The Wargames Widow returns with a ‘wheely good’ model making project for creating a period-versatile waterside building.
Another day, another paddle, I wish I was up to my knees in the Aegean Ocean, but not this time. Instead I’d be gluing lolly-pop sticks and balsa to an old cotton reel. What joy?
The wargamer often thrusts something under my nose and demands I study it. Regrettably, it is never anything more exciting than a blurry picture of an old structure (which reminds me to delete some of the snapshots I took of the wargamer on his last birthday). This latest feast for the eyes was a log built mill house on stone foundations, with a mill wheel. The mill wheel was attached to a stone structure that created a sort of sluice in the river.
This was going to be another 54mm project, but aside from the size of the structure, all of the materials and techniques I used can be directly applied to something smaller. I hasten to add, that there are perfectly nice MDF and resin structures, in fact the blurry picture was of a 10mm watermill made by Battlescale (https://battlescale.com/) – they also do a different one in 6mm.
To complete this build you will need:
- MDF sheet (or mounting board) for the bases
- Card for the roof
- Willow twigs or balsa dowel
- Balsa and wire mesh for the windows and doors
- A cotton reel
- Lolly pop sticks
- Blue insulation foam
- A pot with a lid and some rough stones
- Two old paint brushes
Begin by cutting the bases. I used 6mm MDF as it is warp resistant and gives you a nice firm surface to work on. My main base was 12 x 8” and the smaller one 8 x 2”. You can adjust the size for 28mm and I would go for something like 8 x 6” for the main structure and 6 x 1” for the stone structure that sits in the river.
This is a great opportunity to use up some of that old polystyrene packaging you have been hoarding. I found some long strips that protected the corner of something. For 54mm you want the polystyrene that is going to be the foundation of the stone part to be about 2” thick. Use what you have, stack up thinner pieces if you want, the polystyrene won’t be visible when you have finished. You want to end up with a 3-4” wide foundation, a 1.5” one and then another 1.5” on the separate stone piece. Cut the polystyrene slightly shorter than the depth of the bases so you leave half an inch all around (you will need that gap later). Secure the polystyrene to the MDF bases; the only thing you need to ensure is that all of the foundation pieces are the same height. I then cut four pieces of polystyrene sheet to make a simple set of steps up the door of the mill. You can exaggerate the tread of the stairs so that your based figures can stand on the staircase.
The next bit is something I haven’t tried for a while. Normally, the wargamer is very reluctant for me to raid his dwindling cache of high density blue insulation foam, but he was distracted by a malfunctioning can of spray paint and I grabbed my chance. I wanted to make some individual bricks for the foundation. Working on bigger scale buildings you need to add detail here and there that is usually unnecessary on smaller structures. I began by cutting out a couple of hundred (and believe me you will need a lot) 2.5cm x 1cm x 1cm (sorry I’ve changed measurements on you, but 1” x ¼” x ¼” would do) rectangles of insulation foam. This stuff is great, it is designed for sound-proofing and to take weight, so it is robust and what you are about to do to it will prove that!
Use a yoghurt pot (Total – I accept no substitute) or similar, but it must have a lid. Rummage around the garden or further afield for a handful of rough stones. They need to have rough edges for this to work. Drop the stones into the pot, and then add a handful of your rectangles. Replace the lid and give it a good shake. About 30 seconds will do. Open the lid and be amazed by the transformation. The neatly cut rectangles have rounded corners and indentations. Each one is different with texture and character. The bad news is that you might have to repeat the process half a dozen times to create enough of these bricks.
I stuck them to the walls of the foundations using hot glue, but that was sheer laziness and PVA or even wall filler will do the job. Gradually work your way around the polystyrene blocks and lay the bricks just like a proper builder. I did warn you that you’d need a lot of them didn’t I? To finish off the foundation level of the structure, I added a door to suggest that there might be access to some sort of cellar or perhaps the workings of the paddle.
You can now focus on getting the main structure built. Begin by cutting a base from either MDF or polystyrene sheet to match the overall dimensions of your foundations. You will need to make a rectangular cut out at the front to accommodate the staircase. Grab your willow twigs or dowel and fire up the hot glue gun again, this is the fun bit. Have a pair of snippers on hand to cut the twigs or dowel to fit.
We are going to attempt to make the top of the mill look like a log structure. The logs need to overlap in the corners, but this isn’t as tricky as it might sound. Begin where you like and gradually build up the layers of logs all around the building (remembering to leave a gap for the door). When you get to a corner alternate the length of the last log on each layer so that you either overlap the next face of the building or you leave space for a log on the next face to overlap. It sounds complicated but look at the pictures if you are in doubt.
After four layers of logs it’s time to think about the windows, I went for three, but more or less is fine. I made mine from wire mesh from the gardening department of a DIY store. It’s ideal for making windows that look like they have multiple little panes of glass. I snipped three pieces to size and then cut balsa frames to go around them. These were then glued to the logs. Now you can press on with the layers of logs, it’s trickier and more time consuming because you have to cut smaller lengths each time, but the progress is still pretty fast if you use hot glue. I had around 13 layers of logs (three above the top of the windows looked about right). The only thing to worry about is trying to make sure that the height of the walls are almost the same, otherwise the roof won’t sit flat and it will look odd.
The last construction job for the upper floor was to add some balsa bracing and a door frame. I decided to add two upright braces in each corner (there are eight internal corners in all). I also braced both sides of the windows (another six braces) and a final one on the only side of the building without a window (about half way along). I made the door from 3 lengths of lolly pop stick, braced with shorter lengths and sized to fit the door frame.
The roof turned out to be more complicated than I thought. It consists of one large roof around and two dormers. The main roof covers all of the structure apart from the two pieces at the front either side of the staircase. Again, you will need to cut a rectangle to match the size of the main structure, this time, measure it to allow a quarter inch or so overhang all around. You will need to cut several pieces to make the roof:
- Three triangles to hold up the main roof (these all need to be the same size!)
- Two rectangular pieces for the main roof
- Two triangular pieces for the fronts of the dormers
- Four angled sides for the dormers
- Four angled parts for the dormer roofs
Begin by gluing two of the triangles to create the eaves for the main roof, and then glue the third one in the centre to help brace the roof. Now glue the main roof sheets to the triangles and run a line of glue along the peak of the roof to make sure the roof is solid.
The tricky bit is adding the dormer structures. It’s a bit trial and error as you need to get the angle of the main roof right to make the things fit. But don’t worry too much about the fit, as you can disguise mistakes when you add the tiling later. I stuck the front of the dormer onto the roof base first, and then added the sides (cutting to fit) before adding the roofs. The two front dormers are, of course, different sizes too which doesn’t help.
Next up is my favourite bit. Tiling wargame roofs is not the most exciting thing in the world, but it is worth making an effort. Any old thin cardboard will do. Mark out several strips around 1cm wide and cut them out. Next, using a pair of scissors randomly cut three quarters of the way through the strips to create a line of tiles. Just like the bricks, you will need far more than you think. I used around 6-8 layers of strips on the roofs. To fix, start at the bottom of the roof and run a line of hot glue along it. Fix the first strip so that it slightly overlaps the bottom of the roof. Now run a second line just above the first strip and lay the second layer so it overlaps the first strip a little. Continue the process until you have got to the apex of the roof. Finish off the apex with a double width strip of card scored down the centre. I also added some strips to the eaves of the main roof and dormer to look like planking.
The last big job to do on the main structure was to give the inside of the log building a skim of wall filler. Using willow twigs means that each twig has a slightly different diameter and being a natural product it has lumps and bumps. I was concerned that even after undercoating you might see some gaps between the logs. Straight out of the tub, I applied wall filler to the inner walls with a knife and smoothed the surface by dipping the knife in water and running it across the surface. You only need a very thin layer. Concentrate on joins and around the windows. It doesn’t matter if it looks a bit rough – that’s the rustic look we’re after!
Finally, I made the paddle itself. I used an old cotton reel. The first thing to do is to push a length of dowel through the reel. It needs to protrude about a quarter of an inch each end of the reel. I then stuck three 2” lengths of lolly pop stick either side of the reel. You will need nine pieces of lolly stick for the paddles; these were around 2.5” long. I stuck one at the end of each pair of sticks coming out of the reel and two (one either side) about half way down. I carefully selected two very knackered old brushes and pulled what was left of the bristles out of them. I checked that my dowel in the reel fitted into the metal ferule. I surgically removed the ferules and stuck one into the side of the building foundation and another into the stone structure at the same height. I figured the ferules would help to make it less likely that damage might be inflicted on the building when it is taken apart.
Everything was given a customary coat of chocolate brown. The woodwork was given a coat of mid brown and then a lighter highlight. The stonework was painted with dark grey and two extra drybrush coats of lighter greys. I used the same combination for the roof, but it looked completely different because of the textures. The paddles were painted with two successive coats of light brown/tan.
The wargamer has promised me that the next log cabin I see will be my cousin’s quaint place in the woods in Georgia. But something makes me think he’s got more stuff in mind because he’s got enough willow twigs to build me a life sized log cabin!