Gaming on a Budget: Making Rubble

Big ass pile of sprues from project Vendetta

Today’s waste/cost reduction technique has long been a favorite of mine, because I’m going to be breaking shit.  It should be readily apparent by know that in my own Howard Hughes kind of way, I excel at trying not to throw away anything related to my gaming purchases.  Everything from the miniatures to the packaging has a use (yes even shrink wrap, but that’s a topic for another day….).  As you can clearly see in this picture, plastic sprues do not escape my pack rat ways.  There are a number of ways to use these, but today I’ll be talking about running them through the meat grinder- literally!

Now if only I had a dancing monkey

‘Hold the phone!’ you’re saying to yourself right now.  ‘Won’t a meat grinder be expensive?’  Not really and it’ll actually pay for itself pretty much in the first use.  I got this grinder at Amazon for $30 shipped.  Cheaper ones are available, but tend to be made of plastic, which is less than desirable as you’ll be abusing the hell out of this thing in a few minutes.  I’m never opposed to paying a little more for something that is high quality and won’t be likely to break down on me on the first use (that’s another money saving tip, btw- buy the right product the first time.  Do some research and buy quality when necessary).  One note about this, though.  Make sure that if you care about the table you’re putting this on you grab some cardboard or scrap wood to put between the table and the clamps- this thing has seriously fucked up my cheap IKEA work table.  Also, I’d advise avoiding grinders that have suction bases.  I don’t think those would hold well enough for what you’re about to do- this requires a lot of force.  Also, under no circumstances, after you have done what you’re about to do with this grinder should it be used for food preparation.  Regardless of your need to do some charcuterie there is pretty much no way to get all of the bad shit in plastic out of the grinder- so do yourself a favor and buy a second one for your sausages.

In addition to the meat grinder and sprues, you’re going to need the following materials:

  • Saw
  • Wood rasp 
  • plastic clippers
  • masonite (about $10 for a large sheet)
  • blue board or other Styrofoam (about $10 for a large sheet)
  • Sand
  • White Glue
  • Paints
  • Brushes

I’ll assume that as a gamer you already have the basic tools and paints listed above and if you’ve followed my advice on bulking up, you should have a lot of sand and glue already.  The Masonite and blue board I have are left over from making modular game table templates and tons of other terrain projects.  You should honestly be able to use those two things to make at least 20 decent sized pieces of terrain, so the cost per project is really only about $1 added onto the price of the Meat Grinder ($30).  Considering that pre-made rubble from a game store will run you $20-30 for five small pieces, you’ve essentially paid for all of these materials after making only 5 pieces of rubble.  After that, you’re in profit country!

Ranting about sausage making and cost benefits analysis out of the way, I think it’s time to launch into this mini tutorial before I start rambling about adding the depreciation of your meat grinder into your taxes……

your base, all ready to go

Step 1

I cut out a piece of Masonite into a roundish shape with a jigsaw.  Using a wood rasp, I beveled the edge to make it more aesthetically pleasing.  Without even using a knife, I broke off a piece of blue board in roughly the shape I wanted and then used white glue to attach it to the Masonite.

Once this was dried, I used the wood rasp to round off the blue board and give it some shape.  This is all going to be covered by rubble in the end, so don’t worry too much about getting a clean surface.  The foam is just here to provide body to the terrain piece and make it appear as though your pile of rubble is much taller/deeper than it really is.  This was pretty messy, so feel free to use any cutting and shaping method you see fit.  I’ve always found that a rasp gives you a much nicer round shape in then end than a knife or hot wire foam cutter, though.

that jar may say pasta, but I assure you it’s not

Step 2

(Optional)  I covered the foam in Vallejo white stone mixture.  I have an assload of this stuff laying around and need to use it up before it dries up.  You could just as easily use any white glue or acrylic paint to cover the foam though.  The important thing is that you’re covering all of the exposed foam up, since it’s going to be spray painted later.  The combination of spray paint directly to foam melts the foam and probably creates fumes that will make you trip balls.

At this point I poured sand directly over the piece, since the white stone (or glue) will do a good job of holding it.  This will give your base texture and make a nice surface to peek through your rubble pile if there are any gaps later.  Now it’s time to let this dry for a good long while.  I was bitching to Kirby that this part took almost all of yesterday due to the ridiculous humidity resulting from a 30 degree F swing in the weather and the melting of Chicago’s 2+ feet of snow- who says global warming isn’t real.

snip snip snip

Step 3

While  step 2 is drying it’s time for the fun to begin.  Snip pieces of sprue into small and mostly straight bits.  I’ve found that anything under about 4″ long will fit into the grinder just fine.

Next throw those bits into your grinder and grind away.  This can get pretty messy, so make sure you’ve got something to catch your ground up bits of plastic on the other end.  Since I don’t throw anything away without reusing it I’ve got a Valkyrie box set up for this task.

When grinding your handle will get stuck quite often.  Through lots of practice, I’ve figured out that it usually isn’t necessary to take apart the grinder to clear clogs and jams.  Simply give it a crank or two in the opposite direction and you should be good to go again.

Grinder and box in action

Don’t be afraid to throw other spare parts into the mix as well.  Run bits you’re not going to use through the grinder to see what comes out.  I’ve used everything from tank hatches to heads to rhino interiors and bolters and it all looks great.  I also tend to throw bits of resin, pewter shavings, plastic flash, larger broken pieces, sand/rocks, and other small bits into my rubble box (but not the grinder), just to add a diversified texture. 

Your final ground product should look like this and will be really useful even if not as tasty as Weisswurst:

Final mix

sprinkled with rubble

Step 4

Put down a heavy layer of white glue on top of your layer of sand over your foam and then sprinkle it liberally with your rubble mix.  DO NOT shake off the excess yet.  The rubble mix is pretty heavy, so it might not be firmly stuck into the glue until it is dry.

I took a pic in case you don’t know what black primer looks like

After this dries, shake off the excess rubble, back into your rubble box.  To add depth and texture, you might want to do more applications of the rubble mix depending on how it looks.  Due to time constraints, I only did 1 application.  To add further diversity it’s a good idea to throw in some whole or broken pieces at this time.  I’ve used a few Cadian heavy weapon bits and pieces of sheet metal with rivets from the old Chimera kit to my piece.  Tires, oil drums, unexploded ordnance, body parts, etc all make good additions as well.

Once your pieces are on, spray paint the whole bugger black and let it dry.

Mixing paint

Step 5

Now it’s simply a matter of painting this up to match your gaming table and you’re done.  To paint terrain I use cheap craft paints (more on this in a future article).  Since the table these are intended for is a black/gray gritty asphalt or moonscape, I simply mixed up some paint using black and cream paints.  Using a crappy IKEA paintbrush (only $1 for 3 and ideal for drybrushing large projects, but good for little else other than falling apart), I brushed on a 50/50 mix of black and white.  More white was added to the mix and a second, lighter drybrush was applied.

Finished product, tank and sergeant for scale

To add depth and diversity to the pile, some pieces were picked out as metal.  These were given a base coat of tinbitz and a stippling of boltgun metal.  To add rust these pieces were then washed with a blazing orange/bestial brown mix that I use all the time.

Once all that’s done I went back and used various washes (greens, blacks, and browns) to pick out a few pieces of rubble here and there.  This helps to further break up the homogeneity of the piece and is a detail that you never see in pre-made terrain pieces.  

closeup of rusted metal and other washes

You’ll note that for wiping the brush and mixing the paints I’m using one of those free newspapers that gets delivered to my house for no reason.  Hooray for free palettes and drop cloths.  These also come in handy for flock hills, airbrushing, etc. 

That’s it for this week.  Have a rubble tip?  Drop it in the comments.  Have an idea for another article in this series?  E-mail it to [email protected]

As a bonus, here are some pics I’ve taken of other things I’ve used the rubble in:

Operation Valkyrie
Operation Vendetta WIP
Still life with Sentinel on rubble pile

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