Favorite Tools and Materials for building Terrain
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Here are the best tools and materials for making scenery Strong, Cheap, and Fast (my 3 favorite ingredients!).


Why these together, you ask?   Well as it turns out, Baking Soda is a great catalyst AND a filler.  By blowing a bit of baking soda powder onto your superglue, it causes it to cure (dry) very quickly, and helps fill gaps too!  This is a safe, cheap alternative to Accelerators like zip kicker.  The only drawback is that it makes the bond slightly grainy, but for terrain, that can be a good thing.  My favorite brand of Superglue is Zap-A-Gap CA+, available in most hobby stores. Super Jet is another excellent brand. Baking soda is readily available at the Grocery store, just transfer it to a plastic squeeze bottle (like the one above) so it's easy to apply.  If you sand both surfaces with coarse sand paper first, you'll find there's very little that this combo won't stick to.  Try it and see...  (For more info on CA glues, check this site.  You can find good prices at this site if you don't mind paying a little shipping.)


I cannot say enough good things about this "ultimate" filler compound.   You can find it in Hardware / DIY shops.  It's easy to use- just open up the tub, scoop some out on a finger tip or flat stick, and spread it on ANY clean, dry surface and it will stick.  Dabbing it will produce a ripple effect and ensure a better bond.  Good uses for concrete patch include:


Also known as  hardboard, press board, masonite, or HDF board.  All I know is you can find it in  most hardware / DIY stores and that it's cheap.  (You can pick up a 2' x 4' sheet at Orchard Supply Hardware for about 3 bucks.)   Get the 1/8" thickness, as it is  plenty sturdy and easier to work with than the heavier stuff.   Pegboard  can also be used, though you have to hide the holes so it's a bit more work and not quite as strong.

  • Yeah, so what's it for?  This is what you want to use for basing your terrain.  It is much stronger than cardboard, and is less prone to warping.  It can be glued using the same glues as cardboard (IE, white glue, superglue, concrete patch, caulk, hot glue, bubble gum, etc).  If you are using Concrete Patch for filler, you want a stronger base board anyway.
  • Okay, so how do I cut it?  Well, any saw will cut through it pretty easily.  Or you can actually score and snap it (like sheet styrene)-- this makes a rougher edge that can be cleaned up with a file, but is much faster than sawing all the way through.  But my favorite way is to just snap it off in hunks, and then, using a heavy pair of pliers, tear away chunks of it around the edges by biting and levering upwards.  This creates a ragged edge that is much more natural than the perfectly smooth, clean curves you see on most terrain bases.  The picture above is of a piece that has already had the edges roughed out this way.




    This multi-speed, hand held tool can take a wide range of bits, and works fast.  You have to wear safety glasses though, so bits of plastic don't shoot into your  eyeballs.   Most Hardware/DIY shops, and some craft / hobby shops will carry some form of Moto Tool.  (Dremel is my current brand, but Black and Decker makes one that has more torque and better speed control).  My 3 favorite bits are:

    One last note- a Moto tool is very useful for adding "weathering" to your terrain, particularly the kind of nicks, scrapes and cuts you would see on stone, wood, or beaten metal.  The Cutoff Wheel is the best choice for generating these effects, though the other two bits can also yield good effects.   I use two techniques- Tapping (repeatedly dropping or pressing into the terrain, to form nicks, chips and dents), and Dragging (lightly drawing the tool along sharp edges and corners to round them off).  Example applications include:

      The only way you can really be sure a miniature will fit into the terrain you're building is to put one in there.  Most models have a 1" base, so try to leave at least that much space wherever possible on your terrain.  An unpainted, based, plastic marine (with backpack) is a  good representative of the kind of room an average 40K model can take up.  Aside from leaving enough leg room, head room, and shoulder room, it's also a good test for how stable your surface is.  If the guy keeps diving off your terrain, consider sanding the surface down, or adding a flat plate over it, to ensure your terrain will actually be used.  I keep 3 or 4 marines around at all times ('cause I keep losing them in my work).


    Aside from it's uses as a terrain tool, this fine-toothed, thin bladed saw is the ultimate tool for conversion work.  Use it wherever you want to preserve both sides of a cut, or wherever you need a neat, clean line.  If you want to save money, just buy the "blades" and don't bother with a handle (I find I get more control by gripping the blade directly anyway).  Razor Saw (blades) are available in most hobby stores.  TIP: When cutting through pewter, resin, or hard rubber, the blade tends to "bind", making cutting a slow, laborious process.  Speed things up by rubbing some lip balm (I use Chapstick) directly onto both sides of the blade.  This acts as a lubricant that helps the saw fly right through for a faster cut!


    If you don't have a pair of these, you don't know what you're missing!  If nothing else, I have found no faster, cleaner way to remove parts from sprues.  I buy mine at Radio Shack (electronics supply shop) for a mere $3.99.   Use them to quickly trim off bits of plastic, lengths of wood or wire, or just about anything that will fit inside those little jaws.  Just be careful not to cut hard metal with these, or you risk damaging the blades.  Once the blades are damaged, however, keep them around for unpleasant jobs like clipping apart your Pewter miniatures. For small parts, I use a Sanding Pad.  This is a fancy word for "sandpaper on a clipboard".   Buy sheets of 150 grain sandpaper from your local hardware / DIY shop and clip it onto a clipboard (available in office supply shops or stationer's).  You now have the ultimate tool for making small parts flat!  Any small parts that need to be glued on can be rubbed on this pad for a quick, clean sanding.  You can even round the ends of parts off by rubbing them in an orbital motion on the pad.   You can  quickly sand strips of material by holding them down on the pad with one hand and "drawing" them through with the other hand.

    For large parts, you want to sand all the outer surfaces.  You can use sandpaper, but it rips easily and your fingers will get tired when trying to sand large surfaces.  For rough or curved surfaces, use a stripping pad (below, on the left).  These look kind of like scouring pads, but have abrasives bonded into them like sandpaper does!  Although they will snag on sharp corners or protrusions, they are surprisingly sturdy and won't tear like sandpaper.   For large, smooth surfaces, use a sanding sponge (below, on the right).  This is a foam rubber block or wedge with a sandpaper surface on the outside.  It is easier to hold than sandpaper, and more flexible than a sanding block.  Both are available in most hardware / DIY shops.   Between these three options, you should have no trouble sanding surfaces quickly and easily.



    When you need rocks, hills or cliffs, consider foam rubber.  The picture above shows what you can make with foam rubber- the piece on the left is 1" thick, the one on the right is 4" thick.  You can see more examples in the Gorka Morka and Jungle terrain.   Unlike styrofoam, foam rubber is quite strong.  It won't crumble or crush- in fact, you could run it over with a car and it springs right back!  You can sometimes find it in packaging (the pads in miniatures blister packs are foam rubber, for example).   Or, you can order online from places like this:    KNOX FOAM COMPANY .      Their C grade foam should be more than adequate.  Once painted, it will actually last a while, especially if you keep it out of the sun (easy to do when you're a hard core gamer...)


    Although the Dremel is fast, versatile and effective, there will be times when you need a clean, square edge, more control, or a smaller area of effect.  I often find myself "cleaning up" after the Dremel with a metal file, especially when cutting holes that need to be square (windows and doors, for eample).   They can also be useful for rounding edges on a large piece (too big to fit on the sanding pad) or in narrow areas that a Dremel or sanding pad can't reach.  Both of the files above are "half round"- that is, a flat file on one side, and curved on the other.   The less you have to swap tools around, the more likely you are to use them, I've found...

    Well, there you have it.  I left out a bunch of great materials (it's a top TEN list, after all) so be sure to check them out too.

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