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Scatch-Built Houses in 15mm Scale


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Revision Log
7 March 2000converted to new format
20 September 1999page first published

40,135 hits since 19 Mar 2000
©1994-2014 Bill Armintrout
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sample structures

The basic concept is to make a hollow and open-able wargame building that allows you to game house-to-house and room-to-room battles by placing your figures inside the structure.

front of building building interior back of building

The structure may open by having the separate levels of a multi-story building joined so that they lift off, or by having two halves joined vertically. I find the latter method more desirable due to ease of construction, but itís really a matter of taste and practicality. Both methods could be used to advantage (and perhaps at the same time, in a complex structure).

Super Sculpey is a polymer-clay craft product that hardens after being baked in a household oven. Itís an excellent building material for constructing detailed yet sturdy miniature houses. Do not use normal Sculpey, only Super Sculpey. Normal Sculpey is not strong enough after itís baked. Itís easy to tell the difference between the two - Super Sculpy is flesh-tan color and quite firm, while normal Sculpey is pale white and much softer. Fimo or Cernit brands will also work, but I have found them to be inferior for this kind of project. A one-pound brick of Super Sculpey will allow you to build two or three small houses, assuming you are working in 15mm scale.

There are some excellent commercial buildings, but creating your own gives you not only the inherent pleasure of building a model, but also the freedom to customize your structures to your needs. Cost is also a consideration. Although Super Sculpey is not cheap, the price paid in materials will be less than half of what you would pay for the same size commercial product. Of course, this does not factor in your time. Creating your own wargame buildings also makes your game table unique.

I game World War II in 15mm scale, using an adaptation of the classic boardgame Squad Leader. So far, all of my projects have been European houses in 15mm scale, but Iím certain that my techniques could be used for 20mm or 25mm scale and in any era with little or no alteration.


Materials list:

  • Super Sculpey
  • Exacto knife with number 11 blades
  • Flat board, to be used as a work and cutting surface
  • Rolling pin or large diameter dowel
  • Wax paper
  • Five-minute epoxy glue
  • Heavy cardstock or illustration board (that found on the back of artists tablets is ideal)
  • Sandpaper, 80 grit
  • Straight-edge ruler (clear)
  • Square
  • Heavy paper or thin cardboard, for use as templates.
  • Epoxy putty (optional)
  • Super-glue gel (optional)
  • HO-scale stair material (by Plastruct - optional)

Building Steps:

  1. Draw and cut out templates, using whatever material you prefer. I find that thick artist-sketch paper is sturdy enough to act as a template, yet easily cut out. Use whatever drafting materials you feel comfortable with in making your templates. I simply use a clear plastic ruler and a square. Include the openings for all windows and doors, and mark where the building will come apart on your template. Use an exacto knife and straight edge to cut out the templates.

    I find it worthwhile to stand the finished templates up to one another, to make sure that no mistakes in drafting were made, and that they are what I want.

  2. Roll out the clay to desired thickness on a flat surface that is covered with wax paper. Place a pair of boards on either side of the clay as a thickness stop. Use a rolling pin or thick dowel to roll the clay into a sheet between the two boards, resting both ends of the rolling pin on the boards on either side as you roll. In this way, the clay will form into a sheet of even thickness. I find a folded Squad Leader mapboard to be ideal as a thickness stop. If your house is in 15mm or 20mm scale, the walls should be about 5mm thick. The longer the wall, the thicker it may need to be.

    You may find that the clay has hardened while sitting on the store shelf. In this case, kneed it in your hand before rolling it out, or heat it slightly in the oven before working with it.

  3. Place a template on the sheet of clay, and cut out windows, doors and the outside shape. At this point, you will find that the sheet of clay has stuck to the wax paper. Thatís fine, it will help to stabilize the clay while you are working with it.

    While cutting out the windows and doors, itís important to use a sharp blade and to keep your knife at a right angle to the opening. Cut all the way around the opening following the template, making multiple passes if necessary, until the piece to be removed is completely detached from the surrounding material. Remove template and save it, because you may wish to reuse it later.

    If your building is going to be in two halves, be sure to cut the joint where the halves will fit together. This joint will likely be bent out of shape while you are texturing the walls, so be sure to check it before you bake the piece.

  4. Add details and texture to the wall, using whatever tools come to hand. I use a really cheap set of leather-working tools to cut shallow lines, indicating window moldings, masonry etc.

    • When you need to make straight lines, gently lay a clear plastic ruler on the sheet of clay and use it as a cutting guide.
    • When you need a curved line, use a circle template.
    • For brick patterns, I use the hash marks on a clear ruler as a spacing guide for all of the mortar joints around the bricks.

    If you press a tool into the clay to form a texture, you will find that some clay is displaced elsewhere. This can cause your window openings and wall edges to go out of shape. To solve this, simply re-place your template and true up any edge that has gone wrong.

    damaged building close-up of peeling stucco

    A very efficient way of indicating that a building is constructed of brick or wood is to imagine your building covered with a layer of stucco that is peeling off in spots, showing the actual construction material below. The stucco surface is easy to texture and will form most of the area. Cut out very shallow irregular areas where the stucco has flaked off and add timber or masonry details in them. The effect is impressive with a minimum of effort and quite accurate for European buildings.

    building with exposed masonry

    It takes much more effort to make a building textured with naked masonry or timbers, but this will be necessary for certain areas or eras (American Civil War, for example). Remember that much of the final appearance of your building will depend upon the texture details that you add at this step. Be creative, and constantly experiment with new textures and new tools for making them.

    ruin
  5. This is a good point to talk about battle damage. A great deal of character is added to a building if it has some battle damage, but be warned that a ruin is harder to model than a whole building. Remember that collapsed walls have to go somewhere, so it makes sense to place piles of rubble at the base of such walls. I also think it makes sense for these rubble piles to be about half as big as they would be in real life, so as not to take up too much space. Also I choose to add rubble to the inside spaces of my buildings very sparingly, reserving a flat space for the placement of figures.

    To make rubble, simply form some scale masonry or what-have-you from clay scraps and bake it. Itís most easily done in a sheet that is then broken up after itís baked. Form a mound of soft clay as the foundation of a rubble pile and imbed the pre-formed bricks into it at crazy angles. You can also imbed basswood strips that are appropriately splintered to represent rafters and floor joists.

    top view rubble piles

    Rubble piles are best added after the walls and roofs are assembled. Speaking of roofs, a very common type of battle damage when high explosives are in use is to see a house with walls intact, and with rafters intact, but with most of the shingles blown off and with some of the stringers in place. (The construction of roofs will be discussed in more depth below.)

    Donít forget to add bullet holes!

  6. Once a wall is finished, carefully remove the wax paper from the back and place it on a wooden board or ceramic surface that you are sure is flat. Place this on the middle rack of an oven and bake at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. (Note that the directions on a package of Super Sculpey direct you to bake at 275 degrees. My experience has shown that this if often too hot, and will scorch small projections on your model.) Allow the piece to cool thoroughly before handling.

  7. Using an Exacto knife, cut a 45-degree angle into the wall ends where they will join. You can easily carve this joint if you first make a line parallel with the edge of the wall at a distance equal to the thickness of the wall. You then carefully carve away all the material between the outside edge and the line. (Butt joints can always be used if this seems intimidating, but a 45-degree joint looks nicer and is much stronger.)

  8. Glue walls together with five-minute epoxy, making sure that they are square and plumb. Draw a right angle on a sheet of paper using a square, then cover this with a sheet of wax paper, and you have a visual guide for keeping the walls at right angles to each other. Use your square to make sure that the walls are plumb.

    Stand the walls in an upright position after the glue has been applied and pieces joined. Use whatever objects are necessary to hold the walls in place. If your walls and joints were made nice and square then you will find that very little support is needed if any.

    An important note about gluing Super Sculpey is in order. Polymer clay has a very smooth surface after itís baked, and five-minute epoxy glue does not hold smooth surfaces well. Itís essential that you rough up any surface that you plan to glue with 80-grit sandpaper first. Itís not a bad idea to score the surface with an Exacto knife, as well.

    exterior interior with floors
  9. Once the walls are glued together, cut floors from card stock and glue them in place. Again, itís very important to roughen up the clay surface wherever glue will be applied. Use an object thatís the right height for a temporary spacer between floors while the glue dries. Small paint pots work well for this. Take into account stairwells, and cut them into the floor before installation in the building.

    roof
  10. Make the roof, using the same techniques used in making the walls, with the exception that the roof should be half as thick as the walls if possible. Fabricate and bake any dormers and chimneys first. Draw and use templates, and make these small details in flat sections just as the walls were done. Press the finished and baked dormers and chimneys into the sculpted-but-as-yet-unbaked roof sections.

    ruined roof

    If you are modeling a ruined roof, use small basswood strips for rafters.

  11. Once the building is assembled, look for gaps or glaring imperfections. These can be filled-in using gap-filling super glue (otherwise known as super glue gel) for small gaps, or epoxy putty for larger gaps. Once the gel or putty dries, sand off any excess. At this point you may add details such as steps, rubble piles, etc.

  12. Primer and paint, just as you would any other miniature.

Tips:

  • Make your buildings as small as possible without being ridiculously tiny - that way, less precious table space is taken up.
  • Make sure that interior spaces are large enough to accommodate a stand of figures.
  • If you feel very ambitious, you may wish to make your buildings modular so that multiple houses can be combined to make a larger building, or set side-by-side to make row houses.
  • Templates can be used again to make buildings similar to the original. Add more windows or leave some out, or change the surface details.
  • Make separate rooms within larger buildings by fitting and gluing the same cardstock used for floors in as interior walls to simulate thin wood partitions, or even by making polymer clay walls to simulate thick load-bearing walls.
  • Position the bottom floor of any building a few millimeters off the ground. This will keep your building from being high centered and wobbling on some irregularity of your game table. Use poker chips as temporary spacers while the bottom floor dries.
  • If you have problems with your houses shifting around on your tabletop, and if you are using some kind of styrofoam terrain, glue small spikes made of wire or straight pins into the bottom edge of the house. This will spear into the styrofoam and hold the house in place. This can be especially important, because these buildings are meant to be handled during the game and can easily become displaced.