Tag Archives: making a terrain board

0.09 Modular Terrain Boards-Part 2

The next step on the path to modular terrain board domination is to give the board form and texture. Most old country roads in Normandy (or Arkansas, for that matter) are somewhat sunken, as they’ve been worn down or graded thousands of times over the past. I thought 4-6 feet, at scale would be a good depth to give to the road. It’s an arbitrary decision, but I wield supreme executive power over my terrain boards, thank you very much.

After carefully marking centerline, widths, and depths, I began to excavate through the foam insulation (easy, if tedious) and the 1×2 boards (difficult, and tedious). I made the mistake of trying to cut into the foam, which just made an uneven mess, as the material is almost uncontrollable for this application. It does respond to sanding very well, and my other board went smoothly (har har har) once I switched techniques.

A note about carving through the 1x2s: I marked the depth and width I wanted to achieve directly onto the 1×2. Then I took my coping saw (and it works well for this) and semi-carefully cut to those marks in multiple places. Now, there’s no way to complete the cut, if you’re not going to completely sever your 1×2 (and I’d suggest that you don’t, as you’ll completely lose any structural benefit, which is 70% of the reason for putting them on there in the first place). After making the multiple coping saw cuts, I took a 1/2″ chisel and went to work. The earlier cuts by the coping saw make the chiseling controllable. I also used the chisel to rough in a 45 degree bevel at the edges of the cut, in order to simulate a bank. Yes, a picture would have saved us all a thousand befuddled words.

I’d highly recommend sanding everything and getting it somewhat smooth, otherwise you’re going to end up with unwanted textures on your board. Afterwards, a damp cloth is a good way to clean up.

I primed this board with some grey Kilz primer, but I don’t think that step is necessary, at least when using my procedure. I forgot (this illustrates something about the brain power of the writer) to prime one of my three boards, and there’s no discernible difference in the final finishes.

Cut, sanded, and primed.

I’ve used brown ACRYLIC caulking to do my roadbed. That acrylic part is very important, as silicon caulking cannot be painted. Caulking is excellent for simulating a rutted dirt/mud road. I picked up the tip from the always entertaining Lloydian Aspects. I used a cheap plastic sculpting tool to push the stuff around, but an old credit card and a toothpick or piece of sprue would get the job done. Give the caulk at least 24 hours to dry, or you’ll have a sticky mess. Add your roadway texturing sand/gravel into the caulk itself, before it sets up.

It's not handsome. Yet.

The next step is to lay down a base coat of paint mixed with sand and gravel. I’m going to be gaming in Normandy, so something rich and brown seemed right. I went with the always-loamy burnt umber. You’ll end up with a thick (but not too thick!) slurry. You’ll want to use a large cheap paintbrush to spread it about the board. Don’t be shy, put it on there thick and get 100% coverage.

Get dirty

Shake your container to mix your gravel and sand up before adding the paint.

Playground sand and some Woodland Scenics ballast

You’ll end up with this lovely cake-like finish. Resist the temptation, and don’t eat it. Let it dry thoroughly. The foam portions will take longer, which makes me thing the 1x2s are soaking up moisture from the burnt umber paint. Even though they’ve already been primed. No adverse effect so far, though.

Base color and texture applied.

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0.08 Modular Terrain Boards-Basic Construction

The Ground for which We Fight

I’m going to break down my ideas and notes on building terrain boards over several posts. Otherwise, they’ll be unreadable. I won’t be doing a tutorial, per se, but I will try to give some insights, observations, and warnings along the way.

I really like the idea of custom scratch-built terrain boards, as opposed to draping a cloth over some books. I enjoy the act of making, so it suits me to a tee. However, if you can stand NOT to have custom-built terrain boards and are more interested in playing than building, I’d highly recommend avoiding them. Building terrain boards is expensive, time-consuming, messy, and takes up a tremendous amount of space.

That's a lot of wood...

My first foray into a modular terrain board system. I hate sanding.

Mr. Modular

One thing that can lead to a larger return on your terrain board investments is to build them in a modular fashion, so that each board can be used in multiple configurations and will be of use to you for future scenarios and campaigns. As a bonus, modular terrain boards can be made into sizes suitable for transport.

Above you can see my first (and only, at this point) attempts at modular terrain. There isn’t anything particularly innovative or useful about this layout. In fact, the only thing modular about it is that the boards are 12″x24″ in size and the sunken roads enter and leave from the same points on each edge. The first thing that I learned during modular terrain board building? Build them in squares. The square is a more flexible shape for a modular system, and the square’s just as easy to build as rectangles.

Materials Used in Basic Construction

  • 3/8″ Masonite Board, or some other thin, but reasonably strong sheet of wood-like substance.
  • 1×2 lumber
  • 3/4″ wood screws
  • 3/4″ rigid foam insulation (duPont, in this case)
  • Drywall spackle, for smoothing out transitions.
  • A can of primer. I’d suggest grey or black.

Tools Needed for Basic Construction

  • A saw, of some sort.
  • A drill, or a real talent at screwing.
  • PVA glue
  • A good sharp chisel, for any sunken features crossing the borders (rivers, roads, ponds, ravines, etc.)
  • A few grades of sandpaper. A sanding block is nice, too.
  • Some sculpting tools or small trowels.
  • 2″ or larger paint brush.
  • A cheap breathing mask, unless you’re a manly man.

My boards are made of a masonite backing, with 1×2 lumber cut to fit and placed around the edges to provide structural rigidity and protect the foam. The foam fills in the center. The construction should be pretty obvious, even from the not very useful photo I’ve posted above.

A few notes:

  • Have the hardware store cut your masonite down to size, unless you have a large truck to carry it.
  • ‘1×2’ is a nominal dimension. 1×2 lumber is actually more like 3/4″ x 1.5″. This is a good thing, because the 3/4″ insulation is actually 3/4″ deep. The lesson is to physically verify dimensions before purchasing any materials.
  • Carefully select your lumber. It’s likely to be at least slightly warped, and any warping really shows up at the scales we are working in.
  • Don’t use a coping saw for any step in this process. I did, and my 1x2s are not very precise. I suppose it doesn’t really matter, but if you’re going to cut something, why not do it in a way that’s going to look good. The sad thing is I have a perfectly good table saw out in the storage shed, but I was too lazy to go and dig it out.
  • Cutting and sanding foam insulation is extremely messy. Wear a mask, and do it somewhere you don’t mind have fine blue particulates all over everything.
  • Screw things from behind. You’ll want to screw through the masonite backing into the 1x2s so you don’t have to deal with filling in screw heads on your finished surfaces. Also note that if you have a sunken terrain feature crossing a border, you can’t put a screw there.
  • Buy paint for terrain boards in larger quantities. You can take a sample of your model paints down to any respectable hardware store and they’ll be able to mix you something very close to the same color. I get the paint in quart cans, and it’s a little expensive up front, but those cans will last a long time and cover many terrain boards.
  • As much as sanding rigid foam insulation sucks, it’s the best way to ‘carve’ into the stuff, unless you have access to one of those fancy hot wire foam cutters. If you try to carve out with a knife, you’re going to have a bad day.
  • DON’T FORGET TO REMOVE THE CLEAR PLASTIC FILM FROM THE FOAM INSULATION please.

Ok, there are some notes on basic construction. As with any sort of construction, measure twice, cut once. Be patient and think things through-you’ll waste less material and save yourself some frustration.