Scratch Building – Desert Buildings

Today Paul looks at some developing some desert real estate


With a tournament next weekend, I wanted to create some buildings to add to the terrain being used at the event. It would also allow me to have a crack at a project I have been planning but putting off for a while. The aim here was to create respectable looking, usable terrain. I wasn’t looking to showcase bespoke terrain masterpieces.

I wanted them to be large enough to fit 4 medium stands, have removable roofs, and be in character for a desert board. I would go with foam board. This stuff is basically a solid core of foam with paper glued to each side. It comes in massive sheets, is quite inexpensive and very simple to use. I wanted to create some interesting texture on the walls of the building so I could get away with a simple layout and paint job. I therefore went with textured gel to create a gritty service.

Again, for a quick build, I would just cut out square and rectangular pieces and glue them with 90 degree connections. I wont be using mitre joints or anything fancy.

Disclaimer – I have been gaming and modelling for more than 20 years but I am still no good at it. I am sure others will do a much better job of this that I have. Still if I can do it, as the cliche goes, anyone can.



Here is a list of the materials and tools I used:

  • 5 mm foam board
  • Cardboard
  • Texture Gel

  • Naples Yellow paint
  • Super glue
  • 25 mm paintbrush

  • Size 1 paintbrush
  • Ruler
  • Cutting Mat
  • Pen
  • Hobby Knife. You want one with a bit of heft as there is lots of cutting to do. A sharp blade is critical here for the best results. None of this helped me cut them square and straight though!

“You call that a knife?”


  1. I started by cutting an 8 cm square base. This would be the floor of the building. I figured this would be large enough for 2 bases per level without being a squeeze. Everything would be added on top of this. I simply used a ruler and a pen to mark out the space needed then used the ruler and hobby knife to run along these lines.
  2. I wanted the walls to be 4 cm high to allow room for figures on the bottom level, have room for a roof and still have the roof recess below the height of the walls. I therefore cut 2 walls of 8 cm x 4 cm.
  3. To fit the other 2 sides into the spaces, I then cut 2 walls each 7 cm x 4 cm. This smaller size allows the 7 cm walls to fit between the 8 cm walls allowing for the 5 mm thickness on each side.
  4. Using a pen, I then marked a 1 cm line inside the buildings walls where I would install the supports for the roof. I cut these supports from some scrap foam board. There were glued below the 1 cm line 
  5. I then super glued the 4 walls to the floor. I chose super glue as I wanted a strong bond that would cure quickly. I started with an 8 cm wall with the roof support
  6. I then glued a 7 cm wall adjacent to the first wall. I simply ran a line of super glue along the base and existing wall and held the 7 cm wall on for a few seconds. 
  7. I then moved around putting the last 2 walls on following the same process as above.
  8. I then cut a roof piece. This was a 6.5 cm square. I figured it would fit nicely on the supports and between the walls.
  9. Next I cut 2 small off cuts of foam board to use a crates on the roof. Really this is just a mechanism for players to be able to lift the roof.
  10. I then cut some doors, window lintels and windows from off cut cardboard. I actually used the packing from the superglue for this. These were glued on each side of the building. 
  11. I then painted the visible surfaces with the texture paint. I suspect this could be mixed with paint to eliminate a step but I was happy to just paint some on directly from the pot. A 25 mm brush made short work of this. Even though it was a warm day, this took several hours to dry. Probably would be better to leave this overnight. The texture gel goes some way to covering gaps and joins on the construction. Don’t paint the texture gel on the windows and doors.
  12. Once dry, I painted the building with Naples yellow paint. I then hit the windows with black paint. The lintels with flat earth and the door with chocolate and a highlight of flat earth.


  1. The texture gel is great. It applied easily and the paint sticks to it well. I have applied it a little thin in parts. The next ones will have the gel applied more thickly.
  2. The inside of the buildings look a little ratty. I could probably have painted them too if I had more time.
  3. The crates on the roof are a little small. Something more sturdy would be good.
  4. Be careful with cuts. Some of my joints don’t line up too well. The texture will only hide so much.
  5. Build in bulk. A production line where you complete each step for a number of buildings makes it so much quicker. After knocking up a single test piece, I then cut and assembled 5 more. This made the process much quicker.

Well that’s it. Cue the photos.

I hope you enjoyed this article.