Monday, September 1, 2008

How to construct a building on a budget

Last week I posted pictures , painted and unpainted, of this small building. I had broadcast to everyone how I had built the building from cheap material, and there was some interest in how I went about the actual construction.

Last night I built my second building. As you can see, it's a two-storey affair with window dressings and a front porch. All of these buildings, although generic to some degree, are being built for the Western game Legends of the Old West. I'm picturing a non-spaghetti Western setting - maybe Tennessee, Arkansas, or Kentucky. For that matter, we may go farther north - the Dakotas, Wyoming, or Montana.

This particular building will represent a relatively luxurious home in a frontier town. As I was building, I was imagining some well-to-do citizen; perhaps the local Justice of the Peace, the town doctor, or a wealthy rancher.

But enough babble - let's get down to business.

Part One: Marking out the pieces

The first thing I did was to make thick card templates in anticipation of future projects. I plan on making numerous buildings, so it only made sense to have sturdy templates on hand. Measuring is a time-eater, so taking the time to make accurate templates once should save time down the road.

Here they are flipped over. You'll see the measurements are written down in centimetres for those who are interested. Also notice the door and window templates. In addition to keeping the sizes standard, they will also help me maintain uniform distances from the ground.

Note: Some of the templates pictured (the lean-to parts) weren't used. I changed my mind as I built.

Next I broke out the thick card and started tracing. Pretty self-explanatory.

Next came the windows and doors. Thanks to the templates I never had to measure each window separately.

And here we are with all the pieces marked out.

Part Two: Cutting out the pieces

I'm sure everyone knows how to cut card with a utility knife, but I'll go through my method briefly anyway. The card I'm using is fairly thick, so I cut it in two steps. First I score the card by making a couple of passes with the small silver knife, using the ruler to keep the lines straight. Then, I use the heavy duty utility knife as the workhorse to finish the job. Trying to cut thick card with a small knife takes WAY too long, as I found out when working on the first building.

Here we are with all the windows and doors cut out. It's easier to keep the card steady if you cut out the windows before you cut our the walls themselves.

And then we cut out the basic shapes. We have now finished the most mind-numbing part of the job in my opinion.

Last little bit of major cutting - the roof. measure the area required and add a little extra for overhang. Notice that the roof is made from one large piece, not two. After it's been cut out, I score the middle of the roof with the small knife and ruler.

Then I widen and deepen the groove by gouging it out with a sculpting tool. I do this so the roof can be bent to the necessary angle without it cracking in two pieces.

Part Three: Beautifying our Home

This part of the procedure can be as much or as little work as you want it to be. If you are attempting to build quickly (because you plan on building a lot of buildings), the two steps where you can save time are the details and the roof. I decided to add a few extra details to this building since it will house a wealthier citizen.

I've taken a shot of the wood I use to detail the windows and doorframes. I bought these craft sticks at Michael's (so they probably cost me a fortune, I don't remember now). I'm sure there are various packages of mixed balsa or popsicle sticks that you could acheive similar results with.

The first step for me is trying to imitate the look of clapboard or timber boards on the exterior. A lot of "how-to-build" articles show methods of using balsa strips or card strips layered as planks. commendable, and good-looking, but too labour-intensive for me. I want to build a town, not two or three buildings.

Since my card was thick, I cheated by scoring the card to look as if it was covered in wood planks. Using the ruler to guide me, I cut thin lines across the surface. No measuring required - just eyeball it. The building will look more realistic if the "planks" vary in thickness anyway.

As with the roof earlier, I use a sculpting tool to gouge out the lines. If you skip this step, the thin utility knife lines may disappear when the glue/paint undercoat is added. And if you make a mistake (i.e. the tool slips and creates a line where you didn't want one) don't worry. Real buildings get damaged and show signs of wear and tear.

The two ""sides" of the building will be glued so that their thin sides will be showing. I scored these as well so that they will blend when the building is painted.

And here we have all four walls with the clapboard on. If only real home construction were this cheap and easy- I'd be a real estate mogul.

Now for the windows and doors. Here's my view on it - if these few details look good, they will draw the eye away from all the shortcuts we have take so far.

First of all, we need to put a backing on each wall, or else we'll be staring in through open windows at unpainted cardboard walls. I used very thin card for this - probably the thickness of a cereal box.

You can simply do your detail work on the thin card. In essence, the tin card backing functions as the doors and provides the backdrop for anything on the windows.

Although this door looks crude now, a coat of paint will do wonders.

I outline the windows with various size craft sticks.

Here's my scientific procedure:

Lay the piece of wood in position...

...and mark with a pencil. It's better to go a shade too large, as the cutting and sanding will cause some shortening.

I cut the piece with one or two passes of a hack saw...

...and use a sanding block (or sand paper) to smooth out the edges.

Dryfit to check for size.

Don't worry if it's a little large. Remember, card is not wood, so you can certainly force it into position. All my wooden accents were so snug that they stayed in place even if I turned the wall upside down and shook it.

After dryfitting the pieces for an entire wall, I coat the perimeter of the opening in glue and place everything. Don't be afraid to make a mess. Glue will seep out and go everywhere as you force all the pieces into position. A small piece of card can be used to scoop up the excess glue when the pieces are in place.

When the window frames are done, window treatments such as curtains or blinds cane be added. I used thin card. Don't cut the pieces symmetrically - odd angles and overlaps looks more realistic.

The bottom left window sports a curtain blowing in the wind. I took a piece of thin card and softened if my rolling it up and crushing it. Then, I soaked it in watered-down glue, and curled it to shape when I glued it in place.

Tip: One common mistake made by new modellers is using too little glue. When you're working with card and thin wood, slap it on. Remember, white glue dries clear, and when it does, it's as hard as concrete. It will only strengthen your model.

I thought the back door might be a little less fancy than the front door. I scored the card to look like wooden planks, and cut two strips to look like support pieces.

A set of curtains cut...

...and glued in place. Notice how the overlapping pieces gives a realistic 3-D look.

And finally, all four finished walls. The detail work is finished.

Part Four: Assembly

The first thing we need is something to stand our walls on. I took a piece of thick card and drew out a base, taking into account a little overlap, the back step, and a front porch. I usually don't use card for bases, because it has a tendancy to bow when glued. However, a building base is not covered in glue like other terrain bases, so I find it works fine.

Then I applied my two-step cutting approach as explained earlier.

As you would expect, the walls are stood up, with the bottoms and sides being glued. Don't be shy with the glue. When it's all standing and square, you can wipe the extra glue away with a small piece of card or wood. Make sure everything is square and even before you leave the glue to set.

And now we throw our roof on. Again, don't be shy with the glue.

I made the steps by laying a foundation of matchsticks...

...and pressing some of the craft sticks in place. Obviously, the craft sticks were cut to the proper size first. This is an eyeball job, not a precise measurement.

The planks glued in place.

My seven-year old son dropped in to check on me. He can't resist a digital camera, so here I am, hard at work. After the escape of the Frankenstein monster, as well as the infrequency of dependable lightning storms, I got married and turned my attentions to making buildings from card instead of manipulating human life.

The back step follows a similar procedure as the front porch.

Planked and ready to go.

The more-or-less finished project, front...

...and back.

Where do we go from here?

There are a few other issues to deal with before the actual paintjob gets underway. First of all, I have to fashion a chimney of some sort. Since my games will be in places where there's winter, the house must have a chimney in order to look convincing. I'm still pondering this one.

Also, I will paint the roof with watered-down white glue and lightly sprinkle with a little sand. When this is drybrushed, it will look convincing as a tarred roof.

After that, I have to paint the entire thing in my black paint/white glue/water mixture. This process will strengthen, seal, and prime the model in one fell swoop. But more on that for later.

Thanks for reading,


Keir said...

Raising the bar again I see, JET? Well done!

Just one question from me. What is the cardboard and where did you get it?

Er, that's two questions.

Anonymous said...

Amazing attention to detail - you must have the patience of a saint!

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Brilliant post - well done... very interesting!

Anonymous said...

Nice work, thanks for sharing this.

I'd suggest mixing a separate jar of "roof finisher" that is your undercoat sealer with sand added. That will save one step on the roof.

Also, try leaving the windows open or alternately backing them with plastic instead of that thin cardboard. I bet it won't look too bad even though the interiors aren't detailed.

Mericánach said...

Excellently constructed "how-to" article. Can't wait to see what else you come up with.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

I can't read some of the measurements on the pieces. Could you post them please?

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Oh, also I don't get what the 0.4 c.m means on the doorway. What does that refer to?

Eli Arndt said...

A note on those craft sticks. Save yourself some money and buy bulk, wooden coffee stir sticks at your local Cash & Carry or bulk restaurant supplier. I got 1000 for $5.