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Making a terrain base

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Core terrain skills
  • Making a terrain base
  • Texturing terrain bases

Making a base for your terrain is the single most important thing to do.

I keep banging on about the durability of terrain and I think generally people undervalue this, or take it for granted with plastic kits. Your terrain has to survive being dropped. It has to survive being thrown in a crate at the end of a long gaming session. It has to survive being knocked about, and a good, solid base is one of the best ways of ensuring that it can stand up.

The plastic kits from Games Workshop are incredibly durable but unfortunately home made terrain, and some professional terrain such as MDF kits, don’t stand up as well.

The basing material I use for terrain is 3mm MDF. It is strong and sturdy, exactly what we want. It can be difficult to work with, needing multiple passes with a heavy duty stanley knife to cut and, if you’re not careful, it can warp but we’ll cover that in the texturing page.

You will need

  • 3mm MDF
  • A pencil/pen and a ruler for basic measurements
  • Heavy duty stanley knife
  • Spare blades for stanley knife
  • Spare/old cutting mat

1. Draw your outline

When you come to making a base, you will either have made the scenery to go on it first, or you’re going to be building the terrain straight onto the base.

If you’ve built the scenery first, place it on top of your MDF sheet and draw a rough outline with a pen or pencil, leaving a border of around 15-20mm around the outside. No need to measure it exactly, just a rough eyeball is fine. You may want to draw on the shape where specific features of the terrain will go, e.g. if making a base for a watchtower, note where the steps sit so you can find it again later.

Definitely make sure you mark which side is “up”.

If you’re making the base first, simply draw the outline of the base onto the MDF. A ruler or spare figure can help you get a sense for the right size.

If you settle down to make several bases at once (and it is recommended with a large project), write down on each base what it’s going to be for.

2. Cut the basic shape out

Now get your heavy duty stanley knife and replace the blade with a new fresh, sharp blade. Even if you think it’s pretty sharp, get a new blade anyway. We’re going to be making several passes through the MDF and a dull blade is liable to slip. A slipped blade is liable to end up embedded in your leg. Change the blade. Now.

Cut a basic boxy outline around the shape. You’re not trying to get the full shape perfect in this first pass, just cutting it down into something more manageable.

Take your time, take 3-4 passes to cut each line and don’t sweat about not making perfect cuts. The 15-20mm border was put on for this very reason.

3. Bevel the edges

This part destroys cutting mats.

Let me repeat it louder:

Have an old cutting mat on standby for this.

Hold your knife at an angle away from you (not shown in this picture is my hand gripping and steadying the base on the opposite side of the MDF, away from the path of the blade):

Cut in from the edge of the MDF, about 5-10mm in from the border we drew.

Keep making these cuts all the way around the base:

Don’t worry about getting the edges perfect to the outline we drew or getting them perfectly smooth.

You can see the chunks that this has taken out of the cutting mat. While it’s not much now, trust me your mat won’t survive making the full set of terrain.

4. Sand the edges

Grab some rough grit sandpaper, put on a dust mask, and go to town on those edges:

Sand on top and underneath as well. This creates a rough texture for the glue to adhere to and makes sure that there aren’t any sharp edges around the base (seriously, forget papercuts – woodcuts hurt!). Marvel as you’ve now covered everything in the room in a thin layer of MDF dust.


And that’s it. That’s making a base. Such a simple thing but as I said, an essential skill to master to ensure that your terrain is durable. From here you can either build the terrain up on top, or stick your existing terrain down onto the base. Then you texture the base.