Friday, December 9, 2011

Making a Great War Terrain Board: The Basics

Below you'll see a series of modular terrain boards that I've put together over the past couple of weeks. My methods were based on the techniques shared by others on line, and my own previous attempts at home made terrain. Each board measured 24" x 24" and consists of a base of 1/4" MDF with 1" thick polystyrene, cut, molded, and glued on top. The next step will be to add the texture to the bases and then color them.
One of the challenges in constructing terrain features like this in sunny Southern California is that of finding the right materials. For a number of years I've been collecting raw materials for various terrain projects, so when I started on this one I found I had already stock piled much of what I would need. The biggest single expense was undoubtedly the Styrofoam. Like most modelers, I would have preferred to use pink or blue Extruded Polystyrene. However with the very mild climate in these parts, this sort of high-density insulation is very hard to come by, at least in the dimensions I was looking for. You can find a discussion on the merits of this and other forms of polystyrene at this website. I was able to find some one-inch stock at the local hardware, but this will be reserved for constructing special features like pillboxes and other buildings later on. The one-and-one-half inch thick stock is perfect for constructing trenches in 25-28mm scale, but was only available locally as Expanded Polystyrene. So for lack of a better alternative, I settled on Expanded Polystyrene, but I'll have to employ a special technique to stabilize it.
Above: 1 inch Extruded Polystyrene
Above: 1 1/2 inch Expanded Polystyrene
The next step involved mapping out a plan for the terrain boards in my notebook.
Once I was satisfied that I had a design that was both versatile and also achievable, I cut the MDF foundations on a table saw in my workshop and then proceeded with the messy task of cutting up and carving the polystyrene. I used a foam cutter I'd purchased at Michael's, a local craft store. It worked fine for a while, but then only in fits and starts. At that point, I resorted to a very sharp serrated-edged knife. This worked fairly well, but left a lot of debris. If I were going to do a lot more of this, I'd think seriously about making a DIY foam cutter. There are plenty of references to these on the web. Just do a Google search and you'll see.
Having designed, traced, and cut the Styrofoam, the next step is to mount it on the MDF. Make sure you use a glue that is intended for use with Styrofoam. I used Liquid Nails interior panelling glue (LN-606). I then proceeded to mold some basic contours, like the piles of earth that would have been thrown up behind the trenches as they were excavated, and also the rims of the craters that are such a prominent feature in trench warfare. For this I used a light spackling compound that adhered well to the Styrofoam.
If you're trying this at home, you will have realized by now that all these steps involve creating a considerable mess. I'd suggest doing this sort of construction in your garage or workshop, rather than on the living room table.
The next step involves stabilizing the Styrofoam with a durable undercoat. This would not be necessary if I were using Extruded Polystyrene. However the Expanded Polystyrene I had available needed this treatment to protect it from disintegration under battlefield conditions like the intrusion of small fingers, gamers' elbows, and the like. Elastomeric roof coating is one of the great finds I and fellow gamers have made here in recent times. Its guaranteed for ten years on your roof, so should last a few seasons on the gaming table. Its very similar in consistency of Woodland Scenics flex paste, and seems to have the same properties, but at only a fraction of the cost. We've used it in my local gaming club to produce flexible terrain mats. I'll describe how they're made in a later blog.
I applied a liberal coating with a paint brush to the surface of the terrain squares. It has the consistency of a very thick paint and takes about 24 hours to dry.  Now to texture and paint the boards. I'll cover that in my next blog.

1 comment:

  1. Great work on the Trench Battlefield! I read your posts and learned a lot from them.

    I have linked your article in a post on my blog.

    Thanks for posting this!


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