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.


  1. This is a terrific result on handmade roads.

  2. Thanks for this method, John - it does look pretty simple and cost effective and one thing I do not have at all is any roads - so I will very likely give this idea a try!

  3. John interesting method , I have used caulk on plastic laminate paper to good effect but this method looks very interesting and I will have to give it a try. The main challenge I have is getting roads to lie flat.

  4. I really need to do this. It looks like a pretty easy project too, and certainly a very effective result. I guessing just paint a different colour and maybe add a few ruts and you would have pretty good unsealed roads too.

  5. Thanks, fellers. I'm not sure what plastic laminate paper is, but there is a general problem with getting home-built thin, flexible road sections to lie flat. The issue is that most glues, decorator's caulk and so forth dry by evaporation. This means they lose water, and so shrink a bit as they dry. If you've put this on something that isn't going to shrink, then it will inevitably curl up.

    Unhelpfully, I can't think what I did in particular to stop this problem, because these tarmac roads do lie perfectly flat. Thinking back, I did apply the PVA both sparingly and well thinned, because I wanted to avoid the roads getting too stiff. And I went over them firmly with a rolling pin, so as to get the sand finish into a smooth texture.

    Last year I made a massive batch of earth roads using a similar technique. They look pretty good but I did get a little bit of curling at the corners. I was going to post about something else next, but as there's been interest here, I think I will show you those roads next.