Saturday 29 January 2022

Russian Houses

These village houses are the first instalment of a series of Russian buildings I made about eight years ago. My late friend Mark Sturmey was building up 17th century Polish and Turkish armies, so we wanted something for them to fight around. Now you may be thinking "Poland, Turkey, they're not Russia are they?" But in the 1600's the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was the superpower of Eastern Europe, covering the modern states of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Byelorussia, Ukraine and Moldova. So there's an excuse. Plus we were thinking they would do for other periods: the Great Northern War, Napoleonics, Russian Civil War, World War II even. So here we are.

Houses in many area of Russia were based on the log cabin approach to walling with thick, rough thatch roofs. Although I'd discovered "teddy bear fur" as a neater method of making thatch by this time, I chose to go back to using plumbers' insulation felt to get the crude sort of roof that old photographs show.

The walls of these houses were made by converting, or mashing up, plastic kits produced by Pegasus Hobbies of California: Buildings & Accessories - #7703 1/72 Russian Log House Pegasus Hobbies, 909.982.6507, Info Pegasus Hobbies, 909.982.6507  They do three variants, all useful here. They are classed as 1/72 scale, but are plenty big enough for 28mm gaming in my book. Plastic kits can often be incorporated into more authentic models, sometimes in a different scale from the one they were meant for, so I try to keep my eye on what is around. I covered the 20th century style window glazing bars with closed internal shutters, so they would be more suitable for earlier periods as well.

The ridge-poles were some sort of twig for the horizontals, but the uprights made of the same broke immediately and had to  be replaced by plastic rod. And then broke a second time and had to be replaced by brass rod! They are tied together with string, representing rope. At the bottom ends I think I used flexible wire, poked and glued into drilled holes.

Moss on the roofs was made with very short static grass, PVA'd on then painted and drybrushed. Moss can be all sorts of colours of course, but you want to avoid too great a colour contrast with the thatch, because it looks garish. It's easy to google images of moss on thatch and see what looks nice.

The last of these buildings is a barn and cart-shed. In this case I built the walls from scratch using balsa dowel and aiming to blend with the plastic walls of the other buildings in terms of style and colour. Hopefully you cans see the texture of the logs is a little bit nicer than the plastic ones. The cart is from the Perrys Napoleonic range. 

You have possibly noticed this useful barn door casting in several of my projects over the years. This might be the opportunity to share another point of "vernacular building lore": The doors of dwellings usually open inward, for security reasons, so the hinges are on the inside, but doors on barns, sheds, stables, byres and other agricultural spaces always open outwards. Hence the hinges and any system of fastening are on the outside. (The main reason such doors don't open inwards is that they would reduce the available space within, and a loose animal or collapsed storage item, say, might obstruct an inward opening door.)

On this picture you can see the yoke hanging on the side wall. Russian wagons commonly used three draft animals (a "troika"), with the middle one's harness incorporating a wooden yoke. I didn't want to throw away any more of this lovely cart model than I had to. 


  1. Lovely looking buildings as akways John and as you allude to in your intro, extremely versatile...I am sure many parts of rural Russia have buildings similar to these ones to this very day.

  2. Superb John. Such a wealth of knowledge and detail on what appear to be, at first, just simple dwellings. You put life into them. Wonderful stuff. Phil

  3. Wonderful work once again John. Re: doors opening inwards, this was also due to being able to open a door to leave the house if there was heavy snowfall, as if opening outwards you would be stuck in the house.

  4. Great work John, I am planning to build a Russian village for WWII skirmish gaming later this year, so I will certainly use this for inspiration. I guess for the most part peasant houses didn't change much in Russia between 1645-1945...!! So yes I hope to also use the same buildings in Napoleonic gaming at some future point too.

    Do you have any trick for constructing the corner ends where the logs overlap each other? Your hand built ones look a lot better than the plastic kit. I would be interested to try the same method.

    As an aside, the history of Russia is fascinating too, I have been reading a bit in the last few years. It also helps somewhat in understanding the current global-strategic situation with Russia and how it ended up that way...


  5. Thanks once again for for your comments, guys. Steve, that sounds like another very logical reason for house doors to open inwards, at least in those climates where snow might be an issue.

    Kym (etc), there is no trick really to getting the overlapping corners of a log building right. You just fit the logs in the same way as in real life. So, start with two logs on opposite sides, check and mark where the corner overlap will come, then cut a groove down halfway into each log. The groove is semi-cylindrical. Now the next pair of logs, at right-angles to the first pair, will glue into these grooves. Cut grooves into them in turn and keep repeating. The grooves are easy to cut with a rough, round (rat tail) file of the same diameter or less, because the balsa is very soft. I found about eight courses of logs (of this thickness) is enough for a credible wall. At the end of the process, the first pair of logs you laid down will need their bottom half slicing off so as to sit flat. I think this is quite an easy method of construction, but you do get through quite a lot of balsa dowel, which does have a certain cost on a larger building.

    1. Thanks for that - I thought maybe there was a trick or shortcut I should try - but the method seems easy enough. I will give it a go myself - thanks for explaining how you did it.