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I am posting this because A) I'm bored, I think models/units are too $$$ to sit on shelves just because you can't add them to your force and C) I've done this and want people to learn from my mistakes.
So what am I talking about exactly....magnets. Magnets and the ability to change one unit into another that has similar roles. Here goes.
First off, magnet etiquette, just how do you start once you have all these little tiny powerful rare earth magnets. What I do is stick them all together, end to end and using a permanent marker, put a dot on the end, remove it and keep putting dots on the same polar side of the magnets till I'm done. I use cylindrical magnets, so the side with the dot will always be installed on the left side of the torso, dot pointing out while the right side of the torso will be installed dot pointing in. That way all the bodies are same and any left handed weapon can be put on any models left side, same goes for right handed weapons. What I use to install them is a pin vice with a regular drill bit from a hardware store the same diameter as the magnet, and yes, they fit in the pin vice. Whenever I drill I make sure that the magnet is always recessed a bit and not totally flush with the body. The magnets are plenty strong, don't worry about it.
When installing magnets on the arms, you might have to cut them in two since they are too deep or long for the shoulder part. This is done with a pair of medium sizes wire cutters, the magnets tend to cleave almost perfectly in half. Use super glue when putting them in place.
On to the conversions. Starting off I'll talk about terminators. I have the old metal ones, kinda boring but I like them. I like them even more now since their arms can move and a shooty termi squad can now become an assault squad. Since in a regular marine force you will never field 2 units of termis, having one or the other is fun and gives you more freedome when making army lists. Since the termis are now plastic this is even better, better poses and drilling through plastic is much easier. Also the weapon sprues can be bitz ordered from GW and that saves $$$ instead of having to buy the whole box. If the plasitc sprues aren't for sale individually yet, you can always just use metal arms. With cyclone missiles, drill a hole ontop of the model, install a magnet flush and even they can be removed from game to game. This allows you to use 2 assault cannons, 2 cyclones or a combo of each. Even add/remove chainfists. Not to mention lightning claws and TH storm shield combos. Try it, if you don't like it, put new arms on!
Termis are easy, onto harder units to convert. Here is the fun part.
Characters and sergeants. Always make them with magnetized arms. Equip them with any weapons you desire. For characters, even magnetize their packs, Chaplin with jump pack sounds familiar, but you can use him in a transport the next game with a simple switch. The commander model is good for this since you get a lot of arms, shoulder pads and weapons at your disposal.
The first unit to convert logically are the assault marines so that they can have jump packs or no jump packs. Why not, it's fun and I did it just cause I could. Use different tactics to merge the foot-sloggers into your army lists. Magnetize the sergeants arms of course as well as the arms on 2 marines so that you may use flamers and PP CCW combos.
Command squads and veterans now. As a shoulder marking for these units I use a black templar looking mark, could be either or (like an arrow is the tactical squad marking). Then magnetize all their arms. Now you have lots of options, bolters or BP & CCWs. Meltas or plasma or heavy weapon choices or PF or LCs. The combos are endless. And usually you will only ever field 1 command squad or 1 veteran squad in regular point battles. You'll need a champion, standard bearer and apothecary however, they just look different and need to stand out.
For tactical squads, you could apply this as well but when building them they are really only fire support anyways. But it makes it easy to go from shooty 8 man squad plasma and lascannon to 8 man drop pod melta and vet. sgt with PF.
In the end you probably won't save much $$$ but you'll have a unique force that is adaptable and fun to play with. Hope this inspires future projects.
...and you will know my name is the lord, when I strike down my vengence upon thee...
I'm doing something similar with my tyranids. My main list is for a shooty godzilla bunch, but I wanted to be able to try the CC style as well. I haven't magnetized the little gribblies, since they're so cheap, and I mostly take them the same. Although I do plan on make a brood or two with swappable weapons.
The main targets of my magnetic mania are the TMCs. These guys have a list of options a mile long, and nearly all are expected to be modelled for WYSIWYG. And at $45 a pop US, I can't really afford to go buying a new one anytime I want to try something different.
I've already begun the conversion for my first hive tyrant, and have magnetized his arms. I didn't use a pin-vice, but rather a cordless power drill to go into the metal body to make places for the magnets (a mounted one would be better for reliability and saftey, but alas, I've no real workshop). I do like your idea for marking the magnetic poles. I'm gonna snatch that one When mounting the arms, I did run into an extra trick that has helped me when mounting thier magnets. That is, once the body magnets were mounted, I placed the arm at the angle I wanted it to be, in the socket, and then used some chaos black paint to mark the edges where the arm met the body. That made it much easier for me to mount the magnets at the correct angle in the arms. Now marines don't have as much to worry, but tyranid arms are generally mounted in round ball sockets, which they won't be anymore once the magnet is mounted (well, depending on the size of the magnet).
I'll second the notion that they don't need actual contact to hold things on, too. You can mount them a little under the surface area and then greenstuff over them to hide the magnets if it's on an otherwise exposed area, or one where a round mark on the surface looks out of place (like the elbow of an unarmored arm for tyranid toxin sacs).
My Carnifexes will be the real magnetic monstrousities, though. I'm planning to make the heads, arms, tails, carapaces, adreanal glands, ripper symbiotes, extended carapaces, and basically everything else I can think of into swappable parts.
Basically anything beyond guants that has more then a couple of biomorph options will be getting magnets. Thus shall arise Hive Fleet Gribbles 'n Bitz!
(plus it's an excuse to use power tools while working on miniatures. Yes, I watched too much Home Improvement growing up.)