Friday 27 September 2013

Cheap & Nasty Scratchbuilt Terrain: Packaging = Aeronef Hangar/Bunker

Many people say terrain building guides are inspirational. They aren't actually. They're more aspirational. They are usually so amazingly professional and detailed, I go "I wish I was that good" or "I wish I had that much spare time" and don't even attempt it.

My goal here is to make stuff people go "heck, I could easily do better than that dude!" or "I could do x instead."  As usual, the aim is to spend 30 minutes or less on the building or terrain piece, from start to finish.

I bought some plastic aquarium plants for my new sub game (more on that later) and as I was about to throw out the packaging I thought... I wonder if I could make something out of it?  The molded plastic that packages everyday items comes in some weird and wonderful shapes.  

This package looked a bit bunker-like. I tossed up whether to build a 15mm sci fi bunker to go with my existing scratch built 15mm stuff but I have been busy painting my aeronef fleets today and I'd like some accompanying terrain.  Inspired by the U-boat pens, I decided to build an "aeronef base."

This was my inspiration.

This was what I had to work with. Besides the packaging (free) I used a pre-cut piece of MDF from Bunnings which cost me $1. I also grabbed some packets of pre-cut balsa wood from their craft aisle which also cost about $1.  Total cost - $2.

Spray Paint - A Scatch-Builder's Friend
When scratch building, can I underline the importance of paint?  A coat of paint can transform random objects into an interesting piece of wargaming terrain. In fact I'd say the ability to look at an unpainted object and go "ah, this could be x with a coat of paint" is THE key skill in scratch building.  You can lovingly handpaint stuff, of course, for some lovely effects - or, like me, you can casually spray the terrain with $2 cans, and cut your terrain-building time to minutes, instead of hours.  

From A to Z
It's probably obvious from the finished photos, but here's what I did
1. Sprayed the plastic packaging grey
2. Cut out doors and roof hatches
3. Glued the cardboard backing to the doors and roof hatches and painted them silver
4. Sprayed the MDF base blue and added some "waves" as the water looked a bit bland
5. Made a cardboard "dock" and sprayed it grey
6. Glued everything into place
7. Brushed PVA glue around the sides, and sprinkled beach sand on top (sieved with my wife's flour sieve to remove impurities...)
8. Sprayed some balsa pieces brown and glued them to the dock as buildings. Pro tip: The spray will blow small balsa pieces everywhere (*cough* of course I didn't do this) unless you blu tac them down.

This is the completed aeronef pen.  I kinda envision aeronefs needing to land on water as they have boat shaped hulls, and I'm sure a water landing would place less stress on the hull.

The balsa wood "buildings" look OK from a distance and make the building less bland.  You can see the glue hasn't dried - I tend to cut corners and work with things not fully dried in order to finish under my self-imposed time limit.

A aeronef frigate coming in to land in the outside dock.  I'm going to do a raid on the nef base rather like the WW1 raid on the Cuxhaven zepplin sheds.

As usual, it took 30 minutes, from concept to full completion.  Yes, it is pretty rough. Yes, I didn't even use a ruler.  But I'm adhering to my 30 minute deadline pretty strictly (I actually made this while waiting for the glue on another project to dry).

The packaging would also make a decent 15mm bunker as well and I'm tempted to do it with my other packet.  Anyway, I hope I've inspired someone to look at packaging in a new way.

...rips open parcel - throws away miniatures - excitedly takes packaging off to the workbench...


  1. Cheap and Nasty it may be, but it is very effective!

  2. Very good.

    Thank you for posting the link.


  3. Thanks! There's more aeronef terrain to come - I want tall tower-like nef docking stations and some floating aetherium fortresses.

  4. Very nice - and as you say inspirational! I'm going to try this myself - at some point ... so many ideas, so little time ...

  5. Thin-film-plastic from packaging can be used for anything!
    (even the windows on your next post - apartment building)

    But look at the plastic inserts from the packaging also.
    Many have strange and unusual shapes that can be used
    for small structures, detailing bits and texturing.

    Or molds for replicating plaster pieces.

    Shows what you can do with "found items" and
    a little time. Although I might need an entire hour
    - 28mm needs a bit more detail for me.


    1. I've been saving my plastic packages for windows for a while. But it's only recently I've started to view them as structures in their own right, as my brain did not associate "clear plastic" with "solid structure."

      I think 50% of scratch-building it the ability to put random items together to make a coherent whole, and the other 50% the ability to visualise what it would look like with a coat of paint on it....