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Easy Display Bases Part 2

How to create a display base from a piece of MDF, Plasticine, putty, filler, sand, ballast and paint.

There are times when a flat base is not good enough to display a model, this is usually when the model to be displayed is either automotive or military vehicles and you need a little terrain deviations to bring it to life. Using this method, you will be able to make a reasonable display base over a period of one or two days that you will be proud of. And they are cheap to build too. In this demonstration, I show how the display base for my M2A2 Bradley IFV was made to represent a scene in the Gulf at the end of "Desert Storm".

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First take your sheet of MDF, you can router the edges of the base if you want to, or not. Next, I give it a rub over with some sandpaper to remove any loose bits and also to give it a key base for paint, glue and filler. For building up the terrain on the base, you can use either car/wood two part filler, modelling putty or as in this case, some Plasticine. Mask the edge of the base with some masking tape to protect it.
In this example, I wanted to have a small bank of sand at one end of the base. So pieces of Plasticine. were rolled into a sausage shape and placed along the end of the base. This was then pressed into the shape I required for my base.The same method can be used with modelling putty. If you are using car/wood filler, build up the mound or bank and sculpt it into the shapes that you want.
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The rest of the base is a little too flat, so it needs to be broken up with a few bumps here and there. When using Plasticine. or putty, create bumps and ridges with sausages and balls, then press them into the shapes on the MDF as seen in this photo.
When using the filler method, spread a thin coat of the filler over the base and mould it into the contours you require for your scene. Once you have finished working the terrain for your base and you have used either filler or putty, put it aside for it to harden. The filler will take about half a hour and for the putty, you will need to check the manufacturers instructions. With the Plasticine, you can move straight onto the next stage.
Sometimes with the filler, you might need to take any rough patches off the surface with a bit of sand paper and brush the dust off it.
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I always like to give the base a coat of primer before continuing to the next stage. This prepares a good surface ready for the next stage and seals it. I use normal car primer in the aerosol for this job as it is a bit thicker then the modelling primer and a lot cheaper to buy.
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For applying the scatter, ballast or sand to the base, I use normal PVA glue for this job. Paint the PVA glue over the areas that are to be covered with the scatter, sand or ballast. Make sure that you give the base a good coating of glue and that it is not spread thinly, or it will dry to quickly and the material you are using will not stick in place. If you have used Plasticine to build up the terrain, the PVA glue will not stick to it and bead up, even with the primer on it. So add a few drops of washing up liquid to the glue and stir it in, this stop it from happening.
As this base will require a single material to be stuck to it, the whole of the base was covered with the glue. When making a base with track, path or road surrounded by grass, bushes, fences or walls, just paint the glue on the areas for them. If the surface is going right up to a wall or building, secure these structures in place on the base before you start to paint the glue for your surface.
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Next we get down to adding the ground surface. As this base is to be set in the Iraq, Kuwait region of the Middle East, the ground will be mainly made up of sand. For this I have used a very fine granite ballast, the type used in model railways for ballasting the railway tracks on a layout. After the base was covered with glue, I laid it in a box and covered it with the ballast being used. Make sure that you give it a thick covering of ballast and press it down lightly into the glue.
After a couple of minutes, look to see if there are any damp patches starting to show in the material. If there is, sprinkle some more of the material over the damp patches. Once you have cover all of the glue, put the base aside for the glue to dry. This will take a few hours, but I tend to leave it overnight to make sure it has dried properly.
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Once the PVA glue has dried, just lift the base up and tip it onto its side to allow the loose material to fall off the base into the box. Then with a large paint brush, gently sweep over the base to remove any other loose material that is a little stubborn to fall by itself. The material that falls into the box can now be tipped back into the container you store it in for use on another project.
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The next stage is to clean up any glue and material from areas that it should not be on. Remove the masking tape from the edges and check to see if no glue or material has slipped underneath it. If there is some, scrape it away and use some fine grade sandpaper if needed. Once you are happy, dust off the base and we can then start to paint it.
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For this base, I used two colours for the ground. These were Sand and Iraqi Sand from the Vallejo range of paints. You will use the colours of paint that is needed for the scene you are creating whether it is earth, sand, asphalt or gravel. First I gave a general coat of the Sand colour to get the base coat down on the ballast followed by the Iraqi Sand which is a darker shade. This darker colour was done in a more patchy coverage to allow some of the lighter shade to break through. When I was happy with the effect, I painted a couple of long dark patches about the distance apart that a trucks wheels or tanks tracks would be to represent any dirt or staining from vehicles standing there for periods of time. Additional weathering was done over the base to highlight certain areas of the bank and bumps on the base. All painting was done using an airbrush on this base.
If you are building you base with a grass surface, paint these areas with an earth colour and leave it to dry. Now start back at the fourth stage and use various grades of scenic scatters to create your grassed areas of your base. Once you have got to stage where the glue has dried, spray some hairspray over the scatter whilst protecting the other areas from it. This will help the scatter stick to the base better and reduce loose bits from falling off.
To finish off, I use a water based black paint to paint the edges of my bases. This is the type of paint used by children in schools, etc. and can be brought in most good craft and hobby shops.
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Now the base is finished and all that is needed is for some foam or felt pads to be glued to the underneath of the base. These have two jobs to do, first to protect any surface that you may place the base on and secondly, the most important, to make it easier to pick the base up when you need to move it. The scene can be finished off by adding various items lying around that would be part of the scene you are trying to create. Look for photographs of similar scenes in the real world to help you with this.
Now get out some MDF and build your own bases.
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This last photo shows the base with the Bradley in position on it. At this point, the figure and Alice bags have not been fixed in their positions on the base. The bag will be glued in place, but the figure will have a piece of wire glued into his foot which then sits in a hole on the base to allow the figure to be removed for transportation. The completed scene can be seen at the top of this page.
Check out my Panther II and Captured KV1 "Willst du mich zum Esel machen?" models to see what can be done using these methods, but taking them to a slightly higher level. The Panther base was built using a similar method as this base, but on a large base. The KV1 bases terrain was made completely using car/wood filler with the track surface made up from a mixture of sand and ballast. The grass is Woodland Scenics scatter with Green Line grass clumps and tufts.
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© Copyright Michael Lomax
All images © Copyright H M Lomax
Page created 22/01/2012