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Making a Dark Age Building

Starting up a new period is never cheap, what with lots of figures to buy and paying the legalised bandits that rules authors. But if its a period for which you have little of no suitable scenary it can become doubly daunting. Such was the situation we faced on Lard Island when we began our Dark Age project. Of course figures you cannot sculpt and cast yourself for a sensible sum, and developing ones own set of rules takes an investment in time and effort that many of us cannot spare, however buildings is something that we can get some pretty speedy results with and save ourselves a packet. Let’s take a look at how we made the buildings you’ve seen in the battle reports on Lard Island News.

First we assemble our kit. Foamboard is the basic building material for the walls, with artist’s mounting board for most of the detail. We use 3mm MDF as a base. In addition we’ll be using a tiny bit of cardboard from a cereal packet, two scalpels, one sharp and one not so sharp, some PVA glue and Polyfiller interior wall filler (apologies to our pals across the pond, I am not sure what this product is called there. If anyone knows let me know and I’ll add it here) and some Milliput modelling putty. Obviously a ruler and pen are a great help as well.
A1The first step of construction is to mark your walls out on the foamboard. Here I am actually constructing a barn or agricultural store so I am going for a very simple rectangle with a pitched roof. The door is a large double door on one side and with a couple oif ventilation windows in near the eaves.
DSCN8121Now I use the sharp scalpel to cut these four walls out and the door. keep hold of the door section as we’ll be using this very soon. Now I cut out the small window sections. They are going to have wooden shutters so I only cut halfway down through the foad board as I’ll be sticking some cereal packet cardboard in here later for be the shutters.
DSCN8128So, now we have five bits, the four walls and the door. Just like this:
DSCN8129Next I bring my trusty friend the hot glue gun into use. This is a superb tool for terrain builders. It is rough and ready, makes a bloody mess, but sticks like the proverbial to a blanket. The first thing I am doing is recessing the door section so that it is in the doorway but set back about 3/4 of the way in. The hot glue gun round the edges of this once you have it in place is all you’ll need to hold it solid.
DSCN8131Now I glue the rest of the building together. Just run the glue gun down the edge you want sticking and it will do the job for you, but do place the building on a flat surface at each stage as whilst you don’t mind the walls being a trifle wonky the whole structure will need to be stuck onto a flat base shortly.
DSCN8132Now I use the hot glue gun to attach strips of artist’s mounting board to represent the building’s timber frame. Don’t bother measuring these strips with a ruler, cut them pretty roughly as that’s the way timbers would appear in these times when cut with an axe, however don’t go out of your way to make it look rubbish, or it will! I used to stick these bits on with PVA glue, but it took ages to set and then warped most of the rime so you’re end up redoing it. Now I am just careful to use a minimal amount of hot glue and this speeds up the process tremendously.
DSCN8136Now I begin to add the door timbers. Remember the recess we created with the door shaped section of foambaord, this is where we stick some suitably sized strips of mounting board. What I do is cut a section of mounting board the right size, 2″ by 1.75″ in this case, and then roughly cut this into strips. I then apply them with two lines of hot glue which will be invisible laters, as we’ll see.
DSCN8137If you are currently thinking “This looks bloody awful”, you’re right, but fear not, this is the Dark Ages and miracles can happen!

The next phase makes things look even worse. We paint to whole model with PVA glue. This seals all the bits in place but also protects any foam board edges which, if you get spray paint on them, as we will later, will just melt. Not the looks we seek! I use this stage to also add to cross bits on the doors and once that’s done I leave to dry before sticking the model onto a suitable pice of MDF.
DSCN8141Now I add a roof, or more to the point the roof supports. These are simply two pieces of mounting board which will support the thatch. Don’t forget to measure this as the building is unlikely to be inch perfect and we want the roof to provide as good a fit as we can without going to too much bother. A slight overhang at the bottom of the slope, but no overhang at the sides is ideal.
DSCN8142Next is the squidgy bit! Mix up some PVA glue and Polyfiller to about the consistency of slighty runny cream cheese, but don’t try to get rid of the lumps they are good.

Now slap it alll over the building. Remember, we’re looking for a finish of rough plaster on the walls but relatively smooth wood on the timber. I make sure the filler gets into the gaps between the mounting board planking and then run a finger down it to get a smooth look. Keep this off the door as if you paint this gloop on them you’ll spoil the effect of the door timbers, and keep it off the roof as it will bugger up the thatch we’ll be applying later.
DSCN8144Now let this dry thoroughly. Overnight is good, but I just shove it in a very low oven (don’t try this at home kiddies!) to accelerate the process.

Now we have our solid building, and apart from the roof which is a bit flimsy it is solid as a rock. We now get out or trusty Milliput with which we’ll be doing our thatching. Mix up the two colours to the right consistency (see instructions in Milliput box) then roll out a sausage of the filthy stuff. This is a bit of a practice-makes-perfect job. When I made my first building with this method I used far too much of the stuff, now I feel I have ti about right. I roll it out to be just greater than pencil thickness, probably 1.5 on the pencil gague if such a thing exists, or about a two fifths of an inch diameter. Now place this along the bottom edge of the roof on one side. This bottom bit on each side is slightly fiddly as you need to curl it round the overhang as well as getting it squished out correctly. Think of this as like feather edge boarding on a shed. You want the bottom edge to the thickest with the top edge thinnest. Use your fingers (or thumb if you are co inclined!) to squash the sausage out until it assumed the right shape. Thin at top, thicker at bottom. Remember these words!
DSCN8147Now comes that Zorro moment when you wield your scalpel to form the shape of thatch. Just tap all along the putty running over it three or four times from slightly varying angles to avoid something that looks too regular. Here’s a snap of the first two bits done. Once they are done work up with similar sausage rolls of milliput all the way to the top. There you use a smaller sausage to form the ridge, with tiny little indents along both sides. The more artistically orientated can try all sorts of thatchers patterns at this point, but my attempts at such cleverness failed abysmally. Keep it simple is my advice.

DSCN8153The above photo shows the building completely roofed and dry. Here I am adding a layer of PVA glue onto which I have put a mix of sharp sand and cork rocks. I make my own mix for basing stuff to get the finish I want. Where the door is I just added sharp sand and no rocks. Once that is dry add a watered down mix of PVA over the top of the sand to keep it in place. Once that’s dry you can undercoat and your model is ready for painting.
DSCN8154And here’s the complete barn after painting and adding some flock.
DSCN8162All told the most expensive part of this model was the Milliput as I used half a pack, so about £1.50 for that. Everything esle cost almost nothing in real terms. I have used less than 5% of the mounting board and a similar amount of both the foamboard and the MDF, all of which were only two or three pounds a sheet. The PVA and polyfiller is impossible to cost, but one way or another this building comes in at under two quid which makes a small village, sprawling farmstead or even a town perfectly achievable. What’s more, these won’t break like resin if you drop them.

For those that fancy comehting a bit different you could take a look at Brian Burger’s excellent Warbard blog where he uses towel to model thatch, really very smart indeed. Check that out here: http://www.warbard.ca/2012/04/17/towel-thatch-a-photo-tutorial/

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7 Responses

  1. Rich,

    I think your polyfiller would be equivalent to what I call spackling compound. I use the stuff for all kinds of gaming projects and occasionally even for it’s intended purpose.

    Great article. Thanks for the tips.

    Brian

  2. Simon Gaudin says:

    Good Stuff I may well give it a go too as I need this sort of building for the Dux Brittanarium play testing I am doing & the campaign after its published. Especially as most of the play tests are in public being in the shop itself

  3. Wow, that’s really awesome. I’m totally going to put together some buildings with this. Looks a lot better than the plastic models.

  4. James Ramsay says:

    If you don’t have a hot glue gun (or have a shoddy one like me) I find that using PVA glue and dress making pins to hold the frame together while it dry works fine (I fill the holes in with glue or more usually cover them with detailing).

    Usually after an hour or two it is dry enough to start doing the detailing, which is nothing if you build them in batches like I have been doing.

  5. Tony Harwood says:

    Great, however I would have used wood (real wood) for the door and uprights and DAS for the thatch which I find gives a better body to the thatching. I get my wood scraps from fruit and vegetable boxes that are given away free at markets or fruit stalls.

    I have already built some barns/stores so don’t think I’ll be building a similar piece of terrain again (at least not for some time).

    I also like to build with a Hot Glue Gun – it speeds up the process so much and the building is much stronger.

    Thanks for the tutorial – very well done.

    Tony

  6. Mitch Kelly says:

    Lovely stuff! However, you’ve demonstrated that it’s possible to be even more of a cheapskate than I am over making wargame buildings. I prided myself that whilst I wasn’t the greatest modelmaker, I was definitely the cheapest – bah!

    Roll on the rules coming out – the money’s burning a holes in me pocket!

  7. A J says:

    An excellent result. I like the thatching.

    I have a hot glue gun, but didn’t think to use it for this purpose instead of PVA. I’ll give it a try.

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