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Terrain Tiles

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OK, so you want to have individual terrain tiles which have rivers and other stuff sculpted in it. You can spend a lot of time marking individual squares and carving them out...or there might be a better way.


Tools Needed:



Bowl carving bit or other bits with a top guide bearing or guide bushings


OK, first off you have to decide on some particulars. How thick do you want your base tiles to be, what material do you want them to be made out of and what overall dimensions will be used. For this particular setup I am using 1/4" MDF tiles which are slightly under 12" square.




Once you have that in mind, cut one tile that is the size you will be using (either use a table saw or have the lumberyard cut it to size for you). You will want to use one of the tiles for laying out your template bases. You will also want to have three additional strips cut from the same stock you are using for your tiles. In addition to those pieces, you will need a suitable base to build your template on as well as a top piece which will serve as the actual pattern.


Place you sample tile so that you have room on three edges of the base - you will use the small strips to form a box around the tile. While laying out those strips keep in mind that you don't want anything metal to be in the path of the router later on. Also, it is a good idea to leave a small amount of room between the edge of your tile and the edge of the strips - if it is too tight, you may not be able to slide the tile in later (or might not be able to get it out). I use an index card in order to provide for that space (don't glue it in place or anything - just place it in the space between the two parts). Glue and nail the strips in place and than set it to the side to dry.


You top pattern piece should be about the same dimensions as your bottom base. The thickness will depend on your particular router setup. In my case, I needed to use 1/2" stock in order to get the bit deep enough but still have the bearing in play. Using a jigsaw or bandsaw, cut a lazy s pattern through the pattern stock. You do not need to worry about the width of the river unless you are doing a fork (even then...you really don't need to worry).


Now go back to your sample tile. How wide do you want your river to be? How wide is your tile? Subtract the width of the river from the width of the tile and divide by 2. Measure that distance from each corner of the tile and mark it (a combination square makes this much simpler and more accurate). You should have two markings on each side of the tile with the width of the river between the two marks. Place the tile back into it's space on the base and transfer those marking onto the side rails of the base. Rotate the tile to make sure the markings line up. Rotate again, and again...it is better to notice a mistake now.


With the two (or more) pieces from your pattern, place them on the top of your base. Align the edge of the pattern with your registration marks on the rails of the base. Glue and nail in place. I have found that using a thin spacer between the top pattern and the base helps make removal of the finished tile easier (I use index cards...don't worry about trimming them to size you can make it pretty later...however make sure that it doesn't interfere with the slot you are creating for the tiles).


The completed template should look something like this (don't mind all the scrap and overhang...I haven't bothered to clean it up yet).




Once the glue has set, slide a tile into the slot you left open at the front of the template until it is fully seated at the rear. Use a clamp to pinch the tile between the top pattern and the base - you don't want it to shift while you are working with the router. Set your depth stop on the router to allow you to plunge into the tile and get to work. Normally for rivers I use 1/8" for my depth. You can go deeper if you want - however you will want to keep in mind the strength of the overall tile.


In very short order you will be done with the routing. Make sure though that you pay close attention to the edges of the tile. You will want to make sure that you don't miss a spot in these areas - otherwise the tiles won't match up.




There you have it. If you already have the tools - this is a fairly inexpensive way to get tiles which match up quickly. The same method can be used for other terrain features as well. For the base tiles, I like the MDF in terms of durability (and with upwards of 60 games a month being played on my terrain now...foam just doesn't hold an edge well enough), however you can use the router and the same process to carve extruded foam (pink, blue or yellow - not the bead board).

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Dude, that is cool the way you united your two hobbies of woodworking and gaming. :B):


It's also one of the best uses of MDF I've seen. MDF makes a VERY substantial base for foam, spackle, or whatever.


I might point out for folks who might be intimidated by a router that you can get a mini-router, also known as a laminate trimmer. Also, for those who have a Dremel tool, you can get a router attachment for it at Home Depot.


Here is an example of a laminate trimmer:


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Yeppers - routers are one of the most versatile tools anyone can own...and for those looking to get into wood working, it is one of the first tools I recommend getting (after a table saw or quality band saw).


Ryobi makes a pretty good small router (I forget the model number...but it will probably be marketed under the laminate trimmer or palm router name), as is the Bosch Colt (which I use for this particular project as opposed to my big routers for the visibility issues). Both should be available for around $100. Rotozips can also handle this task well enough.


One thing I didn't mention above though is that is you are doing it with foam - you will want to have a vacuum attachment for your router. If you are doing it with MDF...for your own health and safety you need to have a vacuum attachment for your router.


The bit that I use for most of these is a Frued 19-104 Dish Carving Bit with a 1/2" guide bearing. It gives the edge of the river a curve for the banks as opposed to a hard edge - but since the adjoining tile is cut with the same bit...you get a matching profile on the river bank. An ogee grooving bit would be another interesting option which provides a compound curve and would make the transition smoother. A third thing which I have been playing with is a round nose bit. While this bit doesn't give you as smooth of a bottom - it makes finishing a bit easier. The ridges which are left in the bottom of the river after milling provide a good foundation for making rivlets and other currents when you are painting it up.

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Not a whole lot. I did a couple sectional marsh tiles and have thought about some trench warfare tiles as well. Hopefully this weekend I will be able to spend a few minutes with finishing the milled tiles and get a few pictures put together of the process and the completed tiles.

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