Gadgets Galore! Scratchbuilt Foamcore and Styrene North African Buildings.

Building 28mm desert terrain has taken my tabletop battles from the dune filled deep desert, through the outlying mud brick houses, and finally into the centre of North African settlements like Tobruk and Benghazi. Using foamcore and styrene, let’s take a look at how to make two story North African buildings to fill in our city blocks. Your wallets be warned, this post is gadget and after market detail heavy.

Tamiya Scribing Tool

With a trusty Exacto knife and metal straight edge I split a 15 by 12 inch styrene sheet in half. Remember, two gentle passes then the styrene will split perfectly along the line with a gentle bend-and-snap. I then used a small square and Tamiya scribing tool to lay out what would become the sidewalk along the edge of the building. The groove would take washes nicely while the edges of the scribed lines look good when dry brushed. A good scribing tool beats the heck out of the back of a hobby blade any day.

Incra Precision T-Rule 

The most important part of the project came next. I carefully – measuring multiple times before cutting even once – laid down the lines that would delineate the walls and corners of the buildings. The gadget on the left (below) is a graduated Incra Precision T-Rule. It draws perfect right angle lines at any depth. I got the metric one but it’s available in imperial as well. I can’t say enough good things about it. It beats the heck of using a square and ruler!

Logan V-Groove Cutter

The next gadget I put to use is the Logan V-Groove Cutter from their FoamWerks line of tools. I came across Logan tools during episode 33 of The Veteran Wargamer podcast. It’s another tool I can’t say enough about. It takes all the guesswork out of making perfect 90 degree corners out of foamcore. Try that with an Exacto knife and ruler! Actually, don’t, you’ll just find it frustrating. Once you get the hang of the groove cutter you can even leave the paper on the outside of the corners intact for an even more seamless finish. An irreplaceable tool in terms of how much it improves the accuracy of 90 degree cuts.

Gobs of left over caulking and a couple of countersunk 1/2 inch screws mated the styrene base and foamcore walls. A quick Google of “middle east door frames” nabbed me a template with which to mass produce some interesting shapes out of thin styrene. Both the desired shape and the offcut surrounding material got pressed into service to break up the flat, mono featured foamcore.

Northwest Short Line “The Chopper”

I suppose you don’t need a precision instrument to make 45 and 90 degree cuts into balsa wood, styrene, and plastic but it sure is a lot of fun using the aptly named Chopper II from NW Short Line. A replaceable razor blade on a guillotine handle, paired with a cutting board and precise angled guides makes any cut a snap. It didn’t take long to insert supports for the 2nd story floor, roof, and cut the finishing wall details and topper. More caulking from the seemingly inexhaustible tube locked in all in place.

Kobblestone Miniatures Resin Doors and Windows

The Canadian company Kobblestone Miniatures supplied the various windows and doors. Their stuff is inexpensive and, while not finely cast, quickly solves the flat building look prevalent in so much of the flat-pack terrain available nowadays. I cut the top layer of foamcore paper using a sharp hobby knife and the windows and doors as templates. A metal palette knife then made short work of removing the top layer of paper and a lot of the foam beneath it in order to make a recess for the doors and windows. I find they look much better when inset rather than just stuck on top. You’ll be rewarded by the extra effort. I removed them again for easy painting of both the building and the inserts.

A final build of an interior staircase using resin steps augmented with foamcore replicas and an application of stucco to further break up the uniformity of the foamcore was the last step in the build.

Next up, the paint shop. After a good blasting with some beige camo spray paint, a few liberal, and then more sparing, dry brushings brought out the surface detail attained with the stucco and surface detailing. A final wash of brown ink and Liquitex Flow Improver stained the sidewalk and flowed into the scribing to darken and dirty up the gaps.

Duplicata Productions WW2 Posters and Ads

With windows and doors painted and installed it was time for a finishing touch. The Canadian company Duplicata Productions makes fantastic period specific posters, ads, street signs, and interior details. I asked Dave the owner if he would consider printing my chosen detail sheets in 1/56th scale as the website originally only catered to the ‘traditional’ modelling scales of 1/35th, 1/48th, and 1/72nd. I was not disappointed. Dave sent me a sheet for review to see if the 1/56th scale looked right and soon after delivered all I had ordered. Full disclosure here: I ended up paying a discount cost on my original sheets and a number of extra sheets as well in order to do this brief review and a future article using Duplicata products on “interior decorating”. He was on board when I told him that my eventual review would be strictly an honest one.

It’s nice to be able to speak the truth with enthusiasm. The little touches of WWII era Middle Eastern posters and signs were a lot of fun to apply. The colours are crisp and the heavy stock paper looks right when cut out and applied to the buildings with PVA glue. A quick swipe with the right coloured Sharpie pen around the edges of the posters hid the white paper underneath. The Oculiste sign at the top of the stairs alone will be worth the price of admission when Achtung! Cthulhu skirmish and RPG hits the table. These Duplicata sheets come highly recommended.

And, of course, these buildings are meant to be played with! A heavy topcoat of matte sealant and they were off to battle. So far, they’ve provided a nice visual and tactical aspect to multiple games of Chain of Command and What a Tanker!  Maybe in a future bout of desert terrain building I may even do up enough city terrain for a Black Hawk Down scenario in 28mm…


I hope you enjoyed this post and some of the gadgets and products it highlighted. Do you have any gadgets or terrain products that you can’t live without?

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