Monday 26 June 2023

Scratchbuilding with foam core

When I first returned to miniature gaming it was to play Crossfire in 20mm. All my initial buildings were scratch built using foam core and I made them specifically with Crossfire in mind, a set of rules which works particularly well for urban fighting. 

For ease of gameplay it made sense to construct each model as a roofless ruin with interior rooms conforming to the size of building sectors in the rules. That made construction less complex and it meant that roofs and tiles were the last things on my mind.

Those buildings still see use and have made great ruins for other games using Chain of Command. They featured prominently when we played The Road to Bremen campaign, as the final games took place in the ruins of the city itself.

As the units in Crossfire were on 40x40mm bases I limited the amount of rubble in each building as I've never liked the sight of large bases balancing precariously on mounds of debris. While there's no doubt that was functional it had a tendency to leave the ruined terrain looking somewhat sparse. I do have a longer term plan to rework many of them to include a lot more rubble. That's partly for aesthetic reasons but also because now I base most of my figures individually.

I used the same building technique only recently to create a new ruin. We were in the midst of playing another campaign for Chain of Command and a hit on a house by a round of 150mm HE caused it to collapse. As we were refighting over the same map in the following game I wanted a ruin that would match the exact footprint of the original building. A scratch build with foam core was the simplest and quickest solution. 

The main structure is cut from foam core and glued together using PVA glue. I find a few pins inserted through the foam core are a good way to hold things together while the glue dries. The interior and rubble were added using coffee stirrers, household filler and cat litter.

To keep it versatile I made a detachable pile of rubble that could be placed adjacent to the building if space permitted.

The window shutters were a last minute addition from my spares box and were left over from a Sarissa MDF building.

This was a quick build and was ready to replace the earlier building in the next game in our campaign.

Having avoided making roofs for the initial buildings for Crossfire I realised that with a little bit of work I could repurpose one to make the Opium Factory for our 1942 Singapore based campaign Last Stand on Opium Hill. I built a simple frame using balsa wood that would allow the roof to be removed during games and covered that with pieces of corrugated cardboard. At the same time I used wire gutter guard from a hardware store to make very simple window frames. It gave the building a new lease of life.

Foamcore comes in a variety of thicknesses and for my 12mm Second World War project I used the thinner 3mm sheets to make a series of ruined buildings in much the same way as I had in 20mm.

Construction is very straightforward as you can see.

By peeling back the paper coating and revealing the inner foam you can then scribe bricks or other shapes.

The foam core can be textured and for this I use regular household filler.

The end result are a number of light but sturdy buildings made at very small cost.

The beauty of scratch building is that you have complete control over the dimensions, which means you can be sure they are sized to work with the basing of your figures.

While it's fair to say I've used foam core to make a lot of ruins I've also found it useful to build the basic shape of a complete building. I used it in this way to make a 28mm wooden barn (you can follow the full build in this post).

This gave me the main shape and a strong base onto which I could attach wooden coffee stirrers.

The detachable roof was made in exactly the same way except the roof shingles were made by cutting up a cardboard cereal box.

I've found foam core to be a very versatile material. It's light but strong and yet easy to cut to shape with a craft knife. PVA glue works for most applications and extra detail can be added using a variety of different materials. The factory below was one of my early builds for Crossfire and the chimney was made from the inner roll of kitchen foil. To be honest that's very obvious if you look at it closely, something I've always intended to address!

Monday 19 June 2023

Building the Sarissa 20mm Large Factory

A couple of years ago I bought the Sarissa Precision large factory with the intention of adding it to my existing industrial buildings so that I could create a large factory complex or dockside area. 

The industrial buildings I currently own, like the factory below, had all been scratch built using foam core. The intention I had for the Sarissa factory was to add something a little different to the mix. 

I've really liked the idea of making a factory built of exposed brick ever since I followed the build of the magnificent Stalingrad table that Al Sheward posted in the Lead Adventure Forum. It was that project that inspired me to invest in about twenty A4 sheets of embossed brick wallpaper scaled for 20mm from a seller on eBay. 

Up until now I've used it to embellish parts of a building rather than cover the entire structure. I've found it does a particularly good job of things like chimney breasts and while the house below is 28mm the brick sheets seem to work just as well in either 20mm or 28mm. 

The Sarissa factory seemed perfect as the base for trying to use the paper on an entire building.

The first stage was to assemble most of the building. It was all fairly straightforward, although the roof needed a few dry runs before I was confident enough that I had it right and could apply glue.

The first thing I noticed was how much detail was lacking from the roof. My original thought was to use sheets of clear styrene sheet to add glass but I wasn't sure if that would work and so I decided to wait and see how the rest of the construction looked before settling on the solution.

As the entire roof can be removed as a single piece I envisage using it complete with roof for games in areas where there has not been prolonged fighting. Alternatively I think by removing the roof altogether and making up a number of bases with rubble to place within the roofless building it would work quite well as the shell of a bombed out factory.

The plan for the exterior factory walls was to have them entirely in a bare brick finish using the embossed printed wallpaper. This can be applied with a number of glues but I've found diluted PVA glue works well. The paper is fairly thick but it becomes softer and more flexible once the glue has been allowed to soak in for a minute or two.

To make sure this was all going to work as planned I decided to do a trial run on a small piece and chose the factory chimney. 

I find that allowing the diluted glue to soak into the paper makes it much more pliable and easier to wrap around corners. 

The roof for the chimney area was plain MDF and so I embellished it by adding corrugated cardboard.

That gave me the courage to embark on the much bigger job of the entire factory exterior. The first thing was to paste an entire A4 sheet over the whole exterior of one side including the window and door openings.

Once the glue was dry I used a sharp scalpel blade to score diagonally across the window openings and wrap the paper around the window sills and edges and glue it on the internal wall.

It's a lengthy process and quite laborious (not to mention repetitive), but the results speak for themselves and I think this worked very well.

The factory chimney had a very visible join where it met the roof and a bit of Milliput worked well for flashing.

The window frames and doors come on separate panels of grey board which cover each of the entire internal walls. It was much easier to paint those panels with the window frames before installing them.

The corrugated iron roof needed painting and weathering to give it a more natural look. 

Once I reached this stage it was easier to visualise how the whole thing was coming together.

The ladder on the chimney was painted and weathered before being attached.

The factory floor was just a sheet of plain MDF so to give it some character and show signs of use I engraved the surface to give the appearance of slabs of concrete and then added cracks in the same way.

I spray painted the floor with grey primer and then dry brushed it with household emulsion.

While I have no immediate plans for a very detailed interior I felt that at least the floor now gave the interior more detail.

The external stairs and gantry come as two separate parts which I assembled and glued together. There was a fairly obvious join and so to hide that I used coffee stirrers to give the appearance it was a single piece.

The internal panels with the doors were very two dimensional and so I added more features to give them more depth.

For this I used the offcuts and edges from sheets of Charlie Foxtrot roof tiles.

Small lengths of fuse wire were cut and bent to make door handles. It's funny how sometimes it's the smallest details that make all the difference.

These internal panels were glued into place after painting the doors and window frames, that way I avoided any accidental paint spills on the brick wallpaper.

The interior detail for the factory is limited to a gantry along one wall. Similarly the interior sides of the window and door panels have few features. I considered adding more detail but the amount of effort that required led me to decide to try a more impressionistic approach and just use paint (there are more than thirty windows after all!). It's not ideal but I do intend making machine tools and/or generators that can be placed inside on the factory floor and I'm certain they will draw the eye away from those rather simple interior features.

While I considered brickwork for the interior I realised that the roof would either not be able to fit if that was the case, or the constant removal of the roof would scratch away and damage the wallpaper.

The easiest solution was to paint the walls in a similar colour combination to the bricks. It's not ideal and the factory interior will certainly look a lot more basic than the exterior.

This brought me back to considering what to do with the roof.

In the end I decided to add smaller window frames within the larger ones and for that I would use gutter wire from a local hardware store.

It was easy enough to cut to size and glue in place with super glue.

It was primed before painting and I've found this Rust-oleum primer very good for priming a broad range of materials including plastic and wood.

Once primed it was painted in the same colours as the doors and windows and then weathered.

I was really pleased with the way the wire added so much more detail to those windows for relatively little effort. I still have the clear styrene sheets to use for glass but I'm not sure I really need to use them.

I want to add a few signs to the building exterior but these will be temporary fixtures because I envisage using the factory in a number of locations, be it the docks of Singapore or Hong Kong; any number of countries in north west Europe - France, Belgium, Holland or Germany, and, also on the eastern front in Russia. So for now I'm calling it finished.

While it's a very different style building to my scratch built factory I don't see any reason why the two can't work together on the same table. 

It's good to know that the old factory still has some life in it yet.

You can find a number of my other terrain builds and projects on the 20mm Terrain page here on the blog.