Saturday, May 08, 2010

Entrenchments on the cheap

When I was a kid growing up I had some of the cool Who, Why Wonderbooks on various topics. I had one on rockets, another on dinosaurs, but my favorite was on World War II (of course.) The books were written for eight year olds with lots of pictures, big topic headers and writing easy enough for wee folk to read. My book mentioned the Spanish Civil War as a practice ground for WWII.

That was sort of true with more battlefield movement through the widespread use of tanks and aircraft. However there was also more than a little use of entrenchments. Though the war did not become the bloody stalemate of the Great War, no Spanish Civil War battlefield should be without trenches.

For the last year I've been promising myself some ways to come up with entrenchments. I've looked a the JR entrenchments. They are very nice and not super expensive. They have the advantage of being very flexible and expandable, but at $25 for eighteen inches of front, it was more than I wanted to spend. Company B has a real nice set of entrenchments, with great detail, though probably more for 28mm than my 15's, and pretty pricey.

No I decided I could do this myself. I am scratch building them. True confession--I hate making terrain. I'm not imaginative. I'm not good at it. It wastes valuable painting time. But in my new year of frugal gaming, it was the only way I was going to justify entrenchments for my 15mm battlefield.

I started with a simple trip to Michaels for 12" X 4" plywood and strips of basswood. The plywood was heavy enough to make a good base and thick enough not to warp. The basswood was dense enough not splinter when being cut.

I started by designing the dimensions of the entrenchment. I wanted something that could easily bear an 11 stand battalion of infantry on 1 X 1 bases, so I designed single battalion entrenchments with refused flanks. Orwell discusses these in Homage to Catalonia.

I drilled holes at the corners of each turn to sink corner posts. I also sank a post in the center (sort of) of each long straight section. I just used 3/16 " mini dowels, also available at Michaels.

Step three was to put together a framework for the trenches. No entrenchment for the game table quite looks like it's supposed to--trenches sunk into the ground. They have to fool the observer into believing the structure is a trench, even though it's above table level. I cut basswood into strips, and stacked them three high. Most entrenchments used some kind of timber to provide strength and structure to the fieldwork, so I wanted timberlike material that looked plausible. I assembled the structure with CA glue-that seemed to do the trick.

The hardest choice to make was the material to simulate the earth outside the trench structure. I've made similar earthworks before only to be disappointed when the base warped. I considered three substances. First was Celluclay, which is a form of papier mache. It looks earthiest, I've used it before, and I have some. However, it takes too long to dry, and the worst warping I've ever gotten in my efforts is with this stuff. Too wet. I also considered wood putty. Doug Hamm uses this for his basing and his stuff looks great. But Mark Waddington suggested modeling paste by Liquitex. It's an acrylic compound, and I've had lots of success with other Liquitex products. They dry fast, I can stir paint right in with the paste. So I tried that. I applied it with some artists tools and sprinkled some ballast and turf from Woodland Scenics over the top and voila.

I figured I paid about $12 for the three unit sized entrenchments. I finished three last night and hope to do three more today.


Muskie said...

I'm making a trench table, but I seem to talk about it more than make progress. Did you consider carving it out of insulation, that is how I'm making mine sink below the battlefield.

Kevin said...

I didn't. Something that big really poses storage problems for me, and I didn't think I could manage it. I wanted something I could use flexibly and as needed. Great question though.

Anonymous said...