I had wanted to entitle this article “Russian Civil War Fences,” but realized they could be used in far more periods and geographic areas other than Eastern Europe. The ‘economically challenged’ part of the title was just me being a little passive aggressive.
A good and aesthetically pleasing wargame takes more than merely putting nicely painted figures onto the gaming table. Terrain, buildings, trees, etc., help prepare the setting in which you are going to play. These items may seem small, but are exactly the things that can turn an average game into an incredible one. Once, at Bruce Meyer’s gaming emporium, we were playing a Wild West game in which some Indians were attacking and burning a building. Someone mentioned, “Where’s the water tower and fire truck?” Bruce calmly got up, went to a shelf, pulled out the appropriate models and placed them on the table – coup-fourré! The ability to give your game a more “period” feeling includes terrain and extras that give a look of the times.
Starting with the thinking that “more is less,” especially as it comes to cash outlay, I got my children to grab an extra wooden stirrer or two from the local coffee shop after getting them caramel frappuccinos. The advantages were clear: dad got the kids hyped on caffeine and then retreated into his room to start a project with free wood of the right thickness. I had some extra-thick pressed board pieces lying about from long-defunct DBA projects that I used for bases. Paint stirrers from hardware stores (also usually available for free) work nicely if cut to the appropriate width. I am a big fan of reusing cardboard boxes, but the flexibility of cardboard and the thinness of the pieces required would not hold up to game use, so I avoided using it.
The bases were first cut to the lengths I wanted (4 and 5 inches). I figured I wanted the fences about 2 to 2.2 cm high with the pickets to be about 1 to 1.5 mm thick based on some photos I saw online. End posts would be twice as thick; this would allow me to have two supporting pieces running behind the end posts to support the upright pickets. Using some ProCreate, I secured the end picket in place, making sure it was straight up and down with a 90 degree ‘L’ available from Micro Mark (an essential for any construction project as it can confirm 90 degree angles). I set these aside to dry overnight and did another project in the meantime.
Before I discuss more about how to make the fences, I would like to talk about how I cut the Starbucks stirrers. After measuring the length of the wood I needed, I used either a razor saw or pair of scissors to cut the lengths I wanted. I used mechanical pencils from the Dollar Tree to mark out the width of the long support pieces and the upright fence pickets. Drawing an X-Acto knife along the marked line is easy and generally cuts along the line desired, which is perfect because the cut is not perfect, which is the desired effect! You will get some oddly shaped pieces of wood, but this is what my mind’s eye sees when looking at fences built on a budget of little or no money. For pickets that are more regular, simply place the knife edge directly on the stirrer and press down – the blade will cut nicely through the wood and wood grain to give straighter pieces.
When the ProCreate stabilized end posts had dried, I glued two lengths of wood to near the top and bottom (about 2 mm below the top and just above the ground) of the support posts. These would be the cross supports onto which the pickets would be glued. If the flat edge of a stirrer was present, a little gouging with an X-Acto would make it more irregular looking. The cross supports offered some stability to the end post uprights. I let these dry overnight so when I applied the pickets I would not knock the cross supports off.
While these dried, I prepared the pickets. Some lengths of pickets were cut to the exact height of the support posts, some were cut 1 mm short and others 1-2 mm taller. Mix and match to suit your purposes. Even some of the miss-cut and short pieces were useful to show parts of the fence’s wear and tear damage. This part was a little tedious, but made easier by listening to a cool period movie like Admiral, The Battle for Warsaw, or even Dr. Zhivago.
Once everything is dry you can add a little ground filler and terrain for support and texture. The fence can be painted any color you wish. However, if you choose to paint it as the natural wood color, remember that wood becomes gray with age. Look at most trees in the woods; their bark is gray or gray/brown, not brown! Highlights of mid- and light-gray will give the wooden fence an “old” feel and look. From start to finish, I believe this project took me about a week or so, but the effect the final fences have on the gaming table was well worth the time and effort.
In another of my “oh my” moments I realized that I should have cut 45 degree diagonals on the ends so that they would meet up with other fence ends neatly; this was evident during a game at the 2013 Enfilade convention. It would have been more difficult to make “L” shaped corners than to cut the edges off, so I did the latter. This ended up being much easier than expected and was accomplished in one evening. The final result was much better looking!