Swamp Table
by Jon Paul "Klepto" Klepacz

It's been a while.

If you've read my water effects tutorial from way back when then you know that I've wanted a swamp themed table for some time. Well, that time has finally come..

Rewind to about 4 years ago. My boy needed a project for a Cub Scouts workmanship pin. I found a great web site www.drunkdwarves.com. I found an article on building the ultimate gaming table and table top. I don't know who these guys are but I give them the official Terrainthralls stamp of approval. I commissioned the garaged, the credit card, my neighbor's saw, and a few days later we had a table and top ready to go.

I tried contacting the site's authors to let them know I was ripping off these shots but eh email address was no longer valid. Bummer, I hope they get to see this.

Problem is that monstrosity (my wife's words, not mine) sat in my basement with nothing cool on it for quite some time. I'd been tossing ideas around in my head for some time on what exactly to do and I took a long time before i finally came up with something.

Keep in mind that this project took me over a year to finish. I'm not kidding. I'd start and stop for a few months and then pick it up again later. So, forgive me if some photographs are missing.

The materials were also expensive. the table cost me over $100 to build in wood and I also spent almost $100 in Envirotex Lite by the time I was done. But we're hard-core right? This table is awesome to look at. I'm very pleased with it at I can create additional table tops and just swap them out. No price is too much for our hobby!

I made a few mistakes along the way and I'll do my best to offer advice on avoiding them. But other wise it is really easy to do.

Materials Needed:
Liquid Nails
Hot wire cutter
Plaster paper
House paint
Craft paint
Hot glue gun
Cardboard or plasticard
Paint mixing sticks
Envirotex Lite
Foam insulation

Part 1: The Base
I was able to obtain two pieces of 2' by 8' pieces of blue insulation from my local hardware store and cut them down to 6 feet in length. The spare pieces will make good hills later. It's important to not get the cheap styrofoam variety because of the cutting we'll be doing. Glue it down with Liquid Nails as well as fill in the gap between pieces (1A).

Weigh it down and let it dry.

Part 2: The Form
Now I looked for inspiration. The internet and Google Earth were great helps here in finding what swamps look like. I wanted the swamp to be thick, green, but most importantly, I wanted it to look wet. Perhaps this was a part of a delta for an outlet with water levels rising and falling regularly. With a magic marker I made a very rough drawing of what my table will look like. Lots of little islands with surrounding water and shaped like they were constantly being altered by the water flow.

Since I'm not using styrofoam I had to get a little creative with the hot wire cutter. I found that if you keep the wire loose and form it into loops it works great for carving out flat surfaces but he regular kind worked fine for me. Make sure you've got some open windows for this part as a melting foam stinks pretty bad (2A).

Here's a lesson that you can learn from my mistake. Don't make the depression too deep. It will save you a lot of money later in Envirotex Lite. Large quantities of this stuff can be expensive. You can disguise the depth of the water with paint later.

The excess foam I had was used for making some gentle slopes on the edges of the table. Use some woodglue and some skewers to hold the pieces in place until the glue is dry (2B).

Once you're satisfied with the cutting then it's time for some plaster paper. I was able to order some from my local railroad store. I think I've seen it at the hardware store too to cover holes in the wall. This stuff is some kind of thinly woven fabric coated in dry plaster. How it works is you cut a length, dip it in water and then lay it out across the table, being sure to overlap the edges as you go (2C).

Why plaster paper? Paint or glue bonds to it very nicely and we don't want chemicals melting through the foam later.

Once the entire table is covered and completely dry get some woodglue, sand, and some small gravel pieces mixed in. I watered down the woodglue to about 1 part water to 3 parts glue. Coat the table and generously sprinkle sand. I wasn't so much concerned about the depressions as it will be covered with water effects. Once it is dry I had to tip the table top over and let all the excess fall off.

Part 3: The Paint
Time for paint. Not the craft store variety. Get some black house paint and cover the table with a good thick coat Swamp earth is very rich in nutrients and very dark so black is my base color.

Once the black is dry you can use the craft store variety of paint from now on. I used brown and applied it on all the raised island spots. Later I mixed in some red and white to dry brush over the brown. Looks pretty decent so far, huh? (3A & 3B)

Part 4: The Vegetation
I mixed up equal parts of Woodland Scenics Earth Fine Turf and a thicker dark green inside the shaker. I also sprinkled in some dried moss from another project to the mix for some variety.

Mix up some whiteglue and water. You can apply it with a brush or pour it into a spray bottle. Spread the stuff at random on the islands. I still want some earth to show through underneath so I'm not spreading it everywhere. I sprinkle my turf mixture over the table and let it dry (4A).

Same as before, I had to tip the table top over and shake off the excess turf. Get some more of your whiteglue and water mix and apply it across the entire table. It works great as a matte sealer on the turf and paint. Give it plenty of time to dry (4B).

I wanted my water to appear shallow so I left the brown paint in areas where the water effects will cover. If you want the illusion of deeper water then paint the deeper portions black and blend brown to the edges.

This is also the best time to think about any other details you want on your table. Tall grass, cat-tails, lilly pads are all covered on my previous water effects tutorial to take a look over there before you pour the water effects. Maybe some submerged bodies of the dead o or skeletons of giant marmots...

Part 5: The Water
As you get closer to the water effects we will need to damn up the sides of the table where the streams meet the table edge. I used a hot glue gun and some cardboard. but after peeling it away afterwards I would recommend using something else like plasticard. Use plenty of hot glue as you don't want any Envirotex Lite leaking onto the floor. Trust me (5A).

Now comes the messy part. Depending on how deep the streams are you are going to need a lot of Envirotex Lite. I purchased the gallon quantity and it was not quite enough to cover the entire table top. Once again, it depends on how deep you made your depressions.

A few words about Envirotex Lite. You really don't want to make any mistakes when using this stuff, so learn from my mistakes. When working in large quantities (I applied 32 oz. at a time) make sure you mix it very well. i sued a paint mixing stick, mixed in a little green paint, and them poured it all into my depressions and scraped the sides of the cup (another no-no). When the first layer was dry completely and it will stay sticky on the surface and impossible to remove. Also, don't scrape the the cup. The unmixed parts will stick to the sides of the cup. Another good piece of advice I learned later is when you think you are done mixing, pour into another plastic cup and mix some more.

Luckily, I was able to apply more layers until it was almost up to the level of the island. Make sure to spread it out evenly to get a good look. I also used a cheap paint brush to spread it out to the shorelines and the thinner portions (5B).

Take your time and let the previous layers dry before you add more.

The shots below are after I'm satisfied with the final product. The Envirotex Lite dried to a very hard, high gloss finish. I take lousy photos but just look at the reflection (5C)!

Throw in some terrain pieces and you've got a very nice looking table.

As I mentioned before, I'm very pleased with the final product. I want to create some nasty swampish trees and some rough terrain pieces of tall grasses to compliment the table. Maybe some small patches of exposed necrotite ripe for harvesting.

Until next time,