Saturday, 17 December 2016

Medieval Scratch Built Buildings

One of the final items I wanted to add to my Hundred Years War (HYW) collection was a couple of buildings to represent a town. They had to have a limited footprint as I use a 6 inch gridded tabletop when wargaming and my HYW unit base size is 4 x 3 inches. With this constraint in mind the buildings would be built on a base size of 2 x 5 inches.

When making scratch built items I generally use balsa wood which is 1.5mm thick. Almost like a think card, but I find it easier to cut, light weight and easy to stick. The following pictures show the construction of the buildings.

I went with a simple design to fit the 2x5 inch base

Added the roof 
With the second story another sheet of balsa was added to help  differentiate levels (it helps with painting later)

A second building was to have a thatched roof of PVA glue and fine flock

These are buildings for wargaming and I find less detail equals less damage later when stored. Or shoved into a box. So most of the detail will be painted on. Where there are rough areas I use fine flock to create a textured surface which can get washed or highlighted with dry brushing during the painting process. The painting does not need to be too refined, just good enough to look ok at a distance.

A completed building on the table and in a square with troops
The following pictures show some of the painting process. The roof was painted a mid-brown then a wash of a lighter yellow-brown was applied. Finally a few flicks of watered down dark brown we applied using a fine brush, mainly on the edges and ridge, to indicate a thatched roof.

Having painted the roof the walls were painted with a wash. When dry the detail is roughly added
To get break up surfaces, such as walls, I paint one flat colour then dab on a second watered down colour. This reduces the flatness of the colour and suggests a texture on a flat surface. If I am not happy with the result, a dry brush of a lighter colour will often be sufficient.

A second colour is added to the beams to break up the colour and reduce the flat colour
With windows I paint them a dark grey or brown to keep them in line with the building colour tone. As with most of the painting I water them down a fraction when painting. This also helps when you get something wrong, a quick wipe and the mistake is gone. Once dry I used a fine brush with a black to indicate a window frame.

Finally shadows or accentuation of details with watered down black
Finally, before applying an acrylic sealer, I use a fine brush to add flicks of lines to indicate shadows and brick work as in the picture above.

The buildings with troops and a recently completed Keep

The cost of the houses was about $1.50 for the sheet of balsa wood. In terms of time, one building can be constructed in an evening including drying time. Painting takes just over an hour allowing for drying time.

I get a lot of satisfaction from scratch building terrain. I remember reading all those early wargaming books where there was always a chapter detailing how to make your own terrain. Introduction to Battlegaming by Terry Wise was the most memorable for me.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you - one final building will be a Norman style church just for completeness.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks - I plan to also build a simple bridge so I can introduce rivers into the games.

  3. Hi Peter,
    Those look really good, and I think they would not seem out of place in the depths of Normandy bocage country circa 1944. :)

    I enjoy building terrain pieces as well, even though it frequently takes many times as long as painting up a more expensive professionally-mass-produced item -- of which I also have a few. A greater sense of accomplishment I suppose. I definitely prefer crafting terrain pieces to painting infantry. Ugh.

    1. Hi John - yes they can be reused with my WW2. Next year I am planning to tackle some English Civil War armies and they will be handy for that as well. It is surprising how enjoyable making and painting terrain often is. I mostly leave it until after painting the figures, so it may be I am just feeling good about that and the terrain becomes the icing on the cake - so to speak. Thanks, Peter

  4. Really nice job! Did you consider using matchsticks for the beams or was that too much work for too little effect?

  5. Thanks - matchsticks would work, but I as you said there is a trade off between time and the effect.

  6. Great looking building, nice job!