This week I want to work on a little bit of terrain for my Hell Dorado board. since I have been working on my Immortals company recently, I thought, “Why not create something Asian influenced?” I wanted to make something “man made” to give the board a bit of contrast to all the natural terrain elements that I currently use. So throwing cultural accuracy to the wind, I decided to try and build a Torii; these are symbolic Japanese gateways that generally mark the threshold into spiritual places, such as Shinto and Buddhist shrines and other places of worship.
I wanted to use Balsa to build my Torii, however for terrain like this, Bass wood is an alternative to Balsa; it is much stronger and more resilient than Balsa, but much harder to manipulate. I used a couple of different profiles of wood for my build; square and rectangular in different sizes. To carve and shape the wood I used a ruler, wire brush, sand paper, hobby knife and a hobby saw, I also used a small hand plane and a Balsa strip cutter, both of which aren’t necessary, but do make things a little easier. When planning how large to make a piece of terrain, use a couple of minis as a scale reference, I wanted a human sized mini to easily fit under the gateway, but larger minis to be too big.
To begin, I started with the large supporting posts. Cut two lengths of 20mm square profile Balsa to the length you want, I wanted my supports to lean in slightly so I sanded them as shown in the photos below.
Next, for the round beam that runs between and through the posts, I cut a length of round profile wood about 120mm long; the length can vary but make sure it is at least the same length as the support posts’ external walls (I’ll explain why in a bit). Moving on to the upper levels of the Torii, I used a piece of Balsa with a profile of 5x50mm. 50mm was too wide for my Torii, so using my Balsa strip cutter (or a hobby knife and metal ruler), I cut a length of Balsa 165mm long by 25mm wide for the top level, and a second length 145mm long and 15mm wide for the lower level. The final pieces of wood I needed were cut from 7mm square profile; two 9mm lengths to sit on top of the support posts and three 30mm pieces for the top level to sit on.
One defining feature of Torii is their curved upper level, to make this I soaked the piece of Balsa in hot water for about five hours, periodically pouring in new hot water. Even with a soft wood like Balsa, this is still a time consuming process and if the wood is not sufficiently soaked, it can snap when you try bending it (as I did twice). Once the wood had soaked for long enough, I created a rough guide by hammering some nails in a slight arc into a piece of MDF I had lying around, around which I wrapped in blister pack foam (to protect the wood a little). Think about the tension in the wood when doing this: at the ends of the wood the nails must be on the “underside” of the plank, with nails placed towards the middle applying resistance to the “top” of the plank.
Set the wet wood aside to completely dry (you can speed the process up by putting it in the oven on low heat).
Once the curved plank is dry, it’s time to texture all the components.The first step was to cut some deep ‘V’ shaped fissures into the wood following the grain. This simulates the natural grain splitting and opening up as the wood dries out; thinner cracks on a newer structure, deeper, wider cracks on older Torii. Next I used a wire brush to scrub the wood, again following the direction of the grain, to give the wood a weathered, rough hewn look.
The Torii was assembled using a Balsa cement available at hobby stores. It bonds much quicker than PVA glue and makes assembly much more straightforward.
Finally, to add some decoration to the Torii, I made some wind chimes out of plastic off-cuts and polymer clay, and some little paper tags out of blister pack. These were attached to the Torii using very fine fuse wire. The structure was painted very simply using a basecoat of Vallejo Model Air 035 Cam Light Brown, and highlighted with VMA 047 US Grey, before picking out the wind chimes in dark grey and the paper with a bone colour.
The finished Torii!
The techniques are not hard to use, and with a bit of patience, can be applied to buildings, boats or anything you care to imagine.
Thank you for reading again and I’ll see you for the next installment.