Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Building a terrain board in four days.

If you’re a regular or semi regular reader you’ll have seen recent shots of my new game board/photography set.

Below you will find a bunch of step by step or “how I did” shots and descriptions, the pictures however, will suck as my garage has very poor light. hopefully there's something here that will help someone.


The main material is the board itself and the terrain covering, I used a 25mm thick MDF sheet from B&Q in the uk, I purchased and 8’x4’ board and the guys at the store cut it into four for me free of charge, so i then had four 2’x4’ boards. three of these I used for this board, the leftover will make an expansion board to use in place of any that don't work, or to add another panel for larger games.

DSC_6264The pink foam is insulation board. I was able to buy boards, again from B&Q that were 2” think and 4’ by 1’9” that’s not ideal but they were £4.50 each and in the UK that’s amazing for extruded polystyrene.

Now as those sizes weren't ideal i first had to cut the foam boards to size.


I am lucky enough to have access to a large hot wire cutter, if I didn’t I’d have to make one, and still might, as it’s still not quite big enough. without one, you’d have to forgo the re-sizing I was able to do.


Each foam board was cut in half, to make a 1” thickness. and it’s this material that provides the “ground” for the table. it probably wasn't necessary as it really only saved me a tenner, but I didn't need the depth and had the cutter.

Other materials used -  Ready mixed filler, powder filler, expanding foam, various sand and ballast mixes for ground work, plaster of paris (not necessary really) household paint, plastikote paint spray cans, home made washes and flock.

Tools used - Wire brushes, hot wire cutter, hot air gun, soldering iron, many sharp knives, hot glue gun, sandpaper, various paint brushes, paint pallet knife.

Please note – some of this stuff can be dangerous, sharp, hot or toxic, please don't attempt anything without adequate ventilation, protective gear advice or supervision. a hobby should never be a hazard.



I’ve described cutting the foam down, after this each board gets a 1” layer of foam glued to it, and this is allowed to set.

If this is a flat board (this one is) you can go ahead and just apply initial texture to this now, two main techniques are used.

the first, uses a wire brush to roughly erode the surface and a hot air gun to re—bond that surface


This can be used to shape terrain but also to create craters and features such as the ramps you will see later.


The second technique uses a hot soldering iron to burn into the surface of the foam. as already stated, be very careful not only of the hot implement, but of any fumes that may be generated by the melting of foam, use adequate ventilation and a fume mask, an additional fan pointed at the work area can also help to usher fumes in the direction of the window or door

The next board was to have the addition of a ravine, this required the fixing of two more shaped pieces of foam.


This was achieved the same way, but with the addition of some expanding foam filler to fill the gap between piece edge and board top.

The more complex end piece needed several layers of foam cutting and affixing together, a hot glue gun was used for this, the gaps willed with foam and then a wire brush used to shape the joined pieces.


DSC_6285 DSC_6284

Details were etched in with the soldering iron


and the cliff edged carved with a long sharp blade, using smooth converging cuts


The boards were test fitted together, and the terrain blended with the wire brush.

The last step was to use ready mixed filler (spackle across the pond) to fill any visible seams or small gaps.


Painting the board



Before paint the board was given a quick sand with a coarse grit, to remove any smooth areas and to take the peaks off the filler.


A textured paint was made using sharp sand, railway ballast and a tin of brown earthy paint that was on the “reduced” isle at B&Q due to a small ding in the can. you have to hunt for bargains like this as paint is awfully expensive.


I used a small cheap roller and tray with a mop head, and mixed the textured paint in the pan before rollering the whole surface of the board.


This colour is a little off for our board, but it isn't the final colour at all, just a base to work from.

the next stage is to sprinkle powder filler while the board is still wet. this adds much more additional texture to the board, above that given by the paint.


one this is done, its a good idea to douse the whole board with watered down PVW in a pump-spray.

let that all dry, preferably overnight.

once that has set up, I did two things, the first was to use a wash i had made myself from W&N ink and media, and loaded into another spray to give the whole board a dousing, this darkened the recesses for me and gave me a good basis for the next step.


Using two different tones of plasticote matt brown spray paints, i went to town on the board, creating areas of contrast. I could have done this with the airbrush, but I have quite a small reservoir on mine, so spray paint seemed easier.

at this stage I could have continued, and ultimately, probarbly will as I continue to improve the board, but using some more washes and airbrushing/drybrushing to create detail ad contrast. but it had already eaten three days and I have a very short attention span, so at this point I applied a little more wash and proceeded to flock the board.


The results of this labour can be seen in this post, this one and finally this one.

I hope there's something in this article of use to you, and even if not, thanks for taking the time to read.


  1. Very cool mate. Love the how too, and made very clear and simple on how to create your own board. If I had the room I would do my own board using your how to.

  2. Very cool group of posts mate - I really like the ease of building 'up' the table to add height. I remember seeing a sand stone mesa board that GW did for an old white dwarf that I always wanted to try to replicate - this 'tutorial' gives me enough info to think I might have a crack at it.

  3. That's a great tutorial for any gamer.

  4. Thanks guys, Im really pleased this might be of use to you

    Dave, don't forget, you could easily make a board that breaks down to 2' x2' or even 1'x1 sections for storage

    Pom, you should have a crack mate, and if there are any more detailed questions I'm always happy to answer either as comments, posts or my email is at the top of the page.

  5. This is a great looking board that I am sure you have enjoyed in your gaming.

    However, the tutorial is even better. Here's my reasoning: it allows the rest of us to enjoy something similar in while gaming in the comfort of our homes.

    Thanks a ton!

  6. I linked your article in a post on my blog!

    Thanks again.

  7. Thanks man, just glad it had some value to you.

    hope your table comes together easily for you :)


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