Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Building Blocks of Success (Not a Business Seminar)

Greetings, All!

As most of my current readers know, I'm all about cool tabletop terrain.  As a result, I'm a huge fan of Hirst Arts Castlemolds.  The nice thing about Bruce's molds is that you can build quality terrain for a much lower cost than what you can buy from Dwarven Forge.  Now don't get me wrong, the stuff produced by Dwarven Forge is very awesome.  However, my RPG allowance doesn't really afford me the possibility of buying the number of sets I'd want to have for maximum flexibility.  With the Castlemolds, I can build exactly what I want, when I want it.

Enough with the plugs, though.  I thought it might be interesting for my good readers to see the process I go through when building terrain with these types of materials.  What you'll see below is a series of photographs (previously linked on Twitpic) that I snapped the other day while I was casting blocks. 

Before I do that, though, a of note about the pictures. 

I live in a 2 bedroom town home.  As a result, I don't have a lot of room.  I use the dining room table to cast on, and a couple of TV trays to dry bricks on.  As cliche as it is, I play in the basement.  I have dedicated gaming space there, though, which leaves little room for crafting.  If the space you're seeing in the photos looks a little cramped, that's because it is.  My dream is to one day have my own climate controlled workshop where I can cast all year long.  However, the dream of awesome terrain cannot be delayed, so I work when and where I can.  Enjoy the show!


I have eleven of Bruce's molds.  Today I'm just using seven of them.  Two wall builder molds, three floor tile molds, and an accessories mold.  This is what thing look like before it gets all messy.


See the white scale in the back?  I measure out the plaster product I use (a quasi-dental stone known as Merlin's Magic™) with that.  Then I add the right proportion of water and mix it all up in the flexible mixing bowl you see in the upper right-hand corner of the picture.  As you fill the molds, the plaster runs everywhere.  Newspapers are pretty much mandatory.


Unlike regular plaster, dental plaster is pretty heavy and settles to the bottom of the mold pretty quickly.  As a result, excess water almost immediately pools on top.  A quick layer of paper towels absorbs this water when the molds have been poured.


I don't have an "action" shot of the scraping process, but this is the result after the molds have been scraped free of the extra plaster.  This is an important step.  Scrape too hard, and your pieces dry with a concave surface and hence won't hold a glue bond very well.  Scrape too little, and your pieces will have a slight "hump" which prevents them from stacking nicely.  This problem isn't a big deal if you're using Plaster of Paris, because PoP sands down pretty easily.  Harder plasters do not.  Try belt sanding a 1 inch block sometime.  Not a lot of fun.


This final image is the result of the afternoon's work.  The picture you don't see is another action shot of me removing the little pieces from all the molds.  This is sometimes a fairly delicate process.  Some of the pieces are fragile, and even with stronger plasters, can break pretty easily.  After that, comes the clean up.  You rub the extra plaster off the molds, shake them clean of any debris, and then lay out clean newspaper for the next cast.  Next, you clean up your mixing bowl.  I went with a flexible mixing bowl for good reason.  You see, the plaster stone I use hardens like concrete.  Scraping a rigid bowl is simply not an option.  However, a few quick squeezes of the flexible bowl, and all the junk plaster comes right out.

I did 21 casts (7 molds, three times each).  Quite a bit of building material, actually.  I set the pieces out to dry on the newspaper for at least 24 hours in order for them to cure properly.  By the way, I pitched this idea on Twitter the other day, but I'll do it again here.  Drying would go much quicker if I had an electric food dehydrator.  Hook me up with one, and I'll build and ship you a free dice tower. 

Well, that's pretty much what I have going today.  I'll be sharing more of this process (particularly the building and finishing of terrain pieces) in later posts. 

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.

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