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Making scenery: BUILDINGS

First, instructions of how to make some buildings from foam-board. All the buildings in the examples shown are for World War Two 1/72nd scale wargaming, but the same techniques could be used for other sorts of building model.

Here we see the bits cut out from the board, for a fairly simple house. The material itself is a sandwich of two thin layers of card, with plastic foam in between. You can buy this from art shops, but I have scrounged mine from a supermarket. The supermarket had made signs advertising that month's latest offers, and had hung them from the ceiling. At the end of the month, the signs were thrown away. One big sign is enough to make several buildings. Painting the buildings is a little harder, since one has to cover all the printed advertising. The stuff you'll find in art shops is plain white.

The scalpel is my favourite kind. They have plastic handles with a bit of flex to them, and are cheap (about 37 pence). They are sold as "disposable" which means that they want you to throw them away when the blade gets blunt, but in fact the blade can be replaced, just as the blade on a metal-handled scalpel can. I have tried several shapes of blade, and I like this one best all-round.

You can see that I have marked out where all the doors and windows are to go, but have not cut them all out. Some windows will have shutters glued in the shut position, so I have left them alone at the cutting stage.

The pieces for a much more ambitious house. One thing I have learned, is that if you make the houses true to the scale of your figures, then they look awfully big. Perhaps it would be wisest to make buildings a bit too small for true scale. The plastic kits of buildings one can buy, tend to be small for their scales.

The next stage is to glue the pieces together. Notice that in this photograph, you can see pins stuck through the pieces, to hold them in place as they dry. This is better than using rubber bands or clothes pegs.

Next, you have to glue the house to a sturdy base. I have used VERY thick card for this purpose. The foam board is too thick for this, and most card will warp when paints and glues congeal on one side of it. Fortunately, the building itself acts as a stiffener for the base. I have made the base bigger than the building because I want a rim all the way around. The main purpose of this rim is to protect the building during storage and transport. If it shifts around it its box, then the edge of the rim, and not some part of the building itself, will hit the inside of the box.

Note the brown packing tape (gummed paper, not self-adhesive plastic) which acts to smooth and strengthen some corners.

Now to add some texture to the outside surface. I have used two methods. I have not concluded that either is better than the other. When doing one, I become convinced that the other is quicker.

Here we see an example of method 1. The house is covered with blotting paper. I have tried other types of paper, and only got a couple to work. The paper must go very floppy when wet, which most paper will not. Apart from blotting paper, the only other type I got to work was some rustic hand-made paper. Water-colour paper does not work, so don't waste your time and money trying it. Cut the paper roughly, to be big enough to go all around the house, and glue it on with thinned PVA glue, then trim. Cut X-shaped slits in the windows and doors, and glue back the flaps to cover the inside edges of the window frames.

Note that the blotting paper has ripped a bit during the gluing stage. It does become very weak when wet, but this doesn't matter, as the rips look a bit like cracks when glued down.

Here we see a technique to give the impression of bricks exposed by broken plaster rending. Some plastic brick card, bought from a model shop, has been glued on in patches. Before adding the blotting paper, the rest of the wall sections around the brick card have been built up to the same level as the brick card, by gluing on cereal-packet card. The blotting paper has been glued over the top of the cereal packet card, but not over the brick card, so the blotting paper, representing the plaster rending, appears to have been broken away, and the exposed bricks appear to be beneath it.

This is the other method. I mixed plaster rending for the building, using Tetrion wall filler, PVA glue, water, and sand. There are other wall fillers which would do the same job. They come as a white powder. You might want to add some paint to the mixture, so that if the model gets damaged, and paint flakes off, then the revealed plaster underneath won't be gleaming white. I think that the sand was a mistake. Adding sand gives a rougher texture, but it makes the mixture harder to apply, and the sand will wear out your brushes when you come to paint it. I've tried it without sand, and it works fine.

Note the windowsills and door lintels, which are medium-thickness card, cut into rectangles and glued on. These make a big difference to the look of the finished building. Down the front edges of this building, I have added columns of corner stones. These were simple to do. I cut out lots of 3x1 rectangles of thick paper. These, I folded at right-angles, so that one side of the fold was a 1x1 square, and the other side was a 2x1 rectangle, and I then glued these on, alternating long and short ends above each other, leaving little gaps in between. This gives the building a Euro-Baroque look, which is quite appropriate for World War Two northern France, Holland, and Germany.


Remember all those bits I cut out for a "more ambitious" house? Here they are glued together.

This is to be a burned-out manor house. Here we see the model before the paper rending has been glued on. Some stonework is to be left exposed by broken plaster. The stonework itself is made from some diorama bases which come with Matchbox 1/76th scale vehicle kits. Next to the stonework, card has been glued, to build up the walls to the level of the stonework, so that when the paper rending is added, there won't be a rather unconvincing ramp up to the exposed stones.

This is to be a short terrace of buildings with pantiled roofs. The buildings are made separately, but with flush sides, so that they can be placed next to each other to make the terrace. As with all these buildings, the roofs are to be made detachable for wargaming purposes. Understand now that making roofs detachable means that the buildings will take quite a bit longer to make. If a roof is not detachable, it can be glued on firmly, and it adds to the strength of the model. If it is to be made as a separate piece, then it must be made very precisely, so that it fits properly, and this is not always easy.

Notice the blue stains on the wall of the building on the left. These were made when I marked out the blotting paper for cutting out. Alas, a felt-tip was the first pen to come to hand, and the ink from this soaked into the blotting paper. This was a swine to paint over when it came to the painting stage, so I'd recommend that you use pencil or a biro.

A close-up, showing details of construction. The roof tiles are made from strips of corrugated cardboard. Each strip (apart from the bottom one) has been glued on top of a thin strip of cereal packet card. You can just see the ends of the cereal packet card strips, in this close-up (blue). These little strips raise the bottom edge of each row of tiles, above the one below, much enhancing the tile-like effect of the corrugated cardboard. I cut the strips of corrugated cardboard with scissors held at an angle, so that the bottom edge of each strip protrudes slightly, over the one below.

Along the apex of the roof, are the top tiles, which are made from drinking straws. These were quite fat straws, stolen from the refreshment stall at a local multiplex cinema (why do they call them "concession stands"?). I cut the straws in half lengthways (there were handy red stripes along them which acted as guidelines), then filled the channel of each half with all-purpose adhesive (I used UHU but other makes, like Bostik would doubtless do), and then, when this had gone tacky, I cut the bifurcated straws into short lengths, each to represent one apex tile. I put a long thin sausage of Milliput along the apex of the roof, covered this with UHU, and then stuck the tiles on, overlapping. The result is quite strong.

Having tried several methods of making the detachable roofs, I would recommend the following. Cut out the flat sheets of card which will make the main roof parts, then measure the angle of the roof on the main building walls (ninety degrees looks right, and is an easy angle to work with), and cut a triangle of foam board at this angle. Glue this triangle in place on ONE of the roof sides simply by putting a lot of PVA along one edge of the triangle, and placing it carefully edge-down on one roof side, which is lying flat on a table. The thickness of the glue should hold it in place, without need for pins, clips, pegs, rubber bands, or the like. Only when this is dry and strong should you then glue the other roof side on. Attempts to glue both roof sides at once to the triangular struts, will end up in mess and frustration.

The shutters on the windows are just rectangles of plastic card, bought from a model shop, with a louvre-like surface. I glued the closed shutters with the louvres angled to shed rain, and the open shutters with the louvres the other way up, to represent the inside of the shutters.

Here you see the ruined building shown on the last page, at a more advanced stage.

On top of the chimney stack is a rectangle of card, with three cylinders, cut from an old plastic biro refill, to represent the chimney pots.

A staircase has been added. This was made by gluing lengths of polystyrene rod, bought from a model shop, right-angled triangle in cross section, to a large rectangle of plastic card. Each length of triangular-section rod made one step. Little random lengths of plastic rod, round in cross section, were added to the end of the steps, representing broken banisters.

A ruined first floor has been added, made from a sheet of card, with broken matchsticks glued to its underside to represent floor beams. Similarly, some remaining roof sections have been added, with matchstick roof beams, and plastic card roof tiles (backed with cereal packet card). The polystyrene of the model-shop tile card does not glue well to matchsticks and the like, so I used UHU to stick the plastic card to the cereal-packet card (scoring the back of the plastic card to give something for the glue to key into), and then was able to use PVA glue to attach the roof sections to the building, and the beams to the roof.

At the lowest point of the ruined front wall of this building, you can see a pile of bricks. This was cut from the base of the diorama base which comes with the Matchbox kit of a Hanomag 251 half-track. You get two such piles of bricks on every base, and I have twenty-something of these half-tracks, so I am rich in little piles of bricks.

Now for the finishing touches.

finished ruined house

A finished ruined house, ready for close-assault by plucky Brits (all Brits in World War Two games are "plucky" - it's the law).

In front of the house is an area of rubble spill, which can act as cover for prone troops. Black smoke stains have been painted above all the windows and doors, telling a tale of burning. The red-brown brick card has been painted light grey, and then most of the grey paint has been rubbed off when still tacky, leaving the grey paint in the recesses between the bricks.

The base has been finished off with a mixture of Tetrion filler, PVA glue (as always), and brown poster paint. While this was still wet, bits of cat litter were scattered on the mixture, and pushed in with the bald end of a paint brush.

The model has been painted for the most part with poster paint. The reason for this is simple: it is cheap. Where the surface to be painted was plastic or dried universal adhesive, acrylics have been used instead.

A close up, showing more detail. The edges of the ruined wall have been painted with black, brick-red, and grey paint, and then the very fine powder from cat litter has been glued on with PVA, as well as a couple of tufts of static flock, to represent grass growing in the crevices of the walls (so this building was bombed and burned some while ago).

One advantage of modelling a house which was ruined some while ago, is that it gives one a rationale for why there are no floorboards on the ground floor, and few if any roof tiles lying on the ground. Clearly, since this building was ruined, the locals have come along and ripped up what remained of the flooring on the first floor, for firewood, and stole the roof tiles which weren't smashed to oblivion.

During the war, the British public was advised to sit under the stairs during air raids, if no underground shelter was available. This advice came after many people had spotted that after an air-raid, many houses were completely levelled except for the staircases, which often survived. If you look at photographs of ruined cities of the period, you will often see a staircase going to nowhere, standing alone. The other part of a house which tended to survive, was the chimney stack. When making ruined buildings, therefore, consider modelling a chimney and a staircase. Until very recently indeed, it was very rare for buildings to be built without chimneys.

This angle shows a length of copper plumbing pipe sticking out of one wall (bent wire, painted), and, like the last shot, wallpaper. I am particularly pleased with the way the wallpaper looks, even after I have painted over most of it with black paint, to make it look smoke-damaged (particularly along the top of walls, because smoke rises). I made this by laboriously repeating and reducing wallpaper patterns until I had something which looked right in-scale. Dolls' house wallpaper is available from many model shops, but it tends to be the wrong scale for wargaming models. Well, if you want to, and have access to a colour printer, you may download and print the file I created, which has on it four wallpaper patterns, which, in the specific context of a 1/72nd scale model of a burned-out domestic ruin, look great.

1/72nd scale domestic wallpaper for burned-out WW2 buildings (.gif file 162KB)

In the centre of the far wall, you can see, upstairs, a wall of a small room. The wall is green, and looks very smoke-damaged. This effect was simple to create. I painted the wall with black poster paint, and then, when this was dry, painted over the top with very pale green poster paint. The black poster paint partially dissolved in the mix of the green paint, since poster paint does not dry waterproof. By painting on the pale green paint in swirly motions, a swirly smoke pattern was achieved which looks much better to the eye than this scanned photograph suggests, honest.

I'll now show you a couple of the other buildings, which I have shown you in construction, as finished articles. I'm sure that you're keen to know how they turned out in the end. First, the building which you first saw as pieces of foam board, held together with pins, while the glue dried.

Again, you can see smoke stains above windows, swirly smoke pattern (this time blue) on the far inside wall, one corner of the tiled roof remaining, corner stones made from stuck-on paper strips, fallen bricks made of card or rescued from plastic dioramas, exposed brickwork, and cat-litter rubble.

Another view of the same building. A lot of card strips represent planks, all painted black, and these sit on the section of ruined first floor, half-way up the far wall. Again, you see a wallpapered section upstairs. The far section of the building is simply painted black inside. The fire must have been hotter there. There is no need to have wallpaper and wall paint differentiating every room. A couple of hints of separate rooms are enough.

The big manor house. I saw photographs in a newspaper of a manor house which burned down in Britain recently, and it looked a lot like this one. Like this one, the roof had disappeared completely, and the strong brick and stone walls remained standing. The windows and window-frames had disappeared too, which is a bit of a relief to me, since modelling all the window frames would be quite a fiddly task. Even with a building this size, the construction method is strong enough for the whole building to be picked up by hooking a finger through one window.

A close-up, showing the beams of the first floor (broken match sticks painted black), the fire-places stranded on the walls with no rooms to heat, and more of my snazzy model wallpaper.

The terrace, complete with cute painted shutters, biro-refill chimney pots, grey stone doorsteps, and a sprig of plastic aquarium plant.


The buildings presented here were made using the basic techniques of foam-board building, as outlined in the main section on buildings.

First, before I get onto the actual thatching bit, a word of wisdom, which I wish I had heard years ago from someone else. What I normally do is build my buildings, and then strive in vain for a good way of storing them. This time, I started with the box I planned to store them in and made them to fit it exactly so that they don't rattle around, and are easy to transport. All nine buildings you are going to see fit into one shoe box. See how neatly they all fit. Each roof on its inside has a letter code which matches a letter on the underside of the building it fits. You can see the base of a building that is stored upside down.

I made them in different sizes, so that they could be stored inside each other like Russian dolls. While I was at it, I made some piles of logs that go in the smallest houses.

The supports on the insides of the roofs had to be cut down a bit so that the larger roofs could sit on top of the smaller. You can't see that here - in this shot, all the roofs have been removed.

Here you see two thatched long houses. Many people think of thatch as being a golden yellow colour. Well, straw thatch is a sort of sandy colour when it is first put on a building, but after a while in the weather it goes a dull brown or even grey. Also, straw is not the only thing used for thatch. Water reeds and heather were also used, and heather particularly can go a very dark colour, and is sometimes called "black thatch".

The larger house on the left has been textured with rough paper glued on with thinned PVA. Most paper does not work for this task. Blotting paper works, as do many old-fashioned hand-made papers. The paper you pick must have a bit of roughness to its texture, and must be absorbent and weak, so that when it is soaked in glue, it goes very floppy indeed. Don't try water-colour paper, because it is expensive and doesn't work. The texture of the paper imitates rough mud daub, and has been dry-brushed with a light sandy-coloured paint to bring out the detail.

The paints I used for some parts were cheap Anita acrylics which are fine for painting scenery, and very cheap poster paints, into which I mixed some PVA to make them flexible, water-resistant and strong.

Note that the front wall of the house on the left does not come to a point at the top, but instead is truncated, leaving a gap just under the apex of the roof. This is a very quick and easy way to do windows.

The smaller house on the right has been textured with brown acrylic mastic (see river section for details on this substance). This I daubed over the walls with my favourite sculpting tool, and then I pressed some split match-sticks into it for the door surround. When it was dry, I dry-brushed it with sand paint and then the walls were finished.

The doors are made from a rectangle of thick card with thin card or split match-stick planking on them.

The roofs are big rectangles of thick card covered with bath mat. I had an old brown bath mat and thought that I'd use it to make a load of thatched buildings. Having made nine with it, I still have most of it left, and I have another one, so I have learned that one bath mat goes a long way. In case you are unfamiliar with bath mats, these are the things that British people step onto immediately after getting out of the bath. They are thick absorbent mats, with a non-slip under surface. The pile on them is not looped back on itself like towelling, nor vigorously upward-pointing like carpet. I don't know of another material that would do the job just right.

Another thatched house, this time with a planked front wall. The planking is made by sticking on some textured card that I cut from a greetings card I was sent. The dry-brushing is rather important to bring out the texture. I was, and still am, considering painting on some large fancy design of interweaving lines, perhaps in the Celtic style. We don't know how people decorated these houses in the distant past, so we have a fair amount of licence.

The door is textured with mastic, which I have sculpted to look like fur. I have seen several re-constructions of houses which have fur-covered doors for warmth. The fur overlaps the edge of the door, and lines the door-frame too, to form a draught-excluding seal.

You may notice that the thatch is slightly darker along the apex of the roof. This was the first roof I made, and I cut two rectangles of matting, one for each side. I was worried that the pile, if parted in the centre and combed down each side, would leave a bald patch running along the apex. Accordingly, I glued lots of bits of cut pile down the join to hide it. This took time and was quite unnecessary.

This is the underside of the roof. You need to hide the edges of the card of the roof. Having tried a few different methods, I came up with one that was both far and away the easiest and best. I cut the matting slightly too big to cover the card, so that it overlapped the card a bit, then I piped a line of brown mastic down the underside edges, and then just bent the overlap over and pressed the pile into the mastic, which held it.

The easiest way to do a simple pitched roof as you find on a longhouse, is to make the card roof first, with its internal struts (see how I do this on the main section on buildings) and cut a single oblong of bath matting and glue it onto the roof. If the mat is shaggy enough, you won't get a bald line running along the roof apex. I did some roofs using more than one piece of matting, and found that as long as the join between two pieces of mat was not at the apex, it didn't show.

I have considered that I might put a load of diluted PVA on one of the roofs, and comb the roof so that the pile lies flat and downward-facing, and wait for the glue to dry and hold it there. I doubt I will do this though, because the roofs look fine as they are, and there is a soft friendly pleasing quality to their current texture.

A byre. Bored of long-houses, and wanting a building in which I could place a visible archer who could shoot out, I made this. The animals can shelter in the darkness, or come to the corner to be fed and fussed over. The wattle was made in a very quick simple way indeed. I used an old beach mat, of the sort that people roll up and take to lie on so that they do not get sand all over their towels. I quickly found that when cut into strips, this stuff falls apart, so before cutting a strip of it, paint undiluted PVA all over one side of the mat to hold it together, and when this has dried, cut your pieces out. It was very easy to paint, too. I just painted it all over with brown paint, and then while the paint was still tacky, I rubbed over it with my thumb, exposing the straw-coloured highlights.

Most cooking and heating in these houses would have been fueled with wood. Many re-constructions I have seen have large wood-stacks under the eaves. You can see one here, glued to the base of the building. Nearby is a woodpile. The base is card covered with mastic, and the rest is just snapped twigs. I made a couple of these very quickly, and they add quite a bit to the scene, and give fighters in skirmish games something to hide behind as they approach the buildings.

Making scenery: WATER TOWER

A water tower. The main drum of the building is a plastic pot which I bought full of herbs, in a supermarket. On to this, I have glued panels of card, leaving tiny gaps in between. One of the panels wasn't quite rectangular (I cut them by eye, since I'm impatient with measurements, which seldom turn out to be more accurate than I can judge by eye anyway), and it left a bit of a gap because it didn't fit. This was a blessing in disguise. I cut a rectangle of thin card, and with a sharp spike, pressed a lot of indentations into it. I then glued this rectangle over the gap, with the indentations on the inside, and the bumps the other side of the card sticking up, looking like rivet heads.

The ladder is card. The drain pipe is a drinking straw painted green. The uprights are extra large matches, and the struts are ordinary matches. The legs look a lot shorter in this photograph than they really are, because of the angle of view.

The roof is paper and card, and is quite strong, thanks to its being made up of two or three layers, glued together. It has been painted grey, dry-brushed light grey, and varnished with a mix of varnish and a little black enamel paint.

The main part of the building has been painted dark blue, dry-brushed light blue, and then has had a few watery stains of rust-coloured paint added.

Making scenery: Linka Buildings

Linka is a commercially available system of moulds for making model buildings in 1/72nd scale. It is very popular with HO/OO scale railway modellers, and is particularly suited to making buildings of the early-to-mid Twentieth Century. It used to be made in Northumberland in Britain, but now the only stockist I know of is American (see the Linka website) and very expensive. I bought some old moulds on Ebay.

The Linka site has much on it about the moulds and how to use them. I here add only things that are not mentioned there.

One of the first things I discovered about Linka is that it can take ages to make a building this way. If you are a wargamer, and not a model-maker, then I would advise sticking to single-storey simple buildings. These can be made reasonably quickly and easily, but I made a big church with a fancy church tower, and a peel tower, and these took blinking ages. It won't say this on the Linka site.

Making a wall at a time is one way to make the buildings. Place your pieces down on a flat surface that your glue won't stick to (PVA won't stick polystyrene or polyurethane), and construct one entire wall and leave it to dry. This is easy with a single-storey building, but a multi-storey one can be tricky. The inevitable inaccuracies of moulding and gluing can mean that large walls do not link together at the corners well.

This is the apex of the roof on my church. On the right, you can see that I have made two chimney pots out of biro refill, and have attached these to the model with acrylic mastic, my new wonder-material. I found that the apex pieces for the roofs were unsatisfactory. They were small and difficult to cast and get out of the moulds without breaking, and the fit wasn't good. Instead, I glued a length of steel wire along the apex, and cut out lots of squares of thin bendy metal. The metal came from an old used tube of glue. The squares I then bent over the wire to make the shape you see here, and glued them in place, overlapping. You can just see the end of the wire.

Here is another way of doing the apex of the roof, and yet another use of mastic. I have squeezed out a bead of mastic along the roof apex, and then added pieces cut from a drinking straw, overlapping each other. The mastic acts as glue, as well as gap filler. This method is very quick. The drinking straw I cut with scissors, into long strips each about a third of the circumference of the cross-section, so I got three strips out of one straw. I later painted the straw pieces white before painting the roof, to hide the blue stripes, and to blend the apex tiles with the rest of the roof.

Being a wargamer, I want my buildings to have removable roofs, and to be strong. Here you see yet another of the myriad uses of mastic. I have used the multipurpose goo to stick stout card to the insides of the Linka walls and roof. The mastic squeezes into every little recess of the Linka pieces, filling little gaps, and ensuring lots of contact with the card. Since the mastic dries flexible, this toughens the structure quite a bit. You may notice that some of the braces on the inside of the roof, the larger ones, are not perpendicular to the edges of the roof. The reason for this is that it is difficult to cut all the braces at exactly the proper angle, especially since the plaster parts of the roof are not in perfectly flat planes. Accordingly, I often cut my roof braces deliberately slightly larger than the right angle. If you cut them a bit too acute (pointy), they are useless, but if you cut them slightly too obtuse (blunter - a wider angle), then this is useful, because you can then turn them until they are at exactly the correct angle.

Linka can be a bit tiresome to use for large roofs. They did once make vacuum-formed polystyrene moulds for large flat sections of roof. These, though, were not as sharply detailed as the main moulds. One cure for this problem is to make your own mould from latex, of a large flat section of roof. This saves a lot of time in the long run. Notice that I have left the teeth down the side edges of the large section of roof. This enables me to add extra roof pieces to my large one-piece casting, and if I don't want to add anything, it is easy to cut the teeth off and smooth off the edge. For more on making latex moulds, see the section on plaster casting.

I wanted to make a very fancy and complicated building, using layers of Linka pieces glued over the top of each other. I quickly realised that it would take me ages. Instead, I made just the one section of wall out of twenty-something pieces, and then made one of my first ever Gelflex moulds using it as a master. Gelflex is a soft rubbery substance I bought from my local model shop. It is a quicker way to make moulds than latex. I cut some of it up into lumps, put these in a small saucepan, and heated it on my cooker hob. All the while I stirred with a bit of wood, and wore safety goggles as the instructions advised. When the stuff had all melted, I poured it over the master, which I had surrounded with a retaining wall of Plasticine modelling clay. It bubbled for a bit, and then settled and cooled. I popped a lot of the bubbles before they congealed.

I was delighted to discover that the mould was a success, and had good detail and was easy to use. The original master, however, had suffered greatly from the heat, and broke into many pieces. The molten Gelflex is a lot hotter than boiling water. I also used this material to make a mould of a section of stairs (steps) that I had made out of lots of Linka triangular-section pieces glued onto a flat slab. To speed up production, I made a mould of four castings from a window mould of which I only had one original Linka mould. Not only did this mean I could cast four of them at once, but I could take them out of the mould much sooner, because the Gelflex rubber is much softer and more flexible than the material used for the Linka moulds. This meant I could take the castings out of the mould while they were still much damper and weaker.

In theory, you can reuse Gelflex again and again, although I wonder if I will ever be able to bring myself to destroy a good mould and melt it down to make a new one. Since it is so soft, I imagine that the moulds will wear out fairly quickly, but unless I start casting commercial quantities, I don't see this as a limitation. I'm only casting a few for my hobby.

My last tip is on how to make the flat top on a tower. First, make the four walls of your square-section tower, and bring these up to a flat top edge. Next, turn the tower upside down and place it on a flat non-porous surface. Mix some plaster up, and pour it into the tower. The plaster will flow out along the bottom surface until it meets the side walls of the tower, which now act as the edges of a mould. You may have to press the tower down to get a good seal. Once dry, pick your tower up, and you'll find it has a perfectly-fitting flat top, to which you might like to add battlements, or whatever.

Making scenery: RUINS

Here is one building made without foam-board: The Cafe Noir. The front wall and pavement are from the diorama which comes with the Matchbox German Sd.232 armoured car kit. I cut thick card to fill in the recesses on the rear side of the front wall, and plastered the gaps with wall-filler. The chunky brick walls are made from sections of wall cut from the ruined walls which come with the Matchbox Sd. 251/1 Hanomag half-track kit. These, I have painted light grey, then dry-brushed with brick red, and stained with black. Other walls are simply very thick card, textured with wall filler. The floor is strewn with cat litter rubble, black-painted broken matches, and textured with coloured wall filler.

The front wall shows the effect of mixing in black paint (I used enamel) with varnish. The pigment has settled in the crevices of the pavement, making them show up well, and has made the front sign look dirty. The back wall of the main room has been painted with poster paint, and this has been dry brushed with black in places, and washed with black in others, giving an interesting effect.

This is a model of a ruin, half-finished. The walls are foam board, and these have been glued to an over-size base, which will be trimmed later. You can see lots of plaster castings of rubble. I made moulds for outside corners, inside corners, straight sections, and blobs of fallen roofing for the central areas of ruins. You can see a fair selection here. I also made one mould for making little bits of flooring, with smashed planking and beams. You can just see one of these, glued into the top corner of the picture, half way up the walls.

The castings have all been fixed in place with mastic, which doubles as a filler for any gaps that might appear. I have also used the brown acrylic mastic to smooth the foam board's core on window ledges, and to fill in the void between castings that appears where there is a door hole in the building.

In all I made three outside corner moulds, two straights, and seven inside corners. The inside corners were the most useful, since two put together make a straight, and three together make an outside corner. Filling the moulds to differents depths when casting meant that I got a big range of sizes of rubble pile.

This shows you three finished masters for inside corners of rubble. They are made from modelling clay, Linka castings, old bits from spares boxes, cat litter, matchsticks, and bits of the base that used to come with the Airfix Forward Command Post kit. Each one has a flat bottom, which rests on the ice-cream tub lid, and two flat vertical sides, which are up against the walls of Lego. Before making the masters, I painted the Lego with Vaseline (petroleum jelly), to make it easy to separate them from the Lego afterwards. The Lego bricks make nice accurate right-angles for this purpose.

Making scenery:
Egyptian stone temples and ruins

This was a project I drifted into by accident. I bought a cheap kit of moulded plaster parts for Egyptian buildings on Ebay from a company called Woldwidegames (sic) and got inspired to do a lot more, so I bought two more of these kits, and then got out my latex and gelflex and started making moulds (see plaster casting) to speed things up and expand the buildings somewhat. Here you see the first building I completed: a pillared hall.

The standard building as produced by Woldwidegames (and in the instructions for the moulds by Hirst Arts upon which the kits are based) is four pillars by six, but of course I had to go further and make one eight by five. I looked on the internet for pictures of this kind of temple, and saw that the design was fairly authentic, but the real buildings are different in that they are not free-standing but are instead part of temple complexes. Also, the density of pillars is the same inside as in the outer walls. They are halls full of pillars – very alien spaces. I considered removable inner sections of pillars and walled rooms, and in the end compromised with a few fixed pillars on the inside, but not so many that moving figures about in the model would be difficult (this was designed for wargaming purposes). The soldiers in the games would also be given some cover by the pillars. I put in two entrances, one either side, rather than use the cul-de-sac design suggested by Hirst Arts. Another change I made was that I used one rather than two capping stones on top of each pillar, because I thought it would be easier and stronger, and because I couldn't find any pictures of temples with two.

The base is made from some sort of dense wood fibre board that I found in a skip. I cut little steps in the edge where the entrances were, and made the lip around the edge wide enough to stand a figure on, and wide enough to give the model some protection when stored in a box.

Another issue was whether to make a roof. I could have made a simple flat card roof, but in the end decided that it wouldn't help. I had no intent to spend the rest of my life making this model, so I decided that rather than paint it as an authentic in-period Egyptian temple, which would involve every stone being a riot of polychromatic detail, I'd paint it as a derelict building. This speeded up the painting no end, gave an excuse for the lack of roof, and would mean that the model could be used in games set in other periods, such as colonial Victorian or World War Two.

Painting method

I bought some small (75ml) pots of emulsion home decorating paint from Woolworths. These are sold to people who want to buy a small amount of paint to test the colour for suitability in their homes, and are called “test pots” or “match pots” or something similar. I bought an orange, a sand, a yellow, and a cream colour. I mixed one shade for the base coat that was mid-to-pale orangey sand, and painted the whole building with a largish nylon brush. When this was dry, I dry-brushed using a very cheap (£1 for 10) home decorators' brush, which I trimmed shorter to make it a bit stiffer and more suited to dry-brushing. I used a very pale shade of paint and this picked out the raised sections of the moulded parts and created the highlights.

Next, I got a big tin of home decorating matt varnish (actually 250ml, but that looks big to someone who makes models – it was enough to do all these buildings and more), and mixed some dark brown paint into it. I then varnished the whole building with this mixture, and the pigment settled into the recesses and created the shading, making the details of the hieroglyphs and reliefs so much clearer. This also darkened the building as a whole, which is why I mixed my first base coat paler than a mid-tone. The varnish will of course protect the model to some degree, and if you missed some spots with the base coat, the brown varnish mixture can cover these. The plaster has a slightly rough and absorbent surface, and so the matt varnish should dry acceptably matt.

Here is the pylon building, the design of which is very close to the one proposed by Hirst Arts. The base board is very strong and stiff and is made from two rectangles of hardboard, glued very thoroughly together with PVA glue. The bottom one is slightly bigger, to create the effect of steps. I added a paved texture to this by buying some flagstone-textured plastic card by Wills, and making a latex mould of one oblong section of this, and then casting enough copies to cover the base (using the plastic card would have been prohibitively expensive).

I saw reconstructions of pylon buildings with huge flagpoles in front of them, and so made two flagpoles out of chopsticks and set them into Milliput-lined holes as you see here. Unfortunately, I later saw other reconstructions pictured from different angles, and these showed the flagpoles set into recesses at the bottom of the walls themselves, rather than straight into the ground as I have modelled. Oh well. The flags themselves are made out of cloth soaked in superglue (see banners).

I have never seen a picture of a building like this one, so it could be that the design is largely fanciful. The front entrance wall, with its sloping walls and towers and slit-windows, is just like pylons one sees in reconstructions of ancient Egyptian towns, but these pylons are really just gateways in long walls, astride roads, and not part of self-contained enclosed buildings like this. A model like this, though, is easier to use and store.

I decided to paint this one as though it had been spruced up a bit, but not as a pristine new building. I didn't paint the hieroglyphs in the walls, but a lot of the other details I painted with bright primitive colours. Before I was finished, the model looked a bit like a building made for a children's playground. I didn't need to be very precise with my coloured paint, because of what I planned to do next. I dry-brushed over the top of the coloured paint, which made it look sand-worn and sun-bleached, and then varnished over that, covering the imprecise paint-job in the recesses.

This close-up shot gives you a better idea of the effect of the paint job. You can also see one of my modifications to the Hirst Arts design – a vertical wall that offers support to the tower, which would otherwise has been left hanging in a rather unconvincing way.

As with the other models, I had some problem getting the varnish on the base to dry matt. I found that on the flagstones I could scrub away the gloss using a stiff brush loaded with a mix of plaster and brown paint. It scoured the gloss away rather than coating it.

I made this little building out of pieces left over. At the base of the doorway you see two of the smallest roof-edging pieces used upside down. The lintel stone, with its winged sun motif, I glued in recessed. Had I not done this, the fact that it had no visible means of support would have been very obvious. One can imagine that there is some arrangement of stone inside that supports it. The roof is a strip of card, textured with plaster. The base is hardboard. What is this building? It could be a Nileometer (a covered stairway down into the ground to see where the water level of the Nile is), or a way-station (some sort of ritual building used during ceremonies that travel from place to place), or something else mysterious – a treasury, perhaps. Would you go in there?

Sitting on my shelf for years were some resin castings by Grendel. One was sold the “Temple of Horus” but was really just a nice sitting statue of the god, and a bit of wall. I decided to put this to use, by making it part of a ruined temple building. An L-shape seemed more tactically interesting than a rectangle. The base board is hardboard again, and all the non-resin bits are plaster castings by me, based mostly on Hirst Arts moulds.

I made a section of wall with three rows of four stones all in one piece, to speed things up. Sometimes I cast this full-thickness, and sometimes half-thickness. Casting it half-thickness had two advantages. One was that it hardened in the mould a lot quicker and so could be removed earlier, and the other was that I could glue two castings back-to-back for a full-thickness bit of wall with texture on both sides. You can see both results in this picture. Half way up the picture on the left are some double-sided bits, and the outline of one single full-thickness casting is clearly visible in the wall towards the top right of the picture. I think I would do it all using half-thickness castings now, but I was learning this on the job. One can always claim that the less-textured bits are where the original plaster hasn't fallen off.

I haven't represented every last bit of displaced masonry. I have for convenience imagined that other bits of stone have been looted by local builders. What fallen masonry I have included is placed in tactically useful places, with wargames in mind, although I regret gluing down that little block behind the square plinth and bottom centre of the picture. It makes it hard to stand a figure behind the plinth. Learn from my mistakes.

You may notice that there are two distinct textures and colours on the base outside the building. This is because I had a nightmare trying to get a matt finish. I had used a mastic gun to do a lot of gap filling and gluing. For instance, I glued the back-to-back sections of stonework together this way. It makes a durable bond, and the gaps get filled all in one process. However, I made the mistake of using mastic to help texture the ground. Do not do this. It may seem quick and easy, but you may find as I did that getting varnish to dry matt on this surface is next to impossible. I tried five coats of increasingly rare and expensive varnish. Sometimes the whole coat was glossy. Sometimes a coat might dry mostly matt, with just glossy spots, but the same varnish used the next day, and stirred every bit as much would dry bizarrely and infuriatingly glossy. I have never had much luck with matt varnish, and have never found one that dries consistently matt. Eventually, I gave in and covered over my sharply-detailed dry-brushed and shaded base with a very matt mix of plaster and poster paint. The effect is matt but bland.

This building is completely made up, and is based on the front façade, which is a  Grendel casting. The base is skip-rescued board, the side walls are hardboard covered with castings of stones (half thickness where the pillars are, full thickness above and below). The removable roof is just a slab of card, textured with mastic (not varnished!). I put in a skylight not just for illumination, but also it makes it much easier to get the roof off. The paint job again suggests a spruced-up but past-its-prime building. By a wonderful coincidence, the stones on the façade match those of the side walls exactly (they are both one inch by half an inch).

In style this building feels more like one from the later period when the Macedonians and Romans were building in the Egyptian style.

I had another Grendel entranceway. I decided that as an entranceway alone it would never get used. What was its purpose? An entranceway in a wargame can only be used right at the edge of a table, where it will inevitably get knocked off. Detailed models like this for role-play gaming are going too far. It became the front wall of an overgrown ruin. The stones in the resin casting were half the size of the Hirst Arts stones, so I had to score into the plaster castings a lot more stone edges, using a ruler and a tungsten spike (see tools).

A ruin is an opportunity to use a load of broken and miscast pieces, and these I glued about the place in abundance, particularly in the pile of rubble next to the main breach in the wall. The central volume of the pile is made up of off-cuts of the base board, and this is coated in plaster rubble.

Again, the inside of the building is paved with flagstone texture. The particular texture I used I bought for making Trojan War period flagged surfaces, because I noticed that it matched the pattern of flagstones used at the palaces of Minoan Crete. I have no idea if it is authentic for ancient Egypt.

Small black cat by Irregular Miniatures.Did you know I didn't even have any Egyptian figures?

I was very happy with the colour of the flock on the big horsehair bush growing in the corner of the ruin. I mixed some normal temperate-green leaf flock with quite a lot of "wheat" flock (shades of brown). For details of how I did the climbing plants see here.

If you want to see more of my Egyptian buildings, including sphinxes, obelisks, and a Nubian tomb, see this description of a skirmish game scenario.