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Modular Trench Boards - Part 2

by Gary James

Modular Trench Boards - Part 2In this part I'll explain how we added the detail to the trench systems and created the surface effects and texture for the boards.

Creating the trenches

The method of cutting out the trenches was explained in part one. The floor and walls of the trenches were now built up using oddments and PVA glue.

Modular Trench Boards - Part 2We glued balsa wood strips, corrugated cardboard, plastic bulkhead bits, lentils, girder shaped plastic rod and just about anything we could find into the trenches. The floors were covered with cardboard with a planking effect cut into it with a craft knife.

For the opened out sections we made steel plate-like floors from cardboard. Mesh would look good too, or you could leave the floors as mud. (Historical note 3: real trenches would use wood but certainly not metal sheeting and the like. This would turn into deadly shrapnel if hit in battle. But we were building fantasy/sci-fi trenches). Once the pieces had glued in place we covered the whole of the trench assembly with PVA glue to seal and protect it from aerosol sprays and paints.

Modular Trench Boards - Part 2Here is a close-up of part of a finished trench. Note the jumbled mixture of different materials. This is the effect we wanted, but you might prefer a more ordered, engineered look. I'll tell you about the painting later.

Creating the battlefield surface

The styrofoam surface of the boards is as level as a bowling green (for those of you who don't have bowling greens, that's very flat and level). To get a more realistic effect we had to get rid of the flat finish, make some craters and holes, and add a surface texture.

We started by using a hot air paint stripper gun to melt the surface of the foam (not a paint stripper gun with a flame!). You'll need to experiment so that you get the right effect and don't over-do it. Play the gun over the whole surface first, making gradual changes in the level of the styrofoam. Then make some craters by concentrating on one area until you get a deeper hole. Waft the gun sideways to make a star-shaped effect to the crater.

Once we were satisfied with the basic shape of the battlefield we gave the whole thing a generous coating of textured wall covering to add the surface texture. This wall covering is a cross between a paint and a filler. One make in the UK is called Artex. It is a stiff, sticky paste with a fine texture incorporated.


The boards were first covered completely in black paint. For the open areas we used a tin of blackboard paint. For the trenches we used an aerosol. This was our main mistake on this project - the tinned paint ate into the polystyrene very badly in some places. We had tested the paint on an offcut first and it had seemed OK, but once on the boards it turned some areas into a spongy mess. We let it dry out and then treated it with PVA glue to reseal the damaged surface and in the end we got away with it. Be warned though - use water-based paints only on styrofoam! Aerosol paints will definitely dissolve styrofoam unless you seal it with PVA glue as we did with the trench constructions.

Modular Trench Boards - Part 2To get the brown finish on the boards we dry-brushed them with household paints.

Take a pot of Snakebite leather, or whatever colour you like, along to one of those DIY (Hardware) stores that mixes paint up to any one of hundreds of colours. Find as close a match as you can and buy 500ml of basic brown, and another of a brown a few shades lighter for surface drybrushing. Using a 2 inch household paintbrush begin by dry-brushing the darker brown all over the boards. Be careful! Add a tiny amount of paint to you brush and wipe it off on paper so that you don't over-do it. You are trying to leave quite a bit of black showing and just get the brown to catch on the surface texture.

Leave the bottoms of the craters almost black. Once you are happy with the brown dry-brushing repeat it with the lighter brown. This time put even less paint on. We thought it looked quite effective if we dry-brushed around the crater edges in the lighter brown as in the photograph above.

The trenches were painted by dry-brushing with brown and then light brown. metal parts were dry-brushed with chainmail instead and then given a coat of black wash. Finally, we added some patches of static grass here and there to break up the colour a bit.

In the next part I'll tell you how we made the battlefield accessories and crags, and show you some pictures of the boards in use.

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