Sunday, May 6, 2012

Custom Movement Trays: Part 1

This is number 1 of 2 of my movement tray tutorials. This post will talk about how I make the movement trays that I use on my armies. Part 2 will show you how to magnetize them.

Start by gathering the materials you're going to need. Sheets of balsa wood, balsa wood sticks, a sharp modeling knife, super glue, and a straight edge (I usually use the old 12" Garfield ruler shown here). You're also going to need some of the bases that you intend to make the move tray for.

Here's a shot to give you an idea of how thick the balsa sheets and sticks that I use are. The sheets are 6"(158mm) x 3/16"(5mm). The sticks are 3/8"(1cm) x 3/16"(5mm). They both come in lengths of around 36".  The balsa wood you see in the pic above are scraps left over from previous projects.

The movement tray I am going to make in this tutorial is intended for 4 chariot bases. If I ever get around to making a second unit of Mournfang Cavalry, this will be for them. It was the only movement tray that I could conceive of needing in the somewhat near future.

Now, on to the fun part. Use the straight edge, and draw a line straight across the balsa sheet. In the pic below, the line I am referring to is on the left (next to the rough end).

I always use the bases that will be placed on the movement tray to map out how large to make the tray. This is done by using one of the factory cut edges, along with the straight line you just drew. Place the first base in the corner of the two aforementioned straight lines/edges, then place a second base next to it. Do so until you reach the width in bases that you want for the movement tray. When you get there, slide the base an extra 1 to 2 millimeters more (so the models don't fit too snugly in the tray), and mark it with a pen. Then do the same thing, starting from your original starting point; but working back through the ranks instead of across them.

You'll also notice that I keep an old cutting board around for modeling projects. That's super handy on occasion.
Alternatively to all that; you could just measure the bases that you want to use, do the math, and then mark it out with your ruler. Never make the mistake of assuming that because a base is called '20mm', that it actually is 20mm.

Also, (to reiterate) don't forget to leave a little extra space at the end of both the ranks and rows. 1 to 2 mm is sufficient. This ensures that bases do not fit in the tray too snugly.

Another important thing to note here is that you want the grain of the wood to go across the movement tray, not front to back. That's because both sides of the tray will get side rails, but the back won't.  A side rail on each grain end will prevent the tray from warping or curling. Trust me, I've seen that happen. If you intend to put rails on all 4 sides of your movement tray, then you can disregard this tip.

Once you've mapped out the size of the movement tray on the balsa wood, it's time to cut it out with your modeling knife. Be sure that you try to keep the blade vertical. Gluing on the side rails won't go so smoothly later if the sides of the tray slant. Be sure to use the factory cut straight edge as the front.
The cuts that go with the grain are super easy. The ones that go across the grain aren't, and they're the reason you need a sharp blade.

Please note that if you do this work on the floor, beware of curious animals. Here's Bully trying to help me out.
Next it's time to cut the front and side rails. I lay the rails down next to the tray bottom, and mark them. The sides are cut to the exact length of the sides of the movement tray bottom. The front rail gets cut to the size of the front of the movement tray bottom, plus the width of each side rail.

It isn't a huge deal if there's a bit of cracking or blow out on the ends of the rails when you cut them. You can just fill that in with ApoxieSculpt later on. 
Here's how they look before being glued on.

I glue them on with super glue. The side rails go first, then the front. It's really handy to have a scrap piece of paper to set the the on, as glue will inevitably seep out underneath the tray. That will cause it to stick to whatever it's on. Paper tears off easy. If it gets attached to something solid, you will destroy the balsa wood trying to pry it up once the super glue has cured.

Onyx also got curious, and decided to investigate what I was up to. He scattered off quickly at the smell of the super glue.
Here it is with the sides glued on. It works best to run a bead of super glue down the length of the side rail. If you put the super glue on the movement tray, the grain end will just suck it all up; then it won't stick so well. I attach the rails so that the bottom off the rail is flush with the bottom of the movement tray.
Once the glue has set up for a few minutes, I usually run another small bead down the length of the rails on the top. That seeps in, and helps hold it tight.

I originally used white glue (PVA/Elmer's) to attach the side and front rails. That was way more effort that it was worth. If you want to go that route; you have to glue on the side rails, tape everything into place with masking tape, be sure that nothing moves even the tiniest bit, and then wait until tomorrow before you can proceed. This route is cheaper though, as my current way uses a lot of super glue (which is expensive relative to white glue).

Once the front rail is also attached, take a scrap piece of balsa (or whatever) and make sure there isn't excess super glue pooling on the top where the rails meet the tray.  If there is, just smear it down. If you don't, it'll dry in droplets, and forever be in the way.
That's it, movement tray built. The above pic was taken about 20 minutes after I attached the side rails. It fits 4 100mm by 50mm bases, with a little wiggle room.

They make the balsa rails in many different sizes, you can experiment with different sizes for different looks. When I do skirmish bases I use shorter rails, and attach them all the way around the tray.

Stay tuned for my next post to see how to magnetize your new movement tray; so that your models don't fall off, and so that it will stick in the bottom of an army transport case.


Domus said...

Great post John.

I do largely the same thing with a few minor differences.

1) I use bass wood for the flat base instead of balsa. It's a harder wood and more rigid. It won't cut with a utility knife though - I cut it on my miter saw.

2) I glue smaller balsa strips on top of the bass wood to create the edging instead of the sides. I like the top of the edging to be level with the top of my bases.

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