Building a Castle

28 Apr 2020

For some time now I've been experimenting with different ways to use the excellent Hirst Arts molds to make towers and walls. The idea here is to build a set of walls, towers, gates, etc. suitable to use as a modular castle for 25-28mm scale figures. I want it to be durable, flexible and good looking. This is part one of a series as I experiment with different ways to construct and paint my castle.

My plan is to continue updating this article as the work progresses. So far I've mostly completed one tower and one wall length, with another tower and wall nearly done. I've been trying to perform my technique when building the items, as well as how best paint the items to make them look realistic.

I'm using two different molds, "Fieldstone Wall Mold #70" and "Small Brick Mold #250". There's many other great looking molds that I indent to acquire in the future, finances willing. I also use balsa wood, white "tacky" glue, cardboard, etc. For the molds, I use "Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty" - you can get it in most hardware stores in the painting section. It mixes up pretty well, is reasonably priced and is much more durable than plain plaster.

Check back often - I will update this page with more photos and info as the work progresses. I still need to decide how I will handle the tops of the towers, make a gate house, etc. I intend to build some sort of crenellations "set" to place on top of the walls. I may instead make "hoardings", wooden extensions that go on top of towers and walls to give more protection to the defenders.

Castle 1 This picture shows both the tower and a wall, with a figure shown for size comparison. It also shows the painting system I'm currently, using. This consists of painting the stone a light grey base coat, followed by blacklining the joins of the walls. Then I do a light black wash to "dirty up" the surface. While the surface is wet with the wash, I "wet-wash" in some dark grey paint, to give the stone some discoloration.
Castle 2 This picture shows the interior of the tower a little better. You can see the thick balsa wood used as an interior "skeleton" for the tower. This helps me keep the bricks square and the walls straight, as well as making it more durable. biggest problem so far making these has been making sure the towers are square, from the ground to the top of the tower. With both towers I've build sections of the wall at full height and combined them - this doesn't seem to work terrible well. Often times the corners are a mess and the bricks don't line up. If you look closely you can see some of this problem on edges of this tower.
Castle 3 Here we see one of the wall sections under construction. You can see the balsa wood supports on the interior of the wall. It can be difficult to keep the wall straight and the surfaces even. You can see on the finished wall that it curves slightly - I suspect this is because I used some cardboard on that wall, which tends to bend as the white glue dries.
Castle 4 Here are the molds drying. It takes quite a while for them to dry, and if you try to take the bricks out early you can crack or damage the bricks. It can also be tricky to mix the right consistency of of the "water putty" and water - too thick and it can be hard to pour into the molds, too watery and the bricks will crumble easily...

Continued... As I continued to work on my castle, I was running several recurring problems.

Painting Stone

One problem I encountered was how to paint the stone so that it looked good, but at the same time I needed a method that was both fast and fairly economical. My method was to paint the wall or tower with a base of grey, then do drybrushing with lighter shades to bring out the texture, followed by detailing the cracks between stones with dark grey or black to emphasize the blocks. This method was ok, but I wasn't entirely pleased with how the stone ended up looking. Another problem is it was quite laborious, and required me to be sure to use the same colors for the base color and drybrushing - and was going to have a lot of stone to paint!

My solution was to coat each piece with a white base coat. This is necessary because the base color of the "Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty" is a cream color, and it varies a bit depending on how clean the water I use is, whether I added any paint as a dye to the mixture, etc. So a standardized starting color is important. 

After a couple coats of white (I brushed it on, but I suppose you could use spray paint) I water down some black paint and added a bit of floor cleaner to break the water surface tension and make a good wash. This I applied on the white base coat.

Painted stone for castle

This is pretty fast and since I'm just making a black wash, I don't need to worry too much about which paint I use as I paint different sections at different times. Before, I had to try to remember which bottle of gray I used for the base coat - and if I ran out I'd have to try to find the same brand! Now I just need to try to match the same "intensity" of the wash, which is a bit easier - and if a section turns out too light I can generally apply a new wash to darken things up.

Painted stone for castle

 

Crooked Towers

Another problem I was having was crooked towers. This occurs to a much lesser extent on walls as well. 

On the first tower, I built each face of the tower at once, then tried to "connect" them at the corners. The result was that corners didn't quite match, and I ended up with a tower that looks like the it was built by drunks! Not good. The solution was fairly simple - it's more reliable to build from the ground up, just like a real tower would be built. And try to keep things straight as you go.

castle tower

Slow Going

Another problem with the way I first approached the towers is that it took a lot of bricks to build each tower or wall section. This is because I was using the "small brick" mold - which I chose because it looked more realistic to me. At scale even these "small bricks" equate to some pretty big blocks of stone. But it took a lot of bricks with this mold, so I'm considering using only the fieldstone mold and see how that looks to me.

Painted stone for castle

Inspiration

A recent trip to my parents house netted a book I had as a kid and always loved - Castle by David Macauley. This is a great illustrated book detailing the construction of a medieval castle.

Painted stone for castle


Continued... Below is a quick pic of what I guess would be a bastion, intended to set between two wall segments My plan is to spray paint the inside black before finishing the top, so that when the original color of doesn't show throught he windows.

Castle Bastion