Monday 15 December 2014

Terrain WIP: Quick n Dirty Forest Basing

Anyone who follows this blog would know that I am not the keenest of painters.  Even lower on my list of loves is making terrain.   My three terrain criteria are:
#1. Must be unified (i.e. all looks like it belongs together, not 40K ruins + tissue boxes + painted LEGO)
#2. Must cost me almost nothing
#3. Must take me no more than a few hours to build a complete board

A railroad modeller I ain't. I also have never made a forest before (my google-fu failed to locate a good tutorial so this is going to be "seat of the pants.")  So, having put your expectations in perspective, here is my WIP forest.

Not very polished, but a decent amount of terrain for $18 and an hour or so's work.

Ingredients so far:  
3mm MDF (compressed particle board aka glorified cardboard) $4 sheet
Cheap Chinese HO/OO trees (30 for $10) i.e. 33c each (some madmen make their own, I'm told)
Sand (making my daughter a sandpit was the best thing I ever did)
Misson brown spraypaint  ($4)
PVA glue (I used a fair bit, even watered down)

Total cost $18

The trees are cheap, but a lot of the trees are really small and unusable for 28mm. Luckily I also game in 15mm and 6mm  - I knew I branched out into new scales for a reason!

Obviously I have more to go, i.e. drybrushing, adding in detail like twigs and boulders, and maybe some static grass tufts (I am hopeless at applying it and it never looks the way I want).  However it is functional at the moment (I already said I have low standards, didn't I?).

It was surprisingly quick to do.

1.  I cut the MDF out in artistic wavy blobs using a bench saw (It's Ok to do this at 11:00pm if your neighbours are ferals like mine). I sanded the edge with a detail sander.  5min/base
2.  I drilled holes in the the MDF, and pushed thumb tacks through from the bottom, and secured it with a hot glue gun.
3.  I then pushed the bases of the trees slowly onto the "spikes"created by the upwards-facing thumb tacks. I put a dab of hot glue on first, this warmed the tree trunks and made them easy to push them onto the tacks, as well as securing the tree.  3-4 minutes/base
4.  I then painted the bases using 50/50 PVA/water, and spread sand on top. (Also added walls etc) 3-4 minutes/base
5.  Spraypaint time! 30 sec (I love spraypaint)

Total time: About 15 minutes a base, or an hour and a half for the lot. Sweet!

The walls need drybrushing.  Next time, I'll spray them black and paint them separately from the base. You can see drill holes where I'm going to add some trees.
What worked:
I initially tried doing the trees last but hot glue went over everything...
Spraypainting last worked fine - obviously I did hit the tree trunks with overspray but they're brown too...

I regret:
Not handling the glue gun with more care (burns hurt)
Not painting the plaster Hirst Arts stuff BEFORE putting it on the base
Not being able to find any guides to do this properly on the interne
Having to use MDF which I know is going to warp at some stage.

I can't tell you much about the Hirst Arts buildings as my wife made them, not me. She says they were a pain in the butt as they had to have air bubbles removed from wet plaster, and the molds were so small you had to do a zillion "casts" to get enough for a building. Which is why I have ruins, not the replica of Minas Tirith I ordered ;-)

In the future:
I'll drybrush the bases with light brown, and the walls with a lighter grey
I'll glue in some fallen trees (twigs) and boulders (stones from the road) to add more detail
I'll learn to use static grass better so I'm brave enough to use it in larger clumps

I considered mounting the trees on 40mm bases and then cutting a 40mm circle in the MDF so I could remove them to better maneuver models...   ...but it would have taken longer, and have tripled my costs, given I don't own a suitable circular cutting tip for my drill.

I also am aware the thumbtacks are not perfectly flat so the bases will never sit "flat"as well as they ought - but I figure the MDF is going to warp anyway sometime in the future and I couldn't think of a better way to secure the trees. 

I admit everything is pretty basic, but this to encourage the reluctant modeller (the internet is awash with amazing modellers who can do photo realistic stuff, but in "real life" there seems to be a lot of cardboard terrain and 40K ruined corner pieces, or expensive pre-made hills - at least where I live)

Remember:  Any terrain is better than none at all!


  1. Its a great start indeed!
    In the spirit of constructive criticism I offer the following:

    Before you do anything else, paint the underside of your mdf with your pva/water mix. This will significantly reduce warping

    - drybrushing will make a vast improvement
    - lightly put flock on 1/2 to 2/3 of the base and leave the rests with your earthy effects
    - a few small rocks will work well (don't overdo it)
    - Silfour tufts are an excellent way of adding visual improvement

    This is how mine came out:

  2. The individual bases were an idea I entertained for a bit, but dismissed as I wanted a "forest area" in a more abstract sense. Now I see how easy yours would be to store, I have second thoughts...

    Thanks for the tips. I presume simply spraypainting the bottom of the bases might have the same effect (i.e. "seal" the other side)?

  3. Actually, I make the effort to do to the underside exactly what I have done to the top, so the sam tension is on it. However spray painting would be fine if all you have done is paint the other side. Make it a lot more waterproof for that inevitable beverage spill too...