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"the advantages of the sandtable" Topic

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29 Sep 2012 9:39 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Changed title from "the advantage's of the sandtable" to "the advantages of the sandtable"

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john lacour28 Sep 2012 7:28 p.m. PST

in the late 70's i read "the advantages of the sandtable" in WARGAMERS DIGEST magazine. it changed how i played wargames.
before that, i played avalon hill games, and had my airfix/atlantic figures. but one night, while buying d&d figures at a far away hobby shop(my friend an i had to pester my mom to drive us 20 miles away to this shop. we were only 13,so 1978) i saw a big rack of GHQ micro armor. i did'nt buy any, but i was amazed at how small and detailed the tanks were…
anyway, about a year later, my mom again took me to this far away store, and the GHQ packs were marked down to $1. USD i wanted some, but i did'nt know what to do with them…i bought more d&d stuff.
i week or so later, i saw a new military digest with the cover article "the advantages of the sandtable". i bought it, and on the october night i read the article about 12 times and i knew what to do with GHQ micro armor! and at $1 USD a pack?
my mom was going out of state for 2 months with her job, and i stayed with my beloved grandmother. she did'nt drive. in my head, i was imagining loads of people buying up the !1 packs of micro armor. it was like chiness water torture!
my nan gave me 2 suggestions:#1 take the bus! thats right, take the bus. for 50 cents, plus 1 15cent transfer, i could take the bus up to bethlehem. that was a good idea. #2 mow her lawn for the next 2 months, and she would pay me $10 USD per. but the stuff may be all gone by then, i said! she advanced me $50 USD! add that to the $30 USD my mom gave me to "use for the pool". and i had a full walet!
long story short, i bought 53 packs of ww2 GHQ micro armor. and when my mom came back, she let me and my friends build my first sandtable. the rest is history.
does anyone know how or where i can get an old issue of this wargamers digest? for old times sake?

Rrobbyrobot28 Sep 2012 10:17 p.m. PST

I can't help you with the magazine. But I can well understand your regard for sand tables. I read about them when I was young. Then I saw them in use while I was a young soldier.
Later, a friend in California turned me on to TSATF. He had a sand table. We played many enjoyable games on it. As time went on I developed a worry about how the sand might not be the best thing for the paint jobs on our miniatures. But it didn't seem to cause any problems. You sure can do alot with a sand table. Really seemed to bring games set in the Sudan to life. It could make you thirsty just looking at it.
Thanks for the reminder.

Rudi the german28 Sep 2012 10:38 p.m. PST


Why Buying the Fake, if you can have the Real One?!!

Please find here the link with the German Wehrmacht sandkasten rules and lectures from 1942

If you really Play with a Sandkasten it is a Must. Sorry.. The the Scenarios are only from 3000 bc to 1942.

marcus arilius29 Sep 2012 2:32 a.m. PST

My Friends cat would bury the micro-armor and lay minefields in the sand!! hey is that a Tootsie roll ?

MajorB29 Sep 2012 3:28 a.m. PST

My regular wargaming opponent had a sand table many years ago. Seemed like a great idea at first, but I found it was messy, very heavy, the sand got everywhere and every battle looked like it was taking place in a desert. I vowed never again and that was more than 30 years ago.

Cherno29 Sep 2012 4:24 a.m. PST

From a quick gogle search:




Ron W DuBray29 Sep 2012 6:11 a.m. PST

for best play you need a mix of sand 25% and green turf 50% and powered clay 25%. You need to set up the table the day before, to let it dry after you spray a misting of water on the mix so it sets harder. Even if you only use sand you need to spray it down to set the top in place. You can also use colored sand like white for snow.

For cats kids and other things, ether bitter Apple spray in the mix or cover the table. I used to loop fiber glass rods and a sheet set up like a covered wagon.

Sorry I can't help with the Mags but Sand tables can be some of the best gaming you will even have.

MajorB29 Sep 2012 6:28 a.m. PST

for best play you need a mix of sand 25% and green turf 50% and powered clay 25%.

What are "green turf" and "powered clay"?

You need to set up the table the day before, to let it dry after you spray a misting of water on the mix so it sets harder. Even if you only use sand you need to spray it down to set the top in place.

Sounds like an awful lot of messing around to me.

Doug em4miniatures29 Sep 2012 8:10 a.m. PST

every battle looked like it was taking place in a desert.

That's strange; when the late (much lamented) Norman Hunter of Wallasey set games up on his sand table. he used flock to colour the sand so we never had that permanent desert feel. I well remember his Borneo jungle game using Airfix 1/32nd scale figures. He cut up his Christmas tree to make a magnificent jungle all over the table which was, from memory, about 10'x5'. OK, snips of evergreen may not be a totally accurate representation of the Borneo jungle but it certainly gave the right feel.

So, absolutely no reason why a sand table should just look sandy.


MajorB29 Sep 2012 8:58 a.m. PST

he used flock to colour the sand so we never had that permanent desert feel.

That sounds like an expensive way to colour it. Presumably you could only use the flock once?
We were only school kids at the time so couldn't afford to keep buying flock or any other colouring material.

Yesthatphil29 Sep 2012 9:33 a.m. PST

I suspect hastily thrown together sandtable terrain will be just as naff as any other sort of hastily thrown together terrain.

I had always assumed the surface would be crisped and coloured by the spray and paint approach, and I'm sure as small amount of flock would just get absorbed into the mass when reconfiguring the landscape.

Caliban recently featured a Borodino game they played on Willy's sandtable up in Glasgow (looks the way I expect sandtables to look) …

Anyone know any more about those German rules?


Skeptic29 Sep 2012 10:28 a.m. PST

One of my friends used to have a sand table. IIRC, he mixed powdered green school paint (gouache?) in with the sand.

ancientsgamer Supporting Member of TMP29 Sep 2012 10:28 a.m. PST

You use a colander or some sort of sieve to take out the flock, I would presume.

I think that sand tables are messy and we have come a long way since then. There are some posts about using homemade terrain cloths and putting batting and those rubber floor mats underneath. You make hills with the batting and use pins to hold things down. The pins stick in the rubber floor mat tiles. Quite ingenious, I think.

I also think that Terrain Maker and GeoHex made things easier too.

While I love reading your story (I am about your age) and the nostalgia you have, I think you will find that it wasn't the sand table as the excitement and playing with your buddies that is the most important part of your story.

My first ventures were the most fun too. My biggest problem is that I moved away from the Ft. Hood area and went to Dover, DE at that age. My gaming days died for the most part. In my sophomore year of High School, they started a half day on Wednesdays at the Catholic school I attended. They had a strategy club and I joined. The teacher expected checkers and chess to be played. Imagine his surprise when I brought in my Avalon Hill Game Luftwaffe! Imagine my surprise when when of my acquaintances also brought in a couple of AH games! While we didn't get into the miniatures side of things, we did get to wargame.

I love these stories of how folks got into gaming! I was very lucky to frequent The Bunker game store during the time period I did. I was exposed to Empire II, WWI aviation (they played some game with 1/72nd plastic kits and radio antenna for altitude adjustments), microarmor, Avalon Hill Board games (among others), and a slew of other games I can't recall. Empire II was huge in the area! Too bad that I was so young as very few adults took me seriously then. It was a hell of a thing trying to figure out army organizations when you didn't know about orders of battle and all you had was Scotty Bowden's unit percentages to go by! Add to that trying to figure out how to play with no one to teach you and your schoolmates frankly not having the means or ability to play the games either.

I did have a blast playing Atlantic 1/72nd scale plastic soldiers and the simple rules that came with their boxed sets. A very cool summer playing El Alamein and the Battle of the Bulge game sets; very cool! I guess that technically, this was my first gaming in miniatures against an opponent. My only other gaming was board games for many years to come.

Personal logo Jlundberg Supporting Member of TMP29 Sep 2012 11:23 a.m. PST

My cats would be sure to leave presents and my wife would not appreciate a permanent table. if only publisher's clearing house would call

Doug em4miniatures29 Sep 2012 11:57 a.m. PST

That sounds like an expensive way to colour it.

I was addressing the point about the ubiquitous desert look and how it wasn't so. Cost wasn't mentioned. However, since you menrion it, this was a group of adults so I guess a few bags of flock wasn't really an issue compared to the fantastic tables Norman was able to produce.


Skipper29 Sep 2012 1:16 p.m. PST

I loved my permanent 8x4' sand table while it was up, but eventually my garage was taken over by ….well…..the car. I had the table on casters (wheels) so as to move it arround, but it was a beast to move with all the weight.

I would use just normal old play sand. I would then shape the terrain into ridges, hills, and fully sculpted terrain that isn't possible with my current hex terrain. River valleys really were river valleys.

We would then spray a light mixture of elmers glue mixed with water. Once dry, I'd spray a watered down acrylic hobby paint to color the terrain as desired. This would give us a board that we would keep for about 1-2 months gaming (till we got bored with it).

We would them break up the surface and crumble the sand. Throw the hardest chucks outside over the fence and reshape a new terrain.

Each set up was used for microarmor (6mm scale), 15mm skirmish, and occasionally ancients. The trick is to plan for the different game types when setting the slopes. Make sure you sculpt in roads, rivers, streams, flatter areas for buildings and BUA's, etc. After drying I would insert an icepick to make holes for trees of all sizes.

I really miss the table, but without a dedicated place, its just not as convenient as it was BK (before kids).

Someday, If we ever have an out building or basement, I might rebuild one. But for now, we have the slot car track in the garage.

I imaging that you could sprinkle flock on the surface too is you wanted. It would probably have to be discarded with the hard crust on a remake, but it would look impressive for each build…..especially if cost isn't a major factor or you can pass it along to other players.

Ron W DuBray29 Sep 2012 3:30 p.m. PST

green turf 50% look at woodland sciences known as course or fine turf and powered clay 25%. Is dry clay mix used to make pottery.

and setting up a table is a very importation part of playing a game, but should only take you about 1/2 hour

if you paint the table blue you have a built in water table for rivers ponds or seas.

Personal logo gamertom Supporting Member of TMP29 Sep 2012 5:17 p.m. PST

The late Charlie Prosek had a large sand table with plywood sheets that fit over it so one could wargame without the sand. I well remember the time I had the bright idea of spraying roads onto the sand using a can of brown spray paint. As you can imagine, it didn't work very well. Don't know if his son has maintained that table or not.

Old Glory Sponsoring Member of TMP29 Sep 2012 8:34 p.m. PST

Had one for years -- use silica sand --the kind used for sand blasting. THIS IS THE KEY.
Form your table, roads, hills, rivers,etc -- then sprinkle with water. The surface forms a very hard crust. The next day using the powdered cans of paint from elementary school (very inexpensive)paint as you wish. After several years of use all my sand was green so all I had to paint was the roads,rivers,etc. The surface was hard enough that when it was time to change the terrain a trowel had to be used to break the surface up and chop the sand loose,. The silica sand is the key.
Never seen or used anything better.
Russ Dunaway

Rudi the german01 Oct 2012 1:49 a.m. PST


Please Sent pictures.
Sounds very Good.


DOUGKL01 Oct 2012 12:33 p.m. PST

I love when this topic comes up I am a strong proponentof sand tables. Here's a link to my flickr page for some ideas.


Liliburlero Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2012 9:06 p.m. PST

"THIS IS THE KEY. Form your table, roads, hills, rivers,etc -- then sprinkle with water. The surface forms a very hard crust."

Russ has it right. When we played in Jackson Miss. (1977 -1983) with the Jackson Gamers, Dad had a 6' x 12' wargame table in the converted garage. We upgraded from sand to kitty litter and would mound and shape the terrain. Then we used a mixture of liquid Rit dye in large spray bottles (green, brown for highlights, tan for desert). The dye would be just wet enough to form a light crust and after troops marched over or there was a fierce hand-to-hand, you could follow the tracks left where the figures had broken the crust. Those games looked magnificent! We had some great TSATF battles as well an epic Boxer Rebellion era.

However, we had to cover said table with a very large tarp between games as we had cats who thought they were in Valhalla with the largest cat box on earth! We still had to have a preliminary p**p check before beginning a game especially after acquiring a rather intelligent and sneaky Siamese cat……. There may be some photos on the Jackson Gamers site of the kitty litter tables.

forwardmarchstudios30 Sep 2017 2:44 p.m. PST

"For best play you need a mix of sand 25% and green turf 50% and powered clay 25%. You need to set up the table the day before, to let it dry after you spray a misting of water on the mix so it sets harder. Even if you only use sand you need to spray it down to set the top in place. You can also use colored sand like white for snow."

I'm going to give sand tables a crack for use with my 2mm kriegspiel armies. Since 2mm figures don't require that much volume compared to larger scales, nor as much structural support, I think I can get away with using a relatively light-weight all-flock mixture to create the game surface. My question here, is what this clay-powder combination up to in this formula. I'm going to imagine that it helps create the crust, right?

My thought is to use woodland scenics flock (I have a lot lying around) and mix some of this clay power into it. I'll skip the sand for now, because I don't think I need the weight bearing aspect in 2mm. Then, I spray the surface as described and let it set. Right? Or does the clay powder interact with the sand, not the flock? I'm not completely sure that I'll need the clay powder; my test case seems to indicate that I may be able to kip it. This might be a good alternative to both terrain mats and too maps. I love the detail of topo maps, but I miss the immediacy of a 3d terrain look. Properly done a modern, lightweight take on a sand table might hit the sweet spot between the two poles. I have an idea for using foam core and velcro to create the boundary box; this would make it portable and super light weight compared to the older-school versions. Has anyone ever tried this?

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