed horse - don't think I'll even bother attempting to straighten this one

The figures are beautiful, I can clearly see a level of detail missing from other figure ranges. The galloping horses and riders with swords outstretched are very ambitious poses for 15mm, they do indeed look like the poses that you see with 28mm figures; what will survive with 28mm figures does not necessarily translate to what will survive with true 15mm. I would rather my figures be a little more boringly posed, and swords and ankles a little chunkier to make figures robust enough to use.

Obviously Steel Fist are not responsible for heavy handed treatment of their packages travelling through the postal system: however, how their figures arrive on our painting tables does reflect upon them, rather than Royal Mail. I have only had two small orders of figures, so maybe packaging is different for larger orders; from this limited experience Steel Fist might help figure survival by mitigating for heavy handed postal treatment with better, more robust protective packaging.

Were the figures worth the effort?

I think I should point out that I am not a heavy-handed ham-fisted individual, I know how to prepare 'true 15mm' figures having started out with Heritage 15mm Napoleonics in the early '80s. Have I just been unlucky, receiving figures from a 'bad batch'? Possible, but a) there shouldn't be any bad batches, and b) if I have, I must be pretty unlucky as the foot figures I ordered months ago suffered from similar issues. 

Remounted upon a Peter Pig horse

It would be far too easy to dismiss my review as that of a Peter Pig fanboy, I'm not - I just want to own beautiful Civil War true 15mm figures . I want there to be a wide range of true 15mm Wars of the Three Kingdoms figures available, including all those esoteric little bits and pieces that I'd love somebody to make. I'd love to be able to cherry pick figures from different manufacturers without having to think about if they match size-wise.

I'm pleased with my new command figures, they are a nice addition to my completed armies.  However, if I was facing having to re-horse or change swords on several hundred figures, I don't think that I would be quite so tolerant.  

Another remount on a Peter Pig horse

And yes, I do know what flash is. I am not talking about sprues to strengthen delicate bits, feeds or vents. I expect to spend time cleaning off feeds, sprues and vents, and flattening the bottoms of bases too. I don't really expect to spend a lot of time on very noticeable mould lines unless it is from an old figure range where I guess the mould is probably on its last legs.

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  1. All reasonable observations that I agree with. I got a couple of the Royalist cavalry packs and some musketeers. All lovely figures but there is that brittleness on weapons, not just the swords. I've had some musketeer barrels and partizans come off, an issue I've not experienced with either my PP or Essex figures. I don't seem to have lost quite as many horses as you though though whether that is luck, judgement or a better Postie should not be a matter for consideration.

    1. I have had quite a number of private messages with similar stories Dex, a number having similar issues with crushed horse legs/bases. Could quite easily be rectified with better postal protection.

  2. Good, candid review. Thanks

  3. I must have been very lucky. I bought into the Kickstarter and have since added more figures. I agree about the swords being thin, but have not yet had to replace any. Contrary to your experience, I have had to replace a few Peter Pig swords (I use pins, purloined from my wife’s sewing kit, hammered flat and filed they make a chunky but robust sword when fitted into a carefully drilled hole and glued securely.)
    The figures do take a bit of work, gluing on scabbards is a bit tedious, reminiscent of the lovely 28mm Empress ECW, when I had to glue the nasal bars onto lobster pot helmets, as well as scabbards and, on some, the sword arm. My biggest gripe is that they take ages to paint because of the detail in the figures, but once painted they are beautiful figures. I have, so far, only painted cavalry. They look OK with PP, less chunky, but, at tabletop viewing distances they work well.
    I have has 28mm ECW for many years and when I decided I needed a 15mm army, I looked at a number of ranges. I rejected the new ones from Eureka and Blue Moon as having horribly disproportionate weapons, started buying Peter Pig and then the Kickstarter for Steel Fist came up, which looked to be beautiful sculpts. I don’t regret buying them at all and they have stood the test of a number of games at our club, with no damage, even when handled by notoriously ham- fisted clubmates!

    1. Good to hear a positive story about SF figures. I want the range to succeed, and do well. Some simple changes would, no doubt, ensure the issues I've experienced didn't happen.

      Hammering pins flat sounds like a thankless task - there is a gauge of staple that is a perfect match for PP swords. (A heavy duty staple from my staple gun - unfortunately buried deep in my loft, so I can't tell you the size straightaway! Next time I dig it out I'll add it to my what figures part 2 post, along with the size that matches SF swords and scabbards.)

  4. Wonder if I have been lucky too as whilst I've had bent over swords and horses none have broken when straightening. Think I had a horses tail or two detach (not unique to Steel Fist I must say), but that is easily repaired with superglue. Have a couple of friends who have bough the figures as well and I'm not aware of issues from them. Always irritating when you get a batch of figures with multiple breaks though :-(

    As for the figures themselves I am totally sold on them and consider them the best available currently. Although as another commentator said they do take longer to paint than others due to the detail :-) I had been building an ECW army with Peter Pig's rather nice figures, but after buying some of the Steel Fist ones I immediately sold the Peter Pig ones on - which rather put my ECW project back timewise, but worth it to me.

    Thanks for the review, and the blog - always interesting.

    1. I'm wondering if those of you who haven't had problems with breakages had larger orders (and as a result different/better packaging)? Packaging of my small orders clearly wasn't up to protecting the figures from the travails of transit through the postal system.

      As for painting times, I haven't noticed any real difference to painting PP figures - both ranges are about the same. SF took much longer to prep, even those that could be used straight from the bag (poorly cast figures for such relatively new moulds).

    2. I did an order that was under 10 packs, can't recall how many exactly, as I wanted to see what they were like and paint up enough to get a good feel for them. Can't recall what the packaging was.

  5. Very fair review and tally pretty much with my observations/findings... I've tried a lot of the 15mm ranges, and found that although these are very pretty, they're very slight and fragile.. more here...

    1. Thanks Steve, your comments are more appreciated than you are probably aware. I tried really hard to be objective and fair with the review, I've had a lot of messages from people who have had similar experiences, and also a number of what can only be described as pure vitriol claiming all sorts of nonsense about myself and what I have written.

      There's a moderation filter for a reason - I will publish all comments with the exception of SPAM, and foul mouthed tirades.

  6. I believe that you might be on to something with your observations. I backed the Kickstarter and have purchased in batches of 20+ packs per order to get free shipping to the USA. I had a few bent swords (and have staples at the ready), but have not had any breakage yet. I've had a few bent horses that went back into shape without damage.

    You may be right: the smaller pack order may expose the figures to more abuse. Interesting.

    I had a few ECW Peter Pigures and almost went with them for my 15mm ECW project. But after I saw the SF Kickstarter I decided on going with Steel Fist. I've been very pleased with SF's service and miniatures. Like you, I was concerned that they might be too thin (I switched from 28mm ECW Empress to Bicorne for that reason), but SF has held up well so far.

    Thank you again for your excellent blog.

    1. Thanks for your kind words about the blog.

      As for Steel Fist - how the figures arrive might be down to how they are handled by the courier, but it reflects on Steel Fist not the carrier.

      Peter Pig orders arrive in cardboard boxes, filled with bubble wrap, and the boxes fit through letter boxes. Possibly the niftiest solution to figure posting I've come across.

    2. Thanks for clarifying packaging in your comment Squadpainter (blogger has started 'losing' comments).

      Squadpainter wrote: Now that's interesting. My Steel Fist orders arrived undamaged in a box with bubble wrap... just like your PP orders. Maybe SF does things differently for international orders versus domestic shipments?

      I agree with you: a shipper ought to take reasonable measures to protect their goods so that they arrive unscathed.

      Oh, and Happy New Year! I hope 2023 is filled with lots of fun and (undamaged) miniatures for you.

      Happy new year Squadpainter


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