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Beaten Foam Mesas

Beaten Foam Mesa

Rocky mesas are a standard for desert terrain, spanning all time periods and modeling scales. This technique produces a fractured, weathered surface that looks very convincing and yet is flat enough to accommodate miniatures. This technique produces very durable models -- some of mine are more than four years old. The Beaten foam aspect is also simply a lot of fun.

Materials and Build Steps

Build steps

  • 1/8” hardboard (optional)

  • pink or blue foam insulation. I used 1 1/2 in pink foam, which is tall enough to block line of sight for 28mm models and Battletech models. The beaded ploystyrene won't work.

  • Paints. I use Americana Burnt Sienna, Sand, and Dark Chocolate.

I start by cutting a base shape on the hardboard. I prefer organic, kidney-bean shapes for natural objects, since straight lines look out of place. The more twisty, curvy, the more places for model can hide and the more your mesa will be used. The base is optional, but goes a long way towards the strength and durability of the model.

Next, glue the base plate to the foam. Use a knife or foam cutter trim the foam to the profile of the base. I use a straight-up cut, no slope necessary. Once I start beating the mesa, having a sharp edge will fracture out a bit creating rocky outcroppings. Some foam has seams to break in 16 in widths during house construction. Place these seams face down if possible.

You can optionally add upper levels here. I find adding a few lower edges here and there allow for a path up. For 28mm models, this is not as important, but for smaller scale models, the edges of the mesa look quite impassable. A few spires on the upper level can provide a great defensive position as well, great for snipers or artillery. The lowered ledges can be easier-going terrain.

Now comes the fun part! Beat it with a hammer. Tap the upper surface of the mesa with a hammer. If you’re completely penetrating the surface in the shape of you hammer head, you’re hitting too hard. If you’re not cracking the surface, you’re not hitting hard enough. The hammer should bounce back a bit, and you should be able to set up a steady rhythm. Once you get to the edges, strike down at an angle so that the edges flair out a bit, creating outcroppings and mashing the edge down a bit. Don’t get carried away, since the outcroppings are weaker that the rest of the model.


This is my color scheme in case you want to replicate it. Whatever colors you use, I recommend some PVA glue mixed into your base coat, to help cement things together. I inject PVA directly into the crevasses around the outcroppings to secure them. I also like to add small stones and model railroad talus to places where shattered rocks will appear in life. This can also be used to reinforce weak joints and seams.

I paint a mix of Sand, PVA, and magic wash (water+future floor polish.) Wash with dark chocolate brown and burnt seanna. I then dry-brush Sand, especially on the top surface. Follow this up Sand/white light dry-brush. Bits of lichen and clump foliage can added, especially to the edges which are less visually impressive than the upper surface.

Completed Works

Several Mesas from aboveSeveral mesas I've build over the years. We place them close together to make narrow defiles and points of hard cover.

Mesas as seen on the table from a player\'s point of view.As seen from above, about what the mesas look like in play. Notice the upper surface is more prominent than the less details side surfaces.

Mesas at Model Eye levelI love to look at terrain from the point of view of the model. What is hidden round the next bend? Allies? Enemies?

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