Friday, 16 June 2017

Bonsai? 28mm Tree!


Did you know that it is possible to buy plastic bonsai trees?  I didn't know this, at least until very recently.

It went something like this: I was wondering how I could model a large, solitary tree for my African games (probably Congo and/or Pulp Alley).  I'm thinking of the sort of thing that frequently provides a focal point in the savanna, something like an acacia or baobab tree.  For whatever reason, my mind skipped from scale model vegetation to cheap, "fishtank" grasses and shrubs and from there to larger pieces.  A quick Internet search and I had discovered imitation bonsai trees!

Preparing The Tree

It turns out that there is at least one Chinese company which makes fake bonsai trees.  I saw these on eBay, put in an order for two of them and waited for the postman to arrive.  In due course, this occurred.  Here's some things about plastic bonsai trees:
  • They're very cheap.  I paid just over £2 for each item, including postage.  At this price, I figured that I could afford to bin them if they didn't work for my purposes.
  • They're also very crudely moulded, in brightly coloured polythene.  Not really like any real tree at all (bonsai or otherwise)!
So, what could I do with this?

  1. Firstly, I stripped off all the green foliage clusters.  In hindsight, this was a mistake because it took a surprising amount of time and I ended up spraying the foliage with the same colour of paint before putting it back on the branches.  I might as well have just left it where it was!
  2. Next, I glued the roots to an old CD, after first roughening the glossy surface of the CD with some coarse sandpaper.  This should help with adhesion.
  3. The base was spread with pre-mixed filler, paying particular attention to working it under the places where the roots arched upwards.  Once the filler was dry, sand and grit was glued all over the ground.
  4. I sprayed the model with a paint that was specially formulated for vinyl and other plastics.  This I obtained from an automotive store (Halfords, in the UK).  Usefully, for my purposes, the paint was a very dark grey/black in colour and therefore perfect as an undercoat.  It was quite expensive to buy, but really does seem to stick to the polythene in a way that a regular undercoat would not have done.

Finishing Off

    1. When the undercoat was hard, I dry-brushed the trunk and branches with a single coat of "lichen grey" (a slightly greenish-tinged, mid grey colour).
    2. I sprayed all the green foliage clusters with the same undercoat, then pushed them laboriously back onto the branches.  Should just have left them on in the first place...
    3. Next, I painted the foliage generously with "foam tack" glue and sprinkled it with Woodland Scenics "Fine Turf" flock.  Despite the "fine" in the name, this is a slightly coarse, ground-up sponge material that provided a useful texture for the leaves.
    4. Finally, once all the glue was dry, I sprayed the model heavily with sealer.


    This was a very cheap and relatively easy model to build, at least when using glues and paints that are designed to work with soft plastics.  I think it will be a useful addition to many of my games tables.

    Of course, I did buy two of these trees, so I have another one to build as well.  I'm going to try some surgery on the second one, to reposition one of the branches so that the 2 models don't look completely identical.  How hard could this be?

    Monday, 12 June 2017

    28mm: The Middle Eastern Village


    A few months ago, I started to prepare for Scenario 3 in my Pulp Alley "Perilous Island" campaign.  As written, this scenario takes place inside a large warehouse that is full of goods and inhabited by a few night watchmen.  I did look for warehouse models (I have quite a few crates and the like already), but didn't really find any that were both large enough to fit my vision and at the same time cheap enough to be affordable.

    One day, I was browsing the Hoka Hey Wargaming/Timeline Miniatures website when I happened to see some 28mm MDF Middle Eastern buildings.  Suddenly, I changed my plans: Tarzan and the Nazis could fight the scenario at the hideout of the Snake Cultists instead!  Since my cultists are vaguely North African, some adobe buildings would work just fine.

    I'll add some trucks and some crates & other goods for clutter (hmm - the Cultists obviously are in the middle of some nefarious plan, such as shipping copies of their manifesto to unsuspecting bookshops across the civilised world!).  Of course, the night watchmen will then become a handful of cultist guards instead.  Muahaha!

    So, the rest of this article describes the 3 buildings that I have constructed...

    The Small Adobe Building

    The smallest of these models is basically a simple, wooden box.  It has been detailed slightly by the addition of wooden beams that protrude from the tops of the walls to hold the roof (these are just about visible in the picture below).

    For all 3 models, the laser-cut MDF fitted absolutely perfectly.  I suppose that I should expect that these days, yet it always comes as a pleasant surprise when a kit such as this goes together so well.

    I've "upgraded" the basic MDF shells by coating them with a mixture of white glue, sand and a ballast powder (I used an old tile grout).  Of course, this required some fixing up after the mixture had dried, to clean any excess from the joints between the walls and the roof!  Oh, well...

    The Medium Adobe Building

    My second building is slightly larger than the small, simple one above.  It also has a second storey and a canopy over the front door.

    Like the first building, the interiors are playable.  In this case, the top lifts off to reveal the upper floor, which I have decorated with some printed paper planks and rugs.  I've also added a piece of dowel in the centre of the floor, to act as a handle...

    ...allowing the upper floor to be lifted out easily to reveal the ground storey.  I've left most of this space empty, but there are some more rugs, a table and some pots to hint at habitation.

    The Large Adobe Building

    The 3rd and final building in this collection has multiple rooms, a dome (a resin hemisphere) and a courtyard.  This latter has allowed me to add some exterior detail; in a couple of the nooks and crannies there are large pots that contain lemon trees

    Once again, the top storey lifts off to reveal the upper floor.  Again, I've added a dowelling handle to make it easier to remove the next piece...

    ...which then shows the 2 rooms on the ground floor.  Once more, I've added minimal detail to these space - just some rugs - thus allowing plenty of room for figures or loose scenery items.


    Timeline make only these 3 types of Middle Eastern building, which is a pity as they're really nice models.  I think that repeats of the largest building would look a bit strange (it's quite distinctive), though I'm somewhat tempted to get more of the small and medium ones.

    These kits are easy to build and could be painted just as they came.  However, I'm glad that I added the plaster mix to the walls; it gives texture to the otherwise completely smooth MDF.  It was a messy and slow process, though!

    I'm in two minds about my interior detail.  Part of me thinks that there should be much more to be realistic, whilst the other part says that open space is better for playability.  I'm really not that sure...

    I note that other manufacturers exist: Knights of Dice (in the USA) have a larger "Tabula Rasa" range that includes quite a variety of adobe buildings.  These seem to be specifically designed for the model-maker to add detail (the name of the range is a bit of a giveaway!) and are very similar in concept to the Timeline models.

    Sunday, 4 June 2017

    Low Tables for 28mm Middle Eastern Homes


    I'm working on making some 28mm North African or Middle Eastern buildings.  Why?  Because they'll be useful for Pulp games - specifically, for the 3rd instalment of my Pulp Alley "Perilous Island" campaign.  Technically, the 3rd scenario as written is set in a large warehouse, but I figure that it will work just as well in amongst buildings.  I've never been afraid to change a scenario's setting before!

    Before I get to the buildings themselves, I thought that I'd need some furnishings.  If they have playable interiors then I don't like my wargames buildings to be completely empty, though any furniture is strictly representational and will leave plenty of room for figures or other models.

    So, tables...

    Low Tables

    Now I don't know a whole lot about North African buildings or their furnishings.  Nevertheless, it seemed to me that some tables would show that the places were inhabited.  They should be easy enough to make as well, right?

    I started with the table tops.  Now I could have just cut out some rectangles of thick card or plastic.  Instead, I found some unused rectangular bases from Renedra.  These worked just fine; I took one of the longer bases and cut it into 2 pieces.

    For legs, I raided an old sprue from a Wargames Factory kit.  These were designed with legs on one side and cups on the other, so that the sprues could be stacked with each other to make a block that was easily packaged (seemed like a neat idea to me).

    Each of my sprues had eight cylindrical spacers of about 1cm in length; pretty good for a 28mm coffee table, though rather too short for a full-height table.

    To make them a bit more interesting, I added some baskets and pots to the tables.  These metal items come from Steve Barber Models, from his "28mm Market" range.  Roughly speaking, one table has food on it (bread and fruit), whilst the other has drink (3 cups/goblets/small jugs and a larger vessel)

    Finally, here's a (rather gloomy) picture of the finished items.  I've also included some larger pots that also came from Steve Barber Models.


    These tables were easy to make and cheap.  I do wonder if they'll be enough, though - even if my goal is to have very sparsely-furnished buildings.