Since starting to play “Panzerfaust: Armoured fist” a few years back until 6 months ago, I’ve had thoughts niggling away in the back of my consciousness about making my own wargaming smoke. I used to have about four litres’ volume of wargaming smoke, a hand-me-down from Stephen at Nunawading Wargames Association. I can’t remember now if I sold it when I was having financial dificulties, gave it away or chucked it – but whatever I did, it wasn’t worth it. His wargaming smoke clouds were made from cotton wool and the ink from parcel markers/whiteboard markers, somehow extracted using Turpentine or Methylated Spirits. They were a perfect mix of dark greys, fluffy but not peeling apart, could be squashed up or pulled apart a little and could serve to show a brewed-up AFV or a wall of smoke from smoke shells or a smokescreen from  smoke dischargers. I haven’t seen any other smoke as nice as that stuff of his.

6 months ago, I decided to finally act. I asked Stephen about how to make smoke like his old smoke puffs / clouds, but he couldn’t remember how it was done and wouldn’t recommend trying it again, as he said it stank; was too much effort and could be done more cheaply nowadays. I’d have to come up with a method myself. I began experimenting with various materials to see what might work and, when my day job permitted, searched the Internet for recipes from others.

I didn’t find much! It seems that very few wargamers are interested in documenting how they made their smoke – if they had even progressed beyond just using white bits of cotton wool (which can be purchased as is). I found a YouTube video that offered a possibility, which I did try, but I finally found sensible advice at Gabriel Landowski’s wonderful e-book, “Miniature Gaming, Volume I” which features his own wargames rules, called “Rules of the Damned Human Race”.

His recipe was refreshingly straightforward – use artifical pillow stuffing and darken it. I purchased some siliconised polyester stuffing from a cloth & craft shop and set to work.

I wasted half a bottle of valuable original (and now extinct) Citadel Black Ink dyeing a sample tuft. It took too much time to dry and left small congealed lumps on individual fibres which looked a little odd. This was going to be impractical. I tried the YouTube method, and sprayed Citadel’s Chaos Black spraypaint directly onto a second sample tuft. This worked well until you picked it up and tried to manipulate it, when the white fibres underneath became visible leaving a very unusual and unrealistic effect (and also staining my hands black).

I wondered about the pillow stuffing – perhaps this was the wrong type of material to use? As a fish-keeper, I had plenty of much thicker polyester filter wool sitting around. I wasted the other half of the Citadel Black Ink dyeing some filter wool. It turned out a marvellous  uniform medium grey, but had hardened the wool considerably – it would not be easily teased apart and was no longer “fluffy” at all. No good.

Here are the three sample tufts, after the experiments detailed above, in order from left to right: Smoke - tests

I went to an art & craft shop to enquire about suitable paints or dyes for dyeing the pillow stuffing. Although they could’ve sold me expensive clothing dye for about $50 (I was willing to try it), I bought a simple bottle of basic black acrylic paint and experimented with it. I watered it down to a consistency of 50% – 50% and thoroughly impregnated a sample tuft with it.

Next day, once the tuft was dry, I tested it to see what it would be like if I needed to pull it apart a bit to make a smokescreen – and found wet paint in it’s core! I wrung it out and let it dry over a few more days. No problem. I quickly established an assembly line and now I have great-looking wargaming smoke for an extremely cheap price, with little effort or risk. Here’s a good-sized cloud comprised of a few tufts: Smoke - final

and here’s a ‘group photo’ of the major test tufts and components: Smoke - all together, the winning result lying between the paint bottle and the spraycan.

PS. you’ll definitely want disposable rubber gloves, old clothing you don’t mind getting splashed with paint and a work area that can be easily cleaned up and doesn’t matter if not all paint can be removed…alternately, lay some plastic groundsheets / dropsheets / thick layers of newspaper around the place. Getting the wet paint into the fibres got a bit splashy and messy!