Another easy-to-make terrain guide from EmperorsWrath! Previously I reviewed and wrote a modelling guide for the Pegasus Hobbies plastic cacti. Those cacti might not be your cup of tea given that they are very small. Maybe you’d like something a little more imposing on your battlefield, but still easy to create and also inexpensive. If so, then this guide is for you!
All you need to make your own cacti are some styrofoam balls and eggs, round toothpicks, white PVA glue, paint, turf, and base material. I picked up the styrofoam balls and eggs from my local crafts store. I grabbed a bunch of different sizes, mostly on the small end of the range.
First determine how many cacti you would like to create. Cut out this many bases from your base material. I usually use 1/8 inch MDF (medium density fiberboard) because it solid and will not warp like regular wood. It is difficult to cut so you need to use a saber saw with the blade set to a 45 degree angle so that the base edges are tapered. Make the bases large enough so that they are as wide as the tips of the spines when they are installed. This will insure that the cacti will not crash into each other when stored in base to base contact.
Start with an easy cactus, a single nodule. Take a single ball or egg and cut off a small amount where you would like to attach it, for eggs I mount them with the fatter side facing up so I cut off the narrow tip of the egg. Once this is done you can glue the ball / egg down to the base. Put a fairly thick layer of glue on the flat surface you just created and press it down to the center of the base. It should stay up by itself after a few seconds of pressure unless you cut the flat section at an odd angle. Put this cactus aside for now.
Now it’s time to make one of the combo cacti. Think about how you would like the cactus to look. Take the main styrofoam piece that will make up the primary section of the cactus and cut off one area just as you did on the first cactus. Now take your secondary nodule and grind it against the primary section where you will attach it. Rotate it back and forth clockwise and counter-clockwise until you’ve made a flat surface on both pieces of styrofoam. Since the foam is very rough it acts like sandpaper and takes almost no time. This step creates a flatter areas on both pieces so that there is more surface area to assist the glue in holding the parts together. Apply the glue to both surfaces and use a rubber band to hold them together while the glue dries.
Repeat the above steps to assemble your cacti. Take a look at the picture for ideas.
This concept is very simple, just paint the cacti green, but in actuality it is a little difficult because the surface of the styrofoam is so rough. Use a cheap craft paint and water it down a little so that the paint goes into all of the crevasses. It may take a few coats, you will see the spots you missed when your first coat dries. Do not use spray paint because it will dissolve the styrofoam. A possible way around this that I have not tried would be to coat the styrofoam with watered down PVA glue to create a glue barrier, theoretically you could spray paint the models after the glue dried. Or just spray them anyway to create weird looking alien cacti.
If you wish you can paint some lighter colored stripes down the sides of your cacti. Add some yellow to your green to lighten it up a bit for the stripes.
At this point you can also paint up your toothpicks. Given that they are wood, you can almost get away with dipping them into a very watery paint solution, the color will soak into the wood. This would save a lot of time instead of painting each toothpick individually. Take a look at some real cactus pictures to figure out what color you would like the spines to be. I never got around to finishing the spines, originally I was going to stain the very tips of the spines black. Purplish red also looks good for spines.
Once the cacti have dried you can go about finishing the bases. It is important to apply your turf at this step prior to adding the spines, trying to finish the bases is much more difficult afterward with all of the spines sticking out. The application of turf is described in the Sloped Hills article.
Assembly Part 2
At this point you are almost finished, the only thing left to do is to install the spines. Take your toothpicks and break them in half. Put glue on the broken end of the toothpick, about a 1/4 to 1/2 inch down the toothpick. Push the toothpick into the cactus as far as you just applied the glue. Aim the toothpick toward the center when installing onto a ball, toward the centerline when installing onto an egg. This method looks the best, see picture for examples. Install as many or as few spines as you think looks good.
There really is no need to seal the model, they generally do not get handled very much (since they are covered with spikes!) and models cannot fit onto the bases to rub off the turf.
My advice, as always, is to make a bunch of these at once. There is significant time savings if you can do each step to multiple sections, especially since there are multiple “drying” steps that take a while.
Hopefully you have found this article helpful. Go ahead and experiment, it is surprising what you can create in just a few hours.
Have fun and good gaming!