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A towering ambition
One man's dream to build his own castle, in 54mm scale of course
I might as well start with a confession, I have always toyed with the idea of living in a castle, but with limited financial means it will have to remain a dream, well until I win the lottery. As toy soldier collectors we are dreamers, we have to be by nature otherwise why do we dedicate a large chunk of our lives both sleeping and awake to our little plastic or lead friends? So I figured if I cannot get to achieve my ambition to reside within the sturdy confines of a stronghold of my own in the real world, then why not do the next best thing and make one in miniature. As usual talking and thinking are cheap, but to make anything worthwhile happen in this life we have to go that extra mile to put a plan into action.
At 54mm scale any castle, even a modest one, was going to be a huge task to pull off so I chose to start with something achievable in a fraction of the time, a tower. How to go about it and what materials to use was the next challenge. I have tackled buildings on other diorama's and used cardboard, hardboard and air drying clay but for this I felt it needed something a bit more real and special. I looked around for the right resources which put things on a go slow until by chance one day I was in a local tile shop, looking for, yes that's right tiles for a more mundane task i.e. doing up the kitchen; my partner Mary and I spotted simultaneously some small decorative naturalistic pieces of stone tile. These tiles came in various shapes and sizes but all of them much smaller than the bog standard six inch square tile that most of us occasional DIYers imagine to be the norm. They came on some sort of latex sheet (more on this later) and boy were they expensive. Speaking to the retailer and telling him what I had planned for the tiles he told me to 'hold on a minute', he then went to the storeroom and came back with a large sheet of the tile pieces which he said were missing a few bits and that as he was unable to sell it in that state 'here, take these for free'. The retailer's generosity inspired me to buy some more so everyone was happy as I had double the amount for half the price.
Itching to get home and start the project which had been long enough in the thought process, I was soon putting these miniature stone blocks and shapes together like a child with a box of wooden bricks. Sharply reminding myself that I was now an adult I began the real work. My first attempt at making a tower was doomed to failure. I used cement, the same mix I use when building full scale outside though obviously in less quantity. When set the mortar was too thin to hold even a low structure let alone a lofty tower. Tiling grout was my next choice, which went well until I tried to clean up the uneven spread of grout with even a minimal amount of water, initially it seemed fine but the following day the liquid had seeped in softening and weakened the grout. Damnations and blast were the polite versions of my frustrations thus far. Then while rummaging through the shed and tool box I came across one of those tubes of 'hard as nails', the stuff that claims to stick virtually anything to just about anything. It was worth a go. Hallelujah it did the trick and I was away.
If you look closely enough at the finished tower you will note that not all of the walls or stones are flat, that is because I chose to add real pieces of stone to mingle with the shop bought variety, collecting odds and ends from just about anywhere, local fields and even gravelled car parks! It's amazing what you can find when you are model making, utilizing things you would normally not give a second glance.
In total I spent, on and off, ten hours building the tower which included the more enjoyable titivation that is sticking odd pieces of decorative flock grass here and there on the walls to add a sense of age, weathering and atmosphere, it also helps hide any mistakes in the structure and if I am honest there are a few, as this was my first attempt at such a bold building venture.
The steps to the outside which lead up to the door were crafted from a solid piece of polystyrene foam, cut using a surgeon's blade, counting fingers after use! With the steps cut to shape I then glued on small pieces of roofing slate to the foam to give the illusion of it being stone blocks. At the top of the hollow tower I made a cardboard floor with access steps revealed below. The windows incorporate some of the spent latex sheet which held the tiles in place, painted black, to give the suggestion of leading, and then backing the latex with a cut piece of transparent plastic it has the desired effect; well, for me anyway! And before you write in telling me that medieval castles did not have glazed windows, yes I know that, but I put mine in to hide the multitude of sins inside the tower, i.e. the surplus glue etc. The tower door is nothing more than cardboard with thin strips of more cardboard glued to create a chunky sort of medieval stronghold entrance, mine is fixed in position but could just as easily be designed to swivel open and shut.
The entire tower is set on, using more 'hard as nails', a large piece of roofing slate which I have scored with a sharp tool to create a section of courtyard with stone slabs. Finally to personalize the tower I made a standard to proudly fly from the battlements with my own heraldic crest. A phoenix rising from the flames and three diamonds', tongue in cheek it declares 'Diamonds are forever!'
So there it is my own castle tower, throw in a few mixed toy soldiers, predominantly a Del Prado medieval knight and his Dorset Soldiers lady and the odd Herald chicken and Britain's pig and I can dream in 54mm scale that I am lord of my own kingdom. By the way the tower weighs in at a whopping 4kg and reaches 35cm high. It's not perfect but it is rugged and ought to see off any potential attackers long enough for reinforcements to arrive in the shape of builder's hell bent on extending walls, towers, keep, gatehouse etc, once planning permission has been granted.
Mary, we need to visit the tile shop. Oh and can we linger in the car park via the field again? Hello, did you hear me? I've run out of building materials! (Reluctantly) Yes, alright we'll go food shopping as well, if we must, (childish) but no clothes shops! (Forlorn acceptance) Okay only one though, I've got a castle to construct!"
Date Published Sat, 09/18/2010 - 10:12
Author: Dennis Diamond
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