Building a 4' x 4' Wargames Board

I’ve been using the same flat battle boards for the last 5 years, so I decided recently that it was time to build a slightly more contoured board. I didn’t want it to be flat, but I also didn’t want the terrain to be so specific that I’d only be able to use it rarely. To that end I went with a dried riverbed theme. This way the river could be treated as a shallow water, deep water or nothing depending on what game we wanted to play. I also wanted to make sure the terrain was flat enough to position miniatures without too much difficulty.
The Battlefield
The materials and tools I used were –

    Frame and Base

    • 4 ‘ x 4’ 6mm thick plastic sheet (thicker MDF would also be fine)
    • 2″ x 1″ x 4′ batons
    • 12-16 ½” brass screws
    • 4 x 3″ brass screws

    Terrain and Sculpting

    • Several different pieces/sheet of 1″ and ½” of packing foam
    • Plaster Filler (I used a brand called Polyfilla)
    • PVA Glue (I used 1:1 watered down Durabond)

    Painting and Finishing

    • Acrylic Paints
    • Flock (Static Grass)
    • Matt Varnish Spray

    Tools

    • Dremel
    • Electric Drill
    • Electric Screwdriver
    • Jigsaw
    • Sand Paper
    • Hot Glue Gun
    • Rubber Gloves!
    • Paint Brushes

STEP 1: Put a Frame on the Board
Okay – this is pretty straight forward stuff, but like all woodwork you need to measure twice and cut/drill once (guys see our drill press!). Also, be careful – all of the power tools can do a lot of damage to a person, so pay close attention to what you are doing. First up you need to drill some guide holes in the 4′ x 4′ sheet to fix the batons through. Make sure the holes are not too close to the corners as you’ll be using the 3″ screws to secure the batons together and you don’t want the screws that hold them to the board to get in the way. To that end I measured and marked eight holes – each 4″ from a corner and 1″ in from the edge. I drilled this with a small bit on the Dremel. I then grabbed the real drill and sunk wider holes (just wide enough for the ½” screws). I positioned a baton flush with one edge and then attached it to the board using the screwdriver. I attached the opposite baton. I oriented the batons so the broader (2″) side ran flat with the board.

Next I needed to cut the other two batons to length. Rather than measuring the 44″ (48″ – (2+2″)) I lay them between the fixed batons and mark the length to cut. I then cut them to length with the jigsaw and fixed them in place.

This step is optional, but for more rigidity I drilled holes from the longer batons into the new shorter ones and secured them with the 3″ screws.
I drilled four more holes through the board in the centre of the batons and fixed with screws. There are now three screws holding each baton to the board and four screws connecting the batons.
The board and frame is now solid and pretty well supported.

STEP 2: A decision to make?!
I now had a decision to make – which side of the board would I build the battlefield on. The ‘top’ side is a flat 4′ x 4′ area with the frame underneath. Building on the bottom would mean loosing 2″ (the thickness of the batons) from every edge, but it would be more robust for storage. As can be seen in the photo I opted for the later an decided to build the battle field between the batons and sacrifice some table area. If I ensure the battlefield does not rise above the baton edge I should have a board that is less likely to be damaged.

STEP 3: Shaping and Gluing Foam
As mentioned earlier I used basic packing foam, you know the kind that electronics and the like come in. I shaped most of the foam using a bread knife, but before doing so I drew the shape of the battle filed onto the boards. This way I could position the available foam, which was a hotch potch of hoarded bits, before cutting. Once all of the foam was cut I used a hot glue gun to fix it into position. The glue melted the foam slightly, but since it was melting it where it wouldn’t be seen that didn’t really matter.

STEP 4: Conturing the Foam
I grabbed a large tub of Polyfilla (or Spackle) and used it to contour the edges of the (low) hills, riverbed and river bank. To do this I wore a pair of rubber gloves and had a small container of water hand. This is a messy job, but produced a great looking result. For the dried riverbed I ensured it looked like it had been shaped by flowing water by working it in the same direction. I gave the Polyfilla 24 hours to dry before moving to the next step.

STEP 5: Applying Sand
This is a straightforward, but time consuming step. I watered down PVA glue and applied it in 1′ x 1′ sections, being careful to avoid the bottom of the dried pond and riverbed (the previous step gave them enough texture). I then tilted the board and poured sand onto the wet area. I repeated this process until the board was covered in sand.

STEP 6: Painting and Flocking the Board
Painting the board is pretty easy. I wanted the sand and textured Polyfilla to give natural highlights so I used a heavily watered down mix of Burnt Sienna artists paint (you know the kind that comes in a tube). This is a pretty quick step, but because it is so watered down it can take a while for the paint to dry. I left it 24 hours. Next I used PVA glue to judiciously apply flock to certain areas of the board. As I was aiming for a dried earth look, I didn’t want too much grass. I also painted the wooden at this stage.

STEP 7: Sealing the Board
There are a couple of different approaches to protecting a board, but I decided to use spray matt varnish. This only provides a small bit of protection, but it also helps to keep the flock in place.

It seems like a lot of work, but it is worth it to have a good looking board to field your battles on. Here are a couple of pictures of the board in use –




Owen

4 thoughts on “Building a 4' x 4' Wargames Board

  • 15th May 2010 at 6:47 pm
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    Great looking board, thanks for the info on how to make it. I really like how it plays on any side. You’ve inspired me to start making my gaming board again. I’ve had materials for it for over a year but haven’t had the motivation.

    Reply
  • 15th May 2010 at 7:40 pm
    Permalink

    Glad you like it. It’s really not that hard to do.

    It plays well from any side when we decide that the river, small hill and pond don’t offer ‘Cover’. That way it’s pretty much open ground. If ‘Cover’ is incorporated then the side with the river has a distinct advantage as they can advance up to the bank and have a nice defensible position. I have a load of sandbag defensive terrain I can put on the other side of the board to offset that advantage!

    Owen

    Reply
    • 26th May 2010 at 9:47 am
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      It’s easier than it looks. My main concern was to design a board that the contours were not too extreme on, so they could be ignored and played as flat if the players wished.

      Owen

      Reply

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