Houses of the Holy – Building a Spanish Church

Terrain is something that we take very seriously here at DMC. It’s also something that we don’t like to spend gobs of money on. Right now, that’s more important than ever since if you’re anything like us, you blew your hobby budget on the ‘Raise the Black’ kickstarter. So, what if it were possible to build a large Spanish mission church for about $5 in materials? Download the template HERE and follow along!

Some DMC-supplied terrain at the ‘Easter Island’ tournament by Tales of the Sail Podcast.

You will need to gather some common craft supplies, and not many

  • An X-Acto knife or both cutter, with a sharp blade
  • A pencil with a point
  • Glue: I use hot glue and tacky glue because I am impatient. White glue (PVA) works fine.
  • Foam poster board. I get mine from a local art supply store, but you can find it on Amazon in a pinch. The important thing is that it is 3/16 inch thick. Otherwise, you will need to modify the template to account for the extra thickness.
  • Corrugated Cardboard. Any shipping box will do.
  • Mod-Podge. Again, watered down PVA can be used as a substitute. I use Mod-Podge “hard coat, for furniture.”
  • A sacrificial paintbrush

Terrain-making veterans might be asking why we don’t just use pink foam and a hotwire cutter. If you have those materials, then that’s great. However, poster foam offers some advantages over the eponymous insulation foam.

Firstly, foam board is a lot thinner without having to cut it. And secondly, you can use special techniques (handily shown below) to detail poster foam very easily.

Cutting and Tracing Templates
Start by printing your templates. You can use basic printer paper, but it is easier to print onto cardstock so that you have some structure for your tracing.
Note! – Make sure that your printer has scaled the images correctly! Printers will sometimes scale images down in order to fit them into the margin. I’ve left plenty of margin around the edge, there’s no worry of anything being cut off. The part of your church labelled “front” should measure exactly 6″ across the widest point.

Cut out your templates along the black lines. You can use your X-Acto, but scissors work just as well here. When you’re tracing, make sure to pay attention to how many copies of each shape you will need to trace.
Note! – To save ink and paper, the ‘Front,’ ‘Entry Way,’ and the ‘Steps’ are going to be used to cut two different pieces. The first time you trace them onto your foam, trace the outline and any of the solid black lines. Next, cut out the hatched areas of the template and trace it onto the foam a second time.

Your poster board will have a nice paper cover on it, which makes tracing the templates a snap. There’s no need to keep this paper clean, as we’ll be removing it later – I label all of my parts as I trace them, so that I know what I’m looking at.

Cut the bell tower and top window first. After tracing, enlarge the top window and cut out the alcoves by removing the hatched areas. Trace again.

Cutting the Foam
Now that you’ve got your templates traced onto the foam, it’s time to start cutting. You’ll still have the paper covering on your poster board. Take your time with this step, and use a sharp blade. A dull blade will snag and cause ‘pilling’, and rather than a neat, flat cut you’ll have ragged torn edges. In the attached photos, you can see where the blade occasionally went dull and tore at the foam.

Make 2 passes for each cut. The first, cut through the paper and into the foam. On the second pass, cut the whole way through and separate the piece. Stack your pieces to one side once they’ve been cut.

When we colonize Mars, IKEA will send us whole buildings like this. Flatpacked.

Detailing Surfaces
Technically, you could glue your building together right now and leave it with the paper covering on. This would give you a smooth finish like MDF. One of the advantages to using foam though, is that you can carve texture into it very easily. I recommend playing with a bit of scrap foam and trying out the techniques shown in the next few photos, just to learn how the foam moves around.

The first step to doing this, is to peel off that paper cover. Do this carefully, as you can snap your pieces – especially the thin buttressess. The poster board seems to have a direction that it wants to be peeled, so if it is difficult in one direction, rotate the piece 90 degrees and try again. Peel both sides of the paper.

If you like to pop bubble-wrap, you’re going to love this…

With the foam peeled, you can begin carving in detail. The easiest detail to add is to draw in a brick or cobble pattern. This was done on the front steps of the demo church. Do this with your pencil, and just apply a little pressure to draw in the lines of the stones. Rounding the corners and using irregular patterns rather than a grid, makes it more believable that these stones were found and cut to size.

I’ve been paid to build a fieldstone wall. This is easier. A lot easier.

The reason that you can etch stones into the foam, is that the foam has very tiny air-filled cells. When you press these with your pencil, they collapse and stay there. Insulation foam is more dense, and tends to spring back to shape after being dented like this. The cell construction also lets you compress entire areas of the foam, creating a sort of layered appearance. I did this on the front buttresses of my church, to make it look like they are slightly recessed from the face of the building. Lay your pencil sideways and use the shaved wooden part to crush down the foam.

If you want a sharp edge around a crushed detail, you can lightly score the foam with your X-Acto before crushing it. Just be careful not to go all the way through your foam. On the demo church, this was done along the top edge of each piece to create a raised strip. When painted, this would help to hide the seam where the top and bottom wall sections come together.

You can see the pencil peaking out from under my finger in the first shot. The second shot is the result of all that crushing

You can combine these techniques. A good example of this is in the church doors. These were crushed down in stages, working from “front to back” on the detail. The first thing step was to crush the entire surface of the door slightly. Then, draw in the crosses on each door and crush the door even further around these. The final step was to outline the edges of the doors, creating the seam between the doors, and the rounded tops inside the square frame.

It’s very difficult to photograph shiny, white foam. But can you smell what the Rock is crushing?

These crushing and scribing techniques can be used all over the church. Look for dents and imperfections in your foam and work them into the details, adding cracks, exposed brickwork beneath crumbling stucco, and other details to give your church more character.

Assembly of these pieces should be fairly straightforward, but there are some pitfalls – please read carefully all the way through this section before you start to assemble your pieces. Firstly, let’s discuss glue.

I prefer to use hot-glue because it is fast, and it does a great job of filling into any imperfections in the foam and giving a good bond. Be aware though, that if the glue gets too hot (or you touch the hot metal tip to the foam) you can melt the foam. Plastic model cement has the same problem – it will melt straight through the foam. The other option is to use PVA glues like Elmers or generic white school glue. I use tacky glue whenever I’m gluing two pieces flat together. Tacky glue dries quickly, but unlike hot glue, it dries perfectly flat and does not create gaps. If you are using PVA to glue your foam together, you can tack everything up with sewing pins while it dries.

Start your assembly from the top. Glue the ‘Rear Gable Inner’, ‘Front Gable Inner,’ and ‘Roof Side Inner’ pieces together along the corners, so that they sit flush and create a box.
Pay Attention! The side pieces are glued to the insides of the gables. If you put them on the outsides, the next step will not work and your church will not fit together!

See how the wall is inside the gables? Do that! Or you’re going to have problems

The next step is to glue the ‘Roof Side Face’ pieces onto the box you’ve just made. Line these up so that the top of the Face piece is flush with the top of the Inner piece. There should be a lip along the bottom, and the ‘Face’ should also cover the edges of the ‘Gable’ pieces. Then, glue the ‘Rear Gable Face’ to the ‘Rear Gable Inner’ aligning them across the tops just like you did with the sides.

Notice the lip and the multi-faced window we’ve created? This layering technique is important for the rest of the building

To assemble the front of the building, glue the stairs together so that they are flush along one edge, creating a 2-tiered stair.

Next, glue the ‘Entry Way’ pieces and ‘Front’ pieces together. These work similar to the sides and rear gable, with small openings forming a base later, and large openings creating recessed details around them. Glue the stairs to the front of the building, glue the entryway over them.

Notice the window alcoves and tiered bell tower. Glue everything in the correct order!

Now that the front is glued up, it’s time to work on the walls and the back. Start by gluing your buttresses to the walls while everything can still lay flat. This lets you line up the spacing on the butressses so that the building is symmetrical.

Buttresses lined up so that they can be glued in the same spot on both sides

Now glue your walls to the ‘Rear Wall’. Just like when you make the ‘Rear Gable’ and ‘Roof Sides’, the edge of the side walls will get glued flat to the rear wall.

Next, place your roof piece on top to hold the walls straight, and run a bead of glue along the front edge of the lower walls. Glue them to the church front. Remember to remove the roof before any stray glue has a chance to stick it to the front of the church.

Tile Roofs on the Cheap
The trick to making Spanish style tiled roofs, is to use corrugated cardboard. There are sevreal methods for getting a tile roof, including buying sheets of ready-made tile from hobby shops or online. No method is as easy or as cheap as ripping up a cardboard box.

You’ll need two, 6″x3.25″ rectangles of corrugated cardboard. Try to find a box that has not been badly crushed, because the corrugation inside is what will form your roof tiles.

I ordered this box from Firelock Games – it was reasonably priced and even came with free miniatures!

The first step to making a tiled roof is peeling more paper. Pell one layer of the cardboard to expose the corrugation below. This is an instant tile pattern. You can leave the roof like this for simplicity, and it would be perfectly serviceable. If you also enjoy ‘Blood & Valor’ this is how you make corrugated iron.

Don’t fret over the scraggly bits – they’ll get plastered down with glue and paint in the next few steps

For a more authentic look though, you can cut your corrugate into this strips and mount it to a piece of card stock. This is where hot glue not drying flat, is actually helpful. Starting at the bottom of the roof, lay a bead of hot glue and stick your tiles on. Then, lay a bead right above it and glue down the next row. Use the angle created by the raised bead of hot glue to give your roof the appearance of overlapping tiles.

Once you’ve created your tile roof, glue each to the top of the building so that they meet at the peak. Once again, you can leave your roof like this or cut a strip of corrugate to cover the uneven peak.

The peak has been covered. With much swearing and burning of fingers, it is also possible to cover other narrow pieces with the same technique

Final Steps
With everything now glued together, you can move on to finishing the piece. Foam is soft and cardboard is flimsy, so we need to stiffen the whole piece. If you plan to use spraypaint to color your church, you will also need a layer of protection between paint and foam, since the propellant in aerosol cans can sometimes eat into the foam. Finally, we need a coating of something between the thirsty foam and paper, and our paint – otherwise, it will take several coats of paint to cover the model.

Grab your sacrificial brush and the Mod-Podge, and paint the entire piece inside and out. Make sure to get a very solid coating around the lip that joins the two pieces together, but obviously, keep the pieces separated until everything is dry.

To finish off the building, paint it just as you would any other piece of terrain. Cheap craft paint is fine for terrain, there’s no sense wasting your expensive miniatures paints here. The church in the photos was based with a medium brown over the whole building, before the stonework was picked out with grey. The walls were then drybrushed cream, and then white. The texture left behind from the pencil work should give lots of ripples and seams for a nice stucco effect. With the stucco done, apply a black wash to all of the stonework, and pick out wooden trim with brown. Finish the structure with ink washes in select places, particularly along the bottoms of the walls where dirt and mold would collect.

I was able to find several examples of Spanish churches with small alcoves like these. Devotionals and sculptures would be placed in these. You could use very small-scale miniatures, 6mm or so. If you’re feeling up to it. I obviously wasn’t.

And there you have it – a fresh bit of good looking terrain for your tabletop. The techniques that you used here can be applied to several different buildings. Almost every building on my tabletop has been built this way, and all from one purchase of foam. Having seen the masters for Firelock’s resin-cast terrain, I can tell you that they assembled their buildings from the same poster foam. Even if you don’t have the drafting program that was used to create these templates, a pencil, ruler, and patience can make something equally serviceable – just remember to account for the thickness of your foam when you measure walls. Go then, and let the cheap terrain revolution begin!

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisitionerr… Militia

4 thoughts on “Houses of the Holy – Building a Spanish Church

  1. My very first build was a Spanish style church, I wish I had seen your article first! It is pretty amateurish, but it’s fine for the table top. I used corrugate card for the roof, but I really like the way yours turned out. Did you peal the top and bottom off of the corrugated portion then glue overlapping onto card or did you leave the bottom attached to corrugated portion?


    1. This was hardly my first building – everyone is an amateur at least once! I only peeled one side of the corrugate, and didn’t overlap at all. I used hot glue along the bottom edge so that everything was glued down at a bit of an angle. The bottom of the row above, is slightly higher than the top of the row below.
      Overlapping can work, but it tends to be more thin and subtle – almost too thin at this scale.


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