Home Forums Terrain and Scenery Girders, beams, railings, scaffolding, bulkheads, etc?

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    Avatar photoRhoderic

    At some point I want to build an industrial-type terrain set-up for 15-28mm sci-fi gaming (and spy-fi, steampunk, post-apoc, what-have-you). Actually, “industrial” may not be quite the right word, but basically I’m talking about a function-over-form milieu of mainly naked steel and concrete that could be part of anything along the lines of a spaceport, launch facility, factory complex, infrastructure plant, resource extraction site, military facility, under-construction “mega-project” (like an artificial island for those “future Tokyo” settings), or the belly of some giant arcology or bunker-city.

    But whenever I look at real industrial landscapes, or staged/drawn/rendered ones in films and comics for that matter, I’m buried under a container-load of “I-can’t-build-that!” angst. All those girders and railings and whatnot…

    So I’m looking for practical advice on how to build stuff like this – specifically things like girders, beams, railings, scaffolding, bulkheads and other things of that sort. Some other elements like pipes, tanks, containers, crates and concrete pillars I already have sorted, but it’s all the “skeletal” steelwork that intimidates me.

    For a start, I’d gladly receive any tips about terrain products that would spare me having to make everything from scratch, whether terrain-building materials, kits or finished pieces. I’m already aware that there are styrene/”plasticard” I-beams, H-columns, channel strips, square tubes and other shapes from companies like Evergreen, but I’ve never bought any of these and might not know how to build something sensible-looking out of them…

    Which brings me to the other thing I’m humbly requesting: Construction tutorials (if there are any) and pictures of other people’s industrial terrain builds – especially anything with beams, railings and such.

    Failing that, I’ll also take commiserations from fellow terrain-builders who know what it’s like to get an anxiety attack whenever they pass an industrial area or construction site… “I can’t build that!!” 

    Avatar photoPaul

    Like you, I find modelling steelwork a pain. Not much advice. What I do is keep my eyes out for suitable bits and bobs; when one of my sons toys is broken, I swoop like a hawk and liberate it before my wife tosses it away. I normally find something that I can use: just last night I grabbed a truck bound for the scrapheap. This netted me two waist-high railings each about 6cm long, two flatbeds to use as Necromunda walkways, and a few other things which I have tossed into the bits box.

    Also, check out this blog. It has sadly been dormant for a while, but all his work is amazing, including all his “steel” stuff.

    Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let's go kill them!

    Avatar photowillz

    I use artist grey board to make metal sheets and at rivets made by using a hole punch, on plastic card or thin good quality card.  Hole punching and glue is time consuming but worth it in the end.  Making girders can be done in much the same way, though you need to make sure you cut strait. Plastic card works very well for girders and you can buy plastic card girders ready made (down side is they are not cheap).  Also balsa wood can be used to make girders, works well when coated with some form of modelling paste.

    An other way is to cast girders by using this stuff, make a master and cast. https://www.smooth-on.com/

    Hope these ideas are of some help.

    Avatar photoGaz045

    Check out ‘bits’ and ‘bundles’ of railway buildings on ebay, especially useful are the station covers/roof sections all supported by girders and the gantry pieces and bridge parts……….can be picked up for pennies as the railway buffs aren’t keen on junk!

    Check the craft shop for ‘granny grating’ – a plastic/fabric stuff that is used for some form of needlecraft…..also pieces of plastic fencing mesh that can be trimmed down to from railings and fences etc…I have used aviary mesh too but it is a bit sharp and can snag your skin!!


    "Even dry tree bark is not bitter to the hungry squirrel"

    Avatar photoRhoderic

    Thanks for the tips so far!

    Avatar photoirishserb

    Hi Rhoderic,

    I come from a scale model building background, so some of the following might be overkill for what you are trying to do, but I figure that it can’t hurt to throw it out there.

    First, 25/28mm will be a lot easier to build than 15mm just because of the strength of the larger structure.  At 15mm, approx. 1/100, a 12″ wide column scales to 3mm across.  The resulting structures can be very fragile.  Just something to consider.

    Possible sources/plans for manageable sized projects might be model railroad magazines.  Don’t know if they are available to you, but they can provide pretty complete plans with dimensions, which can be really helpful.  Otherwise the internet is your friend.  For post apoc ideas, search for abandoned factories, industrial sites, etc, to get a feel for how structures decay.

    One source for structural shapes is Plastruct, they make a wide variety of products for industrial and architectural models.  They can be pricey, but just a few doo-dads can spice up basic structures, machinery, and vessels.  Man-ways, vessel end caps, cast ladders, etc can be worth a little cost, relative to the time they save.  If you browse the Plastruct PDF catalog, you may find some manageable ideas for the tabletop, in addition to getting ideas of what all the bits can be used for:      https://plastruct.com/

    Details like hex head bolts, rivet heads, etc, can be found from Grandt Line or Tichy train Group.  These items are relatively simple to use and can add a lot of flavor to the project:



    I would suggest solvent welding your parts using a disposable syringe with the needle tip ground/filed flat.  Plastruct, Ambroid, Tenax 7R are all solvents that work well.  For making repetitive structures, make jigs to line up your parts and hold them during the gluing/solvent process.  Balsa wood will work fine.  I also described a system using magnets on a metal backing in this thread:



    Materials will be cast in different types of plastic.  For the best joints, try to use a single type of plastic for the structure of sub-assemblies, if not all of your project.  Some plastics will not bond well to others, so super glue might be better for joints between different types of material.  Much is available in styrene, with Evergreen and Plastruct products usually being white in color.  Structure made of ABS or Butyrate will usually be gray in color.

    Styrene structural shapes of a given dimension will usually be a little finer in detail, thinner web thicknesses, etc, than ABS or butyrate parts.  The styrene will give a more accurate looking product, but will be a little weaker with respect to strength. Note that there are minor differences between Evergreen and Plastructs shapes, even when they are described as being the same size.  Usually, the plastruct product will be a little stronger or thicker.

    Once you come up with a plan for your project, break it down into sub-assemblies, or mini-projects.  It is less intimidating if you focus on one step of part at a time.  Ten individual pieces of industrial equipment can be a lot less threatening, than the idea of building the whole industrial site.

    For cutting plastic structural shapes, get a hobby miter-box  and saw.  It will give you square cuts (or close to it) with out tons of setup or frustration.   Also, a simple sanding block made with a small block of wood with adhesive backed sandpaper will be of help to rapidly clean up edges.  I also like the flexible sanding sticks from Squadron for cleaning up plastic bits ( I find the medium and coarse grit to be the most useful):


    If you use pattern styrene sheet or vacuformed textured sheet and glue it to a backing sheet of styrene, use .04 inch thick or thicker backing sheets, and do not solvent weld the sheets together.  Laminate the layers with spray adhesive, super glue, or another glue of your liking.  If you solvent weld thinner sheets together, over time they will likely  warp and/or sag.  If one of the sheets are .06 inch or thicker, this is less likely to happen, particularly as you get thicker than the .06 thickness.

    Hope something here might be a use. Don’t hesitate to ask if run into problems along the way.


    Avatar photoCatullus

    I don’t think there’s any particularly easy to do what you want to do. Just bite the bullet and do it. You’ll hate your first few attempts (and you’ll probably hate the next few too) but eventually you’ll figure out a way to do it that suits you. I think you’re already going down the right route by looking at Plastruct’s products and patterned plasticard sheets. I second the suggestion of looking out for model railway kits that have parts that might work.

    Avatar photoRhoderic

    Thanks for reviving this thread. I’ve now come to accept that I simply don’t understand structural engineering well enough to be able to improvise my own halfway-believable-looking “girders-and-beams” type structures. For instance, I have no clue as to which shape of beam or column/girder (I, H, T, L, rectangular, etc) is appropriate in which situation. That’s just one example, one of the few that I can define and pin down in words. There are many “unknown unknowns” here that I can’t even chart in my mind.

    So, I must either endeavour to attain all that understanding through extensive study, or give up on the “improvise” part and simply replicate existing constructions (whether real-world ones or “fictional” ones in artwork and miniature designed by artists/modellers who themselves have an adequate grasp of structural engineering).

    The latter alternative seems far more sensible (and going that route I’d probably pick up some of the underlying theory along the way), only I’m having difficulty finding examples of constructions that are simple and practicable enough to replicate as wargames terrain. I don’t need big, complex structures, I just need something that conveys that archetypal “girders-and-beams” visual impression so as to create a sense of locality on the tabletop, while being discrete and self-contained enough to be a sensible modelling project (that said, it could also be a part of some implied larger construction jutting in from off-table).

    Nonetheless, I’d also ideally have it appear like it serves some actual, discernible “in-world” purpose – in other words, not just being there to provide elevated platforms/walkways for sheer gameplay purposes (like a lot of industrial-type terrain pieces I’ve seen for games like Necromunda, Urban War, Infinity and Deadzone, which inadvertently make the tabletop look like a play fort or a paintball / laser tag arena).

    Come to think of it, I recall that a few years back in the Dream Pod 9 forums there was an inspirational terrain-builder who made a realistic gantry crane in 12mm scale. Maybe I should look that thread up for a start. I also might have seen some structures like this in John Treadaway’s Hammer’s Slammers galleries.

    Anyway, I hope I’ve communicated adequately what my problem is: I’m simply in want of concrete things to copy. If anyone has any suggestions (or better yet tutorials, though I doubt I’d be in that much luck), I’ll take them. Anything suitable for any scale from 6mm to 28mm would be interesting, really. A modern day or “low-tech sci-fi” look is what I’m aiming for.

    For that matter, if anyone knows of any existing kits along these lines that have already been produced (maybe laser-cut MDF, or something), please do tip me off about them. Not the plastic Platformer/Hexagon kits, though. They’re precisely what I mean when I speak of terrain pieces that look more like play forts or paintball / laser tag arenas than anything that’s been constructed for functional real-world purposes.

    Avatar photoDarkest Star Games

    Tubes and rounds are always good for columns, and I-shaped beams (actually called W Shapes) are always good for columns and beams.  Open web joists also make great beams, though I don’t know how steam punky they will look…

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    Avatar photoRhoderic

    Tubes and rounds are always good for columns, and I-shaped beams (actually called W Shapes) are always good for columns and beams. Open web joists also make great beams, though I don’t know how steam punky they will look…

    Thanks. Open web joists would look very cool (as modern/sci-fi terrain, steampunk excluded) but I don’t have the patience to scratchbuild them and I don’t know if anyone makes them in plasticard or anything like it. Then again, if indeed I use them as joists, I might only have to make one or two of them (the “outermost” ones) as the rest could be out of sight beneath whatever roof they’re holding up. I’ll keep that idea in mind.

    On a similar note, truss pillars/columns would be really, really cool, but a nightmare to scatchbuild. Also, I assume that in reality they’re only ever used when they don’t have to hold up anything of substantial weight.

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