How to Make Incredible Terrain for Warhammer 40K Tabletop Battles

Warhammer 40k Space marine snow


How to Make Incredible Terrain for Warhammer 40K Tabletop Battles

As a Warhammer 40k hobbyist with over 20 years of experience crafting detailed battlefields, I am passionate about creating immersive terrain that transports players into the dark, gritty 41st millennium. There are few things more enjoyable than gathering around a table scattered with intricately modeled buildings, alien landscapes and battle-worn fortifications, primed for the next narrative campaign.

In this comprehensive guide, I will share my best tips, tricks and techniques for making jaw-dropping DIY terrain for Warhammer 40k and other tabletop wargames using common household materials. Whether you want to construct an entire modular cityscape or add some scatter terrain to liven up your battlefield, the only limit is your imagination.

Essential Supplies for Terrain Building

Before embarking on your terrain endeavors, it helps to gather some basic supplies that will get the creative juices flowing:

  • Cardboard and foam board – The sturdy bones of most DIY buildings and structures
  • Craft knives, metal rulers – For precision cutting
  • PVA glue, hot glue gun – To rapidly assemble pieces
  • Sand, gravel, decorative elements – For realistic textures
  • Primer, acrylic paints – To bring your models to life

Always wear protective equipment like goggles and gloves when handling hazardous tools, adhesives or paints. Designate a safe working area and keep toxic materials out of reach from children and pets.

Making Modular Urban Buildings from Cardboard

For rapid tabletop setup, I recommend constructing a series of modular, stackable buildings that can be rearranged to form fresh city layouts. Here’s how:

1. Cut cardboard sheets into blocks: Use a metal ruler and utility knife to transform large sheets of cardboard packaging into multi-story building blocks of varying footprints.

2. Add structural elements: Slice cardboard tubes lengthwise to make support columns. Layer corrugated cardboard for girders. Use thicker honeycomb cardboard for railings and overhangs.

3. Assemble building frames: Arrange pieces into exterior walls, leaving openings for windows and doors. Test configurations before gluing. Use hot glue for rapid assembly or white glue for adjustability.

4. Construct roofs: Cut triangular cardboard sections for sloped roofs. Corrugated cardboard makes great roof paneling. Top with LED-lit chimneys or ventilation ducts from straws!

Once your city blocks are assembled, it’s time to add realism through textures, battle damage and loads of detail.

Sculpting Aliens Landscapes with Insulation Foam

Not all skirmishes occur amidst sprawling hive cities. Craft otherworldly terrain from rigid insulation foam boards carved using simple hand tools:

1. Sketch organic shapes: Outline freeform mesas, winding ridges or cratered alien geology on foam sheets using a pencil.

2. Cut rough forms (Optional): For rough natural shapes, use a serrated blade to saw foam pieces by hand.

3. Refine with hot wire cutter (Recommended): For smooth sculpted foam, use an inexpensive hot wire cutter to slice graceful contours. The wire effortlessly glides through foam.

4. Join pieces: Gap filling CA glue instantly bonds foam. For gaps, press adhesive-soaked cocktail sticks into cracks. Carve textures once dry.

5. Add height with stacked layers: Creatively overlap separate hills, peaks or plateaus to increase elevation and line-of-sight complexity.

Sand, scatter and 3D printed bits dress up abstract shapes into realistic environments. More on embellishing with details later!


Constructing Buildings from Recycled Materials

Breathing new life into household junk as post-apocalyptic ruins or Gothic strongholds is deeply rewarding. Raid your recycling bin, then let imagination guide construction:

1. Design floors and walls: Trace building outlines on cardboard sheets. Reference real architectural plans or improvise to suit your vision.

2. Cut openings: Use hobby knives to slice windows, doors and gashes for battle damage or rubble.

3. Raise structures: Glue walls onto inverted plastic bottles, cups or spice jars to add height.

4. Build war-torn ruins: Tear foam packing material into bricks. Mash clumps with white glue for rubble piles. Simulate rebar with floral wire.

5. Add details: Incorporate everyday items like pens, clothes pegs, bottles or stir sticks for pipes, furniture and railings.

6. Destroy for drama: Gashes reveal interior rooms. Collapsed roofs and canted walls tell battle stories. Place miniatures for scale.

Let your imagination run wild with everyday scraps! Almost anything can become weathered ruins after liberal abuse.


Useful Recycling Finds:

  • Straws = pipes, cables
  • Wine corks = shipping crates
  • Fabric scraps = tarps, tents
  • Wood coffee stirrers = planks, siding

Creating Modular Urban Battle Zones

For grimdark city fights, build a collection of multi-story tower blocks from sturdy cardboard:

1. Assemble building frames: Hot glue right-angled walls into open fronted boxes. Vary heights. Leave wall panels off wrecked structures.

2. Construct rubble piles: Tear foam into random bricks. Glue debris mounds around structures and roads.

3. Add gantries and walkways: Use sturdy cardboard strips to bridge buildings. Corrugated cardboard or stir sticks make railings, ladders and stairs.

4. Expand skyways: Suspend cardboard tubes or stirring sticks between towers for aerial combat perches.

5. Increase complexity: Stack smaller habitations on larger bases for denser, vertical battlefields. Leave gaps for troop lines of sight.

Urban fight zones reward strategic positioning across multiple levels. Terrain density impacts army selections, deployment and turn-by-turn decision making in refreshing ways.

Realistic Textures with Household Materials

Plain cardboard buildings are practical but lack visual interest. With common household items, add loads of time-worn textures:

1. Apply joint compound: Stir drywall joint compound or wood filler with water into plaster. Spread 1-2mm over buildings with a wide brush or spackling blade. Shows brush marks once dry.

2. Embed cloth: Soak gauze, burlap or open-weave fabric in thinned white glue. Drape over surfaces to suggest weathered canvas or concrete patched with rebar mesh.

3. Toss on sand and ballast: While white glue plaster is wet, fling fine sand or model train gravel. Creates uneven surfaces once dry.

4. Add clay: Roll softened clay snakes. Press into mortar lines over dried plaster. Carve bricks, cracks or paneling. Permanent once hardened.

5. Try coffee stirrers: Arrange wood sticks for boarded up windows. Cut planks for splintered doors. Toothpicks become nails and handles.


More Surface Textures

  • Cereal box cardboard = corrugated metal siding
  • Paper towel = concrete
  • Aluminum foil = weathered iron
  • Wood glued sawdust = rubble piles
  • Dried lentils/beans = gravel beds

Best primer

Painting and Weathering Techniques

With textures set and details added, it’s time to paint. Here are indispensable techniques that create worn, battle-tested models:

1. Prime models: Spray with uniform gray or black primer. Provides a gripping base for paints. Fills textures.

2. Base coat: Choose a mid-tone color suiting your theme. Spray if possible for even coverage on intricate shapes. Allow to fully cure for 24 hours.

3. Wash recesses: Thin acrylic paints with water and glaze into the cracks and crevices of your terrain. Stains deep details.

4. Dry brush highlights: Dab stiff bristled brush into gray paint then wipe most onto paper towel. Lightly dust raised edges. Simulates worn stone and metal.

5. Airbrush blast marks: Mask surrounding areas with tape or blu tack. Spray black radially from craters. Remove masks before paint dries.

6. Paint weathering streaks: Thin paint and draw grimy vertical lines down walls with an old brush. Depicts rain marks and rust trails.

7. Scratch away paint for battle damage: Use a stiff-bristled brush, toothbrush or scouring pad to scrape paint on corners, edges and bullet holes to suggest metal showing through.

8. Apply transfers: Print or purchase waterslide building signs and graffiti. Seal with varnish once positioned.

9. Spread atmospheric powder pigments: Sprinkle powdered paints like MIG Pigments to tint landscapes. Fix with varnish.

10. Add final touches: Tufts of grass, resin puddles and debris litter bring models to life.

Expect models to require 30+ layers. Mastering weathering can take years, but makes for infinitely more realistic, camera-ready scenery.


Helpful Modelling Tools and Accessories

Assembling epic terrain demands quality tools that withstand cutting, sawing and gluing for hours on end:

  • Metal ruler – Make precision straight edges
  • Utility knife – Cuts cardboard and foam
  • Hot glue gun – Bonds rapidly without clamping
  • PVA white glue – Long open working time
  • Sanding pad – Smoothes 3D prints
  • Hobby saw – Cuts plastics and wood cleanly
  • DAS Clay – Hardens into carvable plaster
  • Green stuff – Shapes details and fills gaps

Reusing Leftover Materials

Nothing finds fresh purpose like the remnants of past projects. Before discarding waste, consider terrain uses:

  • Plastic bottle caps – Manhole covers or shields
  • Drink cans – Air ducts, garbage bins or oil drums
  • Kit sprues – Gantries, vehicle debris
  • Used tea bags – Stained rags, sandbags
  • Corks – Shipping crates, hay bales
  • Cocktail sticks – Wood beams, planks

Raid recycling bins! Your next terrain centerpiece may be a discarded takeaway container upcycled into an ammo cache…


Blood Angels Symbol

Embrace Your Crafting Side!

I hope these ideas have ignited inspiration for making wonderfully weird and gritty landscapes that set imaginations alight as the dice fly. Grab household junk, sculpt alien vistas or build soaring spires!

Most of all, embrace terrain crafting as an outlet for creativity. Experiment, then design wondrous worlds together filled with stories told through scenery alone.

We would love to see photos of your terrain creations posted in the comments below! For more hobby inspiration, check out the tutorials on the Warhammer Universe YouTube channel as we continue striving toward ever more ambitious tabletop battle sets. The only limit is your imagination!

How to Get Into Warhammer 40k

Explore the intricately crafted, war-ravaged universe of the 41st Millennium through this beginner’s guide to Warhammer 40,000.

3D Printers

Read up on our article for 3D printers!

Warhammer 40k Books For Beginners

Step into a universe of endless war and grim darkness with our beginner’s guide to Warhammer 40,000 books.

Overwhelmed deciding the absolute best starter paint sets for Warhammer miniatures? Our guide compares top affordable options.

Struggling to strip old Warhammer paint for superior results? Check out our tips on the best removal products for flawless models.

Baffled on what to buy first when getting started with Warhammer 40K? Refer to our guide covering tactics to boost your success.

Perplexed on what Tyranids are in Warhammer 40k? Refer to our detailed guide covering the lore behind these monstrous alien swarms.

Related Article