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The Last Alliance


Version 1.0 28/04/02

By Adrian Champion

Equipment Used

Mounting board/Artists card.

Balsa wood sheets. (The thickness of cereal cardboard is ideal.)
Balsa wood rods.
Cereal box cardboard.
Car body repair mesh.
PVA glue.
Static grass.
Black undercoat spray.
Selection of paints.


Front View



As there are now 2 scenarios set in Bree, I thought it might be nice to start building a selection of timber-framed buildings for terrain. I must admit to feeling inspired by the Perry twins Bree board at the LOTR battle games day in Nottingham. For this first building, I kept the design quite simple, but the techniques can be applied to far more complex designs. The prancing pony can be built the same way as this first house. These buildings can also stand-in for houses in gondor, rohan or the shire.

Building a timber-framed house

Step 1 - Preparation

Prepare a selection of balsa strips, about a quarter of an inch wide is ideal. These will be used as the timber frames of the house, as well as providing planks to make the window frames and the door. Vary the thickness of the cut, and don’t worry if they are slightly uneven. If you can’t get balsa, you can use cereal packets instead, but balsa wood sheets of the same thickness are better to work with, and provide a nice crisp edge to the cut. The balsa wood plank you see in the photo cost me £1.29

Cutting the balsa planks

Step 2 – Cutting the walls

Cut the basic wall shapes from the artists mounting card. This card is available from all good stationary or art supply shops, and costs about £2.80 for a sheet of A1 size. You could substitute corrugated cardboard, with the edges covered by tape, but it is worth getting the proper materials if you can. Use a craft knife and cutting board to achieve a smooth edge to the pieces. We are going to build a simple rectangular building, so you will need 2 long pieces for the front and rear of the building, and 2 pieces shaped like an open envelope for the ends. I made the sides of my house 6.5” long by 3” high. The ends are 4.5” long by 5” high at the point of the triangle.

Step 3 – The door

Cut a hole for the door in the front of the house, 1.25” high and 1” wide. This is about the height of a plastic man of gondor figure. Any taller, and the door will begin to look oversized. The door itself is made up from planks of balsa, cut slightly longer than the doorway itself. Using PVA glue, stick these planks to a sheet of paper. Note that you do NOT have to cut holes for the windows, only the door.

Step 4 - The walls go up

Use PVA glue to attach the sides of the buildings together. Use triangles of card to add extra strength to the joins. Glue the door to the inside of the doorway. I glued a horizontal strip of balsa to the rear of my door to give it a little extra protection. You should now have a door that is realistically set back from the frame.

Step 5 – Prepare a base

While the glue dries on the walls, prepare a base for your building. Cut a rectangle of card, about 8” long by 6.5” wide. Round off the corners, as this will look less out of place on your gaming table. Holding your craft knife at a 45 degree angle, carefully shave the edge of the base to achieve a nice smooth finish.

Step 6 – Attach the base

Glue the building onto the centre of the base, making sure to leave an even amount of space all round. You will also need to cut 2 rectangles of card to cover the roof. These should be about 6.5” by 3”, but you should measure your roof to make sure of the exact dimensions. The card rectangles should fit snugly onto the roof with a minimum of overlap at each end.

Step 7 – Apply the timbers

Now that you have a completely enclosed house shell, you can start to cover it with the wooden frame. Cut strips of balsa wood (or cereal packet) to the length of the sides of the house. Glue these to the top and bottom of the house sides, and cut some balsa to make some vertical supports between them. Cut some balsa to form a frame around the door. Again, don’t worry if the cut of your balsa planks is a little uneven, as this will add a little extra realism. I cut a lot of my planks freehand to encourage this. Put in the occasional horizontal or diagonal support too. Use variety and avoid too much symmetry if you can. You want the building to have a slightly ramshackle look to it.

Step 8 – Windows

Using a pair of scissors, cut a small piece of car body repair mesh, about half an inch square. This is to form the “glass” as in an old fashioned leaded window. Car body repair mesh is available at any shop that sells car care products, e.g. Halfords, and is very cheap. A sheet of A4 size should cost about a £1. Using PVA glue, stick the square of mesh onto the building wherever you want the windows to be. You want the windows to be just below the head height of a man sized model, and make sure the diamond shapes in the mesh are aligned vertically as seen in the photo. Cut small balsa planks to form a frame as seen in the previous photo. The top and bottom frames of the window should meet vertical timbers on the side of the house. For one end of the house, I decided to build a small attic light. This was formed by cutting small strips of balsa rod about half an inch long, and using these to mark a square window frame on the side of the house. 3 more small strips of balsa rod formed the window pane itself. If you can’t get balsa rods, matchsticks are the same thickness and will make adequate substitutes.

Step 9 – Build an upper extension

I was feeling brave at this point, and decided to add an extension to the upper floor on one end of the building. Cut 5 small rectangles of card, about 1.25” long, by .75” wide, and glue them to the end of the house as seen in the next picture. The shape should be a smaller version of the end of the building. Cut a piece of card to the shape of the extension, and glue it in place to cover the hole.

Step 10 – Decorate the extension

Add frames all round to decorate the extension. I decided to add a window to mine for added detail. As there was less space to work in, I used balsa rods rather than planks to build the window frame. Use balsa rods to form the spars supporting the extension. Later, you will want to build more complicated 2 floor houses, where the upper floor overhangs the lower. Spars are placed all along the overhanging part of the building to support the weight.

Step 11 – Cut the roof tiles

Now that the walls of the house are built and timbered, all that remains is to cover the roof with tiles. Get some cereal packet cardboard (I used the packaging from one of my Easter eggs) and cut some strips about a third of an inch wide. Cut these into irregular squares of varying size to form the roof tiles. Again, the fact that they are uneven will only add to the overall appearance of your building. You will need quite a few of these, so make lots. Snip a corner off some of the tiles to make them look cracked.

Step 12 – Tile the roof

Apply some PVA glue to the lower part of the roof, and starting at the bottom edge, start gluing on the tiles in a horizontal row, with the tiles overhanging the bottom edge a little.

Continue adding rows of tiles up to the top of the roof. Do NOT put them in neat horizontal lines! Have the tiles overlap, have the line wobble up and down. The roof looks so much better by the tiles being laid haphazardly. The wonky lines will make the building look old and lived in. Continue all the way up to the top of the roof. Make the top edge of the roof tiles have a neat edge, as this will make it easier to add the covering tiles.

Step 13 – Topping off the roof

Cut some rectangles of cereal packet, just under an inch long, and just over half an inch wide. Fold these in half lengthwise, and glue them in a line across the top of the roof, where the two sides meet. If you have trouble getting these to stick (like I did) add a dot of superglue to the PVA to get it to stick in seconds. Go and have a rewarding cup of tea while the glue dries, and you are ready to paint your house.

Step 14 – Undercoat the building

Use a can of black spray paint to prime the building for painting. Give it a nice thick coat, and be sure to make sure to cover all the surfaces.

Step 15 – Start painting

The walls of your building are painted with a thick coat of bleached bone. Don’t worry too much about thinning the paint, as a thick coat, casually applied will take on its own texture. This is one of the few times you will be happy to see a lumpy paint effect. Drybrush a heavy coat of codex grey onto the roof tiles. The door and timbers I painted with scorched brown. Tudor timber-framed houses had black timbers, but I wanted the warmer earthy look of dark brown planking for my building. A light drybrush of boltgun metal will pick out the mesh of the windows. The smaller wood frame window had it’s “glass” left black.

Step 16 – Final details

Apply a drybrush of fortress grey to the roof tiles of your building. If you went for the brown timbers like me, get an old brush, and scuff some snakebite leather onto the planking. Apply sand and static grass to the base of the building in the same style as you base your figures. Paint some watered down PVA to the walls, and pour on some green sawdust flock to create ivy. I dabbed on some brown ink to add colour variety to my climbing plants. You can use some brown ink to create water stains running down from window frames and spars. You can add all sorts of extra details from your bits box to the base to show that the house is lived in. Spoked wheels, piles of firewood complete with axe, barrels, crates, balsa rod ladders. Any extra bits you can add will breathe life into the building. The only thing I haven’t added is a chimney, as they are a little trickier to add for a first building. Expect to see that on my next creation.

And that’s it, the jobs a good ’un. Now Frodo and the hobbits have something to hide behind as they flee the dreaded ringwraiths in Bree.

Thanks for your time, and hopefully Mithearon will let me steal some more of his web space again soon to show my next project, hobbit burrows. (Sure no problems there - Mithaearon)

Adrian Champion



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