Monday, March 6, 2017

Scratch building siege towers for Age of Sigmar (part 1)

This weekend I decided I need siege towers in my life. That is to say on the battlefield. I have scratch built a rather nice collection (IMHO) of ruined Mordheim buildings, I have a plastic city wall and there is an amazing collection of war scroll that allows you to host some spectacular sieges using Age of Sigmar rules. What is lacking in are a couple of siege towers (and maybe a battering ram). So without further ado let's go for minimal planning and maximal cutting. Measure once, cut twice and other idiocies that make scratch building fun. To relieve the suspense slightly, this is the result of a few hours of hacking and slashing.

No plastic wall will be safe once these siege towers are finished.
Before I got there I had to pick up my bundle of balsa wood. I love this for scratch building. It is extremely soft so you can cut and modify it with fancy tools like a blunt scalpel, you fingernails or whatever you grabbed when you randomly took something of the table. Balsa wood is available in different thicknesses and sizes, I occasionally take a bundle of 5mm x 5mm 'beams' and 5mm x 1mm 'planks' with me from the local crafts store, it helps to have some to hand if the hobby itch takes you in directions that require balsa wood. Next up was laying out some tools and eight Lego wheels (I bought too many of these when I discovered the size was only slightly too large for Warhammer/Aos purposes.

A pot lid full of paint and PVA, cocktail sticks, cotton swabs and Lego wheels, I fear we've entered the home of a wargamer.
In the meantime these Lego wheels served me well to spruce up the Black Coach (the wheels that come with it are too tiny I think).

I love this model even more with the larger wheels stuck on, it just feels right.
For the next step consisted I looked at pictures of the old Games Workshop/Citadel siege tower and found some directions as to the size of it of (a touch under 4 1/2 inches wide, 7 and 1/3 inches tall and the bottom of the door is 3 1/2 inches from the ground). I took a wall from the old plastic Citadel fortress and used it to take my own measurement and draw up a quick sketch of the tower to be (pictured on the red post-it below).

Bits of balsa wood cut to size and my deeply thought out construction plan (har, har). Also the protective cap of my scalpel without the scalpel in it. That is troubling if you consider my long list of self inflicted scalpel cuts...
One of the many great attributes of balsa wood is its ability to act as a sponge for PVA glue. I have a technique for making doors with it. It consists of gluing the bits that will make the door to some masking tape, draining it in PVA and removing the tape after drying (maybe I should make a tutorial on this later on). I tried the same on the frame of the siege towers.

The front sections of the siege towers have been covered in PVA, next up using a cotton swap to flatten down the layer of PVA.
For those of you wondering why I'm working on two at the same time. I think a single siege tower will look lonely on a battlefield. Knowing my own fickle mind the odds of me making a second siege tower after finishing the first one (within a normal human time frame) are rather low. So I made two instead of one. The beam on top was supposed to be the 'roof' of the tower that will feature wooden battlements for archers to shoot down from.

Getting carried aay, glueding side beams onto the side sections of the siege towers. Also the scalpel is still uncovered and at large somewhere.
Here is a shot of all sides from the tower drying before final assembly. I usually take my scalpel to all balsa wood prior to assembly, cutting of random slivers to make it look well worn. I decided not to do that yet on these towers. The entire frame will be dressed with more wood anyway and I'll just cut a bit into the visible parts later.

Removing masking tape from a glued join. 
After giving the glue (barely enough) time to dry I took the masking tape off to check the connection and assemble the towers. This was a bit disappointing a the construction turned out to be very rickety. Now I might assume the towers will get more strength and body as I add planks to them (and after I have given the glue a proper amount of time to dry), but I'm worried that the pieces will fall apart under the stress of gaming. So I decided to skip the glue and use needles for the construction instead. Did I mention everything works on balsa wood?

Glue not working, let's use needles instead. Happily I had a box of these around to simulate rivets with.
As needles require somewhere around zero minutes to dry before forming a connection I could assemble my two towers at a remarkable speed.

Well they are starting to look rather siege towery, aren't they?
Next came the important bit. Finding out if 'measure once, cut twice' is a smart replacement for doing this the other way round.

Now I know why the defenders kept giggling during my construction, perhaps I should build a wooden rabbit in stead. 
It turns out, that it isn't. The tower will have three floors. The top one will be the battlements that need to be higher than the city wall (that will work with this model). The second floor will feature a large drawbridge that the invaders can use to assault the battlements on the city wall. In the current design the invaders will have to crawl onto the drawbridge as the ceiling is too low to stand up. Now I have to admit that I'm not a HEMA-expert (neither Historical European Martial Arts nor the Dutch HEMA store), but I think crawling towards motivated defenders is not the best approach to combat. Luckily I used pins instead of glue. That made it possible to pull the top off the siege tower and replace the rear beams with longer ones. This raises the siege tower to proper heights.

The giggles have been silenced, my siege tower is officially high enough!
Next up was an easy part, cutting axles for the Lego wheels. I glued these in with a drop of PVA to each side. I'll see how I'll mask any ugly bits after the towers are fully assembled.

Let's put some axles to the wheels!
As the last step I glued a number of wooden coffee stirrers to the sides of the tower to start dressing them up. The nice thing about coffee stirrers (aside from being extremely cheap and managing quite well to look like heroic scale planks) is that these can be cut with scissors. So I just glue them on whole and cut them to size after they've dried (this also answers why you see all those bits of coffee stirrer on my work area). I also remembered (just in time) to add 'beams for the two floors inside the towers.

Okay, they still need quite a bit of work, but the basic framework is place. 
At this point I really had to step back and give the project a bit of time too dry, but I think I'm heading in a reasonable direction (towards the walls so to speak). Next up floors, ladders, walls, an interesting drawbridge and the battlement section on top. After that see how motivated I am to add some impressive details. Oh yeah and painting them.


  1. Those siege tower skeletons look really nice. Wheels have perfect size. I´m looking forward the final result.