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Modular Hex Board

by Maciej Marciniak

Modular Hex BoardThis article presents a method that can be used to make a terrain board made up of hexagonal sections. The strength of this type of sectional terrain board lies is its flexibility. Hexes with permanently built-in terrain features such as roads, rivers, trenches, hills, buildings, etc. can be arranged in many ways to create a wide variety of battlefields.

In order for this type of terrain board to function as intended the individual hexes must fit together well regardless of how they are arranged. In order to achieve this the hexes need to meet two conditions:

  1. They must be identical

  2. They must be accurate

Modular Hex BoardThis means that, as shown in Figure 2, all the edges of a hex must be of equal length and the angles between the adjacent edges must be 120 degrees.

Materials and Tools

The following tools and materials are needed to build the hexes:

  1. 0.75 in. or 1.0 in. thick insulation foam - also known as "blue foam" or "pink foam" - available from DIY or home improvement stores. The board in Figure 1 is made of 0.75 in. thick foam. The amount needed will vary depending on the number and size of the hexes.

  2. 1/32 in. thick cardboard. The kind that is used as backing for pads of paper is ideal.

  3. PVA glue - also known as "white glue" or "Elmer's glue".

  4. Joint compound or wall patch - available from DIY or home improvement stores.

  5. 0.25 in. thick foam-core sheet - available from art supply stores.

  6. hobby knife to cut the foam-core

  7. hobby knife or hot wire cutter to cut the insulation foam

  8. steel ruler, pencil

  9. compass - the kind used to draw circles, not the kind used to find the magnetic North.

  10. medium and fine grit sand paper

  11. masking tape or painter's tape

General Construction Method

The first step in the construction is to make a hex template. This template will later be used to cut the insulation foam into hex blanks. These will in turn serve as the core of each hex that makes up the terrain board. The use of a template will ensure that all the blanks are identical.

Once the template is finished and the blanks are cut the hexes are assembled. The edges of the blanks are reinforced with cardboard and the top surface of each blank is coated with a thin layer of joint compound. The cardboard protects the edges of the hexes from damage and the joint compound fills the alignment bolt holes and provides good surface for finishing.

Once the joint compound dries its surface is lightly sanded to remove any ridges and it is sealed with thin PVA glue. When the glue dries the hexes are finished to give the appearance of the terrain of choice.

Construction of the Hex Template

Modular Hex BoardThis picture shows a finished hex template. Its components are two foam-core hexes, two 0.125 in. diameter alignment bolts with matching nuts and four plain washers.

The tools necessary to make the template are a foam-core sheet, a compass, a steel ruler, a hobby knife and a pencil.

This is the single most important step in the construction of the terrain board. An inaccurate template will result in poorly fitting hexes and poorly fitting hexes will result in large gaps between the terrain board sections.

Modular Hex BoardThe first step in making of the template is to decide on its size. For the purpose of this article the size of a hex, S, is defined as the distance measured between any two of its opposite corners, as indicated in this diagram.

The size of the hex - and of the template needed to make it - depends on each individual's needs. The smaller the hex the greater the flexibility one has in arranging a variety of battlefields but at a cost of greater number of the hexes needed to cover the same area and thus more work.

Once the size is selected it is time to draw the template hexes on the foam-core board. Refer to Figures 5 and 6 and follow the procedure below:

  1. Modular Hex BoardUsing the ruler draw a straight line longer than the intended size of the template.

  2. Near the middle of the above line mark a point. This point will serve as the center of the hex.

  3. Using the compass draw a circle of radius equal to one half of the intended hex size. Use the point created in Step 2 as the center of the circle.

  4. Using the compass mark the vertices of the hexagon on the circle drawn in Step 3, starting at one of the points where the circle intersects the line drawn in Step 1. Use the same compass setting that was used to draw the circle.

  5. Using the ruler draw lines connecting the adjacent vertices of the hexagon.

  6. Mark two points on the line drawn in Step 1 - one on each side of the center. Place these points half way between the center of the hex and the intersection between the line and the circle drawn in Step 3. The alignment bolts will eventually be located at these points.

  7. Using the ruler and the hobby knife cut the hex out of the foam core board.

  8. Modular Hex BoardTrace the outline of the first template hex onto another piece of the foam-core and cut it out to make the second template hex.

  9. Place the two hexes on top of each other, align the edges and use an awl to punch holes through both hexes at the alignment bolt locations.

  10. If necessary enlarge the diameter of the alignment bolt holes to match the diameter of the bolts.

Cutting of the Hex Blanks

Now it is time to make the hex blanks. The tools and materials needed are the insulation foam, the template, an awl and a sharp hobby knife or hot-wire cutter.

Modular Hex Board

  1. Place one of the template hexes on a piece of insulation foam.

  2. Using an awl make the holes for the alignment bolts in the insulation foam.

  3. Modular Hex BoardPut the above piece of the insulation foam between the two template hexes and assemble the template using the alignment bolts. Use plain washers under the heads and the nuts of the alignment bolts. Do not crush the foam-core by excessively tightening the nuts.

  4. Using a sharp knife or hot-wire cut the insulation foam even with the edges of the template.

  5. Disassemble the template and remove the finished blank.

  6. Repeat Steps 1 through 5 until the sufficient number of blanks is made.

  7. Lay out the blanks on the floor as if arranging a battlefield and determine the number of half blanks needed to fill in the semi-hexagonal gaps in the edges of the terrain board, as above.

  8. Make a number of blanks equal to half of the gaps counted in Step 7. Make the half blanks by cutting the full blanks in half along the line connecting any two opposite corners of each hex.

  9. Note that Step 8 may be ignored if the size of each hex is small compared to the size of the terrain board. For example if a 4 ft. x 8 ft. terrain board is made of 3 in. hexes then the semi-hexagonal gaps described in Step 7 will be less than 1.5 in. deep and can be ignored. However, if the terrain board of the same size is made of 12 in. hexes then these gaps will be over 5 in. deep and should be filled with half hexes.

Modular Hex Board

Assembly of the Hexes

The tools and materials needed are the blanks, PVA glue, wall patch or joint compound, masking tape or painter's tape, steel ruler, hobby knife and cardboard.

Modular Hex Board Modular Hex Board

  1. Using a hobby knife and a steel ruler cut the cardboard into strips of width equal to the thickness of a hex blank and of length equal to the length of the edge of a hex blank. Six such strips are necessary for each full size blank and three for each half blank. In addition one longer strip is required for the half blanks to reinforce the long edge.

  2. Glue the cardboard strips to the edges of the blanks. Use masking tape or painter's tape to hold the strips in place while the glue sets. Any gaps that may exist where two strips meet should be filled with joint compound and carefully sanded flush with the surface of the cardboard. Thus finished edges will protect the insulation foam from damage that may occur in use.

  3. Coat the top of each hex with an even, approximately 1/32 in. thick layer of joint compound.

  4. When the joint compound dries lightly sand its surface to remove any ridges.

  5. Seal the joint compound with thin PVA glue.

  6. Repeat steps 1 through 5 until all the hexes are assembled.

Finishing Touches

Modular Hex BoardNow the hexes are ready to be turned into any sort of terrain imaginable. For example, the hexes that make up the terrain board shown in the opening picture were painted green with interior acrylic wall paint (available from DIY and home improvement stores) and covered with artificial turf (available from model railroad suppliers) to give an impression of a grassland. The hexes intended for desert terrain can be painted with a coat of tan or light brown acrylic wall paint mixed with fine grain texture additive (available in most DIY or home improvement stores) and dry-brushed with shades of brown and yellow. The hexes that will make up arctic battlefield can be painted white and dry-brushed with several shades of pale blue and gray.

Roads, Trenches and Rivers

Following the construction methods presented so far will result in a stack of plain, flat hexes. If all one wants is a featureless plain then there is no need to make a sectional terrain board at all. However, if one wants the flexibility of being able to set up a variety of battlefields and the ability to permanently build features such as roads, rivers or trench lines into the terrain board then the sectional terrain board is the way to go.

The roads are probably the easiest feature to build into the hexes. First, make the hexes as described in sections 1 through 6. The roads are added after the hexes are assembled but before they are finished. Two methods have so far been used to add the roads to the hexes.

Modular Hex BoardOne is to use a plywood form, shown right, to "cast" a road onto the surface of the hex. Simply place the form over the hex and fill it with joint compound. Remove the form after about five minutes. Wait until the joint compound dries before painting the surface of the road.

Modular Hex BoardThe other is to cut the road out of cardboard and glue to the hex as shown in Figure 13. Cut a strip of cardboard of appropriate shape and glue it on top of the hex. When the glue sets fill any gaps between the cardboard and the surface of the hex with joint compound and paint the surface of the road.

The road must be placed in a hex such that it runs from the center of one edge to the center of another edge. The width of the road must be constant from hex to hex. This must be so in order for the roads in the adjacent hexes to properly align with each other.

Modular Hex BoardThe roads can be made into straight sections, 60 degree turns, 120 degree turns, a variety of intersections, etc. They can also be combined with a river in the same hex to produce a bridge hex.

The rivers and the trench lines are best made by using two half thickness blanks to make each river/trench hex instead of one full thickness blank.

For example: if the basic hexes are made of 1 in. thick blanks then use two 0.5 in thick blanks to make a trench or a river hex. Make the two blanks as described in section 5.0. One of the them will serve as the base of the hex.

Modular Hex BoardCut the other blank from edge to edge along two parallel lines and discard the center portion. Glue the two remaining portions of this hex to the base using PVA glue as shown here. When the glue cures assemble the hex as described in section 6

Be sure to cut away the cardboard in the locations where the trench line or river in one hex is to match with the trench line or river in the adjacent hex. Once the hex is assembled it is ready for finishing.

As with the roads, in order for adjacent river or trench sections to align properly it is important that such features stretch from the center of one edge of the hex to the center of another edge and that the shape and size of these features are identical where two hexes meet.

Copyright 2001 Maciej Marciniak

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