Saturday, November 12, 2011

An experiment with river making

I have done quite a bit of work on my terrain of late. I have sufficient trees for my purposes for quite a while. I also have plenty of buildings. All the remains are rivers and hills.

My hills, while they are not pretty, are perfectly functional for the time being - but my rivers are a disgrace. Chopped up felt will not do - so I've decided to start work on something a little better. Above is five inch by two inch MDF base from Products for Wargamers which fits my hexes perfectly. I chose MDF as previous experiments with card warped badly and cutting the pieces to size consistently would be troublesome.

The wonderful thing about hex systems is that they are modular. Unfortunately because they are modular, they need to be exactly right.

To the MDF I added some of my usual basing filler. I painted the river with Vallejo prussian blue and lightened the sides to give an illusion of depth. The riverside is Vallejo khaki with a white highlight. I'll add static grass and other brush later, but in the meantime I set to work on something else.

Woodland Scenics have a product called Liquid Water, which is available in my local model railway stop. I'm sure it's good - but I balked at the €26 price tag. I decided to try my own experiment with some distinctly more affordable PVA glue. I placed two strips of plasticard at either end of the river section. Each one was coated in vaseline so that the PVA would not adhere to it and I filled the section with PVA.

The plan is that the PVA will dry clear and provide a suitable water medium. If that is the case, I will be able to make a dozen or so river sections that can be assembled in a variety of ways and with some rocks, fallen trees and the such like. I will have to work out a way of producing consistent 30 degree bends.

The PVA after being left overnight. This is still tacky to the touch, but I think it will dry clear though it is taking longer than I expected to do so. If this works, I forsee a lot of river making in my future.


  1. A thick coat of PVA will take quite a bit of time to dry. And will likely always be a bit rubbery. A few thin coats allowed to dry in between should dry quicker. Other options are some kind of glossy varnish like stuff used for clear protective coats on miniatures, a product called envirotex in the US (not sure about other countries, but there must be similar products). Depends on how thick/deep you want the water to be.

  2. Fitz-B is right, a few thin coats are better. You can even add an illusion of greater depth by adding a few streaks of paint on intermediate layers.

    For myself, I am quite happy with the effect of a few coats of gloss varnish. Reflects the light nicely ruining photos if you're not careful but sparkling cheerfully between times.

    Never enough of the right bends and curves though and damned hard to get just the right lengh. I need to make more sections. Hope I can match 'em up to the 5 year old ones.

  3. Yes, the PVA will dry clear eventually but might have a tendency to peel off in a film in time. I suggest painting on several coats of Acrylic Gloss varnish from an art suppliers. Reasonable value and dries fairly quickly, especially if you apply a warm fan heater or hair dryer. Good luck

  4. Another option to consider is clear plastic sheet (polycarbonate or polystyrene). It's relatively inexpensive when bought in large sheet (2'x4' or larger) and has lots of hobby uses. We use for prototyping on my son's robotics team so I've got lots of scraps to use.

    For river sections, I use essentially your method for the banks, but just paint the underside of the plastice the river color I want and then I'm done. Just remember to lightly sand the surface to be painted so the paint can adhere better,

    good luck

  5. Fitz-Badger has it - I've noticed that the pool of PVA left over from basing efforts takes ages to dry, and when I clear the detritus away sometimes months after it is still floppy and rubbery...

    A couple of thin coats over a painted surface however, might be just the ticket..

  6. Looks pretty good so far, and PVA might work, but Fitz-Badger might be onto something. You might have better results with Future/Klear acrylic floor finish, which dries with a high gloss, dries quickly, and doe not shrink as it dries. So, you'll have less chance of warped river sections. It's also relatively cheap for a bottle of the stuff. I used it when I made a well for a farm a few months ago, and it looks like pretty convincing as the surface of water just inside the mouth of the well. Give it a try.

    Best Regards,


  7. Very interested to see how these turn out. Rivers are something that our group lacks.

  8. Ross wrote "Never enough of the right bends and curves though and damned hard to get just the right lengh. I need to make more sections."

    I know exactly what you mean. I need to make more sections, too. Probably some shorter sections. Mostly rhetorical, but I wonder, is it easier if you're making the pieces for use on a hex or square grid? Or do you still find you need some shapes you didn't make?

  9. Gentlemen,

    Thank you very much for your kind advice. The PVA has dried now (I'll have pics tomorrow) and is looking good. There doesn't seem to have been any significant warping.

    I'll try thinner coats and see if they make a differance. Regarding the number of bends, etc, you couldn't be more right. I've picked a few scenarios from the Napoleonics rule book and I'm aiming at those for starters, but I suspect that this will be a slow process.