Timber & Dirt: Gun Emplacement

Have you ever bought a miniature and then forgot you had it? I have. Anyway, here’s my gun emplacement that I’ve needed to paint for the last year or so!

Okay, really – this is a good project for me to knock out two birds with one stone: firstly, I have been asked how I paint the wooden decking on my ships, and secondly, I’ve wanted to give some pointers on how to base terrain. Fortunately, a gun emplacement has both of these things (and really, not a whole lot else)

This is an official Firelock Games gun emplacement. You can build one of those from scratch pretty easily using matchsticks, coffee stirs, and Sculpt-a-Mold (Firelock took their master casting from one built this way). The Firelock model is of fair quality. Mine had some casting issues – the thin boards above the level of the dirt were almost non-existent, and the ones I did get were paper thin. The tops of the uprights were a little rough, having some bubbling which I knocked down easily with sandpaper. I also used the sandpaper to flatten the base of the casting, since there was a small lip of resin around it.

I can make terrain from scratch, so I only buy Firelock’s resin terrain for demonstration and completionist sake. Resin is usually hugely expensive, but in typical Firelock fashion, their resin terrain is ludicrously cheap by comparison. This emplacement would work well as a gunpit for B&P, but also B&Steel and B&Valor. Digging a hole in the dirt hasn’t really changed much in the last few centuries.

Step 1: Basecoat

After washing all the sanding residue and casting powder from my emplacement with warm water and a brush, I basecoated it. I used Army Painter color-matched primers. The wood was done with Desert Yellow, and the dirt with Leather Brown. Any cheap rattle-can will work here, though. I base all of my wood with Desert Yellow, though. Healthy timber has a golden center, and the thin layers applied over this warm tan will make it shine.

Be careful with the Desert Yellow spray. If you apply it too heavily, it will get very dark and almost green. You can see this in the center of my emplacement. For my ships, I try to keep very light sprays, for the brighter yellow you see around the edges.

Timber Step 2: Drybrush

I used a gnarly brush to drybrush all the timbers in white. I used craft paint for this, which is normal for my terrain. You can use cream or bone for this step as well. On the resin ships, the decks are very flat, and this drybrush is more like an overbrush. It gives a clean appearance. On the plastic sloop and this emplacement, the texture is more defined and the wood will look a lot more weathered.

Timber Step 3: Boards

This is my “secret” to making decking look realistic: I paint each individual board with a different wash. For this, I use my usual Army Painter, but also some GW washes and even a few Speed Paints or Contrasts thinned heavily with medium. On ship decks, stick to lighter shades like Soft Tone and Seraphim Sepia for washes, and make sure you keep your other paints very thin. For more weathered looks, you can go with darker tones. Some of the boards here are picked out with Strong Tone and Agrax Earthshade, which have green and black tints for rotted wood.

There’s no rhyme or reason – I just try to scatter the colors across the boards. On ship decks, I will tie them together with a unifying wash of Serahpim Sepia over the whole thing. On these boards, the prevalence of the Desert Yellow basecoat unified all the colors fairly well.

Timber Step 4: Panel Lining

This step is optional. I always use a fine brush and a dark wash or ink, to panel-line my boards. On ships, this gives the look of ‘oakum’ – a mixture of hemp fibers from scrap rope, and tar – which was used as an early waterproof caulk between the boards. On my gun emplacement, it just makes the deck look that much more worn and gross. Don’t just get the space between the boards, but also line where they butt against each other end-to-end as well.

Timber Step 5: Weathering

The final step for the timbers is to weather them down with grime. Grime collects in corners, especially at the bottoms of the wood. Since the planking on my gun emplacement was darker, I used Constrast: Wyldwood for this step. On lighter decking like my ships, I use Strong Tone or a very thin brown (like Leather Brown)

You can see on the walls how I followed each upright brace and across the base in a sort of ‘U’ shape. I also brushed the edges of the boards where they “exit” the emplacement. Areas that are “high traffic” like the center of the emplacement are going to be lighter. Think of some poor navvy swabbing the deck – if he does a slapdash job, he’s not going scrub every nook, cranny, and corner. That’s where you want to put your grime.

With the timbers done, I set them aside to dry completely before moving on to the basing stage.

Example: Sloop Decking

This is the deck of my resin Sloop. You can see how much more shallow the detail on this was. I applied washes to the individual boards, black-lined them, and then weathered the bulkheads the same way that I did for the gun emplacement. The fact that I started with a lighter base and used lighter washes makes the boards much more pale. My digital camera isn’t a fan of the color variance on deck, and tried to blend them a little more than they really are.

Basing Step 2: Glue

Step 1 was the basecoat. We basecoated this area so that if any of our groundcover chips off during regular use, it shows brown rather than bright white.

This step is to coat everything with thinned-down PVA. You can use Mod-Podge here if you want, and it will dry faster. You can also use rubbing alcohol to thin your glue and it will dry very fast. I use water, and normal Elmer’s White Glue. Mix them both until it’s the consistency of heavy cream. Then brush it all over. Easy.

Basing Step 3: Ground Cover

The next step happens very quickly, and is pretty messy, so I apologize for not having more photos.

Over that wet glue, you need to sprinkle a ground cover. For my coverings, I use a mixture of sanded tile grout, and a tiny bit of actual sand. Sanded grout is very fine, and looks more like sand or dirt in scale. The grains of real sand are more like small stones and pebbles.

On my Gallipoli table, I tossed a very tiny bit of my static grass into the mix as well, just to tie together the tufts that I would add later. If I were doing my Caribbean terrain again, I might do the same, but I’ve been doing it without grass all this time, and it’s too late change without it looking incongruous.

The good thing about tile-grout is that it’s essentially just concrete. When it hits the water, it soaks it in and binds together. This stuff will be tough. Used over foam, it will be almost rock solid.

Because the grout is water activated though, you want to make sure to coat the top of it with watered down glue as well. You can do this with a spray bottle. Some folks swear by spraying everything with isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) first, so that the alcohol draws the glue deeper into the layers. I’ve tried both ways, and the alcohol does help with adhesion, but the grout hangs on well enough without it.

With the entire thing absolutely soaked with glue and covered in grout, I put it outside to dry. It looks very dark right now, but as it dries, it will lighten up to the color of your grout. I used a nice sand color, so it will match my Caribbean terrain.

If you get any of the grout somewhere that you do not want it – like on your decking – you can wipe it away with a damp paper towel.


And here is my emplacement with some of my trees and scatter terrain. You could add tufts of static grass, flock, clump foliage or even small plants and flowers from model train shops. My opinion however is that these emplacements were probably only semi-permanent. Like trenches, they would be dug in when necessary, and then abandoned. For that reason, I didn’t add any kind of growth on top of the sand, wanting it to look like freshly piled earth.

This is the ground mixture used for the slopes of my Gallipoli terrain, dressed up with plaster-cast rocks, tufts, and static grasses.

I hope this tutorial helps you when you’re considering your own terrain. As usual, I build my terrain on a budget, so I try to get the most realistic and high-quality results for the smallest outlay of cash. This has the added bonus of making tutorials like this one, accessible to most of my fellow gamers.

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