by W. Ambrose "TheBugKing" Coddington
This project began by asking myself what the Sharde Islands look like. Then I asked myself what would happen if necrotite was exposed to Dragon Blight. I figured I needed a few key elements: a foreboding and swampy look, some focal point that exhibits my vision of blighted necrotite, and some decrepit trees. As with all my projects I began with a sketch (A & B).
This project wound up being so large I broke it into six distinct sections:
The Base and Shale Formations
4'x4'x1" pink foam
1"x1"x6' soft wood (I used pine)
Wall joint compound
1" coarse thread sheetrock screws
Several different diameters of wire (1/16" and smaller)
Sculpey polymer clay
Milliput epoxy putty (I used superfine but lower grades will work)
Woodland Scenics green polyfiber
Fine green flock
Coarse green flock
Horse hair grass
Scrap wood and dowel
Green LEDs and matched resistors
Low voltage wire (solid core phone wire will work just fine)
Heat shrink tubing
12v 1400 milianp DC power supply
Lead-free solder and flux
Paper towel or tissue paper
Phone connector strip with 8 poles 2'x4' 1/4" Luan
2'x4' 1/8" perforated masonite board
1"x2" wood strips
2"x2"x10" balsa wood block
3/32" Lexan (I found mine in a picture frame)
Liquid masking material
Fine brass wire
Fine and medium ballast
General Safety Notice:
When using power tools wear goggles. When using knives cut away from yourself. If you run the risk of cutting yourself while doing a process wear gloves.
Most importantly use common sense. If you are uncomfortable doing something don’t do it. Figure out a way to do the process in a way that is safe and that you are comfortable with.
Electricity is dangerous. There are many things that can go wrong including severe damage to your house as well as potential loss of life. If you are not 100% comfortable with your abilities and knowledge about electrical systems do not attempt this section.
Begin by cutting out the basic footprint of the piece with the scroll saw (1A). On one of the back verticals be sure to make an opening for the electrical work. I chose the long back edge for this (1B).
Use the Flexible Shaft with the sanding bit to smooth the edge of the base piece (1C). I like to have about 1” of bevel to make sure that the transition from the piece to what ever it is sitting on looks smooth.
Then mark and cut the 1” x 1” wood to match the profile. Glue and clamp in place and screw together (1D). Make sure that you drill a pilot hole with a bevel in the hard board or you will split the wood and make a mess of the hard board. Once the pieces are together run a bead of super glue along the edges of the wood and hardboard--this will help decrease warping. Allow the piece to dry overnight (1E, 1F, 1G, & 1H).
Take a piece of pink foam and trace the footprint on to it (1I).
Cut out the pink foam, a bit large, and test fit it. You will wind up smoothing it out later (1J).
Apply wood glue to the base in a relatively even pattern, making sure to get glue on the vertical edges. Then smooth out the glue. Make sure that the entire surface is covered, as this will decrease warping (1K).
Put the foam piece on and apply some heavy weights to make sure it stays put (1L). You want to make sure that the first piece of foam bonds really well to your base board so that the rest of the assembly goes smoothly (1M). Once the base is dry, cut a section of foam out for the electrical work and trim the overlapping foam away.
To cut out the smaller pieces, trace the larger piece below it and then draw in the shape you want. Repeat this until the foam stacks up to above the backing pieces. Be sure to cut all of your pieces, and make sure to cut out the area for the electrical work (1N).
Draw in rough locations for trees and locations to embed the LED units that will be made later. Then, using the carbide bit on the flexible shaft, carefully plunge the bit into the foam. Make the indents about ¾” deep (1O).
If an indent falls on an elevation change in the foam, be sure to plunge ¾” into the lower piece. If you make them too deep you can always add a piece of foam later. If they aren’t deep enough it will be very difficult to make them deeper later on (1P).
You will notice that while using the carbide tip, it will fill up with pink foam residue (1Q). It is important to remove the residue periodically as it gets very hard, and if it comes off while you are using the tool you could injure yourself. I allow about as much residue as is shown in the following picture.
Once the indents are in, it is time to start planning the wire runs for the electrical units. The bottom piece is quite easy. Cut a ¼” wide by ½” deep trough from the electrical cut out to the indent using the carbide bit (1R).
For the other two indents, troughs will need to be cut into the bottom of the foam pieces they are in. Mark out your cut path and then cut in a trough ¼” wide by ½” tall (1S, 1T, 1U & 1V).
The very top indent will need a hole drilled down into the electrical cut out. Mark where the trough needs to be, cut it, and then drill down into the electrical cut out (1W, 1X & 1Y).
The bottom indent and trough has no foam over much of the trough so it needs a piece of ¼” brass rod to protect it from the WJC that will be applied later. Mark and cut the length of tube and then use wood glue to glue it in place (1Z & 1AA).
Glue all the pieces together making sure to evenly spread glue over each piece and the vertical back and side. Glue the bottom first and work your way to the top until all the pieces are in place. Put some heavy things on the larger surfaces to minimize warping (1BB).
Use the pilot hole drill and put screws in along the top edge of the back and sides. This will help keep the piece from warping (1CC).
Once the glue is dry, (It can take up to three days for the glue to dry completely. Be patient. It is important to allow the piece to dry completely before moving on) begin shaping the foam. Use the carbide bit and flexible shaft to cut the inside edges and smooth out the edges of the foam. Then use the keyhole knife laid on its side to smooth the piece further. You can use a rasp or other rough tool here, but I prefer the key hole knife because of it’s flexibility 1DD & 1EE).
Vacuum up all the loose foam, and vacuum the piece thoroughly. Then apply about ½” to ¾” WJC over then entire piece, being sure to not get any in the electrical indents (1FF, 1GG & 1HH).
Allow the piece to dry for about 6 hours, and then use a small left over piece of the 1”x1” wood to score in strata lines. You want to be sure to do this while the piece is still soft or it will not work (1I).
Allow the piece to dry completely. This can take up to a week, so be patient. Following your strata lines, use a welding wire brush and scrub back and forth. Ridges and valleys will immediately begin to form. Use the various brush sizes to get into the tighter areas. For the horizontal areas, lay a brush on its side and work gently into the piece. There will be some areas that will have to have vertical ridges. This will wind up looking fine (1KK).
The end result (1LL & 1MM):
Mix 30% wood glue with 70% near boiling water in an old glass or jar and brush over the entire piece to seal it. The hot water will suck the glue further into the WJC than cold water. Give the piece three to four coats, allowing 5 minutes between applications.
Once the piece is completely dry paint it.
I used an airbrush to apply a mix of the burnt umber and umber, and a mix of burnt umber and a small amount of black to rough in the strata lines. Then I mixed several shades of grey and drybrushed over the entire piece, varying the levels of grey. I then mixed the umber and a small amount of green and airbrushed over about 70% of the piece in a random pattern. I drybrushed several layers of grey over the piece again. Then I mixed a wash of yellow and umber, as well as a wash of burnt umber, green and black and applied the washes in several layers adding highlights and shadows. Finally, I drybrushed a light grey and very light grey (1NN, 1OO, & 1PP).
Begin by taking a few lengths of the largest wire and twist them together (2A & 2B).
Take the smallest diameter wire and begin wrapping around the twist; this will become the main trunk of the tree. The long sections of the large diameter wire can be twisted together to make thicker limbs (2C).
Cut lengths of a medium diameter wire, and begin twisting them around the 1/16” wire After twisting a few medium sized wires, wrap the resulting sections in the thin wire. Leave a length of the thin wire off the end. As branches get built up, twist a few of the thin wires together to make even more branches (2D & 2E).
Continue wrapping and twisting wires until you get a desirable shape for the tree. For this project a warped and twisted tree is needed (2F & 2G).
Take Sculpy and press it onto the tree (2H). The idea is to smoothly cover the entire tree. You will get better results if you smooth the entire tree before beginning to scribe in bark patterns (2I).
Once the tree is completely covered, take a sculpting tool and scribe in bark patterns (2J). In this case all the scribe lines were done inline with the branches to simulate a deciduous tree. Doing a bit of research on bark patterns can help. Once the bark is sculpted, bake the Sculpy in an oven following the package instructions. The process usually takes 15 minutes and the tree will cool inside of a half an hour. Once the tree is cool, paint it. The colors used were black, burnt umber, cadmium green, and white. As with everything I do, I mixed the colors on the fly until I got a result I liked.
For the hanging moss process, I made a quick bracket out of some scrap wood I had. Begin with taking a chunk of green polyfiber and stretch it a few times so that the fibers are all running generally in the same direction. Pull the polyfiber into a roll and stretch it over the wooden bracket (2K). Run a bead of super glue along the top of the polyfiber and let dry. The bracket I made allowed me to make quite a few moss pieces all at once. It still took two applications per tree (2L).
Take a mix of 25% wood glue and 75% water, dip your fingers into the glue, then dip your fingers into some coarse flock. Massage the flock and glue mix into the polyfiber. Allow the polyfiber pieces to dry (2M).
Once the polyfiber pieces are dry, airbrush the pieces with a mix of 90% water 10% paint that is very dark brown (2N). Then, drybrush the pieces with a bit of pale grey green (again all my colors are mixed on the fly.)
Use a pair of scissors to cut the polyfiber pieces off of the bracket (2O).
Spread the polyfiber out a bit and run a bead of super glue across the cut section. Quickly push the cut section onto a branch. Be very carful with this, as it is very easy to glue your fingers to the tree. I have very thick calluses on my hands so getting super glue on them causes little discomfort. Once the polyfiber piece is dry, run a bead of super glue along the seam between the polyfiber and the tree branch, then sprinkle fine flock on the glue (2P & 2Q).
Keep adding pieces until you get a desirable result. Once the pieces are dry, airbrush the fine flock with the dark brown mix you made earlier (2R & 2S).
To mount the tree to the base, bend a few “root” wires down and trim them so that they are about 2-1/2” long and press the tree into the base. It is very easy at this step to either break the tree or make a huge hole in the base. Work slowly and ease the tree into the base (2T).
Add a large amount of milliput to the join between the tree and the base and begin to sculpt in a root system. I discovered half way through this process that it is easier to simply cut the remaining wires off of the base of the tree than to try to integrate them into the sculpt. So the pictures don’t quite match what you should do (2U).
Add some “sausages” of milliput to become the rest of the root system (2V). Working quickly, sculpt in bark patterns and split the “sausages” into smaller roots (2W).
Once the miliput dries, paint the root system using the same process you used to paint the tree. Don’t worry too much about getting paint on the rock formations of the base. It will get covered in flock. Once the paint is dry, use a mix of 50% water 50% wood glue and brush the glue into the recesses of the root system. Sprinkle coarser flock over the glue. Blow the excess flock off of the piece. Let the flock sit for a few minutes then tap it with your fingers. This will bring the rock formations out from under the flock. While the piece is still wet, sprinkle static grass over the root system (2X).
For my piece, I made two trees. I initially intended to make three, but the composition didn’t work as well as with two trees.
For this project you must do the following steps FOUR times.
Begin by tracing two circles that are slightly smaller then the electrical indent on a piece of scrap hard board. In this case a cut off wheel was the correct size (3A).
Cut out the two circles using the scroll saw (3B).
Use a clamp to hold both pieces together and sand them so that they match and are close to round (3C).
Select three LED’s and the matched resistors, then lay out the LED’s in an even pattern, and mark to one side of each. Also select one side to be the positive pole and the other to be negative (3D). Mark each with a + and - (3E).
Using the #50 microbit, drill out where the marks were made in the previous step. Then drill two more holes for the resisters on the inside of each section (3F).
Insert the LED’s into the holes that were drilled for them, and glue them in place using super glue (3G). The long lead is the positive pole, and the short lead is negative (3H). Bend the leads from the resistors so that they will fit into the hard board as well (3I). Then glue them in using super glue.
Bend the negative pole from the LED’s over so that they touch the near lead on the resistor. Then bend the resistor lead over the LED lead (3J).
Solder the negative leads to the nearest resistor lead. Trim the excess wire off.
Bend the resistor leads together flush with the hard board, and solder them together.
Bend the positive leads at 3/16” above the hard board towards the center so that the three leads touch and solder them together (3K).
Cut two pieces of low voltage wire about 4” long and strip the ends. Then solder them to the positive leads and the resistor leads. Mark the lead location on the remaining piece of hard board (3L).
Cut a 5/8” strip of the 1/32” plywood at least 16” long. Drill out the two marks on the bottom piece of hardboard, and thread the leads through the holes. Be sure to mark the positive and negative leads on the hardboard. Superglue the piece of plywood to the same spot on both pieces of hardboard (3M).
Wrap the plywood around the hardboard pieces, and then run a bead of superglue along the plywood and hardboard seam (3N).
Cut the excess plywood off so that the plywood will lie flush. Clamp the end of the plywood to the hardboard, and finish running the superglue bead. Run a bead of superglue around the leads (3O).
Use the sanding wheel on the flexible shaft to sand down the plywood that is sticking up above and below the piece. Be careful not to touch the LED’s and the lead wires. Attach the lead wires to the power supply and plug it in. If all is well, it will light up (3P).
Tie a small piece of paper towel to a piece of string about 4’ long. Put the paper towel end of the string in one of the wire channels in the electrical cut out in the base. Put the shop vacuum into the corresponding electrical indent. Hold the end of the string and turn on the vacuum. The string will be pulled through the wire channel and out the electrical indent. Tie two pieces of low voltage wire to the string and pull them through leaving a generous amount hanging out of each end (3Q).
Strip the ends of the lead wires on the LED unit and the lead wires coming out of the base. Cut two pieces of heat shrinkable tubing about 1” long and thread them onto the leads coming out of the base. Twist the leads from the LED unit and the base together (3R).
Solder the twisted leads together and slide the heat shrinkable tubing over the join. Use the heat gun and shrink the tubing over the join (3S).
Be sure to mark the positive and negative leads coming out of the electrical cut out in the base. Pull the slack out of the leads, and nest the LED unit into the electrical indent. Run a bead of wood glue around the LED unit and allow the glue to dry.
This concludes the steps that need to be repeated. Do the following steps once.
Cut the telephone connector strip in half. Cut six 2” long sections and two 8” sections of low voltage wire and strip both ends of the pieces. Connect the four poles of the telephone connector strips with the 2” sections and connect the 8” section to one end of each piece (3T).
Trim all of the leads coming out of the electrical cut out in the base so that there is about 6” of lead and strip the ends (3U). Again, be very careful to keep the positive and negative leads separate (3V).
Connect the leads to the telephone connector strip, and then glue it into the bottom of the electrical cut out (3W). Mark the positive and negative connector strips.
Cut a square piece of hardboard that will cover the electrical cut out opening. Drill a 1/16” hole into the center, and thread the power supply leads through the hole.
Tie a knot in the power supply leads as a strain relief. Attach the positive power supply lead to the positive lead from the piece and repeat for the negative lead.
Screw the hard board cover over the electrical cut out.
Creating a Vacuum Form Table
Begin by cutting the luan and perforated masonite down to two 2’ by 2’ pieces (4A & 4B).
Cut two 1” x 2” wood strips to 1’ 10” long with the chop saw and two 1” x 2” wood strips to 2’ long (4C).
Drill a hole in one of the 1”x 2” strips in the center (4D).
Clamp the wood strips to the piece of luan and perforated masonite, then drill pilot holes around the perimeter of the top and bottom. Remove the wood strips and liberally apply wood glue to all seams. The wood glue acts as a seal here, so be very generous. If you are making a mess, that is the right amount of glue. Screw all of the pieces together (4E & 4F).
To make the table work, plug your shop vacuum into the hole in the side of the table. To keep the suction efficient, it is a good idea to mask off the area of the table that you aren’t using (4G).
Creating Necrotite Spines
Heating lexan releases noxious fumes. Make sure to use adequate ventilation.
Wear gloves when working with hot materials.
Use eye protection when using power tools.
Begin by tracing out a rough horn shape on the 2” x 2” x 10” balsa wood block. One side needs to be curved, and one side needs to be shaped in a taper (5A).
Cut out the shape with the Scroll Saw. Cut the taper or tear drop shape first, and leave the piece in the block. Next cut out the curved section. You want to keep the piece square while you are cutting it (5B).
Begin shaping the spine with the Exacto Blade (5C).
Continue shaping the spine with the rough sand paper (5D).
Finish shaping the spine with fine sand paper (5E).
Cut the spine in half with the scroll saw (5F).
Glue both halves of the spine down to some scrap masonite (5G).
Once the glue is dry cut the masonite around the balsa. Leave a small amount of material around the edge (5H).
Use the flexible shaft with the sand paper head to take the last bit of masonite down flush to the balsa (5I).
Cut out two pieces of lexan approximately 3” x 10” (5J).
Back the pieces of lexan with pieces of tin foil that are at least 1” larger then the piece of lexan. Crumple the excess foil up on the edges of the lexan. The idea here is that if you heat the lexan it will curl up on itself unless it is backed by the foil (5K).
Turn the toaster oven on (mine only has one setting—“toast”) and let it sit for five minutes. Then put the piece of lexan in the toaster oven for five minutes. The lexan will visibly bubble up and then settle. Once it has settled, it is pliable enough to shape (5L).
Place one half of the spine on the vacuum form table. You will notice that I have masked off all but the section being used for this project (5M).
Make sure that the shop vac is on, then take the piece of lexan out of the toaster. Place the piece of lexan down over the spine form and assist the shape with your hands. Be sure to wear gloves; the lexan is very very hot (5N).
Allow the piece to cool for about two minutes, then remove the foil from the lexan. Again the lexan is VERY hot—wear gloves. Carefully remove the lexan from the balsa form. The lexan will stick to the balsa and it is very easy to crack the lexan, so go slowly. Something that I wanted to try, but thought of too late, was to cover the balsa form with tin foil before shaping the lexan. I would suggest you try that as it may make removing the lexan much easier, however, I did not test this method (5O & 5P). I finally got a process that worked after failing about 100 times (I had a blue recycling bin 2’ x 4’ x 2’ deep completely full of 3” x 10” crumpled pieces of lexan).
Use the cut off wheel and carefully follow the seam where the masonite meets the balsa form—it should be visible. It may help to trace the line with a permanent marker before cutting. Once the piece is cut out, sand the cut surface flat with the fine grit sand paper (5Q & 5R).
Repeat the previous steps for the other side of the spine. Once you have both sides sanded flat, test their fit. You may have to sand one side a bit extra to make them match up. Line up the pieces from the top; do not worry about the bottom end at the moment (5S).
While holding the two halves together, draw a line with the permanent marker around the base. Be sure to make the line level. Once you have drawn the line, use the cut off wheel to cut the rough bottom end off (5T).
Sand the inside of each piece to remove any traces of balsa wood, and then paint the interior lightly with green enamel paint. Periodically hold the piece up to a light. If there are any areas that seem very dark, sand them down so that you can see light through the piece still. Scuff the outside of the pieces with sand paper as well (5U & 5V). Once the pieces are dry, glue them together with cyanoacrilate glue (5W). I used fine brass wire to assist in holding the halves together.
Cover the spine with approximately 1/8” of milliput. Be liberal with the use of water to assist in smoothing the milliput out. Be careful that you don’t crack the pieces apart. Go slowly but be sure to work inside the drying time of the milliput (5X).
File the spine smooth then mark out where you are going to carve the holes down to the lexan (5Y).
Use the round end carbide bit to carefully carve out the holes marked in the previous step. There will be a noticeable difference in the feel of the cut once you reach the lexan. Use caution and go slowly. I didn’t have any mistakes at this point. It is easier then it looks (5Z).
Once the holes are carved out use the round bit to randomly pock the surface of the spine making deep holes at the bottom, and working up to shallow holes at the top (5AA). As an optional step use a flat carbide cutter to scribe in serrations in the spines (5BB).
Clean the spine off thoroughly and apply liquid masking to the exposed lexan holes. Allow the masking to dry completely (5CC).
Airbrush the entire spine black. Then airbrush the entire spine gun metal. Once the spine is dry, apply a liberal amount of dark anodic grey to a makeup sponge. Rub a decent amount of the paint out of the sponge and then rub the sponge over the spine. Work from the top down fading slightly towards the base. Once the dark anodic grey is dry, repeat the sponging process with the steel paint. Once the paint is dry, use an exacto knife to gently lift the masking material off of the lexan holes. Glue the spine on to one of the LED units (5DD).
Crush the eggshells up into pieces approximately 1/8” in size. Mix them in the disposable plastic bowl with equal amounts of the green, brown, blue and black ink (5EE).
Shake the eggshells so that they are evenly coated with the ink. You will notice that the eggshells begin to stack up like small pieces of shale. Allow the eggshells to dry on a piece of paper towel (5FF).
Run a bead of milliput around the base of the spine. Sculpt in a similar pattern to the base but make most of the veins vertical. Once dry, add some ballast in a random pattern (5GG).
Add some of the eggshell bits to the piece (5HH).
Airbrush the base with a dark brown followed by some dark grey. Then dry brush progressively lighter shades of grey over the area (5II).
Repeat the preceding steps 3 more times.
Begin by taking a piece of wax paper and putting down several small clumps of horse hair grass. Add a dot of white glue to the center of each piece of grass. Stretch the ends of the clumps so that the glue works its way through the entire clump (6A).
Once the grass clumps are dry, cut them in half with an exacto knife (6B).
Glue several clumps of grass with cyanoacrilate glue randomly over then entire piece (6C).
Cover the entire piece with watered down wood glue and sprinkle a random mix of fine green and medium green flock over the glue. Be sure to avoid the rubble around the spines. Allow the flock to sit for a bit and then gently tap the surface with your fingers. This will bring out the rock from underneath the flock. Sprinkle static grass randomly over the piece (6D). Airbrush the flock with a dark brown to darken up greens.
A piece of this scope can seem very daunting when you are first setting out. If you take each step and work to complete it, it will help motivate you to keep going. The end result is clearly worth the effort, as you will have a piece that will completely wow your gaming friends.
Credits and Thank You Notes:
Have Fun and Good Luck!
Ambrose "TheBugKing" Coddington