Friday, June 12, 2015

Making Terrain Boards Part 2: Base and Edges

With planning complete (see Part 1 here) I moved on to the early stage of construction for my skirmish terrain boards. This is my first stab at terrain boards and I'm learning as I go. Check out my progress after the jump.

 My terrain boards are built from two layers of pink insulation foam board (each .75" thick), sheathed round the edges by .06" styrene strips for protection. Unfortunately my local hardware store had nothing but severely warped foam boards. I hoped that glueing them in layers, pulling against each other would straighten out the warp.

When they aren't sandwiched between sheets of MDF, you can see the warped foam boards I was working with.

Using layers also gives me the opportunity to cut through the top layer when carving the rivers, stopping at the second layer so the riverbed remains a constant depth across all terrain boards.

Cutting the Foam Boards to Size 

I had to roughly cut each 2 x 8 foot board in half at the store to get them into my car. Once home I sandwiched them between two 2x4 foot MDF boards to serve as guides so I could use my hot wire cutter to slice off any irregularities.

Edge Templates 

When stacked, each terrain board will be 1.5" high, but for edges where the river exits the board or a hill runs right to the edge, the board height will deviate from that 1.5 inches. I needed a repeatable outline to allow each board edge to match when those terrain features ran from one board to the other, so I created a foam core template to use when cutting the styrene edges.

I wanted to make sure figures would be stable on the slope so I designed the hill and river templates at a 3:1 ratio. For each inch of height, there'd be at least 3 inches of depth. I also gave them an undulating outline so they'd appear a bit more natural than a simple incline.

Glueing the Foam Boards 

I used my edge templates to sketch out the river entrance/exit points on each board and drew some likely river courses on the lower foam board. I spread Liquid Nails glue on the lower foam board (giving my "likely river courses" a wide berth so I won't have to cut the foam board off it later), placed my upper foam board on top, and clamped them between two sheets of MDF.

To ensure the bond would be tight, I gave the glue several days to dry before unclamping the foam boards. Everything was looking good. Even the severe warp had disappeared!

Styrene Edges 

The terrain boards are 2 feet by 4 feet, and each of my styrene sheets was 24 inches wide. For the long sides I needed two strips of styrene, resulting in 6 styrene strips per terrain board.

I used my foam card guide to trace the outline of the hill and river elevation changes and carefully scribed the styrene before snapping the shape free. Despite my careful measuring there were a number of length issues that crept in. Many of the corners needed additional strips of styrene to shore them up, and gaps on the long sides needed even larger strips to fill in.

Gaps at the corner had to be filled with extra strips of styrene

There were pretty large gaps in the middle of the long 4' sides
that needed additional strips of styrene too.

Even worse, I failed to account for the width of the the styrene edges when the two of the three boards were rotated into one of the alternate configurations. If the boards were squares, this wouldn't have been issue, but because I went rectangular boards the gaps were noticeable. (maybe extra seams on the board aren't so bad after all!)

Whoops! A big overhang when two of the boards are rotated 90 degrees!

A minor hiccup, but recoverable. I had to add an additional strip to the short ends of each board to make everything the same length (in the future I'll use strips of 0.125" styrene for the ends).

Polishing Up the Edges 

I checked the height of the boards in the various configurations they could be assembled and sanded down mismatched heights with fine grit sandpaper.

Areas where the foam board dipped below the styrene edges got an application of dry wall spackle, sanded after drying to smooth out the transition from styrene to foam board.

I even filled the gaps on the bottom so the styrene edges won't catch when slid across the table during initial positioning.

Next Steps 

With the prep work done I'm looking forward to digging into carving out the river sections and building the hills and undulations, and after that painting, texturing and flocking!


  1. I've always been intrigued with doing this, but never brave enough to try. I look forward to seeing how this all comes together.


  2. one thing to considr is to use some toothpicks driven into the boradrs to add some additional stability to the glue - especially near the corners

  3. Once again you lead the way with quality tutorials and excellent posts!

  4. That white strips are made of plastic or foam like that pink board? I'm looking for a solution to protect edges, but I cannot make wooden table because I don't have enough place to store it.

    1. The white strips are plastic. I bought some sheets of styrene from an art supply store. They help finish off the edges and protect the corners. You should note I discovered that I had to use double width sheeting on the short ends so I could change up the positions and keep everything tight. One of my later posts discusses this issue.

      Good luck!

    2. Did you glue them with PVA or anything else?


    3. I used the same liquid nails cement that I used to join the two large foam sheets that make up each board. I squeezed out a line on each plastic side, aligned the bottom to the bottom of the board so it was canted about 45 degrees away from the foam boards, and then pushed it so it was 90 degrees and flush with the foam boards. This ensures that excess liquid nail goop is pushed out the top seam where it can be easily wiped away.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Late to this one but I have a question - what did you use as your base material? I'm looking and building some like this (same dimensions) and I'm worried that thin plywood may not be rigid enough.