Making Rubble on the Cheap

Hey, did you know you DIDN’T have to pay a lot for small bag of scale model rubble? IT’S TRUE! ….. and in a way it’s sad that people are actually buying something for an exorbitant price that is so easy to make. The other day I saw a few-ounce bag full of coarse construction sand with a game company label on it (who shall remain nameless). Price: Eight Bucks plus tax.

Okay, so we’ve paused a moment to get a good belly laugh, now let’s get started on making our own, and very much superior, scale model rubble. My thanks to my friend Chuck Sharpe for showing me this method. He used it for 20mm WWII "Stalingrad" type games, but it’s rubble after all, it can blend in virtually anywhere.

We’ll need some good old-fashioned plaster. To this we will be adding acrylic paint (the cheap kind gotten at art stores), some screen door screen, strips of old wood, small pieces of clear plastic, bits of sprue and junk from your plastic model bits bin, etc.

Get some old flat containers that you don’t really care that much about. Old cookie tins would work. We used some old plastic "barf bowls" that we had on hand from a hospital visit.

Mix the plaster per the instructions on the plaster box. For gray rubble, add black acrylic paint. For reddish-brown add a very dark brown acrylic paint. Keep putting it in and stirring it until you get the color you want. Go ahead and put the whole bottle in there if you have to. If it’s splotchy, that really doesn’t matter all that much, though generally you’ll want an even color.

Pour it into the pan until it has the thickness you want in the finished product. A this point you can decide if you want reinforced concrete rubble or not. If you do, lay some very thin small strips of screen door material or soft solder (that has been spray painted black) into the pan and push them ever so slightly into the mix.

Put the pans in a dry warm place to dry out thoroughly. This may take some time. We did this in the warmth of the summer, and it took a couple of weeks to dry thoroughly. To speed drying, pop the plaster cakes out of the pan and let them dry that way.

Once they’re dry, crush the plaster cakes into crumbly bits small enough to suit your scale. You can use a hammer, baseball bat, walk on it, etc. Whatever it takes. It’s a good idea to crush them on a clean flat surface. Then sweep up the mess and put it into a pile.

To this pile of junk add strips of wood large or small enough to be considered timbers in your scale. These can be grayed with a wash of black before they are added, or just use pieces of old rotten wood that’s been salvaged from somewhere. Maybe put in some strips of screen door material. You might want to spray paint the screen door material reddish brown before cutting it up and putting it in the mix. Finally, add bits from the model scrap bin, plastic girders, tiny cut up pieces of clear plastic, etc. The mixing process has no set formula. It is very much a "spice to taste" method. Surgical scissors are great for cutting up these materials.

DO NOT put materials into your mix that can pierce or cut the skin such as pins, cut nails, glass, etc. YOU are responsible for creating this monster, not me.

Once mixed, the dry mixture can be stored in an open construction bucket.

Deployment and Handling: You’ll have to cover your gaming surface with some sort of material. For urban environments, a long piece of dark gray vinyl has worked very well in the past. Put your buildings down, then your collapsed ones. Put on some old gardening gloves if you want to avoid getting dirt on your hands (kind of wussy, but saves some wear and tear on your miniatures later) and start dropping heaps of slag around the outside of your ruined buildings. Then go up and down the streets with the stuff. Decorate your game board to taste. After the game, remove your terrain pieces, then either sweep up the slag or two persons can go to each end of the table, lift up the vinyl mat. They will then slowly slide the "Slag" back into the construction bucket. The faster they do this, the more dust it will kick up. If they do it slowly, the dust will be negligible.

So there you have it! See the pictures below to see what the mix should resemble. We got about 2 five-gallon construction buckets worth of rubble out of our Slag-making session that summer, and it lasted for years and served well in many games.

As for getting sand to base your minis, well, here’s a little cautionary tale for you: I went down to my local rock and ready-mix place in the industrial part of town. Assuming the role of eager homeowner, I asked to see what kind of sand they had so I could put in my yard. Of course, the wife would have to see a sample, so I got out my trusty Cool-Whip tub and put the same color and grade of sand into it that the game company put in their few-ounces bag for eight bucks. I got maybe twice as much as I would from the game company. The guy charged me NOTHING for it, but if I wanted to get some more I could get it in 25 or 50 pound bags for a few bucks. I’m still using this small sample of sand today, and I’m only about half-way through the Cool-whip tub.

THOUSANDS OF PERCENT SAVINGS await those who are willing to improvise.