Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Playing with brown waste.

Please note:  This blog post is quite long, and as such, has the distinct possibility of boring the average human to death. If you have an extremely short attention span and/or find long blog posts akin to the experience of dying or physical/mental torture then you might want to skip've been warned.

The topic for today's blog post is: Turning molded pulp packaging into wargame terrain.

You know what I'm talking about don't you? They come in just about everything you buy (or steal? I won't judge) that contains electrical goods. Bizarrely shaped structures, made from recycled cardboard pulp, used to support said electrical items during transit. Still confused? Ahhh, I give up.....just look at the pic below, it's probably a lot clearer that my rambling anyway.

This stuff!

Know what I'm on about now? If not, too bad. Proceed blindly!

Now generally, most wargamers use these cardboard constructions as is, without much embellishment. Usually as desert structures, or Sci-fi buildings, with the addition of a few gubbins to spice them up a bit beforehand. In both of these roles they look OK, they cut the mustard on the tabletop just fine. But, I like to make my life difficult don't I, their just not good enough for me....corners are too rounded, details very soft.

For me, the best part of these packages is on the inside. There's a lot more detail internally, and in a Sci-fi role, harder edges are more desirable. The problem in my mind though has always been, how to get the the negative shape and detail into a positive mold....cheaply? After all, If I wanted cool looking buildings on my tabletop then I could easily go and buy a selection online. We're pretty spoilt for choice nowadays. It's just a question of how deep your pockets are. Mine aren't very deep at all, and besides, I like a challenge :)

Rounded edges and no detail.

But look at that beautiful stuff on the inside though!

I tried a few different ways to try to accomplish my goal, all of them failures to varying degrees. But I thought it'd be more informative if I showed you all the ways that didn't work for me, as opposed to my success, so you'll know what not try if you ever want to go down this path.

List of shame:

No 1: Expand-a-foam. I coated the inside of the package with Vaseline and then sprayed the foam inside. But even though I was thorough in my application of the Vaseline, it still stuck to the cardboard in a few places! That stuffs damn near impossible to prevent from sticking to things you don't want it too. But that wasn't the worst of it, even after I had left it to cure inside the package for an inordinate amount of time, upon removal it still expanded some more. As soon as I managed to pry the bastard out it grew about 20% more FAIL.

No 2: Fibreglass resin. I applied this to the inside, but this didn't work well either, as it wouldn't cure in a uniform thickness. Oscillating the packaging while it cured, to try to get it to settle evenly, just resulted in it setting into a thick, non-uniform jelly in a matter of seconds. It's not really designed to be disturbed while curing. FAIL.

No 3: Adding tissue paper as a binding element with the fibreglass resin. This solved the uniformity issue, but introduced another problem i.e. the resin wouldn't flow into the details of the packaging, preferring to soak into the tissue instead. It was also a pain to work with too, the tissue paper kept tearing when I was trying to work it into the crevices of the mold. FAIL.

No 4: Kids clay-foam. It's light, air hardens, easy to work with and is quite inexpensive. Below is a few pics of my attempt:

Sexy package no!

Worked the foam-clay into all the recesses.

But then getting the bugger out proved a tad difficult. Some of the foam-clay had adhered to the cardboard....Damn! 

So, I used some water to try to soften the cardboard. Mistake! It made the foam-clay go soft too. FAIL!

Ok, so here endeth the list of total failures. Next is the partial failure, on the road to imminent success!

Partial shame:

While out shopping I came across some ready mixed Paper Mache'. I'd seen this used to make wargame buildings before, when Brian Roe of Roebeast fame posted a pretty cool tutorial about how he uses the stuff. The main difference between what he was doing & what I wanted to achieve was obviously the packaging type. Brian uses plastic containers, whereas I wanted to try and get the same sort of results with cardboard pulp containers instead.

I'm not sure why this idea never dawned on me before? Maybe I'm just dumb? The probability is quite high.

But while I was trying to figure out how to seal the interior of the package without Vaseline, which I never liked using actually, because of the fear that it might effect the painting process later....if I was ever lucky enough to get it to that stage that is. So, I decided to try and paint the interior with a few coats of cheap arse gloss enamel. It took about four or five I think because the cardboard kept soaking it up. But once it started to develop a sheen then I knew it was done.

Another step I took this time which I had neglected to do in all of my other previous attempts was to bolster the sides with thick cardboard. I did this with the hope that it would prevent the sides warping during the application of the Paper Mache'. I attached these cardboard strips onto the package with hot glue. Below is the bloody obvious process, immortalised on the internets for evaaaaa!!!!

Step one. Paying attention?

Followed by? You guessed it, Step two! Better not warp ya bastard!

A bag of coke Paper Mache' and a painted up, bolstered "mold" ready to go.

After that excruciatingly difficult process I then laid into it with the paper mache'. This was a rather simple process, which I wont go into detail about as it's just paper mache' for Christ's sake! After I had coated the interior surface with approx 5mm of the stuff I put it outside to dry for a day.

After a day drying out.

Upon closer inspection cracks had started to appear internally.....wasn't boding well.

A day later and it was still soft, so I put it in the freezer (as recommended by Roebeast) for a few hours. Once it was frozen solid I removed it from the freezer and went about cutting the cardboard off. I had to repeat the freezing process a few times as it began to "melt" a bit, I live in a tropical country you see.

Once the cardboard had been completely removed I put it outside to dry again, but it didn't. I think I left it out there for a few days in the blazing sunlight, but it just wouldn't harden up (insert dick joke here). So, becoming quite impatient at this lack of progress I bunged it in the oven at about 50-60c for the entire day! My wife was away OS so I could get away with this step. But it STILL wouldn't dry out! To make matters worse it also began to crumble, because it was still too soft to hold it's own weight....Arrrhhhhhhh!!!!!! :(

At this stage I was just about to throw in the towel on this project. It looked like an impossible task. But as you can tell by this rather lengthy blog post that I'm nothing short of dogged when I have an idea in mind. I decided to try and rescue it by spraying expandable foam inside to "glue" it together. It sort of worked, but this example has, in my estimation, failed. I think I'll try and make it into a blown up building. It certainly has the realistic look of one!

Some would call this rubbish, their mostly right.

After all that experimentation, disappointment and failure you'd think I'd be ready to chuck in the towel now wouldn't you. But what's that saying again? "You only learn from your mistakes"? Well, if that is the case then I'm a fucking university professor on this subject! I've got one more idea I wanna try before I call it quits.

I'm going to skip the normal way of making Paper Mache' with water and use Fibreglass resin as the liquid binder instead. This will hopefully address two of the issues I'm having with it i.e. the drying time and strength. In the first case the Fibreglass resin will cure regardless of thickness and climate. And secondly, the resin infused, paper mache' mix should be tough as nails.

Hopefully this last iteration will work a treat, stay tuned for the next update on "Playing with brown waste" :)


  1. Going all the way back up to the third picture, a thought occurred to me (it rarely happens!): What if you just cut off the edges and used the inside as the outside? It would be a smaller piece, but it would have that detail you want.

    1. I'd never even thought of cutting them up and flipping them around either Andrew, great idea!

      The only issue is that most of these packages come with large cavities in them. Looking at the other ones I have, it looks like I wouldn't really be able to get much usable surface to make a building out of it. I'll keep an eye out for further packages though with this idea in mind. It'd save me a lot of work that's for sure.

      Cheers mate :)

    2. Yea, that's the biggest concern. The packaging goes from buildings to monuments or machinery.

    3. Yes, I was going to say this too, cut away the "outside" and just use the inside. You could at least use it as the skin of a box building that way.

    4. I could turn it inside out, then flip it over (if that makes any sense at all?), but then I'd have to glue all the sections back together, not everything would line up too. I think in some limited examples it could work out fine, but on the whole i think it'd just end up either a mess or too much work to worth it.

      But like I said, I'll definitely keep my eye out for suitable packages for this technique. It'd be a lot faster than trying to cast it if I could just simply flip it around.

      Cheers guys :)

  2. I think there's a quote (attributed to Edison?) saying something like failure is nothing that people quitting without relizing how close they were to success. Keep on, mate!

    1. Oh, that's a good one Suber, never heard that one before. I think I'm pretty close to getting it right too. Thanks for the praise mate :)

  3. Epic work! I think Andrew's idea is very good, but you're really close to getting a good result. You could provide extra definition by sticking bits on, of course. It could be ancient ruins that have been built on by recent colonists or something like that.

    Incidentally, if you're hacking up any nerf guns, the sliced-off handles could look good turned upside-down and used as tyranid buildings. It's all that moulded, ridged shape.

    1. Yeah, I think my next attempt will work out fine.....fingers crossed :)

      Nifty idea with the pistol grip Toby, I'll keep that in mind.

      Cheers :)

  4. Perhaps plaster, just fill her up...and wait a week.

    Maybe first spray painting the inside with old cans you don't mind wasting. The some clear gloss coats. White gluing it before spray painting could help.

    1. The only problem with plaster is the weight. Because of the physical size of these structures they'd end up weighing a tonne if I'd used it.

      With regards to your suggestions about "sealing" the cardboard, This stuff is super absorbent. I have tried spraying it before, it took about six coats (no joke!) before it even looked like covering it properly. One of the earlier attempts with the fibreglass resin applications was laid over a spray coating, it stuck in quite a few places....even with vaseline!

      I'm not sure about the White glue? It could take too long to soak in? Not sure, I'll give it a try though, ta :)

      At this stage though, cheap enamel paint has proven to work fine. It soaks in pretty fast and only requires about three coats for a good seal.

      It's definitely a work in progress that's for sure :)

      Thanks for your input Bacon, much appreciated.

      Cheers :)