Sunday, 1 February 2009

Post Office Build - Part One

Hi all, It’s been a busy week, so I’ve broken this article down into a couple of parts, with the second to follow next week.

I’ve been updating you on the progress of a post office that I’ve been making for Mordheim. I started this project for a Terragenesis competition, but due to the pressures of work, it got put to one side and has been gathering dust ever since. As one of my first acts as a frugal gamer, I brought it out and began the task of completing it. The methods I used to make it are pretty versatile and can be used for any size shape or style of building, so I thought you might want to know how it’s done.

The first thing you should do is plan your model. Planning is the most important stage and is often overlooked by terrain makers. It’s also one part of the process that you can do away from your workbench. By sketching out what you want to achieve, it will help keep your mind focused on the finished model. Start with some really rough pictures to get the general size and shape and then sketch any bits of detail that you’ll be adding. I try to use lots of colour when sketching and I’ll always put a couple of stickmen in the image to get a good sense of scale.

The next step is to draw a scale diagram or at least draw the main parts with the dimensions marked on. These will act as your templates for cutting out the pieces of foamcard.

As you plan out your model, you should also be creating a list of the materials that you’ll need. The materials I used for the Post Office included:
  • Foamcard; Available from most craft, art or model shops, available in a variety of thicknesses, but 5mm is generally the best balance of stiffness and ease of use.
  • Plasticard; I use 0.7mm thick sheets as the flexibility is not a problem and it is thin enough to cut easily.
  • Plywood; This is used to make the base 1-2mm thick is the most suitable. Again, this is easy to cut and stiff enough to act as a base, without looking unrealistically thick.
  • Balsa Wood; Available from most model shops, 2-3mm thickness is best and is used to timber the walls.
  • Aluminium mesh; Used to represent the lead pattern on the windows. This can be bought for a couple of pounds from large car shops such as Halfords.
  • Plaster; This is used to texture the walls if you wish, cheap plaster such as boxed powdered filler is fine for this.
  • Sand for basing.
  • PVA glue; For sticking the wood and foamcard together.
  • Superglue; For sticking plastic tiles to the foamcard.
  • Polystyrene cement; Used for sticking plastic to plastic, such as in the security door.
Optional materials:
  • Brass tubing of various sizes 7-10mm diameter, square and round sections for gutters, downpipes and chimneys
  • Milliput or two part modelling clay for filling gaps and adding small detail.
  • Door handles and barrels. Available from model shops, small extras such as these really add to the final look of the model.

The more tools you have, the easier the construction will be. However, the minimum you should be using for this project are:
  • Sharp knife; It has to be sharp, blunt knifes stick and slip and can cause accidents, and worse than that, poor quality cuts. I personally use a stanley knife and change blades when the cutting quality noticeably drops. Some people prefer using scalpels, but it’s purely a matter of personal choice.
  • Steel ruler; or any metal, straight edged, instrument to guide your blade while you cut materials. Also used for drawing and measuring your plans and cuts!
  • Razor Saw; for cutting balsa wood. This is not strictly necessary, but easier than using a knife when cutting across the grain of the wood.
  • Cutting mat; Used to both protect your table or desk and to stop the work slipping as you cut.
  • Pins; These are used to hold foamcard and wood in place while the glue sets.
Optional tools that I used for the post office are:
  • Gas torch for soldering brass tubing.
  • High speed mini drill (eg Dremel) for cutting, sanding and drilling.
Basic Techniques
The basic skills you use for this model are common to most modelling projects, but some good tips to remember are:

Measure twice, cut once. It may sound obvious but it is vital to ensure that your pieces are the right size before you cut them!

Try and be as precise as you can when measuring as the extra effort will make a huge difference to the finished terrain. Any overlaps should be sanded or filed and any gaps should be, I’m often tempted to cover any imperfections with a good coat of paint, but this never gives good results and makes for lazy model making.

As a lot of cutting and gluing is involved in model making, take care with sharp implements and use any glues in suitably ventilated areas.

Keep a miniature to hand during planning and construction, this will ensure that you keep the scale constant. Don’t try and guess the right size of building, as the scale will invariable look wrong.

The basic structure
Taking the plans that you’ve made, cut the foam card to size. Do this by laying the scale plans over the foamcard and marking where corners are by pushing pins through. Simply join up the marks with lines and you can cut the pieces out using a ruler and a sharp knife. Cut out a base from the plywood at this point and mark on where the building will be.

You may wish to fit the windows and doors to the walls at this stage to make construction easier later on, see the windows and doors section below.

Take two of the cut, adjoining walls and join them with some PVA glue (make sure you join the correct edges to allow for the width of the foamcard). I usually hold them in place with some pins until the glue has dried. Don’t worry, the holes will be covered by the timbering later on. You can use a set square at this point to make sure that you walls are lined up correctly. Or just ensure that they are line up with the layout marks you drew on the base.

You can glue the pieces to the base if you wish as this can help with construction, I personaly wait until the full basic structure is complete. PVA is best for sticking the structure to the base. Any small gaps will be covered during the timbering or they will be covered when decorating the base.

Continue to glue the walls together, ensuring they line up, until the basic structure is complete. If you haven’t glued your building to the base, do it at this stage.

Windows and doors
Pretty much any building you make will have some form of windows or doors. These separate the fair models from the excellent models. You can put as much or as little effort into these as you wish. For my post office I went for the best I could do, within reason.

The windows were constructed on 1mm plywood squares, with thin strips of balsa on edge, glued using PVA, to make a frame. As these were sash windows, I represented the difference in panes by adding another layer of plywood to the top half of the wooden frame and a thin balsa strip to show where the panes separates. This makes the top window pane stand proud slightly (too slight to be noticed in the photo!). When the wooden frame is complete, aluminium car body mesh is cut to size and inserted in the frame and stuck in place with superglue.
The door is made in a similar manner, with a balsa door frame being built onto a thin plywood base. As you can see in the photograph, I only built the top and one side of the frame to make it easier to add the balsa planks for the door. I added a small window in the door using a frame of (very small) pieces of balsa wood and aluminium mesh again to represent glass. After all the planks for the door are glued in place, the remaining parts of the door frame are added, the bottom of the frame was made using thicker wood to represent a step.

Hinges were made from triangular pieces of plasticard and the door handle was plasticard and bent wire. I drilled some small holes in the plasticard of the door handle to represent the key hole and I added a little modelling putty to the handle to give it a more realistic shape. This was remarkably fiddly to do, and I’m sure that there must be a more efficient method of making realistic door handles!

As well as the front door, I decided to add a security door at the side of the Post Office for deliveries of valuable items and cash. The frame was made using the method above, a balsa frame on a plywood base, but the door was constructed using plasticard. A flat rectangle provided the basic shape, then the detail was built up using other smaller plasticard pieces. This gave the detail of the robust nature of the doors construction, with a viewing hatch and dropbox. An appropriate handle was found in my bits box and stuck in place.

I prefer to fit the windows and doors into the walls before assembling the walls, this makes it easier to fit the windows than it would be to fit the windows when the main building structure is complete. Mark on your foamcard where the windows and doors will go and cut out the holes using a knife. In theory, your windows and doors will slot in perfectly, however, the holes will generally need a slight ‘tweak’ to get your doors and windows to fit in snugly. Use a little PVA to stick them in place.

That’s about all for now, I’ll continue the build next week. If you’ve got any questions or comments on the build so far, let me know. Cheers!


Jack said...

Hiya Dave,

Looks fantastic now it's finished. I made a few building using similar techniques about ten years ago - yours look much beter though. Especially the Aluminium meshing.



AZReam said...

Scalpel blades and handles can be obtained online from

Chgowiz said...

Wow. That is just too cool for school. Definitely starring this entry for future inspiration.

Ruarigh said...

That poste office looks really sweet. Most excellent and a good use of your time. Well done.

ambrose said...

I love your concept. Look for a glowing review soon!