Now before anyone reads the term “walkthrough” and expects a tutorial on building the cosmos, I am sorry to disappoint.  Instead, this will be a documented walkthrough of how I built my last display board.  I hope that some of the techniques and materials are useful to hear about, and I look forward to hearing how anyone else goes about working on a display board.

That said, let’s start at the beginning.  The board was for my latest hobby project, the Kabal of the Fursaken, which is a Skaven counts as Dark Eldar collection.  With the amount of work I put into the models, I knew that the display board should be a bit more advanced than a stolen McDonald’s tray.  In the past, I have found display boards to be cramped with models, leaving little real space for modeling detail.  I knew that I wanted to maximize my real estate on the board, without having to lug around a 4’x6′ sheet of pink foam.

I purchased a 2’x4′ framed bulletin board, just to start playing around with.  I thought that a display board that was 1/4 the size of a gaming table was far too large to be practical, but I just wanted to see the board first hand.  It became clear pretty quickly that while far too large, the board did offer a surprisingly large amount of room for both models and scenery.  If only the board took up less space on a table… maybe half as much…

And with that, inspiration struck.  I cut the board in half, with a circular-saw.  The cut is marked by a jagged, curved line across the center of the board in the photo above.  What I envisioned, was a two-leveled display board that could offer lots of board space, while not being impossible to carry from table to table.  Having two levels, would let me model a junkyard for my Skaven vehicles, as well as a subterranean sewer area for the infantry.  Back to the photo above, the straight line was marked as the center of the cork board.  I cut the board a bit offset, so that way the bottom level would stick out a bit, inviting the viewer to crouch down and look in.  This would grant me two different aesthetics to flesh-out, and also allow some of the elements to cross between the levels.  For example, I envisioned a water-effects element on the junkyard level, with pipes leading to an underground sewage system.  Ideas such as this would be mandatory, to keep both levels of the board connected by theme.

Fast forward to when the models were all finished, I had to begin planning out just how to design the board.  First, I laid out the scenic elements and models on the sub-level,


The numbered circles mark where I needed my supports to go.  I put the models on, and the scenic elements, and made sure they were well spaced.  There is a pumping-section on the sewer running on the top-left part of the board, and I needed this to line-up with an above ground pumping station, so this took a bit of cautious measuring.  Next, I laid out the models for the top level:

You can see the boxy white pumping station in the top left, as it is lined-up to flow underground.  You may also notice a rhino on the board;  more on that later…

Working-out the spacing was a little tricky here, as I needed to be sure the supports were located in places where the surface level could accommodate a large screw and washer.  Once I found a layout I was happy with, I photographed each board for reference during the construction process, and used a black magic marker to outline the resin scenic elements.

You can see in the photo above, I have added a section of cobblestone road.  I added this element, because my army is already based on cobblestone, and I wanted to connect the army to the display board.  I purchased adhesive strips of these cobbles from Chooch Enterprises, which is surprisingly a model train supplier, and not a prostitution ring.  More commonly used to line train tunnels, the bricks were an easy way to cover a large area of the display board with a uniform texture.  I had already purchased a large bag of resin bricks, so I knew I could easily glue the loose bricks along the broken edge to help sell the image.  As you can see in the photo, I had to number the strips and line them up before cutting them to fit both the flat edge of the board, and also the irregular edge along the front.

After moving everything out to the garage, the real construction began.  I first drilled guide-holes in the board and a set of 1″ wooden dowels, to prepare for the supports.  I then glued down all of the resin scenic elements:

The supports themselves consisted of wooden dowels and several pairs of large, flat washers.  I used cut sections of PVC piping and a few fixtures, to hide the wood and give the supports a more industrial, sewer feel.  If you look at the photo above, you can see the wooden dowels screwed into place, with the PVC shells coming up around them.  Once the resin was glued down and the supports were in place, I began tearing up sheets of different kinds of cork.  I used this to create a rock formation in the sub-level, leading up to a large hole in the ground of the surface-level.  This would help to visually unify the board, as well as reinforce the theme of an invasion of rats from both the air and underground.  Next, I watered down some wood glue, and coated all of the exposed cork of the  sub-level.  My intent here was to both strengthen the cork by letting the glue soak-in and set, but it also allowed me to easily texture those same surfaces with a variety of sand and gravel.

It is worth mentioning that in this picture, the top level is not yet affixed to the supports;  I was just testing the supports and tring to see how the board would look complete.  You may see the chopped rhino at this point, and think it is just there for scenery.  An explanation is forthcoming…  You can see here that I had to use putty to fill in the hollow metal frame of the cork board.  After the putty and wood glue dried, I used a leaf-blower to blast off any excess sand, then got out the spray paint.  Following the advice of some of the comments made on my primer discussion, I sprayed the entire sub-level, as well as the underside of the surface-level, with Krylon flat black.  It was cheap, it went on fast, and it looked great.  I was actually so impressed with the coverage, I am going to be priming one of my next hobby projects with a colored Krylon, to see if I can actually speed up the base-coating process, but that is a story for another post.

Knowing that I would not have much brush room once the top was screwed on, I made use of the space I had and went crazy painting the sewer level.  Once the sewer had been painted, I screwed the surface-level firmly to the supports, adding some silicone glue to the edges of the PVC in an effort to increase stability.  Once screwed on, I painted the cork of the entire surface-level with watered down wood glue, and added cork, grit and sand for texture.  I took special care to cover the screws and washers of the support, while keeping my original photos for layout in mind.  Once this layer of wood glue had dried, I made a “skirt” for the board out of plastic tarp and painter’s tape:

You can see that I even taped-in a piece of cardboard to block out the hole leading below!  Once I was confident in this “seal”, I first used the leaf-blower to remove excess sand and grit again, then used the black Krylon and sprayed the entire top level black.  Once this dried, I removed the skirt, and set about painting the surface-level.  At this point, I began to pour layers of ink-stained water effects into the pumping station and sewer.  Water effects can take a very long time to dry, and it is best to apply them in multiple thin coats, so it is worth getting them started ahead of schedule.  I also added the pipes from the pump on the surface to the sewer below, and continued the “walkway-pipes” from the surface, into the ground and the sewer-level.  I was very concerned about these elements, as I really wanted the bi-level presentation to be unified, and not just two separate displays.  Here is what I had at this point:

You can see here that I painted the brick to match the red of my model bases.  I mottled the earth of this level with a variety of greens, purple, grey and brown, but I knew that a flock and lichen stage would soon add come other color to the ground treatment.  Let’s take a moment to talk about that Rhino now.

Because I had built a two level display board, it was obvious to me that the work I had done “underground” would be difficult to see due to the shadow of the surface-level.  Using three separate 3v LED lights, I provided illumination for my sewer.  Mounted on the “ceiling” of the sewer, I placed two lights near the front of the display, and the third in the central-rear location.  I wanted the first two lights to illuminate the immediate front of the sewer area, but I knew that by placing the third light in the central-rear section, there would be two benefits:  First of all, after crouching to look in, the viewer would be granted a background to the action along the front of the board.  Secondly, by placing the light above the rippled water effects of the sewer, I was adding an artificial bit of “movement”.  As the viewer moved, his angle to the water and light would shift, so the light would appear to dance across the water, bringing it some action.

So getting back to the Rhino, well, this is where I hid my two 9v batteries.  I drilled a hole in the surface-level of the board, directly under the location of the Rhino hull.  I cut the bottom of the Rhino off on an angle, so it would give the appearance of being partially-submerged in the ground, while providing easy access to the open interior, where I could hide batteries.  With a second 9v battery tucked inside, I was able to power a lighting effect in the Rhino itself.  I found this flasher board online, and thought that it would represent an electrical fire quite well.  I dremmeled and carved out battle damage on the hull of the Rhino, with special reference to my original spacing photos.  I wanted to use the flashing light sparingly, as not to be obnoxious.  By burying the flashing lights within the rhino, and only allowing the light to escape in specific places.  I wanted the light to be subtle.  With that in mind, I placed the holes, and the Rhino itself, actually, in such a way that the escaping flashes of light were directed.  The light was directed towards the underside of my Dais of Destruction, which has lots of metallics and glossy black cables to reflect the lights.  This was intended to show a head-on viewer the action of the flashing light, without just placing a bare strobe-bulb in the center of the board, and blasting techno.  Here is a video of the lighting effect in motion:


After mixing a few different tones of flock and lichen, I began gluing down clumps of foliage to the board.  I often find this task a bit difficult, as it is hard to mimic the truly random aesthetic of nature, and patterns of placement quickly emerge.  Having a steady gradation of flock from the brown of dead plants and weeds, up to the bright green of thriving moss and vines, allowed me to add another visual detail.  The plants that are nearest to the water source on either level of the board, would naturally be greener and more alive.  As the plants were placed further away from the water sources, they became more and more scraggly.  This also allowed me to present a variety of shades of plant matter, which would help tie the board to my army in that I used a variety of colored lichens and flocks to differentiate identically equipped units.

I glued-on a small title plaque that I ordered from a local trophy shop ($12), to give the board a final, clean name tag.  Here is a shot of the finished board:

I hope that this was informative.  As I said at the outset of this article, this is just an explanation of how I made my latest display board.  I am sure there are many tricks and short-cuts to be used, and I would love to hear about them.