Project Spelunker: Terrain Bases tutorial

Inspired by the Privateer Press Dark Secrets league I’ve been making a table’s worth of cave terrain.  I’ve made a bunch of different pieces and I’m going to be doing articles on how to make these same pieces.

To start, I wanted to cover how to make bases for the pieces.

Ideally, they will be made out of something solid.  I’ve been using 1/8″ hardboard.  I would have liked to use 1/8″ MDF but they don’t carry it at the Home Depot near me.  Hardboard is more than adequate though.  If you lack the space or tools to use hardboard, you can make bases out of foamcore but there are a number of problems with this.  When you paint or glue things to the base, it will contract.  Since foamcore is so flexible, it will bend when the paint or glue contracts, causing it to no longer be flat.  This is the hardboard I bought for reference.  It does have one smooth side and one rough side.  I make the rough side the bottom, which prevents sliding as a bonus.

First, I have to figure out what size piece I need.  For linear obstacles I need 1″x6″ pieces.  For forests I made 6″x6″ pieces.  6″x8″ for ponds, 8″x8″ for my hills.  Once I’ve figured out what I need, I use a T-square and ruler to draw the pieces I need with a permanent marker.  I originally tried with a pencil or pen, but the jigsaw will kick up enough sawdust that the line was not visible enough to see.

PhotobucketTo cut hardboard, I use a jigsaw.  I didn’t buy one for a long time because I live in a small, NYC area apartment and there are technically rules about power tool use in the units, but they are not very specific.  I know chainsaws are out, but not entirely sure where the line is.  I picked up a jigsaw(the cheapest one they had) as an experiment.  I wanted to see how much of a mess it made and how loud it was.  I was prepared to not be able to use it until we move if either was too bad.  Luckily, it doesn’t make that much mess and isn’t any louder than the vacuum.  I brace the piece of my folding tray tables and cut them out prettily easily.  I won’t go into too much detail as there are plenty of better sources on how to use a jigsaw.

PhotobucketNext is to get a better shape than a rectangle.  Generally, you won’t have a lot of straight lines in nature so many of your pieces will be likewise, and therefore your bases.  Now in order to keep things fair in a Warmachine game, a lot of the older steamroller packets suggested standardized sizes for terrain.  So for my forest templates, I make them rectangular with rounded corners, breaking the straight line rules.  So I draw the new, rounded edges of the piece on it and cut those out with a jigsaw.  Jigsaws can cut out curved lines nicely, so you can just follow the line as long as the curve isn’t too sharp.

IMG_1363Now we have a nice shape but the edges are pretty jagged and have hard corners, so we need to fix that.  If you have the ability to use a belt or some sort of electric sander, go for it.  In order to keep the mess down, I use a sanding block and sand paper by hand.

First, you round off any sharp corners the cuts have made to make sure everything is nice and smooth.

Next, we want to bevel the top so that models stepping onto the base will have a smoother transition, as well as looking nice.  I make the bevel go about a 1/4″ in from the edges.


Then, we want to round the bottom a little bit.  This will make the edges a little smoother but more importantly act like the front of a ski if the piece moves to keep it from catching on it’s sharp corner.


Finally, the top and bottom bevels may have made the edge a little sharp, so we round all the edges to make sure it paints well and isn’t too pointy.


That’s it.  Now we have a nice base for our terrain piece which will be solid and will look nice on the table.  Generally, I make the base before the piece, but I will note the order when I do each tutorial.


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