Stage 3.5 – Tidying the tiles
After gluing all the tiles down, I decided that a little tidying was in order. Some needed a slight trim on the edges where the polystyrene was slightly mis-aligned, and I wanted make all the openings on the edges of the tiles line up a little more closely. Some of the tunnels are too narrow. They will need to be wide enough that it is easy to reach in and move the figures without knocking the whole cave system out of kilter.
The edges of the tiles were just trimmed with the Stanley knife, the new blade fully extended to give a good, clean cut in a single pass.
I used my soldering iron polystyrene cutter for the tunnel-widening and cave entrance aligning. The cutting wire was bent into a “U” shape of the desired width, and this was dragged through most of the tunnels to ensure a uniform minimum width. The slight curve on the corners of the “U” helps blend the base of the polystyrene tunnel wall into the cork floor.
Some of you might be wondering why I didn’t just stick the whole sheet of polystyrene directly onto the tiles and carve the tunnels in from scratch; well, I did consider this, but rejected it for 2 reasons…
1) PVA might not have stuck as well with large sheets of something non-porous like polystyrene – it would take a very long time to dry in the middle of a 30cm square! I thought about using double-sided tape, but that would have involved quite a lot of hassle, and I wasn’t sure how it would react with the hot wire of the polystyrene cutter.
2) More importantly, I didn’t have enough expanded polystyrene! I only had a couple of oddly-shaped sheets, and closer inspection revealed that both had ripples which would have made it difficult to stick a large section in place. By cutting out and sticking smaller sections, I was able to discard the rippled areas. The cutting took a while (3 one hour sessions - out in a cold garage to avoid molten polystyrene fumes making the house stink!), as I tried to cut in the most economical way, matching up the shapes for the minimum amount of wastage. In the end, I had just enough left over to add a couple of extra 10x10cm cave tiles, using up a cork off-cut at the same time.
Stage 4 – Painting
A little hunting in the garage finally located the pot of "cochineal red" matt emulsion that I was after. I used a 10x10cm cave tile as a test piece, and once dry I was very pleased with the result. The paint dries to a brick-red colour, and really helps to bring together the cork and polystyrene. The polystyrene in particular looks much better when painted, as the darker red shows shadows more and brings out the texture created by the polystyrene cutter. This had been much more difficult to see when the polystyrene was in its reflective and slightly translucent natural state.
I’ve been thinking about how the caverns will be used, and have decided to try and mark some sort of measurements onto the cavern floor to help resolve movement and weapons fire. It will be impossible to get a tape measure into the tunnels, and I have some ideas brewing for an action point based game along similar lines to Space Hulk. The caverns will be shaded or highlighted as appropriate by mixing a few drops of black or white poster paint with the cochineal red. I can also use these colours to paint in the individual movement spaces along the corridors and caverns. I’m thinking dark corridor edges with approx 5mm thin dark divisions every 10mm or so, followed by a lighter highlight in the middle of the space. The spaces will be slightly splodgy circles, and a quick test using the CD marker to draw circles on one of the as-yet unpainted corridor sections has convinced me that this should work OK. Once the basic red coat has been applied to all the tiles, I will try the marking method on a 10x10cm cave tile as a test piece to see how long it takes, and whether it gives the desired effect.
On with the painting!