This Jungle is Rubbery…

With the big jungle bits done, the bamboo complete, some native residencies finished and the low level jungle on the way, my thoughts turned to the next phase of the project, where I want to make some colonial buildings for 1940 Malaya.  It is worth mentioning that one of the reasons the Japanese wanted to expand was to reap the benefits of the raw materials they could nick from captured territories.  Up to that point these resources had largely been controlled by European organisations and managed by colonial administrators, and Malaya was no different.  Here largely British companies would be working to extract the natural resources of the region and in this case I wanted to create what could be a railway stop amid the steamy jungles at a British run rubber plantation of Palang Karang.  The outpost would be small.  A station, an administration block, a small warehouse and the bungalow for the British manager and, possibly, a tennis court where he and his wife would have jolly times with the District Commissioner, the Police SuperIntendant and their wives.  A true outpost of British civilisation plonked rather awkwardly in the middle of someone else’s civilisation.
Of course, getting a rubber plantation off the peg was no going to happen, so I turned to the pages of Sarissa Precision’s web site to see what I could find to stand in.  Four kits leapt out.  Well, actually five kits leapt out.  One I had already built, the Colonial House, which for some reason is not listed in their Colonial section.  I’ll come back to that one though as here I want to look at these four:

Top left is the Large Single Storey Building from their North African Colonial range. Bottom left is the El Alamein station from the same range.  Top right is Factory Unit 2 from their Industrial range and Bottom right is the Static Oil Tank from their WWII range.  if nothing else, this motley selections just goes to show that you can’t look too closely at the labels, but just consider the models to see if they will fit the look you want and these, with a bit of work, would do me fine.  Especially now Sarissa Precision have confirmed that they products WILL work with Chain of Command.  Moving on…
Sticking MDF buildings together is not particularly interesting so I won’t bore you with much detail.  Suffice to say that you need to take care during construction as thin bits of wood, like the bit below, will break easily if you are not careful and broken MDF is a bugger to stick back together.

Anyway, let’s gloss over that and talk about the interesting bits.  Pretty obviously, I stick the building together with PVA glue.  A decent couple of elastic bands are damnably useful in getting the building square and rigid while drying.  At this stage I have added some details, such as window frames and doors, but NOT shutters as before they go on we want to plaster the walls.  We are all told that MDF is the new Jesus and every building is a modern miracle.  Utter nonsense.  MDF buildings are blooming expensive for what is nothing more than MDF and a bit of card, the two cheapest substances know to man other than dust and air, both of which come free.  I tend to view MDF buildings as useful components but by no means a finished product.  However, they can make an unbeatable base for some very nice and individual buildings if you’re prepared to spend the cash and add some effort.

With this model we have a classic example of what is good and what ain’t.  The structure is nice and gives an excellent representation of a back-water station anywhere in the second or third world, not just El Alamein.  2mm MDF is far too thin from European walls, but in more primitive environments it is not too bad and a nice feature of this model is the card inserts which thicken the walls and add the detail like the windows and doors. All in all a really smashing design.  Until we come to the roof.  Which is etched cardboard.

A building of about a foot long with a removable cardboard roof may well work if the longest journey it ever makes is from a shelf in your wargames room to the table in your wargames room.  For me, where it will be going all over Europe to shows and Lardy Games Days, this won’t cut the mustard.  I decided to add a sub-roof of MDF and then cover that with plastic sheets of corrugated iron.  So the first job was to remove the roof lugs with a hack saw…which is where the roof truss broke because it is 2mm thick…

Somewhat frustrated, I then gingerly snipped off the lugs instead with a pair of nail clippers and then cut the MDF to shape using the cardboard roof as a template.  What is handy here is that with MDF buildings you do get a fair amount of spare wood and I was able to find a bit to fit.

This I then fitted to the roof support section with a hot glue gun.  I actually add a LOT of hut glue as this makes what could be a flimsy structure more rigid, as can be seen below with the broken truss now firmly held in position.

The MDF roof then just serves as a base…

…onto which is added the plastic sheets of corrugated iron using a hot glue gun.

The end result is pretty effective.  As can be seen, the building has been ‘plastered’ with Quick Drying Polyfilla and then roughly polished to give a smooth but uneven finish  There is still some very gentle sanding down to be done, but when painted this plaster finish will add real depth to the model so that it won’t look like it’s made of cheap composite wood.  The shutters were added after the plastering was completed.

I’ve added a board next to the entrance using some of the off-cut cardboard, detail which will look good as a time table or just a notice board.  Stuff like that, small a sit is, will make your model different to everyone else’s.  Which I think is a positive thing.
Let’s talk plastering as it’s been a while since I covered my very simple technique.  A tube of Quick Drying Polyfilla is used,  Apply with a butter knife as below.  Actually  this photo serves as a warning as I couldn’t find my smooth butter knife and used a slightly serrated one instead.  Those lines will need polishing or sanding out at some point, so do try to use a smooth edged knife.  My missus goes up the wall when I use cutlery for jobs like this, but if you clean the knife soon after you’ve finished it doesn’t do it the slightest bit of harm, so I ignore her.

Literally let that set for a few minutes and then quickly dip your finger in water and rub it over the surface.  I’ve said this before, but if you watch a plasterer polishing a wall to a flat finish then this is what you are replicating.  However, you don’t want your wall perfectly flat.  A few lumps, bumps and areas of unevenness will make the wall look better.  You also don’t need to cover all of the wood, so I tend to apply it away from windows and doors and then push the filler towards those bits with my finger when I polish it.  At the end of the process I find a small off-cut of wood and go around all frames to clear out any ‘snotty’ bits.  To use bricklaying terminology.

When this is dry, go over the edges where parts join, such as where the building sits flush with the detachable roof, to ensure a neat fit.  You can also use the sandpaper to get rid of any lumps and bumps that are too prominent.  Just keep it gentle.

One issue with plastering these buildings is that you can cover some of the etched detail.  Hobsons choice here I am afraid.  You either want the etched detail or you want a plastered finish.  You COULD dremel details back on where they are covered up, but that needs a very steady hand and more patience than I have.  However, I do use some of that spare card to add some detail which, unlike the etched detail, is three dimensional and adds more depth to the model again.  Here I am adding moulded trim round the edge of the roof.  Syick it on and then add lots of PVA to lock it in place.

You can see the finished administration block here with added signage so that this will really look interesting on the table with the Palang Karang Rubber Company name over the door.

Here is the small industrial unit where you can see that I have added a sign on the front and some advertising hoarding on the side.  No rocket science here, but a couple of tips.  Where the etched brickwork is at the bottom of the wall, I avoided plastering this, but also went round it with a flat edge off-cut of MDF and scraped it across that area so that there is a neat edge where the brick will end and the plaster begins.  I may go around this with a sharp point when it is dry to ensure that the etching is clear which will make painting easier.

The second tip is doors.  The doors here are made of cardboard and etched to allow you to have them open or closed.  As a result within ten minutes they are likely to come adrift, rather like this:

To deal with that I reinforced the doors with a couple of sections of card on the inside.  It may be that this holds everything in place.  If not I may have to replace the whole thing with some home made doors.  We shall see.

And that is pretty much that other than to show you an unusual photograph.  I made the oil tank and I made no adjustments whatsoever.  MDF is not ideal for making cylindrical shapes but this model was well thought through and works for me straight from the box.  That is, I think. the first MDF model that has been spared the Clarkie treatment.

Anyway, all four buildings complete.  I will undercoat these tomorrow and start painting them up thereafter.  At present they look a bit rough and ready, but when the paint ties in all of the various components, MDF, filler and card, it will start looking like the real deal.  I now need to think about where I can get a 28mm tennis court…


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