Friday, March 13, 2009

Basic Scratchbuilding, Part I; Tools and Materials

Howdy, Pilgrims!
I prefer scratch-built buildings to resin for three reasons. First, they're cheaper and odd bits of scrap can be put to good use, sometimes in very creative ways (turning scrap balsa into a pile of lumber to hide behind, for instance). Second, they're lighter than resin and more resiliant; that is, less prone to paint or resin chipping off. Third, there are no resin buildings available for 40mm Old West at the present, so if you want buildings at all, you have to build them yourself.

First, let's discuss tools. Good tools will save you time and frustration in the long run. 

In the first photograph, I've shown a number of essential tools:

1.  Cutting board: this is simply scrap wood meant to protect your desk or table from the razor knife.
2.  Foam core: the standard thickness is 3/16". It's easily cut, and easily glued together. It sometimes warps when excessive amounts of glue are used for siding, however its benefits more than make up for that particular drawback. Besides, old buildings often warp! Black foam core is pictured, however white is ok.
3.  Cutting tools: all must be perfectly sharp, because dull tools are frustrating to work with and will cause mistakes. Box cutters are good for the really big cuts to carve up your foam core. The Exacto knife is useful for cutting out doorways and windows. The gate cutters (snips) are useful for quickly cutting balsa siding to length.
4.  Measuring tools: make sure the edge isn't made of something that will be sliced up by your knives. I like metal rulers for that reason. A square is essential for marking your foam-core wall sections. A good, cheap square is simply a piece of paper (their corners are perfectly square).
5. Glue: white glue for siding, Super Glue for tacking down the ends of siding that wants to warp. Not pictured, but essential: hot glue gun.
6. Balsa and basswood: 1/32" thickness balsa works well for siding. 1/16" balsa works well for trimwork around doors and windows. Basswood should be used for anything that might break, like porch posts. I don't show cardstock in the photo, but I use strips of cereal boxes for lap-siding (clapboard), because even thin balsa is far too thick.

In the second photo, I've shown a few more specialty tools that are not essential, but make life easier.

1. This chopper holds the blade square and has jigs that allow you to set a particular length and make identical cuts repeatedly.
2. When cutting basswood, this mitre box and jewel saw give you nice square cuts.
3. Use a sanding block and nail file to clean up the end of messy cuts.

In the next post, I'll show you how to use this advanced technology to turn styrofoam, paper, and balsa wood into Tombstone!

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