Monday, January 13, 2014

Small, rustic bridges

28mm Sikh infantry cross a scratch-built, bamboo bridge over a jungle river...doubtless hunting down reports of pygmy cannibals in the area!
Having just finished 8 feet of rivers, it follows that I'd need some crossing points, too. I wanted to make these as generic as possible, though. The first time they'll be used is for the upcoming installment of Dakota Smith's Oriental Adventures. The players' objective will be on a river island, and I wanted to have a number of crossing points so that there isn't a bottleneck at one lone bridge or anything.

Since they'll at least initially be used for southeast Asia, the material of choice was naturally bamboo. My thinking was that the more simple the bridge, the better. I planned for a plain arc with no handrails. However, once they were halfway constructed, I decided to go ahead and add a handrail after all. Still, these are not fancy by any stretch of the imagination. The fact that I did three at once shows that they were simple and straight forward to build.
Simple card stock forms the base of the bridge, folded into the shape I want
I started with a folded piece of cardstock. I sized it to be about 2/3's of the width that the final bridge would be. I folded an angle one inch in from each end to be the part that sloped down to the ground. It was actually more difficult than I thought it would be getting the angles -- and thus bridge slopes -- to be roughly the same. I had to use blue tack to affix the cardstock to the desk temporarily. Next, I cut up a bunch of bamboo skewers using a wire cutter. Each piece would lay horizontally across the cardstock and be roughly equal to the 1 1/2 inch width I'd planned. It looks good to vary the length of the bamboo pieces -- so don't stress out about being too exact! Each bridge uses about 40 bamboo planks, so it requires a lot of cutting!
The top portion is loaded up with its bamboo planks, and the sloping side is glued up in readiness for its to be placed along its surface
I covered the top, flat section of the bridge with Tacky glue and then simply placed the skewers astride the cardstock. Once they'd dried, I put another lump of blue tack at the bottom of each slope and covered it with Tacky glue as well. The bamboo planks were added to the sloping sections of the bridge. I had to turn it upside down after it was dry to get the last couple end pieces on. In my original plans, the construction phase of the bridge was supposed to be done at this point. However, I felt the cardstock was too flimsy and would be weighed down by the 28mm figures. The glue and bamboo did not stiffen it as much as I'd figured it would. This was solved easily enough by flipping it upside down and adding in supporting bamboo pieces running where the edge of the cardstock joined the bamboo. Once the glue dried, the bamboo would provide a truncated arch support for any weight placed on the bridge.
The bridges are flipped upside down to add bamboo "arch" support
This was how I'd envisioned the bridges, before I got the needling urge to add handrails
 It was at this point that I also decided to add handrails. Thankfully, I thought ahead enough to paint the underside of the bridge first. That way, it could lay on the flat bridge platform surface while I painted the bottom a base coat of Ceramcoat Dark Burnt Umber. Once dry, I dry brushed it in Howard Hues Camo Brown.
The bottoms of all three bridges with their Dark Burnt Umber base coat, and Camo Brown wet brush highlight
So, what to do about the handrails? I ended up sorting through my odds and ends boxes for inspiration. I could come up with nothing better than cutting craft sticks as two main post supports, filing them to a point at their top. Then, I drilled a tiny hole in each with a pin vice. This was filled with a cut down straight pin. I left about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of metal protruding from the posts. I constructed the hand rails from thick craft sticks and bamboo skewers. They were cut to size, then drilled with the same pin vice to accept the needle protruding from the post. I hoped this "pinning" would help support the hand rails themselves. As you can imagine, this was by far the most "fiddly" part of the build! I constructed each set of hand rails completely before attempting to glue them to the bridges. I'm glad I did, because they were relatively balanced and a blob of Tacky glue ended up holding them upright in place while the glue dried.
The fiddliest and most time-consuming part of the build: creating the handrails. After holes were drilled through the posts and rails, straight pins were trimmed up to pin them in place to help the glue hold.
Once the hand rails were in place, I was glad I'd done them. They added quite a bit to the look of the bridges. From this point, it was a simple matter to base coat them in Dark Burnt Umber. This was followed up by a "wet brush" of Howard Hues Camo Brown. A further dry brush of Howard Hues "Colonial Khaki" was next. Finally, a blak ink wash was brushed over the entire upper part of the bridge (I did not bother washing the underside). A spry of Dullocate, and they're ready for the table!
The three bridges, after construction, but before painting
As at the end of all my builds, I asked myself if I'd change anything. Perhaps. I'd like to find something more sturdy than card stock to be the base of the bridge. There has to be some odd or end around my house somewhere, or something cheap at the craft store, that can be the truncated arch shape. It was a real pain to keep the angles of each slope on the bridge the same. I also would probably find a different material for the post and hand rail. Maybe brass wire for the handrails -- so it only had to be threaded through the holes in the posts, and then bent into shape? For the posts, something more sturdy than the craft sticks would be nice, too. Maybe I can insert a bamboo skewer vertically into the planks of the bridge when I am gluing the bridge surface together? Bamboo is much stronger than the craft wood. Other than that, I'm happy with how they turned out. They're not as flashy and dramatic as the "Indiana Jones" rope bridge, of course! But they are cheap, functional, and look the part.
Close up of one of the finished products on the tabletop with 28mm figures

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