Thursday, April 4, 2019

Scratch-building Chain Link Fences

My scratch-built aluminum fence sections surrounding my scratch-built basketball court
As my 28mm urban terrain began to grow, I knew I would needed fences to enclose my basketball court, parking lots, playgrounds -- whatever I think will look better with something around it. I thought I would try my hand at scratch-building chain link sections with easy-to-obtain and common materials. Sure, I realize somebody probably already makes them for purchase. I enjoy the modeling part of the hobby, though. And if I can do them cheaper, it means I can do more of them!
The black mesh called "plastic canvas" which -- when rotated 45 degrees -- looks like a chain link fence
I started with a plastic mesh screen called "plastic canvas" that you can buy at craft or fabric stores (I believe they are used for needlepoint). I chose black as the color so that I could dry brush my aluminum color over it to give it more of a worn look. The mesh is horizontal/vertical. Chain link fences usually have their wires running diagonal, though. So, I simply rotated the mesh 45 degrees. To make sure I was cutting it uniformly straight, I first cut out a thick cardstock template that would equal the size of the fence section that I wanted. I rotated the mesh, placed the template down, and used a sharp X-acto knife to cut along it.

My 6" bass wood sections with holes drilled 1 1/2" from each end for the nails to be forced through
I ended up with lots of segments left over, but I may go back and use those for gates, smaller sections, or whatever comes up. Next, I cut out the bases out of bass wood. In hindsight, I would make the bases wider. I chose bass wood slats that were too narrow and the fences seem a tad top-heavy. I then measured so that if I lined up several sections end to end, the poles would be evenly spaced. With a 6" long base, I needed to measure in 1 1/2" from each end along the centerline of the base. That meant that each pole would be 3" apart. I marked the spot and drilled it to accommodate my fence posts.
The nails, which become fence posts, pushed through the bottom of the bass wood base through the hole drilled for them
I used aluminum nails for my fence posts. My idea was to use a flat head nail and drive it up from the bottom through the bass wood base material. Unfortunately, I did not notice that my chosen nails had a slight, irregular, material bump on the end of each nails flat head. That meant they did not truly lay flat. I thought this could be easily fixed by simply gluing MDF "bricks" -- tiny rectangular pieces that were left over from building construction. I did this, but then found that the base was even more wobbly and unstable. The next attempt to salvage the bases was to epoxy metal bases on the bottom in the center between the two posts. The weight of the metal allowed them to finally be more bottom heavy and stand up more straight. Still, I wished I had gone with wider bases.
The styrene rods placed atop the points of the nails to be the horizontal poles
The next step was to cut the styrene rods that I had bought at a local hobby shop into six inch sections. I measured 1 1/2" in from each end and marked the spot. I then took the sharp point of an X-acto blade and spun it to make a hole at the marked stop. I widened it so that it would fit over the tapered point of the nail. The rods would become the horizontal poles atop the fence sections. Once I had all the poles cut out and drilled, I simply epoxied them onto the nail points.
The size of styrene rods I bought from the local hobby shop
It was at this point I discovered I had made another miscalculation. When I drilled the hole through the bases, I had not done them uniformly straight and perpendicular. This meant the nails did not point up a true straight up and down, and the styrene poles would not look straight. In the future, I would probably find truly flat head nails and simply epoxy them to the base, rather than drilling them up through the bottom. Lessons learned!
The materials all ready for assembling
Next, I coated the horizontal styrene poles and the vertical nails with a line of epoxy. I took each precut mesh screen and placed it onto the epoxy, angling the piece at an angle so gravity would force the screen against the epoxy. This step went very quickly, and I soon had a bunch of 6" chain link sections. I was mostly happy with how they'd turned out.
My first attempt at making the bases more stable. I would later add two metal bases in between the nails for weight
The two gates were a bit more fiddly to make. I cut styrene rods to be the gate posts, and epoxied them onto the base. It took some bracing and use of bluetack while the epoxy was drying for them to stay upright. I glued an appropriate bead onto the top of each post to look like the filial caps you usually see on aluminum fences. I glued on more styrene rods for the gates side and top poles, but otherwise, the steps were very similar as constructing the straight fence sections.
The plastic mesh is epoxied onto the aluminum nails and styrene rods - ready for priming!
Once all dry, I took the sections outside and spraypainted them with Krylon black primer acrylic paint. I followed this up with a coat of 50/50 mixture of black paint and water. They dried overnight, and then it was time to turn them into aluminum. I searched around to find a silver that looks more like aluminum. I purchased a jar of Vallejo Liquid Silver "White Gold" because it looked the most like aluminum of all the paints I'd found.
The painted and flocked gate section with a fence section on either side
My original intention was to drybrush the silver on over the black, leaving some black in the recesses as shadows. This paint is very watery, though, and wanted to cover the area completely -- running into crevices. I decided to go with the flow, so to speak, and cover the poles and fence screen more completely. This went VERY fast, and I really liked the bright color and how it reminded me of aluminum.
A good look at the mesh and how it simulates a chain link aluminum fence
Once dry, I flocked the bases with medium brown ballast, and followed it up with Turf Earth, and finally blended green grass (leaving some sections bare earth). A couple sprays of clear coat and my fences were done! Everything did not go exactly as planned, and I will certainly be making some changes on future fence sections. However, I liked the way it turned out, and actually bought a second section of black plastic canvas tonight to do more fences!
Some of my 28mm urban gangs get ready to rumble on an inner city basketball court surrounded by my fence
These fence sections were quick and easy to create (and cheap, too!) If you follow in my footsteps, don't make the same mistakes that I did! See my blog entry above...