Medieval Buildings – Part 1 « Do-it-Yourself Terrain

Medieval Buildings – Part 1


Post by Paul

Assembled medieval building

Wargaming doesn’t generally bode well with full intact buildings.  So the odds of seeing something on a 4×4 table that represents a medival inn, pub, house, or any various other type of structure with the ability to be entered are slim to none.  Even small model count skirmish games tend to contain fluff which binds terrain making to ruins or partial buildings of some sort.  Mordheim loves ruined buildings.  But recently we’ve started playing the Empire in Flames campaign which called for … intact buildings!  So how do you make a fully intact building that can be entered and used?  That’s the challenge! Not only do we need a building, but we need to be able to enter the building, move our models around while they are in the building, and have multiple floors.  So we’ll construct it floor by floor and place each floor on top of another.  And of course we need a removeable roof.

First and foremost, you’re going to need some foamcore.  Foamcore is the basic building block of all mediaval structures.  Foamcore usually measures at 3/16″ (I say usually, because they do vary in thickness) and are more often than not mistreated by store employees.  Expect to visit multiple stores or come back later in the week to get a few pieces of high quality foamcore.  Most of it has beat up corners, is warped, or just quite simply isn’t 3/16″ thick.  You’re going to want consistent thickness, so make sure they are 3/16″ thick.

Secondly, you’re going to need something to detail the houses with.  The most common (and expensive) material is probably going to be balsa wood.  While balsa wood is great, it’s really not ideal.  Most of the medival structure making projects include alot of balsa wood (hence alot of expenses).  Us savvy folks here at found an alternative material – coffee stirrers.  We picked up about 2000 of these things for about $10 USD.  Our particular set have dimensions 5.5″ x 3/16″.  It is not coincidence that the foamcore and the coffee stirrers both have a common dimension: 3/16″.  That will make your life easier!

Now to begin constructing a medieval building you are going to need a plan.  I drew out a couple of sketches of buildings I thought would be very cool.  Then I proceeded to draw out the dimensions.  Once I had the blueprints ready and fully dimensioned I formed my list of materials.  It looked something like this:

Taking shape

First floor walls
(1) 9 x 2-1/16
(4) 3-1/2 x 2-1/16
(4) 3-1/8 x 2-1/16
(1) 5 x 2-1/16
(2) 4-1/8 x 2-1/16

Second floor walls
(2) 4-1/2 x 2-1/4
(2) 3-1/2 x 2-1/4
(2) 5 x 2-1/4
(2) 2-5/8 x 2-1/4
(2) 4-1/8 x 2-1/4
(2) 5-5/8 x 2-1/4

More complex structure

Second floor
(2) 1-13/16 x 4-5/16
(2) 4-1/8 x 4-1/8
(1) 4-5/8 x 5-5/8
(1) 3 x 3

Third floor walls
(2) 5 x 2-1/4
(2) 6-5/8 x 2-1/4

Third floor
(2) 6-5/8 x 4-5/8

You’re probably asking yourself “Is this guy for real?” at this point.  Yes!  In order to construct a proper building you’re going to have to use your mathematics skills and figure out exactly what sized pieces you are going to need.  If you don’t do this step, none of your pieces will fit right and you’ll constantly be cutting corners or fudging things to make other things fit.  A 1-3/16 x 4-5/16 piece of foam core was essential.  Any larger and it wouldn’t fit.  Any smaller and I’d have had gaps.  Exact measurements are key.  It’s ok if you do the math wrong because you can always go back and cut more foamcore.  If you want to just wing it as you go I suggest a very simple building (a single story rectangular structure).

Here are a couple tips on dimensioning your building:

1) Don’t forget to compensate for the 3/16″ thickness of the foamcore.  A 4×4 square building needs two 4″ long pieces and two 3-5/8″ long pieces.
2) For the 2nd story and above plans, plan on placing floor pieces between walls, not placing walls on top of floor pieces.  These walls should be 2-1/4″ high
3) For 1st story structures, glue the walls on top of a single large piece of foam core (as a base) for more stability.  These walls should be 2-1/16″ high.
4) Double check your work!

Now that you have your list of materials that you’ll need it is time to start cutting.  I have the pleasure of having access to some very expensive but useful woodworking tools.  I don’t advise going out and buying these for terrain making, but if you can find someone (or someplace, like a school) where you can borrow them for awhile I’d highly advise it.  The two tools that are important here are the table-saw and the radial arm saw.  If you don’t have these, you’re stuck doing it the old fashion way – exacto knives or razor blades.  They’ll give a cleaner cut but take a very large amount of additional work.  I just placed my foamcore on the table saw, cut a clean edge, moved the guide over 2-1/16″ to the left, took another cut, and repeated.  Took all of 2 minutes to cut myself a whole crapload of 2-1/16″ and 2-1/4″ strips of foamcore.  With a finishing blade on it, it makes some really nice cuts too.  Not as nice as exacto-knives, but they are all perfectly straight.  I then took the strips over to the radial arm saw and proceeded to cut the strips into smaller pieces.  Don’t forget to make a clean cut first as the edges of the foam core strips are probably not square.  It helps to have a measuring tool on the guide so you can swiftly move the foam core over and make more cuts at the correct length.  You’re going to need a paper weight as well on the foam core section you aren’t holding to the guide, otherwise after you cut your foamcore it will move around and hit the spinning blade.  This not only ruins your cut foam core piece but sends it flying as well!  I must say that the wood saws do a fantastic job at making perfectly sized and perfectly square foam core pieces.  If you cut with an exacto knife, such characteristics are near impossible to obtain.

For the roof of the building, I simply cut two pieces of foam core to the length + 2″ (for overhang, choose whatever number you’d like here) of the building’s highest room and the width of 0.75 times the width of the building’s highest room.  That gives you overhang on both sides that you can tweak later.

Now that you have all your pieces cut to size.  Time to assemble.  I highly recommend using Elmer’s Wood Glue.  It’s very strong, forms a strong bond very quickly, and is very cheap.  White glue works as well, but is inferior in every way to wood glue except that it dries clear.  Follow your blue print and you should have your building assembled in under an hour.  You can throw a base coat of paint on your walls to make them look pretty right away.  Congratulations, you’ve done the easy part.  For now you can use it as a static piece of terrain that cannot be entered, as it has no doors or windows.

More to come — Detailing, painting, roofing, putting in some doors and windows, etc.  If you’re planning on venturing into something like this, take my advise and keep it simple at first.  I jumped right into a 3 story convex structure with 3 unique roofs.  A simple 6×8 barn can reduce the complexity (and thus time requirements) by quite a bit!

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One Response to “Medieval Buildings – Part 1”

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