Friday, October 23, 2020

The Seven Steps to Hex Making Nirvana

Several people have asked "How do you make your hexes" so I thought I would publish a step by step guide.  My hexes are sized at 4" across (flat side to flat side) and match the standard used by GHQ.

In order to use the method I'm describing you need 3 tools:

- A hot wire cutting table.  I use a proxxon, which is superb but there are other options out there.  Don't go cheap on your hot wire table - you use it a lot in terrain making.

- A hex cutting jig - these are not all that hard to make  and are required to make precise hexes.  How I made my jig can be found this link: Hex Cutting Jig

- A robust straight edge cutting guide - super easy to make and really is the first thing you should add to your hot wire table tool.  How I made mine cand be found at this link: Straight Edge Guide

Cautionary Words:

Cutting EPS foam with a hot wire cutter does release toxic gasses which you should NOT breath in.  How toxic?  I'm no medical expert but have reliable information these fumes are worse than those produced by two day old gas station burritos.  Yeah, it's nothing to screw around with.   I do my cutting in the garage with the door open and I have a fan behind me blowing the fumes away.  Doing so also gives me a wind blow hair look which is a truly glamorous thing to behold.  Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

So without further ado, I present to you :

The Seven Steps to Hex Making Nirvana: 

Step1) EPS Foam Prep:  
I like to use pink or blue insulation EPS foam panels that are 1 inch thick and 24 by 24 inches in size.  Given there is some precision cutting here that's the largest size I can easily manage.  I get mine from Amazon in a set of 6 for $35.00.  There are cheaper ways to source this material but none that are more convenient.  Time is money

Make sure to clean up the material if it's been stored in the open - a few shakes and quick brushing and your ready to go. 

A word on dimensions - the thickness of 1 inch is rock solid but the 24 x24 inch sizing is more aspirational - these panels can vary +/- 0.5 inches on the length and width.

Step 2) Set the Guide to 4 inches: 
This is the most precise cut you need to make so it's important to take your time.

One of the most valuable tools I have for model making is a set of steel rulers that a have a flat end.  These are way more helpful than a standard tape measurer for precise marking.

Step 3A) Make Your First Cut:
Place the EPS foam up against your guide and passi it across.  Using a guide is really important - free-hand cutting just ends up with wavy sides.  

Friends don't let friends make hexes with wavy lines

Step 3B) Check Your Work:
With the first cut done, double check to make sure the width is 4" inches.  Surprisingly, I got this one right.  

Once you're sure your at 4 inches go ahead and cut the rest of the material into 4" inch strips - you'll end up with 6 but make sure to keep track of the last one....

Step 3C) Check the Last 4" Strip:
As I mentioned earlier - sometimes these 24 inch panels are actually 24 inches and the one I used was a little short so the 6th strip of foam is only 3 and 3/4 inches wide.  This one CAN NOT be used to make hexes so needs to be put aside.  It's not really wasted as I'll use the off cuts for other scenery projects.
Step 4) Set the Point to Point Distance:
The next step is to cut they 4x24 inch strips into blocks that are just a tiny bit longer than the hex is point to point.  I made up a few 4 Inch (flat to flat) hexes to use a marking guides and use that to set up the cutting cutting guide.

If you want to get into hex terrain having a few of these lying around your shop is really helpful

Once the 4 5/8" cut distance is set cut the 4"x24" strips into 4"x4 5/8 inch blocks.  You'll end up with 5 blocks that will make full hexes and one short block that can be used to make hal hexes or be tossed into the "available for future scenery projects bin"

Cut the 4" strips into blocks,

At this point you should have 25 blocks that look like this.

Step 5) Break Out the Hex Jig!  
Place one a block in the hex cutting jig and make sure it's firmly seated as shown in the picture to the left.
Make a pass across the wire by pushing the jig forward.  Turn the block leaving the first cut on the same side as the cutting wire and pull the jig back across the wire.

Now flip the block so you newly created point faces away from the cutting wire and repeat the two step process above

Wala' you now have a perfect 1" thick hex and four right triangles

Step 6) Set the Guide to 1/2 inch:
We now need to reset the cutting guide to 1/2 inch so we can cut down the 1inch hex into 2 1/2 inch ones.  Rather than risk messing up one of our shiny new 1" hexes I test my guide set with one of the triangle cut-offs

They're great to use to test the 1/2 inch setting.

Step 7) Make the Final Cut:
Place the 1 inch thick hex up against the the guide and ....

pass it through the wire (I'm pretty sure you knew that was the next step)

At this point most of you will be doing the happy dance that all hex makers are legally required to perform after their first successful hex.  This dance can be physically taxing so make sure to stretch before your performance.

Do that 24 more times.  Performing the Hex making dance is really not recommended after each hex as, frankly, most of us are just not in the proper shape to do so.

and boom you've got some hexes!  The yield this time was 50 hexes from a 2x2 sheet of EPS foam - sometimes if the foam is cut a little large you can get up to 60.

It took me longer to write up this blog post than to cut 50 hexes.  Start to finish the entire cutting process took 33 minutes, which include the time I took to take pictures and added a few minutes to the production time.

There is some foam wastage - I don't find the triangle cut offs all that useful and end up throwing most of them in the bin.  I do keep a few as they can make nice braces to pin in place and support a glue up but most, sadly, end up in the bin.

I've been making a lot of hexes.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Stalingrad Project: Trudging Along


Steady progress is being made on the northern half of the table.  I can bang out about 25 hexes a day so it will be a bit before this one is done.

Because I'm an idiot, I decided to redo the Pavlov House model (and the adjacent apartment).  The models that I had purchased were very nice but were "true" 15mm scale and I'm doing this table at roughly 12mm to fit everything in.  The replacement buildings were made on my cricut using a file I designed and just look better size wise.

I'm having a lot of fun with the project and am constantly tinkering with the best way to make the terrain hexes.

More to come

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Stalingrad Project: The Soviet State Bank Building


Here is my rendition of the Soviet State Bank building.  All I had to go with are some aerial shorts which confirmed the generale "U" shape but I couldn't find any images of the front or back facades.  Yes my Google-Foo is that weak.  I am highly confident my mistakes will be eagerly pointed out to me by future convention goers in blunt and likely conflicting ways.

It still needs some battle damage and signage but I'm calling this one done.

I did the layout of the building in Inkscape and the had my newest most favoritest tool in the world - the Cricut Maker - cut out all the parts from 2mm thick chipboard.  This time almost everything fit perfectly.  

Almost is close enough for me.

I'm going to switch over to scenicing and painting the terrain I've built so I can stage a few test games up at the club.  I'm about 50% done with building construction and really do need to save something for the Analogue Hobbies Painting Challenge.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Plains Wars up at the Club


Last night Tom ran a Plains War game pitting an attacking column of US cavalry and infantry against the Lakota Sioux.  Josh and I played the native Americans while Ed and Steve played the forked tongued devils.

This was a "covid-fuelded" project as Tom painted all the miniatures during quarantine - they're 15mm scale and all from Old Glory.  We used Osprey's "The Men Who Would be Kings" rules and it was a very fun, if silly gaming evening.  I look forward to playing again. 

I really liked the MWWBK ruleset - it's pretty simple but flows really well and seemed to capture the feel of warfare in that age.  More importantly it was fun - thanks for a great game Tom.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Univermag Department Store Scratch Build


Here is a scratch built version of the iconic Univermag Department store for the Stalingrad table.  The model was designed by me using Inkscape and then cut out on 2mm thick chipboard using my recently acquired Cricut Maker.   

It's not a "true-to-scale" model but I think it captures enough of the "feel" to be used.  A true scale version in 15mm would be 2x the size.  A friend from the club has 3d printed the front entrance, so I may rebuild this using that once I finish removing all the print supports but that's for another post

The curved front section is a bit crude and designed to fit the hex terrain so it's fixed on a 120 degree angle.  The front facade was cut flat and then the chipboard was curved by misting it with water and forming along the side of a 1 quart can of paint.  In hindsight, I should have used thineer chipboard (1mm vs 2mm) but it came out OK.

The back view is pretty much made up by yours truly.  I've got no idea how accurate it is but think this is good enough.  There are probably more windows than were actually present but that's easy to fix by just adding a different back panel.  

I'm really pleased with how this model came out.  I built this to really test out the combination of Inkscape and the Cricut for terrain making and am really excited about the prospects.  I made a ton of mistakes and still struggle drawing curves in Inkscape but the combination of the two tools is really improving how I can scratch build terrain.  

3 of the planned 11 "iconic" buildings from central Stalingrad are now built (Pavlov's House, Grundinin Mill and the Univermag).  Next on the list will be the Nail Factory, which was a few hundred meters west of the Univermag.  I've got some pretty good images of what the building looked like, including some online pictures of a Novus Designs model.  As for the rest, I am still looking for some street level pictures and pretty much  now just have overhead aerial imagery.  Those are great for estimating overall size and shape of the footprint but I may be winging it on what the facades look like.

Terrain work on for the Stalingrad table has been called to a halt, as a significant clear out is now called for.  Terrain making is really messy work and by the time I finished assembling the model, I was working in a 6x6 inch piece of space on my workbench.  There are a lot of chipboard scraps from the cutting process which need to be sorted through - there is a lot of material that can still be used.  Chipboard is a very inexpensive material but it's not free so I don't want to waste any if I can avoid it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Liaoyang: Another Go up at the Club


At the club last night I re-ran my Battle of Liaoyang game from the Russo Japanese War.  I did expand the table size from 8x4 to 8x6 and that really helped with game play.
Simon and I took the Russians and Steve Ed commanded the Japanese.  We used a modified version of Altar of Freedom that I've been working on which has been very creatively titled "Altar of Empires"

We called the game after 9 of 12 turns were played.  At the point the Russians were slightly ahead of the Japanese on points but my half of the board was getting pushed very hard by Steve's furious assaults and even more aggressive japanese accent.

Simon blunted Ed's attack and did preserve the vital Trans-Siberian Railway.  I think if we had had the time to go the full 12 turns that game would have fliped from a marginal Russian victory to a marginal Japanese one.
I've got notes for 3 other scenarios so will continue plugging away on this project.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Hello Scrapbookers, Can a Grognard Join Your Group?


The 15mm Stalingrad project been progressing over the normal discovery course that all my convention game projects seem to follow.  You know, a brief Eureka! moment, followed by frenzied research about the event, an expansion of the original concept because "it's got to be big!" which is quickly followed by a shattering dread that the project is impossible to pull off.

That last stage occurred a little over a week ago - right after I finished the final map mock-up of central Stalingrad and counted the number of buildings/ruins that need to be made.  Rather than post specific numbers, which may induce you to call the authorities and have me put away in a asylum, lets just stick with the elegant and descriptive term "metric but ton" or MBT for short.

In despair, I was casting about the internet with thoughtful search terms like "holy crap, I'm a moron" and "Wargame terrain Magic Wands" when I stumbled across a model railroad channel where they used a Cricut Cutter to make building for the layout.  Normally, any self respecting miniature gamer would eschew the dingy world of Model railroading but these are desperate times.  The device pictured above is called a Cricut Mamer and retails for $300 (US).  It's a computer controlled cutter that cuts across and x and y axis.  The beauty of the device is the controlling software which allows you to drop any image in and have the damn thing cut it out - including super complex designed.  It's not a laser cutter sot the depth of the materials is limited - but for 15mm building walls 2mm thick bass wood and chipboard are perfect.

I use a free program called inkscape to create building designs - it's really easy, upload them the the Cricut design space and let it cut away.  Unlike a 3D printer, I've have yet to to have a misprint that was not the fault of my design - no spaghetti monsters, no slip prints etc.  I've also learned to test cut on regular printer paper before using thicker materials.

The first thing I cut was a very generic set of walls to make into ruins - going from balnk space in inkscape to fully cut part to less than 90 minutes.

Depending on materials, curring times can vary as the blade makes multiple passes.  For 2mm chip board it takes about 16-17 passes to fully cut through the material.  It's time consuming but still faster and more reliable than my 3D printer.  Perhaps it's fairer to say the Cricut is more tolerant of user stupidity than my 3D printer.

As I learn inkscape, I  am starting to make more complicated designed like the revised version of Grundinin's Mill.  

I've got a lot to learn about making my designs fit together well but have enjoyed working with the software.

Is a Cricut better than a 3D printer?  I think the answer is no given a 3D printer (when working) can work in 3 dimensions rather than just 2.  

But if you want to design your own buildings and want a device that is super reliable and works right out of the box, then a cricut is for you.  I was seriously looking at buying a hobby laser cutter when I did stumble on this device.  For hobby use, I think the cricut is way better given it's relatively low price, ease of use and the fact you don't' have to vent it (lasers make smoke).  Oh yeah, I'm less likely to burn my retinas out looking at it cut.  Another positive to the Cricut.

There is a ton of info out there from different crafters on how to use a cricut.  It's really not form a gaming point of view but is very useful none-the-less.  

I'll be doing some more articles on the pluses and minuses of this machine but right now I'm really happy with it.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Stalingrad Project: Grudinin Mill 2.0.& Ground Color

After laying out the January 9th square portion of the Stalingrad table I realized that I was making a consistent error in the buildings being scratch built - they were all under scale.  This bias became apparent after I finished the very nice Pavlov’s House set from “Things From The Basement”.  It’s a great kit and is at a true 15mm scale.  My initial version of Grudinin’s Mill was just too small.

The scale mismatch for ruins just isn’t a problem, but for a handful of named places it does become an issue so I redid the mill, as you can see in the first picture.  It’s made out of chipboard with some styrene accent strips.  I’ll do a future post about how it was built as I’m using a new tool.

Here’s a picture of the two Grudinin Mills next to one another.  The original version will get repurposed as another building.  One of the benefits of scratch building these its really easy to change them up.  I still need to add battle damage to the new mill and paint it a red-oxide color.  The real mill is a red brick building but this one will do.

I’ve been wracking my brain (admittedly that’s a limited use tool) on how to paint the ground colors when it dawned on me that maybe I don’t need to:

Pictured is a open hex tile that has not been painted - the colors present are from the tile grout, railroad ballast and talus I’ve used for texture.  You can see where the green primer I used on the sides of the hex slopped over on the tile (bottom edge).  I think a nice top primer before texture is added and I’m done.

I do have some earth tone and concrete Vallejo pigments I can use to smooth out the colors but I don’t think I need to paint these tiles.


Thursday, September 24, 2020

15mm Stalingrad Mock Layout

Starting to layout the table for my 15mm Stalingrad game.  On the table now is the far left hand side of the table (if you were standing in the Volga River) and covers the Jan 9th square and Grundinins Mill.

The Pavlov's House model (painted white) is a set of MDG buildings from "Things for the Basement" - it's a great kit and I really like how TFTB lays out their MDF kits.  It's also "true 15mm scale" and some of the ruins I've been experimenting with are a little sub-scale, so they'll need to be revised
An example of a size revision is my Grundinin's Mill scratch build (next to the chimney).  It's way to small when compared to Pavlov's house.  i'll need to redo the Mill so it's a good bit bigger.  The existing version will be repurposed for another ruin so no big loss.

This section of 6x18 hexes represents about 20% of the table so there is a lot of work to do.  As I'm building this for Historicon, I will feel a little silly if the convention isn't held!

I also need to paint up some 15mm Russians - at least I know what I'll be working on for this year's Painting Challenge!


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Monday Night Gaming at the Club


Last night Ed and I got to playtest a new set of rules Greg has been working on.  These were Napoleonic campaign rules where the a stand is an entire division  and 1 inch is 2 miles.  It was like playing a hex and counter game on the tabletop but better.

The campaign we fought was Marengo - I was the French and Ed was the Austrians.  We're looking down at the map from switzerland

The game is leader focused - your corps commanders have lots of special abilities but once you exhaust them you may not get them back the next turn - its a die roll.

Terrain is pretty basic  - the tan strips are roads and those are very critical to movement.   The green "hedges" are rivers which can only be crossed at bridges or you can use a general action to build a pontoon bridge.

Defending a river or town halves the number of dice your attacker is throwing at you.

I managed to force a river crossing by building a pontoon bridge but that exhausted Napoleon and he wasn't involved in the ensuing attack, which while successful could not dela a crushing blow to those dastardly Austrians
In the end Ed won a well deserved victory but I am intrigued by these news rules and will gladly play them again anytime.

This ruleset has a lot of promise for doing tabletop campaigns from the AWI through the ACW.  I am always impressed by Greg's level of creativity.