Tuesday 12 November 2013

A Dark Deranged Structure: How to make a mini gaming table for next to nothing!


I have written about gaming tables before. And as others have said, the surface upon which the battle rages should in many ways be considered the 'third army.' But what do you do if, like me, you don't have the space for a gaming table? What do you do if you only have a few quid to spend, or a wife that insists that your hard earned cash is NOT to be spent on any more of those 'little men'? 

Well, you do what technology has been doing for a while now. You go mini!

Several people have asked me about my 'mini gaming board' since I started this blog eighteen months ago. I have always promised them that one day I would do a quick tutorial about how it was achieved. And here it is! Now I made this board quite a few years ago now, when my wife and I were just married and I had a whole room dedicated to miniature painting - it even had a spray booth! Sadly, two children have arrived since then and now use the rooms to sleep soundly in at night, but the board remains safely hidden behind a door. 

I wanted to build a board on the cheap. I had zero budget as the wife had banned anymore purchases. So I scavenged items from around the house. The basis to the table was the humble pinboard, as seen below, which cost an incredible £2 from the Range and I am sure that these things can be bought very cheaply in a wide number of locations. The one I used had lurked in the garage for some time. The one I am photographing is my wife's NCT one, so let's keep that a secret!!

How I made the gaming board

Once you have your pinboard, and they do come in a range of sizes, you need to waterproof the 'fake cork' substance that forms the basis of the board. I used super thin sheets of plasticard, which I think are 1mm in width. These were lying around in my house in bulk, though any waterproof material would do, such as tinfoil, clingfilm or cut up plastic carrier bags. The idea is to form a protective barrier between the soft pinboard and the wet PVA glue that you use to stick on the sand.

The picture below shows you how I set out the plasticard. I poured a conservative amount of glue down onto the surface and used this to stick on the plasticard. I found that using too much glue made the board rather soggy so do err on the side of caution when you are doing this bit. I used a small paintbrush to seal the edges of the board once the plasticard had dried to ensure that the more runny PVA mix that I use for the sand wouldn't seep into the pinboard itself. 

PVA is dirt cheap, unless you are buying it from a GW store, so always buy in bulk. B&Q is your friend here, on any other hardware store, and the glue I used from my table was left in the garage after a spot of decorating. I attached the sand in pretty much the same way as I do for my minis. Paint on a thick layer of the stuff, sprinkle on the sand and seal with a watery wash of PVA once the initial layer is dry. Be careful though, depending on the ambient temperature, your sand may take a fair few days to dry properly. As for the sand, I scooped it up from the local beach in two buckets. It was an easy job to filter out the larger stones and fag ends using the garden sieve. 

Once the glue is set its time to paint the board. I just used really cheap acrylic paint from Tescos that the wife had left lying around after making some Christmas decorations. A dark brown shade was used to cover the sand board, and once dry, I drybrushed over with a lighter shade (I just added white) making sure to leave no piece of sand without a good coverage. Again, I waited a fair few days for this to dry. Despite my precautions, the board did bulge a tiny bit and weighed a great deal more than when I started, but it was not noticable. One word of advice, remove any metal fittings at this point. They are usually on the back of the pinboard to help hang the board on a wall and they can really scratch a table. 

Then just add flock, which if your anything like me, you already own in abundance in your modelling stash anyway. 

The finished surface is really useful for taking pictures of your miniatures once they are painted. As can be seen here. 

As you can see below, the average pinboard sized battlefield easily accommodates this Realm of Chaos warbands clash. Dan and I have fought many, many battles across this board and though its not suitable for every type of unit, for small scale infantry skirmishes its ideal. 


This board has served me well over the last four years. Its small enough to transport, light to move and very easy to store. If I was to build a second board I wouldn't change the design at all. I would probably use plastercine or cavity filler to remove the edge of the pinboard though, and sand over the border so it is possible to fit two boards together and make a larger battlefield. Actually, now that I mention it, that is what I shall do when I build my full scale battlefield next year. 

Well, I hope this article has answered all the questions that you readers have made about how I built the table. If you are after more clarity, please do email me or comment below. Additionally, if you have a killer tip about how to make a wargames table very cheaply, or know of a useful link, please do share it below. 




  1. Nicely done, and the old-school lichen for hedges is an appropriate touch. What are the actual dimensions of the board? I'm guessing maybe 2' x 3' from the photos?

    1. The dimensions are 80cm by 60cm. And yes, I love a touch of Old School lichen, but it doesn't half dry up if you don't look after it properly.

  2. I've built a few tables for GW in the past, this is pretty close to the method I prefer. Sand can get very heavy on larger tables making them a pain to shift but on a smaller scale it gives a lovely finish. Be wary on the beach though, taking sand/pebbles is unpopular with many people and might get you a ticking off from ecologically minded locals! DIY stores do cheap bags of sand for next to nothing. To get a similar effect and save on weight for larger scale tables, try mixing in sawdust or flock with the sand.

    1. Don't worry Paul, I was but a ghost upon the beach and no eco-heads spotted me at all! Thanks for the tips about sawdust, I had not thought of that!

  3. Very nice. I used 1' x 3' sheets of styrofoam. Very light, but a tad fragile. If I get the urge to redo mine this might be the method I employ.

  4. After I saw your board in an older post I wanted to make one too.
    I thought it'd also be good for small skirmish games like Song of Blades and Heroes.

    I bought myself a large cork-board and it has sat in my store room for a while.
    Thanks for posting this article, it has some handy tips and it may just be the impetus I need to get mine sorted out.

  5. I'm in the middle of doing the same thing for a custom Blood Bowl pitch! Instead of taking off the hardwear, I'm adding some rubber feet, so the board can hang on the wall when I'm not using it...like the piece of art that it is.

  6. Thanks for sharing the building process. Cool idea....

  7. Great post. Thanks for writing it up. I wonder if instead of glue, the sand might adhere to a thin layer of wallboard filler? Could this save on weight as well?

  8. Thanks for the how-to! I'll probably do something similar if and when I get a house of my own one day. And the old school lichen is essential! Both for fantasy and Rogue Trader scenery!

  9. You can skip the first few steps & just buy a white board.

    Rough up the surface a little with sand paper so that the PVA/sand mixture has something to bite into, and your good to go!

    Might have to try that sawdust trick too warlord Paul.