Monday, August 31, 2020

Distracted by Trees; Making 28mm Forest Terrain Tutorial Part 1

Once Bitten

SO there I was, innocently and dispassionately painting up some 28mm AWI militia...

When all of a sudden I felt a small pain in my foot, not a hurtful pain, but a sharp pinch, and I looked down to investigate and saw...

It's the Terrain Bug!

I was bit by the Terrain Bug.  This sometimes happens to wargamers, where instead of painting miniatures you are filled with an unreasonable desire to make terrain.  I feel that I am more susceptible to the Terrain Bug because I usually enjoy making terrain more than painting figures.  Terrain is more about persistence than it is about talent, and usually more forgiving.  Unlike some women I've known..

Once bitten by the terrain bug there's nothing for it but to do a terrain project.  Inevitably, the 28mm AWI militia were placed to one side ("Will we never be painted?"they cry), the hobby desk cleared off, and out come the power tools and glue.  Also online shopping for materials.  It's fun to buy things.  

Thoughts on Forest Terrain

Ahhhh, the ways of trees.  One can never have enough trees for the wargaming table.  I'm pretty happy with the way I represent forest in 15/18mm gaming.  In my ACW games woods tend to dominate large areas of the table and I am happy with just covering those areas with trees.  The woody areas tend to extend all the way to a fence or a road, and I also use logs or clump foliage to mark where the forest ends if not.  Like seen here on this ACW game "A Clearing in the Wilderness." 

This table is mostly woods with a cleaning marked out by the fields and logs.

But for 28mm gaming, especially skirmish, I like everything to have it own base.  I have long wanted to improve my forest bases.  And I'm gonna need more forest terrain for my 28mm AWI tables (and not to mention Dark Ages, which I'm suddenly back into after it's recent return to the gaming table).  

I want the forest terrain to be pretty and functional.  Unlike some women I've known.  What do you mean I've already used that joke? It's called 'a call back,' it's a joke that gets funnier each time.  Currently in my collection I have forest terrain that is pretty, and some that is functional.  

The Pretty

Here are some forest bases that I bought from Architects of War several years ago before the company went bankrupt due to launching 'All Quiet on the Martian Front.'  (remember that? It was quite the hobby scandal).  These are sculpted resin bases, painted and flocked, with some trees glued into the holes provided.  These look really nice (if I do say so myself) but because the trees are not removable, it's actually super hard to place troops onto the base.  You just can't get your hands in the right places, like some women I've known (SEE, it is getting funnier).  The problem gets worse when you group the bases together to make a large area of woods that might take a turn or two of movement to get through, because you can't physically move your troops through it.  You have to do that thing where you grab a miniature by the top of his head or upheld sword and drop it into place.  

Sometimes I think there's almost TOO much detail.

The Functional

I could of placed more trees but I got lazy and you get the idea.

Here are some forest bases that I got from Gale Force 9 also years and years ago.  As you can see, these are just some textured bases with some flock on them, and the trees are just placed on top.  It's a nice kit because the bases come ready made with little bags of flock for you to glue on where you want, and come with trees.  These are obviously very functional because you just move the trees off the base when you're moving troops into the forest area.  Very gamer friendly.  But it's not especially pretty.  I mean it looks alright, average, but nothing you would cheat on your wife with (not that I would or have done that, I just like the phrase).  

Other First World Problems 

Other problems that aren't really problems: I don't like using these sets together on the same table, because they're not consistent with each other.  It's jarring to my eye.  So I end up using one set or the other.  There's also not enough of each set to really cover a table well.  I'm always wishing I had 1 or 2 more forest bases, especially the large ones.  Overall, my forest bases are NOT satisfying me, like some wo...(alright alright i'll cut it out now).   None of this is really a problem except that I got his mildly painful bite on me foot.   Itching.  

The Plan for Forest Bases

With all that in mind, I'm gonna set off to make some forest terrain for my 28mm games.  I'm gonna try to thread the needle between the bases being pretty and functional, and eventually make enough to satisfy my needs.  A Supermodel with a doctorate degree.  That might be shooting too high, because we all have to settle in life.  I know I did.  Settled hard.

I've never done a project like this before, though for blog purposes I'm gonna pretend like I know what I am doing, that's why I'm calling it a tutorial.  I have made some tree bases on CDs that came out alright (See post "Make like a Tree Part 1 here and Part 2 here).  

Starting off: make some bases. 

For the bases I'm gonna be using hard board.  I have these hard board sheets left over from when an IKEA dresser bit the dust.  These are the wooden panels that make the underneath of the drawers.  There's probably a joke in there about the word drawers.  Forest drawers?  meh. 

Draw out the size of the bases you want in sharpie.
My large bases will be around 8" by 11".

Time for power tools!
I'm doing this outside on the side of my house, so I can hide from the family.
And because it's gonna be messy.
I still got the COVID 19 hairstyle.  Think it's been 5 months now without a haircut.

Cut out all the shapes.
Told you it'd be messy, but the jigsaw made short work hard board.

I then took a sharp knife and beveled all the edges.
This was not hard to do, even a guy like me with tiny biceps found it pretty easy.
I often say that 'my guns' might be small in caliber but they're high in velocity!

People laugh and laugh.


Moving inside, here they are all cut out and beveled.
6 large bases, a number of smaller ones,
and the bottom left squarish one is gonna be a hayfield.

I don't really think the hard board is gonna warp, but as an extra layer of protection I then primed both sides of the bases.  I think this is gonna seal the wood more, because I'm gonna dump glue and texture materials all over them, and then paint them, and then glue more stuff on them.  

Priming the bases is just something I saw other people do on the internet, so I don't know if it's actually necessary, but can't hurt.  

The Plan in More Detail

I am open to feedback on this plan:
The large bases will get some small details like rocks and maybe a fallen tree, but ultimately will remain mostly flat.  The smaller bases will have the trees glued onto them and given lots of details and have some undulations.  Then the forest terrain proper will be made of the large base with small bases and some individually mounted trees placed on top.  So the whole thing will look really pretty with all the details, but still be functional because you can just take things off / move them around to accommodate miniature troops.  

Something like this.

 Next steps in part two!  Can you stand it??  

(EDIT:  Part two is now posted HERE)

Thanks for reading.  I appreciate it.  Stay healthy and safe. 


  1. It is interesting to look at the pretty Vs functional aspect of terrain design. For me, I have probably made tree building decisions based on storage rather than the table, so I find it easier to have a base template with the trees separate, even though I do store the trees upright.

    Having said that, your Architects of War piece looks rather splendid and your base templates look to be of a foot print that will serve all purpose well, storage, looks and functionality.

    1. Thanks Norm. Storage is definitely an aspect of thought. The AoW stuff takes a lot of storage room while the functional G9 stuff is really compact. My stuff in the end will hopefully be in the middle. πŸ˜€

  2. I've gone through the same "change curve" with the Architects of War tress stands - and have migrated to something very similar using woodland scenics trees and keeping them removable.

    1. Thanks Miles. I think my end product will be the same. Going for everything being removable but some more forest-like details. πŸ˜€

  3. Stew, I admire your work (and for holding off on a haircut for five months!). While you can never have too many trees especially when fighting ACW and AWI games, I tend toward a more impressionistic approach. That is, for woods and forests, I place a piece of felt down onto the table delineating the perimeter and place a few trees inside this perimeter to "suggest" either a dense forest or less dense woodlot. Troops are easily moved through these areas as a bonus. The result is not as spectacle as your result but, for me, it works in my minimalist way. Sometimes, I cannot see the forest for the trees.

    1. Thanks Jonathan. It’s all about where you want to set the dials between aesthetics and functionality. Everything works and just personal taste. When this is all done I’ll hopefully have enough trees for anything I want. πŸ˜€

      Soon after I took that picture I finally got a haircut. My mother in law was in town and offered to do it. I figured it couldn’t get any worse...πŸ˜€

  4. I like your butterfly-like concentration. :)

    Have you thought about perhaps of magnetising your trees to these bases, making them both able to stay on those wooden bases, but also be removable for gaming purposes?

    Or perhaps better yet, I went and used steel washers as bases for my trees which in turn also helped made for a convenient storage solution (I know how much you like your magnets for storage) - Just make the wooden bases looking nice and grassy, etc and then plonk the trees atop for game. Same as the Galeforce9 option, but that way they'll look better and tailored to your own specifications?

    Regardless, I like the "Women I've known" jokes, you win the Dad humour award this month.

    1. Thanks Dai. Glad you found the post funny as well.

      I actually already base my trees on metal washers and concrete patch for the ground texture that makes them very bottom heavy (like me). So I think they’ll sit on the terrain bases just fine. More of that in the future. πŸ˜€

      Still waiting for my invite for πŸ˜€

  5. Trees are very exciting! And I also completely understand butterflying about from project to project... anything to avoid painting the suckers. (probably why I was just doing 15mm figure conversions).

    As for your tree/forest work, very exciting stuff. Could you make the trees magnetic and make the forest segment out of metal? (at least the portions where they would touch) then you can pull them off as needed. Sheet metal in the form of flashing is super cheap, and can be cut easily. (If you already have done some trees with washers, you could go the other way with sheet magnet)

    1. Thanks Laz. I find trees very exciting as well. Fortunately by doing this terrain in phases I’m still having some time paint miniatures while waiting for stuff to dry. Though it feels a little chaotic to me, as I’m usually more focused. πŸ˜€

      I don’t think I’ll magnetize anything; it feels a little bit like over engineering and, hard to do. This is really just gonna be a fancier version of the GF9 stuff. πŸ˜€

  6. Nice project Stew! Those AoW pieces are lovely but, yes, hardly practical so I would agree that you need to tone it down a couple of notches. I demarcate the outline of the wooded area much like Jonathan mentioned and shift the tree models around within that area when troops are passing through to create space. Admittedly though, this is easier with small 6mm units than gargantuan 28mm ones.

    Glad you finally got a cut btw 😎

    1. Thanks Mike! This is all basically the same idea but using a base of hard board just tatted up a little. πŸ˜€

  7. Very cool Stew. Always good to update terrain on a regular basis. I find that as I play with it I'm constantly asking myself can I do this better? Cheers Greg

    1. Thanks Greg. I agree. For myself and terrain I’ve had a progression from buying it to making it myself as I understand more just what I want. πŸ˜€

  8. Terrain is a universal, but the methods and approaches are all individualistic. Always interesting to peer under the trees and see what’s there.

    1. Lol thanks Rd. It’s true. Everyone needs forest terrain but there are lots of ways to get it. πŸ˜€

  9. I love the vision, and am deeply sympathetic to the "incompatible terrain" problem. One thing to consider - the extent to which adding textured detail to the "templates" will interfere with the trees standing comfortably.

    1. Thanks Markus. Mo’ terrain Mo’ problems. Lol. I’ll keep The trees in mind when I texture, but I foresee it being pretty flat. πŸ˜€

  10. Good looking work in process, I'm renovating my 30 year old trees that I replaced after they developed metal fatigue ( pipe cleaner trees that rusted after spending a summer in a damp basement)wired together with copper wire they're going to be good to go,lots of trees on CDs and various round bases will give me enough of a messy forest look without impeding figure placement, of course I've got to do it all again for winter, oh great..!
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks Iain. Good luck on your own tree terrain. πŸ˜€

  11. I’m with you on the aesthetic thing, I hate mixing up terrain that doesn’t match. Others will differ but for me playing miniatures is about creating a table that has at least the look and feel of the real thing. I have hex and counter games for when I don’t care about the look. I have a friend who not only mixes terrain of differing scale, he happily substitutes units in different scales if he doesn’t have the right ones (I’m talking about using some 40mm figures in a game full of 25mm figures). If I was possessed of fundamentalist tendencies I would have him burned at the stake for such heresy. Luckily he’s a nice guy and so his life has been spared. For now.

    1. Thanks TP. I agree that the terrain of the table is very important. In fact, the terrain is kinda more important than the miniatures for making the table look like a battlefield rather than a table with stuff on it. πŸ˜€
      It would be strange to use different figure scales though. Not sure I’ve ever seen that done.

  12. The Architects terrain is top-shelf in my opinion. Really realistic and lively looking with all of the branches and that sort of thing. I think it would be great for skirmish gaming (*cough* MESBG *cough*) but not good for big blocks of infantry. If you're going to doing more gaming like that, I think a terrain refresh is a great idea and you can certainly do much better than those GF9 trees (which are very underwhelming) with minimal time investment. I think keeping the terrain flatish so larger units can move through them will be key. I'd say get some different flocks and tufts so you can break up larger open spaces but still give the terrain plenty of life. Variety of colors and patterns looks very natural too. Not so great for the wallet but as you said, hobby shopping is fun! :)

    1. Thanks Kuribo. The AoW is very nice looking and have been used in many skirmishes. But I can’t stress enough that they’re actually a real pain to move troops through let alone two units trying to fight each in them. You jut can’t physically put the miniatures where they need to be.
      I have lots of tubs of flock here, so hopefully I’ll get the colors and blends right on the terrain bases. Stay tuned! πŸ˜€

  13. Great project start Stew! Cutting those MDF boards can be quite a pain sometimes, I remember the last ones I did were bouncing all over the table as I tried to cut them with the jigsaw 🀦‍♂️
    Could you possibly use small magnets on the trees of the AoW bases to make them removable?

    1. Thanks Ivor. The stuff did jump around a bit.
      That’s a good idea for a future project if I can get the trees off without damaging the resin bases. πŸ˜€