Turning the 3D plans for Alabaster Station’s engine control section into a physical gaming board has been the driving ambition of my hobby pursuits the past week. Surprisingly it has been going better than I actually expected and the first wall sections have already been built. Anyone who has used Hirst Arts “Castle Molds” before will know that by far the biggest time sink is in the casting of the individual bricks. There is no way around this without creating larger sub-assembly molds first and even then it takes time for those to be prototyped and new silicon molds poured.
I did consider producing sub-assembly molds for some of the walls and internal sections, however a quick tally of parts very quickly revealed this wouldn’t be cost effective as the number of times each mold would be required was quite limited. The rooms are all unique and do not share that many common design elements other than the door sections. So, it is the hard way then.
As this is the first update since I started reproducing the designs I thought I would cover the process in more detail, to hopefully give a little insight into how the various stages of the project come together. The first stage; the design, I have already talked about in the last post. So you know I am simply building up virtual representations of each room in Google Sketch-Up based loosely on the images I have to hand of the in game board sections. Most of these came either from the Sedition Wars Kickstarter page, Mike McVey’s Blog, or the Studio McVey website. There is also another version of the layout being made into a modular set by David Gardiner which you can find on the Studio McVey forums. That is well worth a look at too.
With the designs completed in advance, the majority of project graft is down to casting the hundreds of blocks required. I haven’t counted how many there are for this project as its very much being developed as it goes along. With Space Hulk the entire set was specified in advance and if memory serves, the total component count was somewhere in the region of 4.5 thousand individual pieces (not counting the magnets). That should give you some indication of the scale of work ahead just for the casting stage.
For anyone wondering, the pieces are cast in a durable fine plaster. More resilient than plaster of paris and not dissimilar to the grade of plaster used by dentists it is readily available over the internet. The particular brand I use is Crystacal R which is a little bit finer than the Herculite II used by a lot of modellers. The downside to Herculite is it is also a little heavier, however having tested with both I preferred the finish from the Crystacal R and the increased strength. That is just a personal thing though, I recommend going with whatever suits your requirements and budget.
On the subject of weight and cost, I could have used resin. Not only much lighter it would also have been more durable. The reason I am not casting in resin is twofold. Firstly because the increased turn-around time and clean-up between runs made it less attractive. But mostly because resin casting significantly reduces the life expectancy of the Hirst Arts silicon molds compared to plaster.
Stage 1 – The pouring
Having mixed the right weight of water to dry plaster, this is poured into the molds, slightly over-filling them and the first timer set. This quite a critical stage of the casting as the mix of water to plaster is enormously important to the end result. Too much water the plaster will recede too much, too little it will not settle properly into the mold. Take the time to measure out the two parts accurately.
A detailed guide how to get the absolute best out of the molds can be found on the Hirst Arts website.
Stage 2 – The levelling
I mentioned setting a time after pouring the molds. This was to alert me to when a precise set amount of time had passed since I poured the plaster. The reason for this is as the plaster settles into the mold and starts to bind, it pushes excess water to the surface. This has two effects. Firstly a big puddle of excess water that needs to be wicked away and secondly it is the perfect time to remove the spare plaster to leave a lovely flat surface. There is a sweet spot time wise when the plaster has started to set, but is still malleable enough to level with a plaster scraper (hence the wind-up timer!). Once the bell rings, I soak up the excess water with a piece of kitchen roll, level the plaster and go put the kettle on whilst it sets. This is normally around half an hour.
Stage 3 – The popping
After half an hour is up, the bricks are ready to be released from the mold, so I pop them out and put them on a wire rack to dry out fully for a few days. If I was doing this on a regular basis I would consider investing in one of those funky food de-hydrators, but that is maybe a future equipment purchase. Suffice to say drying out plaster bricks in the typically damp British summer is always a challenge.
So that is the casting process. It is just a case of rinse and repeat until the pile of tiny white bricks is high enough to use. It is strangely therapeutic!
The next stage is sticking all the little bricks together into sub-assemblies and painting them. For this I use a PVA white glue such as ‘Tacky Glue’ and have a handy frame to hand made from lego bricks to ensure everything is lined up right vertically and horizontally. You would be amazed how many uses a simple tub of lego can be put to in miniature making. A tub of the cheerfully coloured little chaps is part of my hobby essentials list.
With the walls assembled, I decide if any repairs are needs to joins, edges are sanded smooth and extra detailing added if appropriate from the bits boxes. The sections are then primed and given a basecoat of neutral grey acrylic before sealing with Klear. The gloss varnish stage is not essential, but it does help with the next step which is the staining. The painting I will cover in a lot more detail in the next update once I have enough sub-assemblies done to get some photos. For now though, I wanted to spend a little time talking about a few things to be aware of if you use plaster to create a 3D version of the board.
Other than the mess, which goes without saying! There are a few things worth being aware of when using plaster to create sections of walls like this. Being made from finely ground stone, they are highly resilient to damage from compression and hold detail amazingly well; certainly comparable to resin. Unlike resin however, it is not as resilient to flexing stresses. In other words apply enough stress and it will snap. This actually a property of plaster that is fantastic for making ruins and shattered statues because it has a natural internal grain. It is not a property that is necessarily desirable in your corridor or room section when you pick it up by a side and it breaks in two! For that reason all of the walls you see have not only an inner detail surface but an outer one. In other words I have doubled up. Partly this is to meet the dimensions of the supporting sections and keep everything to multiples of a half inch, partly for aesthetics, but mostly because it lets me overlap sections which increases the overall strength compared to either a single layer or lined up along the joins. I did this for the Space Hulk set and it did have a measurable impact on their durability to handling.
Stepping away from the Sedition Wars universe for a moment, I have been reviewing some of my older 40K armies and considering what could be done to give them a much needed overhaul. The Death Guard in particular could do with some repairs and a fresh look at the painting. I am considering making use of the downtime during brick drying to bring them more in line with my current painting style, as well as look at what additional units could be added. Expect to see a bit more on this soon. No idea what I will be painting this week other than walls, but if there is anything to show on #MiniatureMonday rest assured it will probably be Nurgle in nature.
Until then, have a great week