The Paint Cried Out, “Stick To Me!”; and the Foam Whispered, “No”.

datetime June 22, 2019 6:58 AM

Alrighty, let’s create some workplace safety hazards!

The staircases I would be creating were a modification of the ones I came up with for my first Infinity terrain set:

Back during that project, I had found that three steps were enough to cover a 1″ vertical transition, and came up with a neat stair layout where the balcony and bottom step both wrapped around a much smaller hexagonal middle step. Not only does this look cool, but it leaves enough room for a 25mm base to sit flat on each step, and even juuuust enough room for a 40mm to rest without falling over.

I wanted the stairs for the Mars terrain (as I had started thinking of this new set) to be much narrower, but the same basic shape was employed. As with everything else I do, the designs were drawn up in Adobe Illustrator, then printed on cardstock and transferred to foamcore.

Supports go under the stairs…

…then the steps go down on top. It’s hard to see, but a tiny L-shaped support connects the bottom and middle steps.

These were all measured in advance to cleanly go from ground level to a catwalk laid within the tunnel tubes.

On that note: I’ll post the PDF files for this project’s templates at the end, but it’s important to note that all of the vertical pieces were very specifically sized for this project’s dimensions. If you decide to adapt my ladders or stairs to your own projects, you’ll probably want to adjust the height of the vertical riser templates slightly so that everything links up correctly to whatever you’re matching them to.

Speaking of ladders… here are some ladders! I don’t have Illustrator files for these, because I drew the templates with a pencil and ruler while at my local store one Friday night.

BONUS: Heh, they look like dicks. 😛

Something new I did with this project was to incorporate magnets to attach pieces together. This was quite simple to set up– under the top lip of the stairs and ladders, I peeled back the paper layer of the foamcore, and then cleared a space through the foamcore to fit two small stacked steel washers. The paper was then glued back into place.

I annoyingly didn’t get a shot of the magnets going in, but it’s exactly the same thing– open the paper in the catwalks, drop in a magnet, then glue shut. I used 3lb rare earth magnets purchased from a local surplus store, which adhere very strongly through the two layers of paper.

Up to this point, the catwalks running through the tunnels had just been lying loose, but eventually I needed to glue them down. The interior of the broth cans is lined with waxy foil that glue doesn’t stick to well, so I cut a small area of the foil away to let me glue things directly to the cardboard underneath.

Basic construction was nearing completion, so it was finally time to glue everything together. The gum lid fans had a pretty huge void inside them, so I glued in some foamcore blocks so that they laid approximately flush to the outer rim of the lid. This let me attach glue to the foamcore (which adheres beautifully) instead of trying to stick to the thin edge of the lid.

A few boring assembly steps later, things were ready to paint. To start things off, I sprayed everything with black aerosol primer.

Next, I came in with a can of Rustoleum colonial red (ooh… maybe not a great reference in today’s political climate..?), which I thought was a really pretty colour. 🙂

Once that was done, I brought the pieces inside to work on the stone with my airbrush. Almost immediately, however, I noticed that paint was chipping pretty heavily anywhere the terrain pieces brushed solid objects, or each other.

Terrain chipping is an expected hazard, but this was unique and worrisome. Not only was it happening IMMEDIATELY after application, and under the barest hint of physical contact; but when it did chip, the paint was lifting ENTIRELY away, leaving no residue of any kind behind on the foam. This basically told me that the spray primer I had used had ZERO bond to the spray foam, which in turn meant that the chipping I was observing was only the start– unless drastic measures were taken, half the paint was likely to chip away inside of a month.

Just to be safe, I sprayed some thinned Mod Podge over everything, which I hoped would form an armored shell around the entire piece. It wouldn’t make the paint stick to the foam, but hopefully the shell would have enough structural integrity in and of itself to sort of hold the paint together into a form-fitting balloon.

I was scheduled to help run a tournament the next day, so I used the opportunity to set the terrain up for a stress test– I wanted to see how much wear and tear the set took from being packed into bins, unpacked, played on for three rounds, then packed up and unpacked again.

Maybe the podge would hold..?


The chipping was certainly reduced— in that it now took a direct knock to create a chip instead of a light brush against skin or fabric. However, this still resulted in dozens of small and medium chips across the set, so it was clear that podge alone wasn’t the solution I was after.

I showed the damaged pieces to various friends and local store owners, but none of them immediately knew how to solve it.

A brainstorming chat with one particular store owner yielded some suggestions I could at least test. The first was that I might simply not have put enough podge over the pieces– podge dries into a very thin skin, so if I was expecting it to provide structural support, I probably needed to layer it on a few times. I did some tests on scraps of foam and found that white glue and podge yielded fairly similar results, so I used the cheaper glue for my tests, laying on three successive coats (letting each one dry before applying the next one).

The second workable suggestion was to apply a candy coat of gloss varnish. The idea was the same as with the glue/podge, except that it would be much faster to apply (and… might be stronger? I don’t really know the physical dynamics of gloss varnish shells).

I did four tests– gloss over paint, gloss under paint, glue over paint, and glue under paint. The results weren’t terribly encouraging, but the glue-over-paint test did have the… if not “best”, then “least bad” result. I could still make chips with a sharp knock, but it was a fair bit more resilient than before. I figured I could just be incredibly gentle with it, and that might be enough.

Crossing my fingers and praying to Space Jesus, I applied two coats of thinned white glue over everything, then optimistically proceeded to further paint layers.

(By the way– if it sounds like all of this was a quick experimental process, that’s only because I’m skipping most of the details. In reality, the time span between the first discovery of the paint chips and the application of the sprayed glue was two and a half of the most depressing and discouraging weeks of my terraining career, and I was an annoyingly mopey Potato to be around throughout. ;_; )

Deciding that it was as safe as it was going to get to move forward, I started applying additonal paint coats to the stone. First I did a hard under-spray of very dark (almost black) red.

I then did a very light dusting of vivid red from the top to establish a highlight.

At this point I loved the colours I had applied, but I wanted to blend the stone one step higher into orange, and everything was far too smooth– I needed to sponge on some texture.

Back in the day, you used to be able to get awesome organic sponges from paint stores, but after visiting half a dozen of them and speaking to a few salespeople, I’ve learned that sponge texture has gone out of style, and stores no longer stock them. I tried to explain that sponge texture never goes out of style in the terrain community, but my compelling argument did not seem to sway them.

Lacking this, I looked around various stores for some sort of substitute, and ended up finding a squeezable sponge mop that seemed like it would do the job. It took quite a bit of work with heavy pliers, but I was able to pull the metal bracket apart and free the trapped sponge within.

To getting a convincing stone texture, you don’t want to use the flat exterior of the sponge– you want to tear it with your hands to create an uneven surface from the interior.

Sponging is pretty straightforward– pick up paint, wipe most of it off, then dab a few times. I… may have dabbed a bit hard on these ones. ~_~

Once the white paint had dried, I took out my airbrush and sprayed a thin coat of orangey yellow from the top. I didn’t bother covering the sides at all, as the next stage would address them.

I then came in with a more reddish-orange spray to complete the effect. To be honest, this wasn’t exactly what I was trying to accomplish, but I may have accidentally created something even better than my original vision. SO PRETTY. <3

I was pretty happy with the rocks, but still needed to paint the machinery. I picked up a roll of special masking tape at my local dollar store– it’s a roll of normal beige masking tape, but with 6″ of brown paper attached down one side. This seemed like it would be very helpful in masking off the red stone without the need to stick tape all over the entire surface.

Thanks to the relatively straight edges of the machinery, it was pretty easy to get everything masked off. The brown paper was large enough to wrap most of the way around each piece.

Once they were all masked, it was time for paint!

I wanted my machinery to be off-white to match the Plastcraft terrain, so I sprayed everything with an appropriate shade of… I dunno, eggshell?

Also: it was late.

Once the spraypaint dried, I went in and added dark red shading from underneath with my airbrush.

This was followed by what I must admit were some fairly messy layers of off-white and pure white from the top.

I then pulled off the tape, and it–

One thought on “The Paint Cried Out, “Stick To Me!”; and the Foam Whispered, “No”.

  • Salvage

    What a journey! Big creepy red space mines turned out great on the table, mega bummer it was such a struggle to get there.

    Also! New to the site but really digging your posts and projects. Came here for the color-shifting CA crew, got stuck in foam trauma, excited to see what’s next.

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