Monday, June 1, 2015

North Africa Wargaming Table Project Part 2: Caulk Blaulked!

John and I took a large gaming table from pink foam to playable terrain in a day.  What we had so far was good enough, but we were shooting for spectacular.  We knew that there were still some tweaks required to turn this into a top-shelf terrain board.  So John helped me move the panels back down to the basement and then headed home feeling pretty damn good about things, while I immediately set to work, trying my hardest to destroy the project.

We already knew that we needed more water effect, so I ordered some.  There were also a couple of major faults (literally) with the project as well.  This was my next big lesson: chink seams with caulk or drywall tape before applying the  plaster/sand mix.  We assumed that the plaster would fill the seams between the foam panels.  It did not, and as a result there were linear grooves across the middle of each panel where the foam sheets came together.  These had to go.  So I grabbed some silicon caulk that had been laying around the basement for a few years and got to work.  While I was at it, I ran some caulk along the edges of the roads to give them a raised spoil from grading and use.

Those careful readers who have some experience in home renovation or general contracting doubtless have already spotted my next lesson.  For the rest of us, here it is: Silicon caulk has a shelf life.  The caulk I used had an expiration date of 2008 (for those far future readers just getting to this post, it was 2015 here on Earth at the time of the caulking in question.)  Turns out that seven years is enough time for silicon caulk to go bad.

I should have suspected something was amiss when the caulk came out.  Instead of being soft and sticky and hard to work with like melted plastic, it was thick and chalky.  This made it a dream to work with from a terrain-sculpting point of view, so I happily caulked away and let it dry overnight.  The next day I re-surfaced the caulked areas of the harbor panel with a fresh layer of plaster/sand mix.  This was when I notice the first real problem; the caulk had not cured.  It mixed with the plaster and turned the plaster mix into a pasty white substance that quickly hardened into rock that was not at all the color of the rest of the table.  It also did not adhere very well to the existing surface  It also obliterated the nice spoils I had raised along the roads.  Oh well, that's life, could be worse.  So I covered up the new white surface with a bunch of pigment and  stopped for the night.

The next day I awoke refreshed and hustled down to the basement to check on the products of the previous days' work.  In all the places where I had caulked the night prior, dark oil stains now shown through the plaster and pigment.  The good news was I no longer had an (easily fixable) problem with seams between panels.  No, now I had a problem that might require stripping and resurfacing the entire table.  I didn't tell John about any of this.

I took a couple of days off from the project to think of a solution. 

The only real good idea I has was to not plaster over the uncured caulking on the other four panels.  I have a thing for the obvious.  I gave it a few more days, hoping the caulk would dry.  It didn't.

I gave up hope and scraped the caulk off the other three panels, then mixed very thick plaster to fill the joints between the foam sheets.  Then I resurfaced these areas.  It looked passable.  I waited anxiously overnight for the plaster to dry, and was very relieved when I woke to find no oil stains on the remaining panels (though it is since emerged).

Well, maybe I can cover up the oil stains with more pigment.  Yeah, I really thought that.

So I did.  I went back over all the surfaces, re-doing the roads with a slightly darker mix, darkening the wadis and draws, layering the pigments deeply with pretty heavy-handed application, and using a couple of different blends for the highlights to make sure our desert floor had some nice, interesting color variations.  It looked good.  Except for the dark oil stains that had grown even darker with the application of more pigment.  I was flailing.  I didn't have the bandwidth to cope, so I dropped the oil stain problem and tried to solve a different problem--pigment fixing.

On our initial build, John had applied pigment raw and not used a fixer.  We discussed whether to fix the pigment or not.  The raw pigment gave the table a beautiful dusty look, because, well, dust, but we ended up conceding that unfixed pigment would be too messy to deal with.  So I wrestled with the logistics of fixing pigment covering a 6'x8' surface.  What to use?  How to apply?  John wisely vetoed my idea of using a spray bottle to apply the fixer (he still had no idea how much damage I had done to the table since he left, but I think he was starting to suspect that things might be amiss.)  I decided to go with mineral spirits, which is what I use to fix pigments on my models.  It worked fine.  I used a big fat mop brush to dab a couple of quarts of mineral spirit onto the table panels.  It got a little messy and pigments got mixed, but for a terrain project of this scale the sloppy pigment mingling actually worked well to tie all of the colors together.  And then the coolest thing happened...I ran out of mineral spirits before I finished the fixing job.

All I had left in the house was denatured alcohol, so I figured, "What the hell," and continued the fixing job with it.  Totally different from the mineral spirits, denatured alcohol lacks that really awesome capillary action that you find with mineral spirits.  It runs across the surface of the board like water.  Which, when you are covering a terrain board with dusty pigments, creates an erosion effect that is mind-blowingly true to life.  Accidental Brilliance.  Where I had layered the pigments the flow of the alcohol served just like water eroding soil and distributed the pigments perfectly like runoff.  I would not recommend denatured alcohol for models because it is hard to control, but for terrain there is no better Pigment Fixer/Magical Erosion Effect Juice.

Here is what denatured alcohol does to heavily layered pigments on terrain boards.  This is approximately a 6"x4" patch.  The dark bits are roads.

Here you can see the right-side panels still wet from mineral spirits.  Don't do this inside.  It will kill your brain.  Trust me (or ask my Wife, who gets to deal daily with my shredded memory).

At this point I was nearly overcome by the fumes in my basement so I moved the project out to the back porch to finish the pigment fixing.

Fixed pigment on the right, unfixed pigment on the left.  I was saving this picture to freak-out John, but then I tried to destroy the table for real (more on that later) and didn't think it was so funny anymore.

So things started out a little rough, but I felt I had the chaos pretty well under control now.  The colors on the table were fantastic.  The denatured alcohol was a terrain pigment fixing miracle.  Sure, the oil stains were still there, but the cool erosion effects made the rest of the table look so neat that some of the oil stains were starting to look like they were there on purpose.  John would never have to know how close I came to wrecking our project.  In fact he might even congratulate me on some perfectly-executed oil spills.  No, not really.

But I was doing some brilliant stuff with the table.  Yes, mostly on accident, but I had dodged a bullet or two and was feeling pretty confident now.  I had this terrain stuff down; what could possibly go wrong?

Two words: Heat Gun

1 comment:

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