Tuesday, August 7, 2012

TABLE-TOP: Building Part 2

Having fine but cold weather these past few days has enabled me to complete my Downs of Lewes to the sanding stage. I have completed all eight levels of the Styrofoam construction, being mindful to return and justify the sides repeatedly. They need to be a near to perfectly square as I can make them, requiring re-shaving and sanding back each time a new layer is added .

As you can see, it looks quite the colossus in pure white and for the time being my car has taken up residence on the drive. The dots in the mid-left quadrant are figures from my Lewes collection to give some idea of scale. There was a time early in this build that I pondered whether to add another 300mm to the left of this shot (another half tile width) but then decided against it. The table is big enough and players need to be able to reach into the middle from at least one side.
I moved straight on to the chamfering stage and started out with a hot-wire cutter - this time a hand held 'Polylon' cutter which I bought on-line. It was about AUD25.00 and is battery operated. Whilst it was effective, the wire is not that hot and a very thin gauge and simply took ages to cut along the slopes. It would be best for foam sculpting and smaller cutting jobs. After losing my wire twice, I lost patience with it and resorted to cutting them off with my trusty hand saw. Much quicker but very, very messy. I'm no stranger to working with foam; however, so had my trusty vacuum cleaner on standby throughout the process.
I also abandoned the pinning solution for shifting tiles. The thickness of the ply base boards (9mm) doesn't really allow for pinning with anything other than the flimsiest of dowels. Instead, I'll use a Velcro solution which the tiles can sit on. I was about to get stuck into the sanding phase immediately but having already taken one trip to the home hardware store, I was not inclined to go back this afternoon for sand-paper. I could have sworn I had some!

I really want to 'uneven' the flat surfaces and blend the slopes into the terrain as much as possible. A tip for anyone else trying this sort of application of map to terrain is to go for as detailed a map as possible. I could have used a more refined contour pattern with more contours at lesser intervals than 50'. As you can see, my map has provided for large gaps between each level which don't exist in the real world. A good sanding and the use of teddy-bear fur for my ground covering should assist greatly in merging this structured look to the landscape - at least I hope so. When I do this in future, I'll definitely go for thinner foam but more levels.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

TABLE-TOP: Building Part 1

The Royal army edge of the battle field complete to basic construction
Well now I'm home once more, I have commenced building the terrain for my version of a 28mm Lewes 'Downs'. This has required about AUD250.00 thus far with a ways to go before completion. I bought several sheets of quite solid (and rigid) 9mm interior ply which was cut into 900x900mm squares (near enough to 3'x3' in stone age measurements) and 14 sheets of 600x1200mm polystyrene (white foam) 25mm thick. I went with the 9mm ply to ensure against warping and help anchor the built up terrain pieces - they do make for heavy(ish) pieces.

In approaching the build I have layered the foam, cut to the contours as laid out in my map (see previous TABLE-TOP post) and after basic construction I will sculpt the slopes back from the edges of each sheet. In approaching this particular build the first thing I needed to do was determine what thicknesses of foam to deal with.

Whilst the contours represent 50' in the real world, if I were to work strictly to scale at 28mm then each level of foam would be 230mm thick and the highest point of my table would stand over 1.8 meters or so (over 6') and I'd need a ladder to reach the top. So that needed scaling back somewhat. With foam thicknesses of 25mm the highest elevation will stand 225mm (10') from the base boards - this includes the first 25mm layer as ground level. This should allow representation of the gradient and an adequate visual 'feel' for the ground. I admit that at current cost of materials, the less foam the better but the table needs to be playable and stability for figures is a consideration across the rises and fall of the ground.
Adding level 4 using off cuts where I can.
I decided to drill the base boards along their internal edges for receipt of dowel connecting rods in order that then fit or lock together when assembled. There's nothing worse than shifting terrain boards especially foam constructed ones which will be bulky. With the base boards representing higher ground, they will be quite deep and the last thing I want is a gap to shift open during an accident and watching my figures tumbling into a crevasse.

SET-PIECE THEORY
This is the first time I have embarked on anything other than modular terrain systems. Normally a wargamer wants to use the scenery he buys or builds again and again and construct variable battlefields for different games. I reckoned this time; however, that if I'm going to take this much time and make this much effort to research and build an accurate army over several years which fought one battle then the least I can do is dedicate a small amount of my attention to the ground upon which that army fought. As with other projects of mine which are not so far advanced (Quebec and Balaclava) this is how I will be approaching my hobby over the next few years. I am fortunate that I have the space for building and storage.

SCRAPS
Not quite all of the foam is new and I have several thickness of scrap foam stored in my garage which I have put to good use. Particularly for the bottom layers, it doesn't even matter that some levels have only partial coverage - so long as the outer edges are established and there is sufficient coverage to base the next layer on top. I have been quite free with my off-cuts - fitting them into external and internal gaps with any residuals cracks and spaces to be filled with expanding spray-foam prior to the sculpting phase.

GLUE
Whilst I had bought some expensive (AUD17.00) spray glue there is just no substitute for wood glue or white glue. Any brand will do - the cheaper the better - and it provides plenty of coverage, a workable and reasonable drying time and a product for which there just is no adequate substitute. Each layer does require some weighting down to ensure a good joint - flat and even - so I'm using tool boxed, cans and just about anything heavy enough to get the job done.

CUTTING
I use a small hand saw (like a blade with a handle) for small,quick and dirty cutting but primarily I've been using my hot-wire cutter which I made myself from instructions I downloaded off the Internet. It's a bow style construction of wood, two swivel arms  bolted to a cross piece - the arms holding the electrical connections to the fuse wire and kept tense by a spring tension connection aft of the cross piece. I'm not going to do into any detail as electronics is not my forte and I refuse to be responsible for anyone else: it's taken me some time to be comfortable with my handy work - in fact, I'm quite proud of myself because it works like a dream. It's connected to mains power through an old model railway transformer.

I found that I had to sand smooth the edges of the ply bases as the wire will run into snags otherwise. To ensure an even cut (very important as the layers gain thickness) I sandwich the ply base with a spare section of ply in perfect alignment and then run the hot wire ensuring it touches both boards to get that dead straight cut.
My home made beast
SAFETY
I wear a chemical double filter respirator when cutting the foam - it lets off a deal of noxious fumes which tend to hang about a bit so I don't feel the need to off the mask for a while after each use. I am working in my garage and have the door up and entrance open to maximise ventilation. This is not otherwise an 'indoors' job.