Making Rubble: Design and Materials

Part of my plan for my Cities of Death table for Warhammer 40K is having plenty of rubble. It adds Difficult Terrain, can occasionally block Line of Sight, creates Cover, and adds visual interest to the table. Since I don’t want to game exclusively on a table with ruins, but instead want an equal or greater number of intact buildings, I don’t want any of my buildings to have fixed rubble glued to them. They need to be added as needed.

Getting the Rubble Right: Influences

Long before making my first rubble pile, I was struck by some observations Mike made in this Terranscapes Youtube video on the Ruined City he made for a customer. His rubble looks quite believable.

The second major influence is the Pegasus Hobbies Rubble pack (which I’ll be reviewing briefly separately). Its three pieces were useful to look at and compare to as I made the various ones below. They have a very standard tabletop painting quality to them and my goal is to equal or exceed them. Their design though is excellent, even though my needs are slightly different.

My Approach to Rubble

  1. Modular/Removable: I need to be able to model intact buildings and ruined ones. I can’t have the rubble glued to a building.
  2. Realistic Presence: Most rubble scatter terrain is designed as being an irregular circular shape. From the brief research I did and just a lifetime of experience of watching movies and consuming media, it is natural for rubble to accumulate against the sides of immovable objects. Tanks with Dozer Blades would push the rubble out of the way. In photos of bombed out WWII sites, avenues have been cleared out to let vehicles and supplies through. The Grand Bazaar level in the game Battlefield 3 also meshes with my understanding of rubble smooshed up against the sides of buildings.
  3. Semi-Circular Design: The nice thing about two semi-circular rubble piles with roughly the same width is that they can be pushed together to create a single larger rubble pile.
  4. Use Rubbish: A major driving force of my creating rubble is to use up my plastic sprue and Hirst Arts miscasts. I can’t afford to chop up perfectly good Cities of Death buildings to have even more natural rubble. I have almost enough Pegasus Hobbies buildings to spare a few sections, but I would always rather keep them usable for buildings and unblemished.

Rubble Materials

For all of the rubble bases I have been making, I have used For Sale signs from Wal-Mart for $1.59 or so. They do bend, which is an issue, but they don’t warp from glue or water, and polystyrene cement bonds with them.

Sprue Rubble

The first material I turned to for my rubble piles was sprue and only sprue. After gluing down pieces of varying sizes and realizing that the look was odd, I tried to keep them all about equal in length. I didn’t fuss over trying to make them resemble actual bricks though. I think the overall effect is alright, especially at arm’s length. It doesn’t bear much scrutiny though, but certainly helps with recycling sprue. I realized I needed something to cover empty spots on the base and glued sand down to fill them out.
An early rubble pile made with plastic sprue with gaps.
I took the idea of sprue rubble pretty far in this 1’x1′ section for my Cities of Death layout:
Plastic sprue has been chopped up to represent the rubble of a building.

Cork Rubble

I had a ruined bulletin board, but ended up throwing it out because the cork on it was so cheap, but the idea that I could use cork for rubble lingered. I also had a roll of cork purchased years ago from a craft store. For my semi-circular designs the roll of cork has the wonderful advantage of two straight edges. I used hot glue to affix it and worked in layers, switching to tearing off pieces towards the top. I think it needs further crumbles to make it look more realistic and ultimately cork is a poor material to use.
Rubble pile made from cork doesn't look good.

Architecture Blocks or Modeling Blocks

A former colleague once brought in a model building kit because he knew about my interest in gaming. It had a bag of wooden building blocks inside and a bag of shingles. I have never been tempted to use the bag until I set about creating rubble. The bricks work wonderfully. My supply of them is quite finite though, but I’ll be glad once the bag has been used up. They are near the scale used in the Hirst Arts Small Brick Mold. I also glued some round craft sticks and painted them as rusted metal.
Rubble pile made from architecture blocks

Plaster Miscasts

When casting with Hirst Arts molds, especially earlier on, I would end up with a lot of pieces that were either too low, not having enough plaster, or which had a large piece of plaster on the top, because I had scraped the molds too late. You can sand or chip away pieces that are too large, but that’s a lot of work for a good brick or accessory. I realized recently that I could probably top off pieces that are too low, but have already saved many in a plastic bag. I also have the plaster from scraping, the plaster from the cup used to mix and pour it from, and plaster that dried on the spoon.

The look is the closest to Pegasus Hobbies’ product and is superior to the other methods. The variety of shapes in the miscasts gives just the sort of chaotic jumbled effect found in real war rubble.

Hybrid Rubble

Perhaps not surprisingly the best looking rubble comes from combining the architecture bricks with sprue and a lot of plaster miscasts. To me, these all meet or exceed my expectations for quality realistic rubble.


One of the things that I ignored as I went through creating my initial rubble piles was the fullness that real rubble has. There aren’t conspicuous gaps in the densest parts of rubble piles. Those areas would naturally be filled in. Both Terranscapes and Pegasus Hobbies get this aspect right. I think I will go back through on my earlier pieces and add plaster fragments to help fill in the gaps.

I also think that a small variety in coloration really adds a lot to rubble piles. I may add a few muted colors to the existing piles as well.

Moving forward on future rubble piles, I may include a few recognizable Hirst Arts pieces that are not miscasts or cut up a few panels from my Pegasus Hobbies Gothic line and strategically place them in prominent positions in the new rubble piles. I think a few IMEX Platformer pieces might also make their way into rubble.

Magnetizing Ork Killa Kanz

I love magnets. I love versatility. I love multiple points of articulation. I really do want to make toys out of miniatures. So as the years have gone by and more and more gamers’ miniatures feature magnetization, the possibilities have become increasingly exciting.

The plastic Killa Kanz kit has a wide selection of posing choices. At the very least, removing weapon arms is good in the event of weapon destroyed results on the Vehicle Damage Table. I also want to be able to swap out weapons so that my squadrons of 1-3 have the same loadout. I believe the arms can also be exchanged with the plastic Deff Dreadz’s. Part of my desire to magnetize them also was a mistaken belief that I could choose to have 2 Dreadnought Close Combat Weapons (CCW); having more CCWs is only an option for the Deff Dread, not the Killa Kanz.

The Evolution of my Attempts at Magnetizing the Kanz

1. Disc Magnet to Disc Magnet. I happened to have a disc magnet, a K&J Magnetics D41, that looked like a good fit for the socket. When I glued it in and one on a Dreadnought CCW arm, it worked, however the arm stuck out straight, but still rotated 360 along the horizontal X axis. At this point, I could have a variety of poses, switch out the arms for others, and remove them for Weapon Destroyed results. Pinning the arms would also offer the same three advantages. However when posing my Kanz I liked the variety of poses the ball-and-socket design seemed to offer, so I needed something better.

2. I knew that K&J Magnetics had ball-shaped magnets and ordered 18 of the 0.25 inch S4s, having measured the Dreadnought ball joints as having a diameter close to 0.25 inch. Once they arrived, I glued one in place of the plastic ball. And then I realized, after putting in on a Kan with a D41 in its shoulder socket, that the sphere magnets still have two poles. It is possible to get an odd side attraction, but there is repulsion from the other pole. Gravity also pulls down the arm because the attraction doesn’t overcome gravity and the joint has very little friction. Of course, I would never have the ball resting on the disc and not sitting in the socket, but I got the same results with a magnet disc inside the Killa Kanz torso.

3. I next thought that I might place a small magnet in a drilled-out hole at the bottom of the shoulder socket hole. Then I should be able to rotate the ball-magnetized arm around as needed. Fortunately by just putting one of the small magnets (a D21) near the arm ball magnet, I realized that this would not work either. The ball magnet was not going to rotate as desired. The issue became the sphere magnet having polar attraction. What if I used a steel ball instead?

4. After having no luck finding ball bearings at Lowe’s and AutoZone, I went online and quickly located VXB Bearings in Southern California. $3.33 later and I had ordered 100 chrome steel 0.25 inch ball bearings. After gluing a bearing to a Kan arm I was pleased that they were the right size, but dismayed because the magnetic attraction with a magnet glued to the other side of the socket, inside the Kan torso, resulted in a floppy arm. Even the simple disc on disc would be better.

5. My final solution was to keep the strong disc magnet pulling inside the torso, a D41 or D42, but to bore out the hole in the socket and implant a smaller disc, a D21, so it would be in contact with the steel bearing, but also have the larger attraction of the disc behind it. It worked! I now have Killa Kanz with fully rotating arms. The arms maintain whatever pose I leave them in.

Some Other Points About Magnets and CA Glues

I used HobbyTown USA Insta-Cure Cyanoacrylate to glue the discs into the arm sockets as well as to affix both varieties of balls to the weapon arms. I then had a very hard time trying to remove the discs which were a near perfect fit for the holes. While trying to make sure I knew how to pronounce cyanoacrylate, I had read the wikipedia article on the chemical. I recalled from it that acetone, found in nail polish remover, weakens the cyanoacrylate bond and kept applying some to the socket and eventually worked my magnets free.

The other point about using super glues/CAs is that the bond between the metal and plastic is incredibly weak. While I could augment it with some green stuff, the answer is simply to use care in handling the weapon arms with their steel shoulder bearings. When I bring them near a magnet, such as the ones in the socket, I need to apply counter-pressure to slowly bring them into contact. Similarly, turning the steel bearings in the socket is fine as long as it is done slowly and carefully. Jerky motions will just snap the CA bond off.

The Easiest “Conversion” – 25mm Round Bases to 30mm Round Bases

This “conversion” is so easy that I really hesitate to call it a conversion. Dark Age, Hordes, Warmachine, and Malifaux among other games all use 30mm circular bases for their human-sized figures. My understanding is that Dark Age used these first and Privateer Press adopted them. Games Workshop uses its 25mm round bases for Warhammer 40k, Necromunda, and most of its sci-fi games no longer in print. These circular bases were also supplied for some of GW’s fantasy dungeon delving games.

Dark Age Games Field Medic on a 25mm base successfully stacked on a 30mm base.Guess what? You can mount a 25mm round base onto a 30mm round base and it doesnot look all that terrible. Now, you could just glue the 25mm base onto the 30mm base, but why restrict yourself to only using the attached miniature in only one game’s system? You could also just leave the 30mm base unattached and pick up both miniature and its dual bases for games that use the larger base. This can lead to the larger base being left behind and wasting precious seconds restacking your miniature.

My solution has been to add small neodymium magnets to the underside of the 25mm base and to the top of the 30mm base. You could probably get away with just one on each base, allowing for some pivoting of the figure, but by gluing or green stuffing two magnets on each base, you get a nice solid magnetic lock with no pivoting for minimal expense. The cost of the magnets should be a lot cheaper than the cost of buying a new model as well as painting it. I buy my magnets from K & J Magnetics.

Yes, your new double-based figure is now about 3mm taller! If this is a terrible shock to your sensibilities and you think this provides some odd advantage for Line of Site while not making the troop easier to spot itself, enjoy your shock, while I enjoy my miniature in multiple game systems. Also you might enjoy the fact that your 25mm or 28mm miniature now is closer to 30mm itself.

Jungle Terrain for Martian Board Set, Privateer Press & DUST, Other Stuff

I am not a big fan of jungles. I like deciduous forests and elven glades. But I want some foliage for my Martian board set from Terranscapes. He just released cacti tree stands, which look great, but I don’t want to tie myself to the Desert Southwest theme. I also wanted to practice getting down matching colors for the board so I can add more terrain to it myself.

The result:
Aquarium plants mounted on CDs and painted to match Terranscapes Martian board sets.

One of the things that got me going on these jungle stands was dropping by the Exotic Pet Store on Smoke Ranch and Decatur when I was picking up my mother’s ashes last month. I noticed that besides the wallabies and prairie dogs that they also had some pretty decent looking small aquarium plants for 4.99. Use aquarium plants! has always been what’s said on forums, in person, and in White Dwarf. But all of the plants I have ever seen at Petco or Petsmart have been either a.) crappy ones I’d never use or b.) 9.99+ for something pretty, but wouldn’t go far. I just checked out both stores again this week after I made these and still nothing new for me to get. So here’s what I got from the Exotic Pet Store:

Zoo Med – BU-14 Small Australian Maple $4.99
Zoo Med – BU-13 Small Malaysian Fern $4.99
Zoo Med – BU-18 Small Cashuarina $4.99

I also got two plastic plants from Michael’s for $6.99 each and cut them up using snips. One of the plants I really ended up disliking and was staring at all of my leftovers until I started thinking of jungle traps like in Swiss Family Robinson with a tiger in them, or just the jungle getting plowed over by tanks like at the end of Platoon and made a couple of smooshed stands: