How to Paint Everything – Iron Hands Space Marines

This article is part of a larger series on how to paint Space Marines. To return to that series, click here.

In our How to Paint Everything series we look at how to paint, well, everything, with a look at different styles and approaches from different artists. In this article we’re looking at how to paint the Iron Hands Space Marines Chapter.

The Iron Hands are one of the less-explored of the First Founding Chapters. They appeared in the original spread of Space Marine Chapters in the Rogue Trader rulebook, but with little other detail, and they missed out on the 2nd edition run of codexes which fleshed out the Ultramarines, Blood Angels, Dark Angels, and Space Wolves. That’s ok though, the flesh is weak and they don’t need it. It wasn’t until 3rd edition and the Index Astartes articles that they started to gain an identity of their own, as a cold and remorseless Chapter seeking the perfection of logic and machinery over the weakness of the human body – which includes the post-human body of an Astartes. They also gained an upgrade kit of the old “metal bits to attach to plastic Marines” variety, which really helped define their image. 

Over the years, the Iron Hands gained a great deal more depth to their background. Even in the Great Crusade era, they were noted as a pitiless Legion, unmindful of their allies, intolerant of failure or weakness. They became known for direct, head-on combat, always seeking out the most intense area of a conflict and directing their efforts to destroying it utterly. In particular, they were known as armour-breakers, sent into battle to destroy enemy war machines wherever they massed. This led to them developing a much closer relationship with the Mechanicum and Titan Legions than other Legions – a theme which will hold all the way up to the 40k era.

Much of this mentality is owed to their Primarch, Ferrus Manus. Manus, “The Gorgon,” is something of a Hephaestus figure in the pantheon of the Primarchs, known for his skill as a smith and metalworker. During his coming of age on Medusa, Manus fought and killed some kind of robot, long hinted to be a Necron construct, and in doing so ended up with his arms and hands covered in the silvery metal of its necrodermis. As the head of his Legion, he fast gained a reputation for the exact qualities the Iron Hands would later came to embody – bloody-minded ruthlessness, a disdain for any and all obstacles, and a hatred of weakness.

Post-Heresy, the Iron Hands were broken up into a number of separate Chapters instead of the singular Legion, much like the other loyalists. A number of Chapters trace their origins to the Iron Hands, including the Brazen Claws, the Iron Fists, the Iron Lords, and the Red Talons. The Sons of Medusa are also Iron Hands descendants, although in an unusual fashion: In the Moirae Schism, a large number of Iron Hands Marines came to believe in the Moirae Tech-creed, officially a tech-heresy which split the Adeptus Mechanicus. The schism threatened to cause a civil war within the Imperium, and indeed within the Chapter itself. The Iron Hands’ solution was to split in half – the Moirae-believer brothers were split off into the Sons of Medusa, who became a chapter without a founding.

Covered in this Article

  • Techniques for painting the core elements of the Iron Hands, from black armor to cybernetics.
  • Notes on the Heraldry and livery of the Iron Hands, and how to paint marines from each clan.
  • Schemes from different painters for the chapter.

Iron Hands Heraldry - Click to Expand

Although the Iron Hands are largely a Codex-Compliant Chapter, they have a few quirks which set them apart from their brothers in other chapters. While the chapter is divided into ten companies, these are called “Clan Companies,” each based on the historic clans of Medusa, the Chapter’s home world. These clans were in a constant state of war with one another until Ferrus Manus united them all under his banner, and the chapters continue to utilize the symbols and traditions of their ancient clans to this day. 

These clans operate as largely self-contained entities, responsible for the maintenance of its own vehicles and armory, and each in possession of its own mobile fortress monastery. This is reflected in their heraldry – the companies do not identify via shoulder trim colors, but rather by a distinct clan marking on their right shoulder.

Battlefield roles are instead denoted on the armor of the left leg, while the right knee pad uses gothic script to denote the squad number for the marine. In honor of their primarch, all Iron Hands have steel-colored fists/gauntless.

Painting Iron Hands

Iron Hands are one of the many, many Chapters which are best described as “pretty much all black,” along with their co-releasees the Raven Guard, the Deathwatch, the Ravenwing, and a legion of others. That said, there are some interesting possibilities which present themselves. The Games Workshop studio army features them with blue-white guns, and many painters choose to add metallic details such as, fittingly, iron hands. Each Clan Company has its own symbol too, which features on the right shoulder plate, with the Chapter symbol on the left. Additionally, there’s a number of different ways you an approach “black,” and we have a variety of different approaches demonstrated below.

Jack Hunter's Method - Click to Expand

Approaching painting black armor for this I knew I wanted to go for something a little bit different than the standard grey-blue edge highlights, while also not stepping on Condit’s toes painting up the Heresy-style oil slick scheme. I grabbed some of my collection of warmer brown-green greys, and set about playing with using them for my highlights. Sticking with the same theme of warmer colors, I used Scale 75 Thrash Metal as the base of all my silvers, knowing it has a ton of brown in its tones, and a tiny bit of red for my spot colors.

  1. Black Primer
  2. Corvus Black, airbrushed on to leave a little bit of pure black in the recesses
  3. Edge Skavenblight Dinge
  4. Edge Stormvermin Fur
  5. Edge Administratum Grey
  7. Basecoat anything that will get washed with Nuln Oil: pouches in Rhinox Hide, armor joints in VMC Black Grey followed by Contrast Black Templar, metals in Scale75 Thrash Metal.
  8. Gloss Varnish
  9. Wash the entire model with Nuln Oil Gloss, taking care to avoid pooling.
  10. Matte Varnish, then paint the details. 

The Details

Pouches: Rhinox Hide > Gloss Nuln > Baneblade Brown
Purity Seal: Mephiston Red > Agrax > Scale75 Aldebaran Red
Parchment: Zandri Dust > Skeleton Horde > Flayed One Flesh
Silvers: Scale75 Thrash Metal > Gloss Nuln > Scale 75 Heavy Metal
Lenses: Mephiston Red > Troll Slayer Orange > Fire Dragon Bright
Gun Casing: Grey Seer > Apothecary White > Scale 75 White

  1. After painting and highlight all the details, put another coat of gloss varnish over shoulders and knees.
  2. Apply decals using Microset and Microsol
  3. Matte varnish back over the decals
  4. Chip the decals slightly with Corvus Black to blend them into the surrounding area
  5. Base appropriately – I’m using a red/orange martian ground to give me some contrast with the greys of the armor.
  6. Apply weathering pigments to the lower leg. These should match the tones of your basing, in my case I used reds and oranges.
  7. Finished!
Iron Hands Intercessor by Booley
Iron Hands Intercessor. Credit: Jack Hunter

TheChirurgeon's Method - Click to Expand

I’ve done a number of black armor models up to this point and the process is pretty much the same across them, but that’s no excuse not to paint an Iron Hands model just for this.

I start by priming the model black.

Step 1. Highlight the Black Armor

The process starts by highlighting the black armor. This is mostly done by transitioning from Abaddon Black/the Chaos Black of the primer up to Corvus Black. This can be done in 2-3 steps, doing either a 1:1 mix of Abaddon/Corvus if you want to do one transition color, and 2:1 and 1:2 if you want to do two. This will give you a nice color shift on the model that will make details more visible. And while it’s subtle in photos, it’ll be pretty visible in person.

Step 2. Metal Basecoats

Now for the steel parts. These are just painted with Leadbelcher.

Step 3. Detail Basecoats

There are two other elements which need color – the gun and the eyes. The eyes are simply Mephiston Red, while the white elements are a bit trickier. I like to go with a blue-r white and use an offwhite shade instead of pure white, so I use Reaper Ghost White for the basecoat on these parts.

Step 4. Armor Highlights

This is something I normally do after washes but I’m not doing washes on the armor so it doesn’t really matter. I do an edge highlight on the model with Mechanicus Standard Grey, and if you want to go fancier and do a second edge highlight on the corners, I’d use Celestra Grey for those.

Step 5. Washes

There’s a little bit of washing to do. I wash the metal bits with Nuln Oil and I wash/shade the white parts with a little Apothecary White. 

Step 6. Final Details

Then it’s time for some finishing touches. I edge highlight the metal parts with Runefang Steel to give them some shine, and I edge highlight the white bits with Reaper Pure White. I put a drop of Evil Sunz Scarlet in each eye.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

RichyP's Method - Click to Expand

A short and sweet guide from speed painting maestro Richyp:

  • Step 0) Prime Black
  • Step 1) Paint silver areas in VMA Steel
  • Step 2) Edge Highlight Black in Eshin Grey and VMA Steel areas in VMA Silver
  • Step 3) Paint small Dawnstone highlights inside the previous Eshin Grey ones.
  • Step 4) Add a couple of Ulthuan Grey dots in the centre of some of the Dawnstone to give a cheap specular highlight effect
  • Step 5) Paint markings in Dawnstone and Mephiston Red
Iron Hands Intercessor
Iron Hands Intercessor. Credit: RichyP

Christopher Tatro's Method - Click to Expand

I use both MkIII Tactical Marines and Primaris dudes in my Iron Hands Kill Team. I wanted to use different techniques to call out the difference between the 10,000 year old armor and the fresh- off-the-line Mk X, while still having the oily-sheen-on-black-metal look that shows they are clearly part of the same larger force.

I’m not a great painter but I prefer to not put bare plastic on the table. My goal is to get a table-ready model with a little character in a relatively short amount of time.

Both started with priming black and then a then a coat of Leadbelcher on the armor plates to give a nice, boring, dull metallic foundation to everything. 

Like so. Credit: Christopher Tatro

MkIII Veteran  

For this small old boi I mostly followed the Forge World recipe but with a regular brush rather than an airbrush.  Once the Leadbelcher was dry, I added a couple drops of Tamiya Clear Yellow to Tamiya Smoke, about 1:4. Not too much; Clear Yellow is powerful stuff. 

Credit: Christopher Tatro

A brief word on Tamiya paints. If you’re a Basic Becky painter like me, sticking mostly to Citadel and Vallejo and P3, Tamiya is weird shit. Their Clear paints are kind of thick and gloopy and takes  longer to dry between steps than washes or glazes. Also it smells like it would be delicious. I have no idea if it hurts brushes but I’m setting aside my W&N Series 7s just in case and using some older brushes. Most of the Tamiya will be full coats or just spots here and there so I won’t need a really good detail brush. Better safe than sorry.

I added spots of Citadel Druchii Violet here and there (because Tamiya doesn’t have a Clear Purple, which is kind of weird), followed by the same spotting with Tamiya Clear Green. Lastly I gave all the armor plates a coat of thinned Tamiya Smoke to tie it all together and bring the black tone up a little more. But it was still too yellow, so I went back and hit it with about a 1:8 mix of Clear Yellow:Smoke, which was better. But I then needed to reapply the Druchi Violet and Clear Green again. By this point something in that delicious Tamiya paint had given me a splitting headache. So it goes.

Credit: Christopher Tatro

I finished off with Leadbelcher on the trim highlighted with Vallejo Model Air Silver. Cables and cybernetic bits were Brass Scorpion washed with Nuln Oil, and I hit the eyes with some Lothern Blue to give it a touch of color. 

Credit: Christopher Tatro

Primaris Suppressor

I started with  a thin coat of Black Templar Contrast paint over the Leadbelcher. I wanted to darken the metal more, especially in the recesses, but leave a bit of the Leadbelcher showing through on the raised spots.  I then brushed on some Seraphim Sepia, Druchi Violet, and Biel-Tan Green in places to get the shimmery oil effect, and then washed the whole thing with Nuln Oil. The result was decent, much quicker than the Tamiyra process, and no bonus headache.  

Credit: Christopher Tatro

The autocannnon was done in Vallejo Model Air Steel, washed with Nuln Oil and highlighted with Vallejo Model Air Silver. The cannon’s ammo belt was Brass Scorpion highlighted with Vallejo Model Color (not Model Air) Brass.

The Legion/Chapter and Clan Company markings on the shoulder pads, the battlefield role on the left knee, and the Squad number on the right knee (Guilliman’s Codex is really more guidelines than hard and fast rules for these guys) are Leadbelcher highlighted with Model Air Silver. Canonically these should be white but I like to stick to the metallic look.

Credit: Christopher Tatro

Final Thoughts

That wraps up our look at Iron Hands but there’s more than one way to paint Black Armor. If you’re still looking for more examples and inspiration, why not check out our How to Paint Everything articles on Raven Guard and Deathwatch?

This article is part of a larger series on how to paint Space Marines. To return to that series, click here.