Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Flatiron gunboat project - 5

Here's an update on the Flatiron gunboat model I'm working on, based on  HMVS Albert.

The components from Reviresco work a treat. The photo below shows progress so far, with the bridge and foredeck railing stanchions and ventilators in place.   

Here's a close-up of the bridge and foredeck, showing the railings, ship's wheel, binnacle and telegraph, and the twin ventilators abaft the foremast.

I plan to construct either a companionway or a skylight on the purplish area on the bridge deck. Originally, I was going to site a 'bandstand' here with a searchlight atop, but space precluded being able to stand an operator figure on it. Another feature I've regretfully opted out of is the bridge awning found on most vessels operating in tropical waters. It'd be too fiddly to make one that can be removed as necessary to stand figures on the bridge, without being flimsy and easily broken. 

Next up will be the portholes. As I mentioned before, these will be a little awkward to fit, as I'd have to drill and countersink holes in the hull to mount them. Should I worry about doing this, leave them aside, or even paint portholes in? Any advice welcome!

Once all the brasswork is done, all I need to do is set up the yards on the masts. In real life, these vestigial masts seem never to have had canvas spread on them, other than in drills. HMVS Albert had canvas aboard during her maiden voyage out from England to Australia as insurance against her machinery breaking-down, but it doesn't appear to have been used. In this model, I'll content myself with just representing the yards. 

I'll be rather busy with real-life stuff these next few days, so updates on this probably won't appear until next week. Watch this space...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reviresco ahoy!

The ship fixtures and fittings I ordered from Reviresco arrived this afternoon in excellent time, as I only ordered them Monday. They look good, with little flash and no damage. The only concern is, the portholes have rather deep flanges to enable them to be set securely in a hull. These wouldn't be a problem on a model built from the keel up, but with the hull of my Flatiron gunboat currently finished, it's going to require some retrofitting to make them work without damaging the model. I'll see what I can do.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


In his comment on my previous post, Ian pointed out the dangers of naughty natives setting fire to the base of the watchtower, thus creating alarm and despondency to those on top. Here's my answer - a zariba!

One of the simplest field defences devised, the zariba originated in the Sudan. Mimosa bushes were used for the most part. Growing to a modest six or seven feet tall, the mimosa has a broad spreading top and a relatively spindly trunk, much like an umbrella to look at. Vicious thorns hide amidst the foliage, and these are what makes it useful for defensive purposes. 

Natives and Imperial forces alike cut the mimosa close to the ground and laid the bush on its side, much like an open umbrella. Laid in rows to make up a box, with the spiky thorns outermost, they presented a very difficult barrier to penetrate, and one virtually impossible to leap over, even on horseback. This is the classic zariba. Native warriors and Imperial troops alike could stay safe within the confines of the zariba, able to shoot outward at their enemies with reduced risk to themselves.

I decided my Daftest African forces certainly needed such a feature, so I set out to make one. 

First step involves taking some sisal string of the kind used for gardening. Cut short (1" - 1¼") lengths, keeping one end bunched tight. Dip this end in water, then in white craft adhesive before leaving aside on old newspaper to dry. The water helps the sisal to wick-up the adhesive. Once the glued end is dry, spread the other end out into a rough bushy shape. Dip this end into diluted craft adhesive then into scenic flock. I actually use dried used green tea. It's cheap, effective, and you get a nice drink out of it first!

Next up, make some card bases by cutting strips of cereal packets into roughly 3" lengths, doubling the thickness of the card by gluing additional strips on top to get rigidity. It's best to roughen up any glossy surfaces of the card first. Once dry, smear spackle over the card then cover with dried coffee grounds. This tip came from the excellent Quindia Studios. If the card warps, simply - and carefully- bend it back into shape.

Allow these to dry thoroughly before painting. I use the cheap and cheerful Craft Smart acrylics, opting for a basic buff with highlights of brown and green. When the paint is dry, put blobs of craft adhesive at four spots along the length of the strip, roughly equidistant. Glue the model mimosa bushes along the length, bushy sides outward as shown below. Allow the first batch to dry before gluing three more bushes in the gaps between them.

At this stage, you can spray the lot with diluted PVA with some acrylic earth colors mixed in to fix everything in place, especially the mimosa leaves, which might rub off with extensive handling.

The final result is shown below. I made enough strips to create a platoon-sized zariba, with enough space for both tents and watchtower. So those on the watchtower may sleep peacefully on their watch, secure in the knowledge that if the structure catches fire, the situation below has already reached a serious pitch of trouble...

Colonel Trollope of the Barsetshire Regt. converses with Sgt. Harrison, whilst members of the platoon keep watch.
The photo shows the basic idea for my next scenario. A British watchtower on the edge of civilization attracts the attention of hostile forces, who have its destruction in mind. I'll work out the details in the next couple weeks. In the meantime, for those in the US who like Essex Colonial figures, WARGAMES over in Nashville, TN has a 50% off sale on these figures. I've ordered enough to make up the missing third section of the Barsetshire platoon, and these stalwart chaps will take their place in the upcoming game.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Flatiron gunboat project - update

I've placed an order with Reviresco for various ship fittings and fixtures to complete the Flatiron gunboat. Typical shipping time is 3-5 days. Once the bits and bobs arrive, I'll get to work fitting-out the vessel. After that, I do have an idea for her first deployment...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Watchtower - 2

I'm back from a brief foray into the late 1750's at Muster at Forest Glen (Forest Glen Vermillion County Park, Il.). We returned a day early due to the extreme heat. Back in air-conditioned comfort once more, I took some time this afternoon to finish off the watchtower.  

Pvt. Lewis draws a bead on yet another target off-camera.

The ladder is from a length of bamboo kebob skewer split in two, with rungs made of short lengths of mini-dowel. Cross-bracing is more split bamboo, glued into place with ordinary white craft glue. The trim on the sides and the entryway gate are strips of thin card.   

The ground effect was created by pressing coffee grounds into wet spackle, drying quickly outdoors in the sun, then painting buff and dark green before highlighting in two lighter shades of green. Vegetation is composed of small strands of Spanish moss.

As mentioned earlier, I have an idea for a scenario involving this tower. I do have a few more small pieces of terrain to make for it. More shortly.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Watchtower - 1

On to another project - a watchtower. These were used by British and Imperial forces throughout the Colonial period, were often constructed of wood, and frequently attached to or mounted upon blockhouses. Mine will be free-standing. 

The picture above shows me halfway through the tiling process. For no particular reason I decided on a shingle-effect roofing rather than corrugated iron or thatch. Each tile is cut from thin card and applied to the glued surface. The cap is made of air-dried clay. 

The photo below shows construction so far. The uprights are kebob skewers, and the cross-struts are square-cut sandwich sticks. I used basswood for the sides, and short sections of craft sticks for the platform, since these give a sturdy surface for up to four figures to stand. Next up will be the diagonal struts and a ladder, a gate to give access to the platform, followed by painting and the application of scenic effect to the base.     

Pvt. Jack Lewis draws a bead on something off camera...

This particular tower will feature as the centerpiece in my next game. I have another couple of ideas to work out, but I should be ready to play it out within the month. 

* * *
A further thought on the casualty figures I made. When I make another batch of masters I think I'll set them on bases with a little scenic effect around them. That way when I make the mold, the bases will be part of the figure, which should make them stronger and easier to handle.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Casualties of war - Painted

With local temperatures in the upper 90's farenheit and a heat index of 110f, I kept indoors today, avoiding the heat and an Orange air quality warning. I put the time to good use by painting up the plaster casualty figures I cast recently. In truth, they look like victims of the ferocious heat around here!

The British uniform trousers look lighter and bluer in the photo than in real life. Those brown blobs to the right of the picture are actually pith helmets, knocked off in combat. The native casualties are soberly dressed to match the generally drab appearance of the Ukrazi tribe. I intend to add rifles, spears and shields later.  

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Casualties of war - first batch

The casualty figure mold came out well. I use OOMOO 30 from Smooth-On, a cheap and cheerful tin-cure VRT silicon available from craft stores. It cures within 24 hours at room temperature, and reproduces fine detail. I only used a couple ounces.

Results are as seen above. The figures are crude - I don't have good sculpting skills and no access to a pantograph system - but they'll serve. I'll prepare them for painting with a coat of varnish, allowing it to soak into the plaster and harden before applying paint. Given the bloody nature of the first game, I aim to produce a couple dozen casualty figures for both sides. I'll convert some native figures by sculpting robes to represent Zanzibari casualties.

* * *
My ideas for the next game are beginning to crystalise. Since it'll be a while before I can complete the Flatiron gunboat, I'll set the scenario somewhere inland. The Sharp Practice rules will get another airing, as trouble brews for a British survey party... 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Casualties of war mold

Not so long ago I mentioned an idea I had of making casualty figures out of something far cheaper than white metal. After all, we pay a lot for the fighting figures in our collections - why pay as much for those merely acting as markers? I finally decided to move on the project, and created some master casualty figures using Sculpey and Miliput from which to take a mold. The medium I intend to use to make the actual figures is Hydrostone engineering plaster. It's strong, cheap, quick, and a lot less dangerous than white metal to cast.  

I'm the first to admit I'm not the world's greatest figure sculptor, but I managed to create a reasonable result. Shown above are two British Colonial infantry and two native casualties. The foamcore box will act as the form for pouring silicon rubber into in order to make a mold. Once the foamcore is secure, I'll coat everything inside with Future polish to seal it, then pour the silicon. This'll take about 24 hours to set fully - then I can begin casting.

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