Tag Archives: Styrofoam

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery: Getting your Hands on the Materials

Over the last few weeks I’ve been offering tips, hints and advice on creating tabletop terrain for wargames such as Warhammer Age of Sigmar, Warhammer 40K and Skirmish-style games such as Frostgrave. The feedback, comments and notifications I’ve received have had an underlying theme; where do you get your supplies from in the UK?

Being in the UK, many of the materials we see used online do not seem to be available to us. So, I’ve decided to create a comprehensive list of the tools, materials and where I sourced them from. This should hopefully give you a better idea of what you’re looking for and how to get hold of them.

Here goes…

Tools of the Trade

Knives, Blades & Cutting Mats

I’m not going to go into too much detail here as, chances are, you know where to buy crafting knives. The places I think do reasonably priced craft knives are places like The Range, Wilko (Wilkinson’s) and the like (some of these places are relatively new to the north-west UK). That said, some hobby and craft supply stores do tend to charge an arm and a leg for their products, so shop around. I’ve often found supermarkets can surprise you with some cheap, good quality craft knives. A couple of GBP should get you something sensible

Wilkinson’s do a good range of affordable tools, disposable knives being one of them.

The same can apply for cutting mats. I tend to get the SpaceFly brand because they’re cheap, available all over the place and come in a range of sizes and colours. The best place for cutting mats? I actually find Amazon works best. Try to avoid the rotary cutting mats – they’re thinner and not as robust. In my experience, they tend to slip about too.

Hot-wire Cutters

If you want to be cutting bricks from foam or saving yourself from buying a tonne of extra blades, then a hot wire cutter is something you should consider. There’s two thoughts I have on this; cheap is fine, expensive isn’t necessary.

I started with a cheap, basic, hand made hot wire cutter from eBay which set me back about £35. It does the job and you get what you pay for. If you’re flashing cash, you could go for the Proxxon version but in reality, you don’t need to. I upgraded recently to a hot-wire cutter made in China and sold in the UK, from eBay which set me back just over £60. It comes with an pretty accurate set of measuring points, the wire doesn’t flex too much and is held in place neatly. It also cuts faster by having a hotter wire.

Paints, Inks, Washes & Brushes

Again, there’s not much point in going into detail here. If you’re making terrain you don’t need to buy expensive paints. So long as they’re acrylic and mat finish paints, you can buy the cheapest you can find. Art shops are a good place to go, but they will stock more expensive brands, so again, try shops like Wilkinson, the Range and Hobby Craft.

The same applies for brushes. For finer detail paints or highlighting you want a medium sized and soft brush. For mass painting or large areas or slapping on paints and sealers like Mod Podge, a large coarse brush is fine. You can usually get sets with a good variety. Same rules apply; you can buy expensive or cheap, the difference is that one you will replace more frequently but that’s perfectly natural for paint brushes.

More on washes later…

Glue & Glue Guns

Mini glue guns are best. You can get them for less than £5 and the glue sticks online, especially eBay, are sold by the 100 for a couple of GBP. You can go a little more up market here if you have the budget – cheap glue guns will tend to dribble  the hot glue between uses unless you turn it off and on again (which takes time to heat up, so I tend to leave them on as I work).

With PVA glue – the price reflects the water content. Expensive means thicker and stronger, cheap means more water but likely quicker to dry and easier to paint on. Again, buy what you can afford, but for the terrain making, you can buy the cheap stuff and no one will ever know! The great thing about PVA glue is that you can thin it down with water (which for the most part, is free).

Foam, XPS & Styrofoam

The crux of this article. Let’s get something straight. In the US & Canada, XPS foam comes in pink or blue colours and is readily available in large quantities. In the UK however, it seems to be nowhere. That is because over here in the UK we call XPS foam, Styrofoam. XPS is the abbreviation for Extruded Polystyrene – it is basically a very strong, durable but craftable foam which does not bend. EPS, which is expanded polystyrene is the stuff that your electrical goods get boxed in, the white stuff which looks like it has been made out of thousands of tiny bubbles.

Styrofoam / XPS is available mostly online through eBay. I tend to use the supplier named Blue Foam, found here. Depending on the thickness and sheet size, you can get a reasonable amount of Styrofoam for less than £20. This is the material I commonly buy and use to create bricks and bases for my terrain buildings.

You could buy from a hardware or DIY store but I’ve yet to find it in an affordable or ready to use format. If you have found it, please let me know!

Foamstock, Card & Paper

Foamstock is just a piece of foam front and backed with paper. It’s used to mount photographs amongst other junior school crafts. Again, you can get it just about anywhere but the cheap stuff is fine to use and available in pound shops!

I use card recycled from postal packaging. When you buy a book from Amazon they usually turn up in a thin but sturdy card envelope. This stuff is strong and durable and ideal for detailing terrain miniatures. I use it for cutting roof tiles / shingles.

Paper. It’s just paper!

Measuring Rules

I tend to buy rulers and squares from Wilkinson’s or the Range. You may need to dig deep in store to find them. For £20 you should be able to get good quality steel rulers etc that will last you years. Not bad for a small initial outlay!

The God that is Mod Podge!

Yep, this stuff is amazing. It’s not just a fancy PVA glue. No. It is terrain divinity. It dries with more toughness and water repellent properties than PVA, because it contains resins which act as a sort of easy to use concrete. No terrain made from foam should be made without it!

The best news is that you can now buy it in UK shops readily. I first bought some online, but recently found it cheaper in the Range. Not even Hobby Craft had it in stock last time I checked!

Making Decent Wash…

You’ll notice a lot of people create their own washes for terrain. A wash is a water-thin paint that is applied liberally to a miniature which, as it dries, recedes into the recesses of the model to create shadows. It’s a miracle product!

The problem for terrain crafting is that you need a lot of it, and frankly it can be expensive (looking at you, GW)! So here’s how to make your own – keep in mind, if you buy these products you’ll be able to make litres of wash and you can modify them for varied results…

What you will need:

  • Artist Ink (black and brown usually)
  • Mat Medium (essentially colourless paint)
  • Water (deionised is best)
  • A bottle container or two
  • A smidge of washing up liquid

Now, there are literally hundreds of tutorials online to show you how to make washes, so I’m not going to repeat them here, I will however share a link to a really helpful guy who knows a bit more about painting than I do, meet Luke!

If you’d like to read on the previous articles, you can find them in the links below:

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery: Bombastic Buildings and Fantastic Features – Creating your Tabletop Battlefield

TABLETOP WAR-GAME TERRAIN & SCENERY: Part two, the basic steps

Tabletop War-Game Terrain & Scenery Part Three: Putting it all Together

If you’re on Facebook or Twitter you can find us in these links, where we post often, so you’ll get notifications if you follow us:

Twitter @FerrisWrites or @TheCConsortium

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In the next few weeks I’ll be looking at making trenches, futuristic and alien terrain pieces (Mars was requested) and possibly upping my painting game!

If you think this article or related articles have been helpful, or if you want to contribute with some knowledge of your own, get in touch and leave or comment or get hold of us on Twitter or Facebook!