My gaming group has got back into Flames of War recently and I thought it was time to spruce up my North African gaming table a little more. I’ve noticed we tend to make a few little villages on my textured table with a set of 15mm Crescent Root buildings and my own homemade stone walls. So I thought it was probably time I got down to creating some roads through this rather barren desert.
A while back Jonathan mentioned he’d had some success using strips of weed mat and brown builder’s caulk to create flexible 15mm roads. I didn’t have any caulk handy but I did have half a tube of Selley’s Liquid Nails in the garage so tried it out myself. My test road features in the above photo. It’s nicely textured and takes paint well and is easily flexible enough to mold to the contours of my modular table set up. It worked so well I’ve put together this brief tutorial on how to create as much road strip as you need for negligble cost.
1. Assemble the materials. Like Jonathan I used a cheap, porous, textured weed mat for the base of my roads. It’s thin and sturdy with a low cost of around $8nz for a 5m roll of the stuff. Cut it into strips, arcs and other shapes as you need for your table. For this tutorial I’ve glued a couple of scraps together to create a ‘T’ junction piece.
You also need something to texture your road. Jonathan used a brown builder’s caulk, however I opted for Selley’s Liquid Nails. This DIY product dries to a water-proof flexible rubber consistency and I suspect it’s simply an industrial strength PVA. The advantage of using porous textured weed matting as the base is that the Liquid Nails will have no problem adhering to the matting, and dries into a fairly robust piece of terrain.
To detail the roads I used a mixture of cheap kitty litter and mixture of Woodland Scenics model railway ballasts (that is what’s in the plastic container in this photo). Three bags of varying grades of model railway ballast mixed together with some kitty litter for larger boulders and you’ve got yourself and endless supply of texturing gravel. I’ve been using this same plastic container of gravel for seven years to detail my Mordheim table and buildings, my 15mm North African terrain, other random scenery pieces and various figure bases.
The roads were textured with a set of cheap Chinese hog bristle art brushes, which were also used to paint the roads with a mixture of several interior acrylic house paint test pots from a local paint manufacturer.
2. Apply your Liquid Nails or Caulk. Once you’ve cut your weed mat into various shapes, it’s time to start slapping glue around. This is a particularly messy process so it’s best performed in old clothing in a work area. I found the easiest way to do it was to apply the Liquid Nails from the caulking gun in a tight ‘S’ pattern across a third of the weed matting. Then spread it across the mat to create a smooth surface using a wide, slightly wet brush. Take your time, cleaning the brush regularly but being careful not to dilute the liquid nails at all.
The glue will travel through the weed mat, so use a smooth work surface that you can peel the final road section off once complete. Here I’ve used the lid of a large plastic pail. Also don’t concern yourself about keeping a clean edge on the road piece. Just slap the glue around because once everything is dry you can just go back with a pair of scissors or an Xacto blade and trim the edges back neatly. It is also worth leaving yourself a couple of cm of weed mat uncovered at one end of the road so you’ve got something to handle the section by. I neglected to do so in this photo, so got a little messy when it came to removing the road strip to dry.
3. Coarsely texture the road with tire tracks. You need to apply some texture to the glue before it dries so you’ve got something to paint. The amount and type of texturing you want to do at this point depends on your setting. I textured my roads fairly heavily as they’re meant to represent hard pack sand trails through the North African desert. Of course depending on the final paint job they could have just as easily represent muddy Normandy farm roads or frozen rutted tracks across the Russian steppes.
At any rate what I did was take an old piece of bamboo and carved it into a spoon shape (see photo) and used this to carve fairly deep and rough ‘tracks’ into the glue. You can be fairly crude about it because this isn’t the final step of the texturing. If you don’t have bamboo handy, light dowel or balsa would work just as well.
4. Add some roadside gravel. For additional texturing I scattered some of my ballast mix around by applying several generous pinches of mix to the roadsides.
Don’t be too liberal because of course the point of roads is that they’re usually clear of obstacles! However once again this is meant to be a sort of crude desert trail and gravel at the road edges helps it visually blend into the table. Don’t worry about how well the stones are placed in the glue because the next step will help blend everything together nicely.
5. Smooth with a damp brush. To take the edge off the heavy texturing from step three and to get a good bond for the gravel from the last step take a wide, middling wet brush and lightly smooth it over the road section in a consistent direction. You’ll have to wash an re-wet the brush a few times depending on the length of your road section. You’re not trying to remove any glue here, but just to bed the gravel down and soften the heavy ruts so they look a little more realistic.
6. Leave to dry. You’re done! Make sure you give your brushes a good clean and leave your road strip somewhere warm to dry. It’s worth checking on the strip once or twice and once it’s started to cure, peeling it off the work surface to ensure it’s not permanently bonding to that! However make sure you leave the strip to dry completely before doing anything else with it. Obviously this depends on your climate and the type of ‘Liquid Nails’ or caulking you’ve used but I find overnight is usually sufficient.
Once dry you’ll have a flexible, textured piece of road strip that will be ready to paint. Don’t be surprised if the road curves inwards slightly as it dries because we can correct this during painting, and in the next post I’ll discuss how I’ve painted my road pieces to match my own gaming table.