Tuesday 26 July 2022

Cobbled Roads

This post wraps up what I want to show in terms of the wargames road. This time we are looking at commercially bought latex roads, although I have improved them somewhat. I have got nothing against just laying out a bit of cash and buying terrain products when they are as good as I could do (or better), and will save me time. I did consider methods of making cobbled roads myself, and flattered myself I could have made masters, moulded them and "cast" latex roads in the same way as the commercial suppliers, but why bother when I only needed about 16 feet of them. So these are based on cobbled road sections produced by Early War Miniatures, which I chose because I liked the texture, but there are doubtless other makes equally good if you look around. 

OK, it's time for another of my historical digressions I'm afraid. When I made the tarmac roads for the gangster era a few years back I researched the history of road surfaces, so to speak, because it seemed something that could be got right or got wrong, and because I do enjoy arcane knowledge sometimes. Obviously the "default" road up to the twentieth century was the unpaved, earth or "dirt" road, where the grass, etc was simply worn away by human and animal feet, plus the wheels of carts and carriages. Famously the Romans built many paved roads across their empire, which removed mud, puddles and the dust of summer. There were different systems, but all involved carved blocks of stone, so were extremely labour-intensive, often built by slave labour. Hence very few such roads were built again until something like the eighteenth century, and even then "chaussees" were few and far between, prestigious royal projects such as the "Kaiserstrasse" at the Battle of Kolin. 

Around 1820 a British engineer called McAdam developed a method of building roads that was at least as good but much easier to build. It comprised basically layers of stone chippings, sometimes smoothed off with sand, and rollered smooth - it was what all those steamrollers were for. These "macadamised" roads spread rapidly across Britain and America, then other developed countries. So by the time of World War One, they were the main roads you would see, both in town and country. But motor vehicles forced another change, because their wheels sucked clouds of dust out of this type of road. So tar was spread on top, then very soon was mixed in with the sand and chippings to produce "tar-macadam", the "tarmac" roads that we see ever since the 1920's. The change was so sudden and complete that you can use it to date old photographs of your town or whatever: if the road surfaces are pale and dusty it's a macadam surface, so before about 1920, if it's dark and smooth it will be tarmac, so after that time.

Hence in terms of wargames scenery, you want mostly dirt roads with a few cobbled ones up to the Napoleonic wars. After that and up to WWI the main roads were macadamised, so would have a gritty texture and be pale grey or beige in colour. From the 1920's, tarmac is what you want. Knowing all this, I chose to ignore it for my Franco-Prussian War setup, because cobbled roads are much more widely useable for other wargaming periods! I might make some macadamed roads one day...

So here's the EWM cobbled road sections, their well-modelled texture brought out by multiple drybrushes. The "grass" texture moulded on the edges wasn't very good in my opinion, so I cut that down and also cut the roads to the same width as my dirt ones. The thick, rubbery material is really quite hard to cut. I found the best method was really sharp scissors, a tool that's worth investing in for all sorts of purposes anyway. I recommend Fiskars scissors, which are easily available online. 

Between scissors and scalpel I managed to get  an undulating, chamfered edge, but the surface was unnaturally smooth and hard to paint. To get a better texture, I brushed on decorator's caulk with sand on top. This gave a rough texture which could be painted and have static grass added, plus it's flexible enough to bend with the road. If you bend it hard enough it will crack off in pieces, so don't do that!

Both the latex roads and my felt ones will bend nicely to go up and over hills on the tabletop as you can see here, but they do it in different ways. The latex ones are heavy and soft, so they sort of "flop" into place. The felt ones don't do this but they are flexible. You bend them when you set them out and they will go back flat afterwards. If two sections meet on a hill, the felt roads go together better than the latex ones if anything. 

Saturday 23 July 2022

Flexible Dirt Roads made of Felt

There's been a bit of a delay in photography and hence blog posting, owing to the monstrous heat here in recent times. Now that we are back to proper British summer weather, real rain and decent cloud cover, I can get on with those tasks that require both hot lighting and constant jigging about the place. As my last-but-one post on flexible tarmac roads sparked some interest, I thought I'd show you the unmetalled roads, "dirt roads" as the Americans say, which I made last year. 

The era of battlefields covered in such roads lasted well into World War Two, at least outside western Europe, but in terms of wargames terrain I hadn't previously bothered with them, on the basis of being sceptical about any significant impact on battlefield movement speeds. Let's face it, they were rutted earth at best and deep mud at worst, so no easier for marching troops than the adjacent open fields of grass or crops. At a strategic or (ahem) operational level they did help because they led you roughly from one identifiable place to the next and they would pass through, around or over the obstacles you might find if you tried to go directly across country. But we found ourselves playing the Franco-Prussian War, where the battlefields were covered in roads and in the rules we were then using they had an impact. After one or two hopeless attempts to "suggest" the edges of roads with rocks and bushes, I thought it was time to try the approach that had worked for tarmac roads a few years earlier. 

A good look at battlefield maps suggested something like forty-five feet of road would do the job, together with a smaller amount of cobbled roads, which I'll discuss another time. About half the total length comprised 12" sections, a quarter was shorter pieces (8", 6", 4" and 2"), the remainder being junctions and curves of various radii. 

So these were strips of felt, broadly as described before. I decided on a width of some 48mm in all: just enough for the bases of most of our troops to march along them, without the board being covered in road. The edges of each section were cut in irregular waves, and I went so far as to chamfer the thickness of the felt at along the edges, using my scalpel in a diagonal chopping motion. This probably didn't make much difference to the final appearance, so feel free to omit it!

Unlike the tarmac roads, earthen ones obviously called for plenty of texture and at least a suggestion of ruts. After experimentation, I decided to do two strips of decorator's caulk, along which ruts were made with the handle of my scalpel. The space between them, and to either side was then covered in PVA  and the whole surface piled high with sand and grit. When dry this was brushed off.

For painting the first coat was a pot of emulsion I had got mixed at the DIY store, a sort of camel colour. Over that went darker washes of different browns to get some colour variation. Then finally a couple of lighter drybrushes. I was aiming for a sort of camel colour, which is what historical paintings mostly show. Perhaps I got over-excited sloshing on my home-brewed washes (none of your Agrax Earthshade here!), because the final result was OK but a bit darker than I'd intended.

Finally, static grass was applied along most of the edges and in strips down the centre. I used fairly short fibres, because I needed them to stand up, but didn't want bases on the road to be "floating" too high in the air. The grass was drybrushed a yellow-green, which I always think improves it. I added patches of flowers and weeds, but somehow I don't think they benefitted the final appearance, so I wouldn't bother another time.

This is what the sections look like underneath. Make sure to keep the undersides clean of debris to help them lay as flat as possible. I used both light brown and dark brown felt, the lighter colour being better because you can mark out the sections with pen, whereas the dark felt needs dressmaker's chalk to show a mark at all. On all the pictures you can see there is a tiny bit of edge-to-edge curling up. To be honest I was a bit disappointed about that, as I'd experimented endlessly with different materials and methods in order to avoid this imperfection. But they'll do certainly, and I am permanently sorted for dirt roads now. Next time we will talk about cobbled roads.

Wednesday 13 July 2022

A Little Find

I was planning to post about the roads project I worked on last year, but I am afraid my internet access has been playing up. If I mention the term "DNS server", some of you will know what level of trouble I have been contending with. If you have no idea what "DNS server" means, count yourself amongst those upon whom the gods have smiled. 

Anyway, whilst waiting for months to speak to some godforsaken customer service department, I was idly scrolling through images in my terrain reference folders, specifically the one with pictures of Spanish buildings, which I'd had no cause to look at for a long while. To my surprise I stumbled across the image below. What it shows is a demo game from a show at Reading(?) in about 2013. The game was mounted by my late good friend Mark Sturmey and was based on the First Carlist War in Spain, featuring a collection of buildings, images of which I lamented back in December as being lost for good. So this was a nice little find. I don't know who the photograph was taken by, and I'm afraid it's not entirely in good focus, but it gives some idea of what these buildings were like, in particular the elaborate church. I made that myself, but the other buildings were a joint production between me and Mark, who passed away five years ago now after bravely fighting Motor Neurone Disease. Mark was learning to build and paint terrain very skilfully before the cruel condition took away that possibility. 

These are all based on the building style typical of the Basque region, the heart of the Carlist insurrection. Most houses were built of bare stone, but some were rendered and others of timber-framed construction. The church is based on one still standing in a town there. Unusually it has a plain back, but then a quite elaborate baroque fa├žade and porch added in the late 17th century. I laboured long over this, using Wills stone sheets and several parts which I moulded and cast. There are also several "bits and bobs" from own Bohemia setup, which you will be seeing properly in due course: a statue, a covered well and wayside shrine.


Saturday 2 July 2022

Flexible Felt Roads

I have added a couple of links for your interest: the printable sheets for 1920's city buildings, and the YouTube site for "OJ's Models". OJ does the most realistic 1:30 scale stone wall models I've ever seen, and I think you will struggle to tell them from the real thing. He explains his (admittedly labour-intensive) methods, which I will try in 28mm at some point.

Anyway, here's some roads I made for the 1920's gangsters to further endanger public safety by driving their their cars along at top speed. I made about sixteen feet of road using this method. Like the rest of the project, they didn't get 100% finished, but in this case I've decided to show them, as I think the method used is very useful for various types of road, as well as other terrain.

These pieces are made out of ordinary felt, the cloth mostly used for cuddly toys and the like. You can buy it in craft shops or online, either in rectangles or by getting say half a metre length from a roll of fabric, which gives you a massive quantity for £12-15 say. The colour you buy doesn't much matter, as it won't show in the finished product, but do get a lighter colour, as that will mark out easily with a ballpoint pen. It cuts easily with sharp scissors. The point of using felt rather than something rigid like mounting card is that the roads can easily be bent over any hills or irregularities on your tabletop, and will stay in place. The material also has a thickness of only 1-2mm, so isn't too obtrusive.

The technique is to cut out your road sections and paint one side with thinned PVA. You then cover that thickly with fine sand, gently shake off the surplus and go over it with a rolling pin to flatten it right down. A tarmac surface is more smooth than gritty, so you need only a restrained degree of texture. Once dry, I think I applied a black undercoat via a spray can, drybrushed with dark greys and spattered lighter shades on. The edges got painted an earth colour and a bit of static grass was applied. When I say these pieces weren't 100% finished, I meant to weather them a bit more with dust and grime, but didn't get that far.

I hope this approach is of interest to some of you. Would it work for unsurfaced roads, "dirt roads" as the Americans say? More or less, as we shall explore in due course.

Here's a sample of road sections based on this method. You need to do a lot of curves of various radii, and some junction pieces.

You need to be very careful with the ends of the sections: make sure they are absolutely at 90 degrees to the direction of the road, and finished as cleanly as you can manage. That way, the pieces will butt together without conspicuous joins.

For some reason, just one piece got edged with thick static grass, using my super-power applicator. This does help blend the road in with the ground it is crossing, but only if that's in the countryside. The sections with just earth and sparse bits of grass, on the other hand, don't look out of place in a built-up area.