[Surprise Attack!] Some Things I learned Casting 30 Pounds of Plaster Terrain

Worthy foes!

So, a while back I found myself wanting to experiment with plaster casting and after a little searching on the eBayz I found a guy unloading dental plaster for about a dollar a pound and free shipping. He still is, if you want the link.

Well, well, well…what’s a boy to do when confronted with a deal like that?

I mucked around with it a bit and had my fun, but then I learned my first lesson of plaster terrain: It does not transport well. Solid pieces won’t shatter easily, but slender ones will. Duh. Also, it gets dusty after rattling around in a box. 
My problem is that I travel a lot with my terrain and I needed something more suitable to my nomadic lifestyle, so I lost interest after a few castings. I regularly drive two hours to the big gaming scene in the town near me, I take it to more local FLGSs all the time, and it’s even made the five hour (each way) trip up to Washington DC.  If yours will stay at your house it shouldn’t be a problem for you. 

Fast forward a couple years and one of my local Infinity TOs announced that we were hosting a huge national tournament. Huzzah! Next question: Where will we get enough terrain for that? 
After us local players put our heads together we realized that, collectively, we could shit out enough tables for this grand event. The trouble, though, is that Infinity is hungry for scatter terrain and by stretching our resources so thin we were in a bind. It struck me: I have a box of plaster in my garage that weighs more than a small child, and a few months of time to prepare. We were saved! Now, back to our show…

You don’t just need plaster, you’ll also need something to cast the original silicone molds from. You can make your own masters or find stuff around the house. Being lazy, I “borrowed” some of my kids’ toys and whipped up some one-part silicone molds. I also used some jersey barriers and Dead Zone scatter. 
I will clone you for my army of the night
Ze molds! I prefer Smooth On Mold Max 14NV from Reynolds Materials but, hey, whatever floats your boat. There are plenty of mold-making tutorials out there so I won’t repeat them, but I will say that because I do it so much I upgraded from Ye Olde Lego Mold Box to a more efficient version made from laminated MDF shelving that screws together. 
A 2:3 mix of water to plaster (by volume) worked well for me, but feel free to take that as a baseline and find your sweet spot. More water = thinner, less water = thicker. Science. Thinner plaster pours better and gets finer details but is more fragile and prone to snapping. I found my best results from pouring thicker mix into rectangular objects like the cargo containers and pushing down with a putty knife to get it into the details.
I started off on autopilot and mixed it like all my other castings by weighing it out by the gram on a postal scale. Ha…ha…ha…NO. That took forever so I switched to a plastic mixing cup.
Tools of the trade! Plastic putty scraper to smooth the top of the molds after pouring, don’t worry if you make a mess. You’ve put down newspaper first, right? Of course you have. Keep a lot of it on standby. The rough and crappy knife is to break up dried hunks of plaster from the bottom of the mixing cup and from the molds. Get a graduated mixing cup, it makes life so much easier. A flexible plastic one is a MUST since you can just squeeze it to get most of the plaster out of the bottom. If yours isn’t squeezable you may as well just kiss it goodbye now before you start. Some tutorials online recommend using disposable plastic cups. They work fine, but if you’re going to re-cast a few million times the expense actually becomes significant so just invest in a re-usable one at the beginning. 

Surprisingly expensive

You will make mess. Oh lordy, will you ever. Be ready for it and have an open-topped trash can nearby that you can just slide the rubble into. Or, if you’re Dethron, be cheap and make it into rubble terrain!

Some of the first batches sized up with minis for scale. This will do nicely, now to repeat the process a thousand times.

The pile overflows the workbench and needs a box of its own. Progress!

Getting close to the end of my 30 pound box…I started using the whisk to mix the plaster in the cup but eventually it got so coated in dried plaster that I said “fuggit” and just used a metal spoon.

Even this box gets outgrown and a bigger one is called in for reinforcements. I re-use the original plaster box.

Eventually even this box was too small and I had to use both of them.

All told, I picked away at this for a few months, but that’s a little deceptive because it was actually a very manageable process. Every night before bed I mixed and cast a batch then went to sleep and let it cure for a day before repeating the process the next night. In theory you can pop the plaster out after about an hour and grind out endless batches, but that way lies madness if it’s a process of this size. MADNESS, I SAY. Just plan ahead and do a little each day or, while you’re painting/gaming, take a break every hour and cast a new batch. It’s only a couple minutes to cast a batch so it’s not too onerous if you do it that way.

Once you’ve reached the end of your geeky marathon and the bottomless box is empty, get some cheap spray paint and blast those suckers. I had a bunch of half-empty spray cans in my garage so total cost for this stage was zero bucks. Dethy would be proud.

Grab some oil-based wood stain and give them all a good dunk, same concept here as dipping minis. The oil-based stuff protects better than the water-based, trust me. Since it’s shiny when it dries just hit it with a blast of matte sealer to take that gleam off and you’re done.

The combination of spray paint and gloss wood stain will give a sort of candy-coating. This is good, you want this. Unless you like plaster chips and dust. Which you don’t.

Not even close to all of it…

When all was said and done I realized that if there’s one thing I don’t need it’s 30 pounds of terrain cluttering up my Nerd Lair. So, let’s just entice more folks to the tourney and GIVE THIS SHIZNIT AWAY FOR FREE, Y’ALL!

A Very Special Thank You to all the players who kept me motivated on the final stretch of this insanity.

So, we did just that. What other tournaments give you free shit just for showing up?

Okay, a lot of them do…but not enough to throw your back out picking it up!

More to follow on the zaniness that was North Carolina’s Dire States throwdown. SPOILER ALERT: The fire department showed up. No, I’m not joking.

Watch your backs, you never know when I’ll strike next!

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  • Drathmere

    Hey BushCraft, sorry for tracking you down on an old post. (Love the terrain though!) if you are going to the Nova Open, please track me down.

    -john stiening

  • Certs

    Neat, same company I had ended up using back when I cast all my MAS crates, objectives, and walls. Still meaning to buy and cast Jersey Barriers sometime and maybe the Spartan Games room accessory kits if I can ever somehow find those at a big discount.