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40k Terrain – Head for the hills!

OK, corny title. I’ll try not to do that again for awhile.

I’ve been doing some research and development for a kick-off project for 40k Terrain. Did a test project today with interesting results and I want to share them early. Did you know that vinyl terrain mats are moldable? Sure, according to the instructions on the Ready Grass Vinyl Mat from Woodland Scenics. (Yes, I read instructions – you should, too. That way you’ll know why you feel bad after sniffing glue for three hours.) They claim you can mold a shape out of wadded up paper and tape, cut a terrain mat to roughly the size you want, and then hit it with a heat gun to get it to fall into that shape. Remove and trim and then fasten to the surface you’re creating.


Now, that’ll work great for a static display, but something we play with in Warhammer 40k is going to need some support. The R&D project was to see if the technique could be used with polystyrene hills. It took about two hours to make a good sized hill. You can decide yourself whether the results were worth the effort. For my part, I think traditional methods of glue and paint might have been faster. so-no-proof:yes”>

40k Terrain    Vinyl Hill 019    Lg 40k Terrain – Head for the hills!

Note: You really should read the instructions on materials and tools you use. Heat guns and foam cutters need special care to use safely; using heat to cut polystyrene and melting vinyl WILL release toxic fumes and must be done in very good ventilation.


Here is a list of tools you’ll need to do a similar project:

  • Knife or saw
  • Hot knife or wire foam cutter
  • Heat gun
  • Oven mitt (yes, oven mitt)
  • Sharpie of your favorite color
  • Scissors

You’ll need suitable materials; I used:

  • 2” thick polystyrene sheet (pink insulation board)
  • Vinyl terrain mat (I used Woodland Scenics’ Ready Grass Vinyl Mat)
  • Spray adhesive (I used a 3M product)
  • Modeling turf or ground foam or flock that matches the terrain mat
  • Beer and nuts (or suitable substitute)

I think that’s it.

40k Terrain    Vinyl Hill 007    Sm 40k Terrain – Head for the hills!

Draw out the general shape of your hill onto the foam board with a permanent pen. Trim the board to a workable size with your knife or saw – it does not need to be neat cut. Then use the foam cutter to trim to the desired shape. Some cautions are due here. Do this in a well ventilated area (like OUTSIDE). Work at a safe but quick pace with the cutter. Cut away from yourself, and do not cut across your body. So, if right handed, cut to the right; if left, cut to the left. If you burn yourself or poison yourself with toxic fumes, I don’t want to hear about it. Dummy.

40k Terrain    Vinyl Hill 008    Sm 40k Terrain – Head for the hills!

40k Terrain    Vinyl Hill 010    Sm 40k Terrain – Head for the hills!

Once you’ve got the general shape cut out, you need to trim to the shape of the hill. Sometimes I do stepped hills using 1” thick foam. This 2” foam requires a different approach – you need to slope the hill. You need this to slope gently enough that your models will stand up, but steep enough for the 40k terrain piece to be durable. Also note that the heat gun is hot enough to melt polystyrene, so again, don’t make things too thin.

Too steep:

40k Terrain    Vinyl Hill 011    Sm 40k Terrain – Head for the hills!


Not too bad (foam cutter wouldn’t let me get the hill less steep than this):

40k Terrain    Vinyl Hill 012    Sm 40k Terrain – Head for the hills!

Once you’ve got the hill shaped, you need to turn it over and trace out the general outline onto the bottom of the terrain mat. A good mat will be durable and flexible, so pull it and put your marks a bit more than ½” larger than you need. Then trace the outline of the top of the hill onto the sheet.

40k Terrain    Vinyl Hill 013    Sm 40k Terrain – Head for the hills!

40k Terrain    Vinyl Hill 014    Sm 40k Terrain – Head for the hills!

Spray the adhesive onto the vinyl and the top of your polystyrene hill. Put them together and let it dry long enough to be firm. Some weight will help. Now you know why you needed beer and nuts (or suitable substitute).


Now comes the new part. Turn the hill rightside up on a surface which is heat resistant. Take the heat gun and blow the hot air directly onto the vinyl. Use your other hand to press (NOT RUB) the hot (but not melting) vinyl down. Move around and take your time. Don’t leave the heat gun in one place long enough to melt the polystyrene. If you rub instead of press, you’ll take the turf right off the vinyl. I found working with the gun ½” from the surface and working from the top of the hill down to work well. After working a section, I’d move around. I went around several times before I was done. After the gun gets really hot, take another break (more beer and nuts).  The vinyl sheet I used just kind of molded right down against the surface of the polystyrene. Once the vinyl is molded pretty close to the shape of the hill, use scissors and a knife to trim the excess vinyl. Then pick up the hill and try to get the vinyl to mold against the base of the hill. Trim again when you think you’re done. Note that at some point, you may want to spray some more adhesive up between the vinyl and the polystyrene. HOWEVER, note that high heat is not recommended for most spray adhesives so do that at your own peril!

40k Terrain    Vinyl Hill 015    Sm 40k Terrain – Head for the hills!

556eb9de29aa889 40k Terrain – Head for the hills!

I had a few wrinkles and spots where I rubbed stuff off. So, I sprayed adhesive onto those places and sprinkled turf. I had bought the wrong color, but it made it look more natural anyway. And then you’re done. I guess you could spray some mat varnish to try to make it more durable. I didn’t.

40k Terrain    Vinyl Hill 018    Sm 40k Terrain – Head for the hills!

There you go – yet some more wonderful Warhammer terrain for your 40k battlefields. As you can see, my ‘Nids and Dark Angels are already having a go.

40k Terrain    Vinyl Hill 020    Lg 40k Terrain – Head for the hills!

40k Terrain is not sponsored by, endorsed by, or affiliated with Games Workshop Ltd. Games Workshop, Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, Citadel, the Citadel device, ‘Eavy Metal and all names and characters from the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes are registered, trademarked, or copyrighted Games Workshop Ltd.

All remaining material is Copyright © 40k Terrain.


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Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 at 9:48 pm • 40k scenery, 40k terrain, warhammer, warhammer 40kRSS 2.0 feed • leave a response or trackback

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