Learning MDF With Tectonic Craft Studios at NOVA Open

So I’ve been painting miniatures for a while and I feel I’ve gotten decent at it. Not great, mind you (or even good), but decent enough to where I’m not horribly embarrassed to show my final paint jobs in Facebook communities or when I do miniature reviews here at Diehard GameFAN. There’s one aspect of miniature building I’ve purposely held off from doing and that’s putting together MDF scenery. MD stands for medium-density fibreboard and it is used for a lot of scenery in miniature gaming. Until now, I’ve stuck to plastic and resin scenery because I don’t have much of my ulnar nerves left and I have little to no sense of touch in my fingertips from years of writing, video games and sports so I’ve been afraid I would easy break, snap or outright destroy what seems to be an extremely fragile material. MDF scenery isn’t cheap and I’d hate to spend all that money on something I’d never see the finished product of. So I’ve stuck to scenery like The Garden of Morr by Games Workshop, a gorgeous resin mansion by the guys at Tabletop World and some Reaper Bones scatter terrain.

However three things changed. First was the amazing Kickstarter put on by Impudent Mortal with modern terrain geared towards skirmish games like Batman Miniature Game, which is my miniature playing and painting product of choice. I had to take part in that! However, I still didn’t trust myself in putting it together so it has sat on my shelf for a while not, unloved and in its shipping boxes. The second was that Knight Models has decided BMG players must use their official terrain and bits in tournament play. Those bits…are made of MDF. Plus they have an Arkham Asylum coming out that looks amazing. The third and final thing was that I saw a class called “Cogs and Cobblestones” being offered at NOVA Open (which I introduced to some of you on 8/31). This class was only $25 and it was a beginner’s guide to MDF projects. The class offered to help you make a small Victorian ruin out of MDF to take home with you. Since I’m building a Gotham Academy board for the Batman Miniature Game, I thought this was a perfect chance to learn how to put these together without breaking them! At worst I was out $25 but still would get some good advice on what I was doing wrong (or right) and could take something home from the convention. Plus the class was being taught by Dan, the head of Tectonic Craft Studios, who makes some amazing MDF pieces. I figured if I couldn’t learn from him, I couldn’t learn at all, so I signed up for the class and it ended up being the highlight of the convention for me.

So when I got to the class I was surprised by two things. The first was that only four of us had signed up. There were three adults and a child. It was the smallest gathering I’d seen at NOVA Open, but we all got along really well and the small size of the class ended up being a bonus. I do strongly suggest you sign up for this one next year though, because it was a lot of fun and hey – MDF to take home. The second surprise was that the Victorian Ruins kits…were not at NOVA Open. Either he forgot them or chose not to bring them (It wasn’t clear), so instead he had us come to his booth and pick out some terrain of our choice that was of equal value. That was pretty cool. So even though I was looking for modern terrain, I ended up choosing two pieces that had my wife in mind. I chose the Waystone and the Stone Table, the latter of which I couldn’t find on the Tectonic Craft Studios website to link you to. I put the pieces together, got them primed and based coated in class and then went home and finished them. Since I finished them, I thought I’d show the whole process from beginning to end. Now the end result is far from being a Golden Deamon winner. It was my first attempt at MDF and although it didn’t go completely smooth, it was far less “OMG I’M TOTALLY GOING TO BREAK THIS DUDE!” then I thought it was going to be and I’m happy with the end result. Let’s take a look and see how I did since I know for a lot of you, this will be your first look at MDF as well.


So this is the MDF as it comes for purchase. There are two pieces that make up the Stone Table and one for the Waystone. As you can probably guess from look at these pieces, I had to press and cute out the pieces from the fibreboard. For the most part it was really easy, but in some places where the laser hadn’t fully etched out the piece, I did apply to apply more force or take an exacto knife to cut around the edge. Only once or twice did the piece of fibreboard rib on my and thankfully not in any places you can visibly see in the end result. I had fun putting it together even if it was harder for me than gluing plastic/resin together.


So we are going to stick with the Stone Table (or sacrificial altar as I call it) for this article. Here is what the MDF scenery looks like when all is said and done. with all the exquisite laser carvings already on the piece, one could easily just slap this on their game board and start using it. I’m more a painter than a player so of course that part was to come. Doesn’t this look pretty cool though?




More shots of the assembled table at different angles so you can see all the detail.


So here is the Stone Table primed. Doesn’t it look better, even with something as simple as primer on it. Extra spooky too! One of the neat things I learned about in this class was primer on MDF> I had always read or been told that primer and MDF don’t mix. At least not the primer you use on miniature figures. I have been told by other MDF makers that the primer can warp the MDF and make the product unseemly. Instead, one should use something like Gesso, which is a bottled canvas primer instead of a spray primer like those you can get from Games Workshop or the like. Well, obviously as you can see from the picture, that isn’t the case. Dan took the finished MDF products of his “students” and primed them up real nice. So obviously, Gesso isn’t something you HAVE to use, but rather simply the preferred primer of SOME MDF makers.


Another view of the primed Stone Table.


Here is the primed model with a bit of basecoating on the base of the piece. I used Stone Grey by Army Painter because well…it’s stone and grey. This is all I really had time for in class since I painted the Waystone and put both pieces together (we also gabbed a lot as gamers are wont to do). So from this point on, it was off to home where I would use my own paints and brushes to finish this table off.


Here we are at home with the Stone Table. I’ve done a base coat of Mechanicus Standard Grey for the Table itself and then dry brushed it with Administrative Grey. Meanwhile I’ve dry brushed the base with Dawnstone. The end result is two different, but somewhat similar greys for the core of the piece. I almost did the topmost stab in Kharak Stone, but it was too much of a contrast for it to be aesthetically pleasing.


Another look at the fully based piece. I took a shot at this angle so you can see a tiny silver that just would not come out of the crescent moon/blood collector thingy part and where one of the tips tore in the stalagmite looking bit when I first punched the piece out. This is to show that while my fears of dealing with MDF were highly exaggerated in my own head, they weren’t entirely unfounded. I couldn’t get the one piece out with my exacto knife and the torn bit, well paint would completely cover that up.


So here we go with some more color added. I used Runefang Steel for the Pentacle and Retributor Armor for the circle. Silver for the Goddess and Gold for the male side of things. Meanwhile I used Blood for the Blood God (I know GW gets flak for its paint lines compared to Vallejo or Reaper, but man, is this a great paint) to kill up the crescents and show where the sacrifice went a little outside the intended table boundaries. I mean, people are probably sprayers, right? I’ve never sacrificed anyone. I also covered the rose with a light dusting of Blood for the Bloood God to make it look things pooled over a bit there. I wish the pictures I took captured the difference in the greys here, but I’m terrible at picture taking. Even though they look the same here, the piece still looks pretty nice overall, especially for my first time working in MDF.



Two more shots of the finished pieces at different angles.



Close up of both sides of the Stone Table. You can really see the blood in these.

So as you can see, the end result was pretty good. This was my first time working in MDF and although I still think I prefer plastic/resin scenery, I still really enjoyed this. and who knows? Once I have more experience and confidence in putting these things together, I might prefer MDF. I do know that I’ll being going to Tectonic Craft Studios’ official website and purchasing some more MDF to put together once my backlog of things to paint is a little thinner. I definitely want to try my hand at the Stone Well, Gallows, and Smouldering Foundation, but the two must owns for me are the Victorious Arch (the one at NOVA Open was very Gallic and it would go great with my old Bretonnians) and the Victorian Cottage. So if the goal of the class was to get some repeat business for Tectonic Craft Studios – mission accomplished, as I will definitely be back for more.



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