Thursday, 1 April 2010

Building a Ruined Defensive Wall - Part 1

A couple a months ago I saw an incredible terrain piece by Doctor Merkury on his pulp gaming blog; Doctor Merkury’s Lab, a gaming blog I can highly recommend to anyone with an interest in well made terrain, excellent writing or giant robots, so that’s pretty much all of us then... 

The piece in question was a ruined wall section (imagine a heavily damaged and neglected section of the great wall of China) that was in three parts, I was instantly inspired to created my own piece as a gift for my son.  (Remember my previous thoughts on making Frugal presents?)
I’m quite happy with how the final piece turned out so I thought I’d show you all my method for construction, there’s a lot of information, hopefully useful, so I’ll split this post into two parts and put the second up in a week or so.  Anyway, let’s begin...

The materials I used to make the wall are as follows:
  • 5mm Plywood (you can use any thin wood, but I opted for thicker plywood as I wanted it to be hardwearing, see below)
  • Crystacast casting powder (any casting plaster or Plaster of Paris will do, but Crystacast is very hardwearing)
  • Polystyrene Foam (any old insulating foam or packaging will do)
  • Sand and Gravel of various sizes
  • Lots of paints (cheap acrylics or emulsions are fine)
  • Matt/satin spray varnish
  • Flock/Static grass
  • PVA or Wood Glue
  • Strong Epoxy glue (you can get good quality two-part epoxies cheaply from £1 shops)
I made my wall using plaster blocks cast from a mould, but you can also get excellent results cutting the walls from dense foam, then covering them with a fine sand and glue mix.

  • Scroll Saw
  • Sandpaper
  • Hirst Arts Fieldstone block mould - see my review of Hirts Arts moulds here
  • Hot wire cutter for polystyrene
  • Sharp knife
  • Strong pliers for breaking blocks
  • Fine saw for cutting balsa wood
  • Paintbrushes
Don’t worry if you don’t have a scroll saw or hot wire cutter, hand tools such as saws and sharp knives will also provide good results.

As always, be careful using any tools, paints or glues.  I don’t want to hear about any horrific injuries and I don’t want to lose any followers!

Getting Started
I always start a project like this with a few sketches, it helps to fix the idea in my head and give me something to work from.  I’ve made a few projects without a sketch, but I invariably get halfway through the project and forget some of the bits I was going to do!

At this point it worth thinking about how your terrain piece will be used.  Will it be a piece that is only used infrequently or only put on display, or will it be used all the time and knocked about by carrying it from game to game?  My own terrain piece was to be a present for my 12 year old son and as such it had to be remarkably hard wearing.  This meant a thick plywood base, solid wall construction and minimal details (so no flagpoles, delicate wooden doors, fences etc), all these decisions will influence your decisions on specific materials to use, though the overall types of material and method of construction will be the same.

An important aspect of making a terrain piece like this is the overall size.  You’ll need to consider how big your gaming table is and how much storage space you have available.  After making my initial sketches I cut out a couple of possible base shapes and sizes out of card to make sure the overall ‘footprint’ of the piece would be right.  I made the base in three parts; a centre fortress section and two walls.  This would allow ease of storage and mean that the pieces could be used individually or all together.  When I was happy with my shapes, I drew around them onto my plywood and started cutting.

Earlier this year I had wisely invested some of my money in a scroll saw, this is a very fast moving saw that can cut twisting and curing shapes through a variety of materials.  This was perfect for cutting the curving shapes of my base and it went through my plywood with ease.  When the pieces had been cut I checked that they fitted together correctly and sanded down any rough edges.

Making the Walls

When the base pieces had been cut, I went back to my sketches to check where my walls would be on the base and then drew the outline of where I wanted them to go.  The next stage was the most time consuming, casting all the plaster blocks that I needed, fortunately, most of the time is taken up by waiting for the plaster to set, so I could get on with other things.
To make the walls, I laid blocks out over the top of the marks I had drawn on the bases to make sure the size and shape were correct and then glued them together with PVA or wood glue.  DO NOT glue them to the base at this stage, just to each other.  I made my wall sections upside down, I started with the layer of blocks that would form the walkway on top of the wall and then added rows, finishing with the row that would be glued to the base, the reason for doing this is that it allows you to miss out blocks on the bottom row so that the wall will be at an angle when it is attached to the base, enhancing the ruined look.

When these blocks had set, I attached them to the base using two-part epoxy, sanding the bottom of the wall down first to ensure that it would fit smoothly to the plywood and provide a good area for the glue.

I left this overnight to ensure the epoxy had fully set and then used some more blocks to add crenelations (the wavy bits bits that archers hide behind) to the top of the wall.  At this point, I would recommend having one of your gaming figures to hand to make sure that can see over your walls on the walkway, you don’t want to spend all this time creating a defensive position that the defenders can’t see out from!

When all the extra blocks and crenelations have been added your wall should look as good as new, so it’s time to do a bit of battle damage.  I took a pair of old cutters I had around the house and used them to break chunks out of the plaster, focusing the worst (or best) of the damage on the ends of the walls.  This is great fun and will give you a good effect, don’t be shy with the damage either, the badder the better.

Making the Floors
At this point you can make the floors for the top of the walkway of the wall.  I often use planks to cover floors on terrain pieces, but time I wanted to try something a little easier and more fitting the subject.  I read a post on The Miniatures Page about using textured wallpaper to represent floor tiles so I thought I’d give it a go.  Rather than rushing out and buying a whole roll, I found a website selling embossed wallpaper who offer free sample sheets (A4 size) to potential customers, I ordered a couple of styles that I thought may be suitable and got them through the post a couple of days later.  If you have a local DIY or home improvement shop, they’ll probably be happy to give you some samples, you could be really cheeky and take in a miniature with you to make sure that the scale is correct!

Rather than sticking this straight onto the top of the wall, I glued it onto some thin balsa wood cut to size to provide a bit more strength and prevent any of the stone effect on the top of the blocks used for the wall showing through.  I then gave this a bit of a trim and glued it onto the top of the wall using two part epoxy to form a strong bond.

I think that's enough for you all to be getting on with for the time being, I’ll continue my build next time, happy gaming!

EDIT: Part 2 can be found here.


Col. Corbane said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this one grow overtime. Keep it coming mate.

pete the pagan-gerbil said...

I just wish there was a cost-effective way to get moulds for small projects. I was looking for some good pipe moulds last year, but couldn't find anything in my price range.