Yup. Little figures.
She's actually pretty good at it too.
In any case when she enters one of these figures in competition she needs something to put them on. Painters use a variety of materials to make their bases and wood is very common.
For single figures a tall plinth sets the figure a little higher. Kind of like a little pedestal.
Square BlockThe simplest base is just a thick block of wood. The technique for this is to find a rough piece of lumber that is bigger than the desired base and cut it down to size.
LaminatedOften times we cannot find a large enough block of wood of the desired species to make a base out of a single piece. The next simplest technique is to laminate a block out of a couple of layers.The plus side is that I can use thinner material to make a larger base. The downside is that the base ends up with seams on the sides and the top. Since the tops normally get painted and the sides aren't looked at this normally isn't too big of an issue. It helps to use a wood with a very mild grain (walnut, cherry, etc). It also helps that she doesn't get judged on the base so what would be grievous sins in fine woodworking don't really matter.
Sometimes veneering the base is the best option. To veneer the base I'll cut thin (1/8" - 1/4") slices of the wood and then glue them to a poplar core. This opens up a number of possibilities but most interestingly I can "wrap" the veneer around the base. It is a little hard to explain but by splitting a board in half and then making sure the slices are consecutive I can make the grain of the board look like it wraps around the base.
Beveled Edged Veneered
The principal downside to veneering is that you'll see seams where the edge of the veneer overlaps the sides. One technique to help hide the seams in the veneer is to bevel the corners. In this fashion the seam disappears in the edge of the bevel.
Grooved CornersAnother way is to just remove the corners already. By choosing a contrasting wood as the core and running a groove along the edges I can turn an issue into a feature.
Of course, once I've milled grooves into the corner I could also add wings into the slots I just made.
Contrasting CornersOr if I clip the wings and make them flush with the faces the corners can just contrast with the faces.
Shorter plinths work out well for larger dioramas. In this case the idea is to give the diorama a solid base and a little bit of a border.
This base is made out of cherry. To help keep the base clean while the diorama was being painted I made the base with a recess and made a matching 1/4" plywood insert. This way my wife could make the entire diorama and then we could glue it into the base once everything was done.
I made this one round but the same principals could be applied to any shape.
Sometimes just a simple flat base will work too.
Finishing Plinths: (for the non-woodworker)This topic probably deserves a page of its own; however, as I am not an expert on finishes I figured I could just put some tips in here.
Finish all the sides equally
This includes the bottom! Wood is a natural substance and it will absorb humidity in the summer and dry out in the winter causing swelling and shrinking respectively. Most bases are small and the corresponding movements will also be small; however, if the wood absorbs moisture unevenly it can lead to warping. So, put finish on the bottom (paint, polyurethane, etc)!
Staining end grain
Stain is kind of like a thinned paint. It is a bunch of colored particles in a suspension. When you put stain on the wood those particles get lodged in crevasses and change the color of the wood. Think of a block of wood as a bunch of soda straws packed together. The end grain is where all the open ends of the straws are. Those open straw end really suck up the stain and the result is a darker color than the rest of the piece. There are two solutions:
#1 Sand the end grain to a higher grit than the faces. For example if you sanded the faces and sides to 180 grit, sand the ends to 220 grit.
#2 Use a sanding sealer. This is usually just a thin shellac that you'd paint on then give a light sanding. It pre-fills the straws and results in a more even tint.
Water based finishes (including acrylic paints)
As mentioned in the section above, wood fibers are like little straws. When they absorb moisture they swell. If you apply any kind of water based finish on top of freshly sanded wood, what seemed to be super smooth will suddenly grow hairs. This is because the severed ends of the wood fibers absorbed the moisture of the finish and swelled up. Again, there's a couple of ways to prevent this issue:
#1 Spray the sanded surface with some distilled water to lightly dampen the surface. Once it is dry, sand it very lightly with 320 grit sandpaper to remove the raised fibers. You should now be able to apply your water based finish (including acrylic paints) without raising the grain further.
#2 Sanding sealer will plug up the stray fibers on the surface. Give it a light coat, then sand lightly to smooth it out.
#3 If you are painting over the wood, just go ahead and apply the final finish - like polyurethane - and paint over that.
My favorite finish - because it is easy and forgiving - is wipe on polyurethane. I make my own by diluting full strength polyurethane with mineral spirits; however, for small projects it will be just as cost effective to buy it from your local DIY store.
The reason I like this finish is that it is very forgiving. I use paper shop towels to apply it (no expensive brushes needed) and once they are dry, just throw them away. It takes long enough to dry and is thin enough that it flows out smooth before drips can form. It can also be pushed around to make sure there is even coverage.
Just remember with any oil based finish to let the towels air dry with plenty of air circulation. The towels are dry when they no longer smell like oil. Failure to do this can result in fire. For reals!
Also, the spray finishes used for miniatures is also a perfectly valid finish. I'm not sure what is actually in those cans; however, I strongly suspect it is some formulation of lacquer which is an excellent wood finish by itself.