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"Using sand for terrain?" Topic


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1,379 hits since 31 May 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo Blackhorse MP Supporting Member of TMP31 May 2018 12:23 p.m. PST

I use sand, just plain old kid's play sand, to make hills and roads on my war game table. It's gives me the ultimate in flexibility in creating the shape and size of hills and my roads are able to run in any unorthodox manner I choose(Burma Road anyone?). I also use blue sand I found at Hobby Lobby for my rivers. I'm willing to sacrifice a diorama-worthy table for that flexibility.

I can't recall seeing any photos here of anyone doing this besides me. Of, course I could have just missed it.

So my question is, does anyone else have experience with this or am I unique in this practice?

Would also like to hear why you choose the methods you do for your terrain.

JimDuncanUK31 May 2018 12:48 p.m. PST

Sand is heavy, many houses would not be able to support the weight of a sand table, particularly on upper floors.

OK for basements which are a rarity in the UK.

deephorse31 May 2018 12:55 p.m. PST

My experience of sand is that it's just so messy. It gets everywhere. Not really suitable for my setup. I use a grassy Cigar Box terrain mat, and every scenic item is separate and moveable. Easy to set up, pack away and store, and the room is clean afterwards. No permanent setup here, so everything has to be put away afterwards.

Personal logo Mserafin Supporting Member of TMP31 May 2018 12:55 p.m. PST

I used to play on a huge sand table in the back of a nursery, many, many years ago. As you say, they are wonderfully versatile, but as the above poster noted, they aren't practical for most of us. Weight, the inability to break it down, the mess caused by all that sand are all factors.

Having a cat can also be a deterrent…

Personal logo Blackhorse MP Supporting Member of TMP31 May 2018 12:58 p.m. PST

Jim,

I don't use a sand table, just sand for the roads and hills and rivers. Not more than a couple of lbs for a game.

And fortunately I do have a basement, which is a big bonus.

Personal logo Blackhorse MP Supporting Member of TMP31 May 2018 1:03 p.m. PST

deephorse,

I find an occasional vacuuming keeps things on the up-and-up.

Mserafin,

Yes, beware the cats.

I wish I had the ability to post pictures of a table. Darn.

emckinney31 May 2018 1:33 p.m. PST

It's the traditional wargaming table. Many military games have used sand tables for a century or so. The late, lamented game store The Last Grenadier in Burbank had a sand table in their basement game room.

MajorB31 May 2018 1:35 p.m. PST

I tried a sand table once. NEVER AGAIN.


Sand got EVERYWHERE!

Personal logo Cacique Caribe Supporting Member of TMP31 May 2018 1:43 p.m. PST

MajorB

Same here!

Dan

Andy ONeill31 May 2018 1:54 p.m. PST

I've played micro tanks on sand tables years back.
Good for flexibility – gradual hills and valleys.
You could inadvertantly knock the top off a hill. Or not so inadvertantly.

We moved on.
For gradual hills and valleys carpet underlay was popular.
The kind with brown paper on top.
We put books, magazines and stuff underneath for hills. Some people sculpted expanded polystyrene with hot wires to make hill shapes.

Personal logo Sgt Slag Supporting Member of TMP31 May 2018 2:20 p.m. PST

I found that green, indoor/outdoor carpet works for grassland. I play games, not simulations; my figures are markers, not museum pieces. I enjoy the visuals, but I do not attempt to make a diorama-like table. It just is not worth my time and effort. I am firmly in the, "They're just toys for older boys," Club.

I use foam hills for cleanliness, ease of use, simplicity, and stowage capabilities. I use paper building models, foam pieces carved with Hot Wire Cutters for modular cave walls, as well as modular ice/glacier cavern walls, felt for rivers, oddly shaped patterned cloth pieces to represent the limits of swamps and woods. Realism is beyond the scope of my patience, and desires.

It's really about ease of play: they're representations of terrain, not simulations; they have to be easy to deploy, easy to clean up, easy to play upon, without affecting the play of the game (sloping hills which cause figure stands to fall over, are flat out!). YMMV. Cheers!

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP31 May 2018 2:40 p.m. PST

the first house I ever owned had a basement –
hence a sandtable. The basement had three rooms, each
with a door. The door kept cats from visiting the
sandtable.

Our game group rented space in a building and installed
a sandtable. Kept it through 2 or 3 moves as the
group moved from one rented space to another. Finally,
had a sandtable in the third house I owned, no basement
but an attached garage, quickly converted to a gameroom.

All the above between 1968 and 1996…those were the
days…

Sandtables can be very nice, but also a PITA…

Personal logo Blackhorse MP Supporting Member of TMP31 May 2018 3:57 p.m. PST

Just for the record, I'm not talking about sand tables…just using sand as terrain. But it appears I may be the only one using this method.

Mark 131 May 2018 4:48 p.m. PST

Blackhorse I understood your concept from the OP. Not sure if others somehow missed it, or just want to talk about sand tables, but in any case …

I have tried using sand as part of my terrain. In particular I have used it for roads, but I have not used it for hills.

I too like a lot of flexibility in my gaming terrain. I much prefer to set up the terrain to match the scenario, vs. setting up the scenario to match the terrain.

That said, while sand provided a reasonably good looking dirt road, I found it to be less practical for gaming than I would have liked. First, the minor issue that not all roads are dirt, and getting black sand for paved roads is more work and cost than I might like. Second is that, well, in truth the sand I have been able to access is not really fine enough to give me all of what I want in the look. Third, it is actually a LOT of work to set it up so that the roads actually look good rather than just looking like a line of sand, and lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it DOESN'T STAY PUT during games. Players move their figures and vehicle around and pretty soon your road has been erased. Maybe that could be worked into a game (well yeah, after a company of tanks has rolled over it, it ISN'T actually a road anymore).

I wound up going back to my original standard, which was tape. But I started getting more types of tape -- masking tape for dirt roads, black cloth tape (ooh, texture is a good thing!) for paved roads, and even blue tape for rivers and streams.

But then I came upon Mark Luther's game AARs. I've been following his approach ever since.

First things first … put the elevations pieces UNDER the game cloth. OK not quite sure why I never did much of that in the past. Second, use pastels to DRAW the roads and streams on the cloth. Oooh, that works really well, and you can make 'em just the way you want 'em. Then third, put lots of terrain features (like walls, crop fields, hedges, trees, etc.) on top of the cloth.

Fully flexible. And my games look a lot better.

Example: Before

And after:

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

DOUGKL31 May 2018 5:19 p.m. PST

I have been using sand tables since 1975. I have posted about this before. My current table is in my attic. If your floor will hold a waterbed it will hold a sand table. Here is a link to my flickr page. link

The photos will show the versatility that you have.

Personal logo Blackhorse MP Supporting Member of TMP31 May 2018 5:29 p.m. PST

Mark,

I don't seem to have too much trouble with the sand being scattered around too much. Some, of course, but very manageable. For the hills I sometimes use water in a squirt battle and dampen the hills and that helps keep it in place. My table surface is just painted 1/4" plywood so a little water overspray onto the surface isn't a problem, and it doesn't affect the figures or vehicles at all.

I game in 15mm and I think it might be easier to make good roads in that scale than for micro armor.

Never really considered tape, but it sure does seem convenient; stick it down for the game and pull it up and dispose of it at the end.

Have a question about your current method: how do you get the pastels(is that chalk?) off at the end of the game? Does it brush off or do you need to wash the cloth?

Personal logo Blackhorse MP Supporting Member of TMP31 May 2018 5:51 p.m. PST

DOUGKL,

Like your table and the flexibility of it. And really like the concept of being able to entrench your troops by just digging a hole, just like in real life.

DOUGKL31 May 2018 6:18 p.m. PST

That's part of the fun. If you go to the end of the photo stream and look at the village. You will see pictures without entrenchments. Once the Soviets got close enough I just dug the fox holes. Surprise dug in Germans.

I know they are not for everyone. But I like it better than any other terrain method I have played on.

Mark 131 May 2018 6:26 p.m. PST

Never really considered tape, but it sure does seem convenient; stick it down for the game and pull it up and dispose of it at the end.

Yep.

More examples of my terrain… before:

And after:

For elevations I have taken to using corrugated cardboard. Basically, for several years, whenever some new item was brought into our home in a cardboard box, I went after the box with a blade. No purchase cost (except my time). Bigger items (every by a large-screen TV or … guilp … a refrigerator?) produced a bonanza of terrain!

Then I used the cardboard cut-outs as place-mats for my spray base-coating of models. So within a few weeks of being cut, much of the cardboard was also coated in 3 or 4 layers of various greens, olive drabs, and tans.

It made rule adjudication dead-easy, as my elevations always made it quite explicit who was higher and lower, and how steep a slope was.

I still use the elevations, but now under the game cloth, rather than on top.

I am still working on random wrinkles and bulges with the game cloth. So my game terrain is not yet perfected … but I think it just looks a whole lot better.

Have a question about your current method: how do you get the pastels(is that like chalk?) off at the end of the game? Does it brush off or do you need to wash the cloth?

Pastels are somewhat like chalk. There is colored chalk, but that's not what I use. Pastels are more like half-way between colored chalk and crayons. Not as dusty-dry as chalk, but not as waxy as crayons. You can find pastels in any art supply shop -- I expect any craft shops (where "craft" means floral settings, dolls, bird houses, painting, etc.) will have pastels. I got something like 36-48 colors for about $4. USD Lots of interesting subtle variations look pretty good for roads, slopes and escarpments, water, marshes, etc.

As to cleaning the cloth … just toss it in the washing machine after the match.

But don't use a felt cloth! My old approach used felt game cloths. The new technique … no felt. Doesn't take the pastels well, and doesn't like the washing machine.

Never really considered tape, but it sure does seem convenient; stick it down for the game and pull it up and dispose of it at the end.

Yep. Used tape from the 1970s until about 2010. Found some good variety of tapes … particularly liked the black cloth tape in a couple of the pics above.

But also consider non-slip strip tapes. You can find this in gray or black at your local hardware store … a product sold for putting non-slip strips in bath tubs, around pools or on stone/brick steps, etc. A light dry-brushing makes it look really nice as a paved surface. But it's too pricey for use-once-and-throw-away service (at least if you are as cheap as I am). So lay out some long wood plank, dust it lightly with some of that sand you still have left around, and then put your non-slip strip tape down. Do your dry-brushing or whatever to prepare it. Because of the small amount of sand beneath it you will find you can pull it right up. Use it in a game, peal it off again, and put it back on your sandy-plank for long term storage. That way it gets "trained" to lay nice and flat, and to peel off easily.

That was the path I was on when I found out about the pastels. I like the pastels better, so I don't have any pics of the non-slip strip tape.

Hope that helps.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Lion in the Stars31 May 2018 8:01 p.m. PST

There's a new-ish sand product available that sticks to itself, much less messy. Think it's called kinetic sand.

Not good if you have pets or little kids, it's not quite safe for consumption.

Wolfhag31 May 2018 9:01 p.m. PST

Mark 1,
I'm with you on the pastels on a painted drop cloth. Pastels are easy to use, you can vary the thickness and can be brushed off. I use them for roads, depressions and to outline woods.

Wolfhag

UshCha01 Jun 2018 6:13 a.m. PST

I nevet really got to sand tables. Like everyone I thought they were too heavy and not portable. I tried as a youngster with Plastersine but to expensive. Now home made play-do may be a tolerable equivalent to sand and more portable. The other thing the sand needs to be damp to maintain its integrity again not ideal in many situations. I just have to make do with Hexon II not as felexible as sand much more expensive but lighter. Plus sculpting a map including the contours in sand is beyond my abilities.

Mobius01 Jun 2018 6:51 a.m. PST

I started playing armor games in a hobby shop that had a sand table. This was good fun. Though the ideal sand wasn't just pure play sand, it had some clay in it. The surface was sprayed with water and molded into hills and valleys. The surface of the sand/clay mix would hardened so it could be used for several months. Lichen was placed on it for trees.
A couple of problems with sand tables and micro armor.
1. Vehicles often were moved and pressed a bit too much into the sand so they were 'hulldown' even in the open.
2. A thread had to be used to determine line of sight. This became a debate issue.
3. Once in awhile a small vehicle or infantry stand might be lost in the sand. Maybe it was found the next time the table was rearranged in a new landscape.


Until I made geomorphic terrain boards this was the only way to play with 3D terrain that could be rearranged.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Jun 2018 6:54 a.m. PST

I have considered using the "aqua sand" stuff. It's basically just paraffin covered sand, so you can sculpt it and it will hold shape. It cleans up relatively easily (school teachers like it). I wonder if you could do the same with green sawdust to make "aqua turf"…

Marc at work01 Jun 2018 6:55 a.m. PST

Blackhorse

"I wish I had the ability to post pictures of a table. Darn."

Try this link

TMP link

Basically, it uses Tinypic.com I am a changed man since discovering it. SO come on, show us your sand made table

Legion 401 Jun 2018 7:39 a.m. PST

Sand = mess … that is why I never use it. Save of some on model bases occasionally …

Some nice tables there guys !

C M DODSON01 Jun 2018 7:41 a.m. PST

I built my own sand table in our garage much to my wonderful wife's dismay.

I use builders sand which lends itself wonderfully to sculpting landscapes when dampened. Trenches, sunken roads, rivers etc are simple to construct.

Whilst not practical for travelling the results in my opinion are most pleasing.

url=https://postimg.cc/image/gypypef85/]

url=https://postimg.cc/image/7uaqqeln9/]

Happy modelling.

Chris

Happy

donlowry01 Jun 2018 9:01 a.m. PST

How do you build hills with sand?

Me, I use pieces of Styrofoam under a cloth for hills; tape for roads and streams (masking tape, painter's tape, duct tape), touched up with pastels and, occasionally, bits of dirt or sand from the garden.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP01 Jun 2018 9:53 a.m. PST

Don, there are several approaches to sand hills.

You could moisten the sane such that it will hold a shape.
This is best done with a 1:5 mix of water and bleach, to
avoid mold forming in the sand.

If you are after a more permanent arrangement, mixing
glycerin with glazier's sand will give you a medium which
is quite workable. Note 'permanent' since the sand
and glycerin become quite chummy and do not separate
easily.

fine sand and sawdust at 1:1 gives a good 'damp' mix
which can be molded and will hold its shape well. The
bleach water idea is necessary here as well.

If all else fails, use kitty litter, the clay sort, and
color the terrain with poster paints mixed in spray
bottles.

Just a few ideas from over over 25 years of sand-table
hi-jinks.

BTW, you don't need a sand table per se – just make sure
your table edges where the sand might be have containment
sides, regardless of what you are using creatively.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP01 Jun 2018 9:54 a.m. PST

Don, there are several approaches to sand hills.

You could moisten the sand such that it will hold a shape.
This is best done with a 1:5 mix of water and bleach, to
avoid mold forming in the sand.

If you are after a more permanent arrangement, mixing
glycerin with glazier's sand will give you a medium which
is quite workable. Note 'permanent' since the sand
and glycerin become quite chummy and do not separate
easily.

fine sand and sawdust at 1:1 gives a good 'damp' mix
which can be molded and will hold its shape well. The
bleach water idea is necessary here as well.

If all else fails, use kitty litter, the clay sort, and
color the terrain with poster paints mixed in spray
bottles.

Just a few ideas from over over 25 years of sand-table
hi-jinks.

BTW, you don't need a sand table per se – just make sure
your table edges where the sand might be have containment
sides, regardless of what you are using creatively.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP01 Jun 2018 10:39 a.m. PST

As a substitute for sand I have seen fine ground coffee (and even dried out coffee grounds) used for dirt roads. Actually is fairly effective and it smells nice :)

Windward01 Jun 2018 10:47 a.m. PST

There are guys from NY that have packed a sand table to Historicon and ran it all weekend. Really impressive, with a little flock and snow they ran desert, Europe, Eastern Front, Eastern Front winter. I think a Bulge game too.

I have a cat, so its a no go, but I love the flexibility and the ease in creating negative terrain.

C M DODSON01 Jun 2018 12:21 p.m. PST

I prefer to to keep it simple.

You build your table, line it with a polythene style tarpaulin up to the sides to make it waterproof.

Use a watering can to wet the sand and off you go.

I have never used bleach etc

Chris

Personal logo Blackhorse MP Supporting Member of TMP01 Jun 2018 1:30 p.m. PST

Marc at work,

Thanks for the info on Tinypic. It looks do-able. However right now my table is in workbench mode and covered in many things non-wargame. But there is always the future…

Personal logo Blackhorse MP Supporting Member of TMP01 Jun 2018 1:32 p.m. PST

Mark 1,

thumbs up

Lee49401 Jun 2018 2:59 p.m. PST

Yeah. I tried sand once. Spent the next week trying to find all my micro armor.

Cheers!

korsun0 Supporting Member of TMP02 Jun 2018 3:50 a.m. PST

lovely table Chris. What do you use for the 'green' covering? Coloured sand or sawdust?

C M DODSON02 Jun 2018 7:14 a.m. PST

Thank you.

I use scatter, flocks, static grass both loose and in sheet form from Gaugemaster, Wooodland Scenics, Faller, Noch etc. For Quatre Bras I have also used horsehair dyed green and planted as it was cheaper than the commercial products and I need a lot of it.

For this project all buildings are scratchbuilt using the originals as a guide.

Google Railway modelling sites and you be amazed at their ingenuity.

Best wishes,

Chris

korsun0 Supporting Member of TMP05 Jun 2018 1:23 a.m. PST

cheers mate

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