Monday, June 3, 2013

From the Ground Up

There is much to consider when getting into the modeling and miniature gaming hobby. Yes. Much to consider, and even more to build. It is a daunting task. But one must start somewhere.

One is reminded of some old adage.

I am writing this post to share my experience following someone else's great idea. If you would like to see the original tutorial, you can find it here from Sir Tobi of Tobi's Paint Pot. It is worth it, trust me, and by far the greatest resource I was able to find, during months of searching, on the subject of DIY Battle-mats.

That's right, you read me correctly. A realistic, roll-able, DIRT CHEAP method for turning any old table into a gaming table. And for the tiniest fraction of the cost of a commercial model.

Here are the materials:

1. Acrylic paste from the hardware store. The four tubes cost me something like 15 dollars. I got the siliconized variety, cuz I figured it might give extra flex. You might need all four tubes for a full-sized table, but my little 3' by 4' table only needed one.

2. Generic brown craft paint. As cheap as you like, really.

3. Twine or string.

4. Scissors for the twine or string.

5. Flocking and texturing materials.

6. Also, some washers and a pointy nail.

7. And a piece of artists canvas. I was expecting this to be the most expensive part, but to my surprise, the medium weight, unprimed stuff that I got was only five bucks a yard, and for my table a yard was all I needed. 

(8. Newspaper. DO NOT forget to put newspaper under the canvas, just to make sure you don't ruin your dining table.)

Big ol' bucket of grass.

For the flocking materials, I used my usual home-made grass flock (though this project brought out some weaknesses in my method for making said flock, which I need to work on), dried coffee grounds and tea leaves which I had collected, and also a pack of ground foam I got at the art store with the canvas. Four bucks or so.

I should note here as an Amateur Tip that this project can be made or broken on the quality of your flocking materials. If you have passable flock (like mine) you will get a very satisfying result. If you have a range of high-quality materials to mix together, I think the result would be mind-blowing. Balance, as ever, is key.

Here's the point where my method differs from the original: I, unlike Sir Tobi, do not have the luxury of being able to drill holes in a table to use as a stretching rack for the canvas. Because I don't have a dedicated gaming table. It's kind of why I got into this in the first place. But I found a work-around.

In order to secure the canvas to the table while it dries (so that it doesn't shrink and so it stays flat) I first glued some spare washers to the corners of the canvas. I then used my nail to poke a hole through the center of each washer. Like so:

By feeding twine through these holes, I was then able to tie the corners down to the legs of the table. The washers made sure that the canvas didn't rip, and the string just got covered over with the paste mixture and trimmed later.
There. You see?
Next you mix up the acrylic paste, paint, and sand with some water. The proportions are very much by feel. For my table (a little shy of 3' by 4' in either direction) I used the whole large tube of craft paint, but only one tube of acrylic paste, 1-2 cups of sand, and just enough water to make it mix easy. Don't worry if you aren't sure. I think it's pretty hard to mess up.

Mix it all together, stick your hand in, and serve a large dollop onto your canvas. Spread it around until it is evenly coated.

Then it's time to add your flock. I just mixed together all my materials and applied them haphazardly, but I think a more controlled approach would also be possible.

Here's another Amateur Tip: More flock is better. You don't want to get to this point and realize you might be short (like I almost did). Better to err on the side of a fuller, lusher table.

Now leave it to dry for an entire day before shaking off the excess... and when it's done it will look like this:


At this point I couldn't resist throwing down some terrain and Blood Bowl orcs to see what it would look like. Easily passable:

From the back ground, you can see how embarrassingly out of date this post is.
It wasn't until the next day that I remembered one of the main advantages to this kind of battle mat, which is that you can easily make hills by placing objects under the cloth. Classic!

And that's that. If you want to see how this can be done with even better results, do visit Sir Tobi. His gaming mats are fantastic.

That wraps up today's post. But look for some new painting posts soon, since I also managed to pick up some birthday (okay, Christmas) goodies for myself out of the gaming store bargain bin.


  1. That's really great ! I really like this solution which takes very little room when folded and can be laid on every table.
    Would you know the longevity of the thing considering it can be folded or rolled to store?

  2. That's the thing, I do lose some flocking material when I unroll it. Mine's still going strong, though. One of these day's I'll probably just give it a final coating of watered down PVA glue and I imagine that'll sort it out.

  3. Just saw this thanks to link provided by Asslessman. Nice job executing Tobi's tutorial.

  4. Great work, it looks fantastic! I'm glad that the tutorial was helpful - and thanks for refering. Best regards, Tobi