Friday, 3 February 2012

Catching up on things done in 2011: Cork Tile Houses

Rob at my old club turned up one time and raved at his discovery of making cork tile buildings, as described on the brilliant Matakishi Tea House website. Easy to do, very cheap material, much cheaper than foamcoare, light and take a bit of bashing around. Since moving from solitary figure collecting and painting back to actual wargaming in the last 4-5 years or so, I've managed to put together a reasonable selection of terrain, at least of a basic standard. My last club was so small as to not even have a terrain box, and generally one guy turned up with every thing-including a pair of armies and all necessary terrain. So if you wanted to put on a game you had to think in terms of having everything necessary to stage the game. If nothing else this was a good discipline, as it is easy to get carried away with a scenario idea and forget it generally needs more than just the figures. The one big gap in my terrain collection, indeed in my wargaming collection overall, is buildings. Until I bought a couple of boxes of Pegasus 'Eastern Front' wooden thatched houses I had none at all, and versatile as they are you can't use them for everything. I have a figure collection covering just about everything period and conflicts across the globe, so I was keen to build up some sort of collection. On the other hand whenever I look at model houses, nice as they often are, I always think they're a bit pricey, and I am also acutely conscious of how much space my wargaming collection needs for storage already, and model houses can take up a lot of space. Since my 'new' club has its own terrain box and different people at the club often have stuff they will lend, it is less of a pressing issue, but it is typically in 28mm scale, while my figures are generally 20mm, so I'd like at least some items.

I'd acquired a pack of cork floor tiles a while ago, but I was first spurred into action by completing my 'Sharpe Practice' skirmish set, themed around the Pennisular War, and found a description of a little action that I thought would be perfect for our first scenario but it had a village in it. So I decided to kick off with some Spanish style houses. People tend to think in terms of Spain having 'white' houses, but I lived in central Spain, and know that while the 'Casas Blancas' are common in the south, elsewhere whether in natural stone or plastered, a sandy colour is much more common. I took the guidelines from the Matakishi Tea House website tutorial. Windows in older Spanish houses are often smaller than in Northern Europe (to keep the sun out), so I went with window 1cm square rather than the 2cm by 3cm recommended. I drew up a 'standard' three storey design, the top storey just an attic room, with below three windows a storey front and back, varied the design only by the position of the door, and some times having windows on two stories and sometimes just on the second storey at the side. I put the 'triangle' of the sloping roof across the front and back rather than the sides, that is at least the common design of the 'masia' country houses in Cataluna. I was pleased with the overall but my wife said she thought it was "nothing like Spanish houses", so there you go!

Having drawn all the designs with a pen, I then cut them out - and this was revelation number one about cork tile - it is SO EASY!!! Not only were the windows not too fiddly to do with a craft knife, but I could even cut the walls out with SCISSORS, which made the job - well just a snip!

I cut up some cereal boxes to make strips of tile for the roof (in the past I've found this a tedious job, but went for bigger tiles this time and it didn't seem to take long at all). I also cut little rectangles of cereal packet and glued them on to the cork to represent a few bricks showing through, along with some strips of thicker card - which I found better in this scale than the matchsticks recommended - for window sills. Then I stuck some matchsticks on to hold up an interior floor.

Next I stuck some normal dress making pins through one sides and a little way into the thin side of the other, using some pliers, to hold the building together. I then loosened pins a bit, slapped PVA glue in the join and pushed them back together. Matakishi recommends superglue, but I've got a huge tub of PVA which I know is a very strong glue, and didn't mind the extra drying time. Having left them overnight I pulled out the pins and 'voila'.

The only thing I had trouble with was the roofs, which I still don't have sitting properly. I realised I made the mistake of cutting a roof from cork the 'right' size for the house, when I would have been better cutting them to fit INSIDE, then covering them with the tiles or at least some thin card before attaching the tile which is WIDER than the roof to produce eves. Combine this would give a snug fit, whereas the thickness of tile is standing proud. I also should have been more careful to follow the instructions on how to tape them in place and more careful in cutting the cork for the internal 'supports'. Roof fitting is clearly the trickiest part.

Just about everything else fitted easily, especially the interior floor - cork is so easy just to trim with scissors it wasn't hard to get an exact fit. I made a bit of a miscalculation on the height of the internal floor, not allowing for the thickness of the tile, so figures stand a bit high for the second storey window, but it is no big deal to re-stick the matchstick supports lower down. It was then a couple of coats of sand paint, red brown for tiles and bricks, a couple of dirty washes and a dry brush. I haven't fitted a chimney yet, nor bothered with doors or window frames, but apart from the problem with the roof that I'm still working on, I'm pretty happy as a first attempt.

I was so enthused with the sheer ease of making these buildings, especially the cutting out, just with scissors, that I sat and designed no less than THREE different styles of building that I wanted for different games and started knocking out some more buildings. I produced all of this lot in the space of about just THREE days (and that was only because of drying time) from just ONE pack of cork tiles which cost me about a fiver.

The first style of house was what I call 'Modern Nothern European'. I've only started one in this style, a larger house, suitable for Napoleonic period onwards. The style is two-storey, with 2cm by 3cm windows and 2cm by 4cm doors, pitched roof, with the roof 'triangle' at the sides. You can easy use this basic plan for terraces of 'two-up, two-down' houses, or stick with the 'six-window' approach of this larger house but put the door to one side and make a bigger window if you want a shop front as your first floor. I'll plan to tile the roof and I'll be re-cutting the roof as per my comments above on the Spanish houses.

Here's a view from the back. Note how its best to try and line up the window-sills a bit better than I have. Obviously if you want a 'ruined' version, with cork tile this is just a question of ripping it! You can even just snip the 'bits' up into small rectangles and you have lots of bricks for 'rubble'.

Next up are some one storey flat roofed desert houses. When I came to do these I realised I could perhaps be more systematic in building up my collection. These show my most basic design (which I have nicknamed 'Number 1 Hovel'!), a single storey with door and single window next to it- in this case a smaller 1cm window like the Spanish houses- at the front.

As well as the three 'Number 1 Hovels', I've done a 'Number 2 Dwelling' ie. same thing but with two windows. Here's a front view. The idea is to do a few variations on a 'Number 2' then try a 'Number 3' , or a two-storey etc..

For all this style, I've cut a gap at the back or side and plan some steps to the roof. This is everything drawn up ready.

For steps, I'll just use this folded card glued inside a shell cut from cork.

These flat-roofed houses could not have been easier to do. I doubt if it took more than 20 minutes to draw and cut them all out, then it was really just the messing about with pins and glue and giving them drying time. The main error I made was again upper floor height, and I need to reposition the matchstick supports as currently figures on the roof have a wall only up to their knees!

This is a different style of building that I've moved on to, a half-timbered style, which I can use from dark-ages/medieval period onwards. Again I've very quickly knocked up the basic structure for three 'Number 1 Hovels' and two 'Number 2 Dwellings'. I hope to do some two storey one's too. Windows are again the small variety. So far I've stuck on some cardboard strips to represent the timbering. I plan to make two different types of roof for these, a thatched roof and a tiled one, so I can get a bit of 'two-for-price of one' variation out of them for different battles, easily. I'm also thinking of a far-eastern style huts for Vietnam etc., maybe on stilts and if they are done to the same dimensions I can literally use the same roofs, especially the thatched ones, for those too-all economising on effort and storage space with a bit of luck.

I'm keen to make sure than I can fit the different sizes of house one inside the other 'Russian doll' style, to minimise the storage requirements.

Now with this project, like all my projects, like any good wargamer my motto is 'Why keep things reasonable and actually finish a project' when you can let meglomania take over and never finish anything!!!

So, instead of finishing what I have started, I thought I would have a crack to see how quickly I could get towards making progress on a ridiculously ambitious project - in this case a little Western town for 28mm. Well such is the speed of how quickly you can work with cork tile, the answer is a surprisingly long way! In a really short time I have drawn up and cut out the fronts of two sides of a little street of 'false fronted' shops/saloons. When complete, these guys will have a covered 'boardwalk' in front, with 'hitching posts', and signs on top. Obviously, all the other sides, floors, etc. need to be cut out, but as a little 'tester' I got this far in not much more than an hour or so-not all bad. For now these cut up bits will go back in a drawer, not least since starting, I've discovered at my 'new' club one member regularly turns up with a complete 'cowboy' game including his own town...but I'm sure I'll come back to this project... well as cracking out a good selection of buildings in the other styles, as and when I have my different forces (eg. for Sudan, Napoleonic, '44 Normandy) finished.

I've had a conversation with one guy at my 'new' club who is terrain-maker in chief, and says he would only use foam-core, but my experience of working with cork-tile for a week or so, is on grounds of ease of use and cost, this can't be beaten, and I plan to use it until I have at least a nice little 'basic' collection in place for most of the stuff I might need in the near future.

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