Off The Work Bench – American Civil War 28mm Diorama

Much of which I could say about this diorama has already been covered in earlier posts under the header “On The Work Bench” so I wont bore anyone by making further reference to making the tree, the covered bridge and the small section of river.  That said more than happy to answer any questions on the subject.

The diorama itself is meant to depict confederate infantry men making way for the limber coming through and hopefully that comes across.  The figures are once again all from Dixon Miniatures and apart from adding harnessing to the horses and limber are as purchased.

Assembly on this scale and with quite a few pieces proved a little tricky but I got there in the end! Various scenic details were added, most notably the grass which was applied using a static grass applicator.



28mm Building Project No: 5 – The OK Coral

For my 5th Building Project I drew inspiration from one of the great legendary moments in Old West history, The Gunfight at the OK Coral.  As much as possible I wanted to be true to the actual events and location but to create a model which worked for me and my limited base space it was necessary to invoke an element of poetic licence.


Diorama in development

Without turning this into a history lesson, the fight (some might say murder) took place in a vacant lot between two buildings.  Fly’s photographic Gallery was actually at the back of the lot but is usually depicted at the front, presumably because the building was of greater interest and I have done the same.  The righthand building was actually an old wooden house but as I did not have the space and wanted to create the feel of a vacant lot I chose instead to make it a small barn/out building.

The small out building was built from scratch using the same method as Building Project No: 4 – foam board sides clad with coffee stirrers and roof made of cardboard with cardboard shingles.  It was then painted using a variety of oil paint washes (for details refer earlier posts).

Fly’s Photograpy Gallery started life as a Sarissa Precission kit.  The kit was assembled and then completely clad on the sides with coffee stirrers and on the roof with card board shingles.  The doors were also remodelled.  After drying it was painted with oil paint washes.  Clear plastic was used to glaze the windows and blinds were added, the aim of which was to restrict the view looking into the building as on this occasion I did not plan to fit out the inside.

Signage was made using a downloaded Western font and then printed in black and white using Word.  It was then given a thin wash and a bit of weathering.

The figures used were once again all from Dixon Miniatures.  Virgil Earp (kneeling) was given a walking cane (a pin) and Morgan Earp (lying down shot) was given a new hand holding a gun.

Images of the final diorama appear below.





On The Work Bench – Flat Bed River

My American Civil War diorama, when complete, aims to show a six-horse Confederate limber and cannon having crossed a river via a covered bridge.  A group of infantry men are standing either side of the road making way for the limber team to ride on through.

I have completed a tree for the diorma, the bridge and most of the figures and horses.  It was time to work on the base, specifically the small section of river which needed to be created.

My base was slightly modified by adding some wooden quadrant to all four sides.  This was done to raise the edges of the base and to give depth for the river and its banks to be made.  Filler, scraps of wood and whatever else was lying around was used to bring the base, with the exception of the river, to the level of the newly added quadrant.

The area which would become the river bed was then painted black.  This was done purely as a precaution just in case anything showed through at a later stage when it would have been too late to do anything about it.  Using a variety of materials – small bits of stone and gravel, cat litter and anything else rock like – I created the banks of the river.  Some pieces of fallen tree were added too to add a little more interest.

The river bed and bank were then painted using oil paints diluted slightly with white spirit.  Black was used to depict the bottom and therefore the deepest part of the river and then I used burnt umber, burnt sienna and raw sienna as as I worked my way from the bottom of the river bed and up the sides of the bank.  The oil paints blend well and dry a little quicker when used with white spirit.

Once dried the various “rocks” on the river bed and along the river bank, together with the pieces of fallen tree, were dry brushed to bring out detail and shading.  The next step was to add the “water”.  For this I use a Woodland Scenics product called Realistic Water, a silicone product which dries clear. Pending the depth of your river it is best to build up in layers allowing each one to dry before adding more “Realistic Water”. It does take quite a while to dry and is often best left to do so over night.

Having added the “Realistic Water” to the desired depth my next step was to add movement to the river.  If you only want to create the effect of a mill pond then movement is less critical but for a flowing river it’s a must.  Woodland Scenics do have products which you can buy to help achieve this but these can be pretty expensive to buy in the UK and besides there are other ways of doing it.  My preferred method is to simply take an old paint brush (you can use other things instead) and rough up the silicone a bit before it has gone off completly hard.  This does of course mean keeping an eye on it but as it does take a long time to dry so you only need to check after several hours and not every few minutes.  The aim of this process is to create ridges in the silcone to simulate water movement.  You do not need to go deep into the silicone but you do need to go with the flow of your river and not across. Once done leave to dry completely.

When completly dry I used to white oil paint to dry brush the ridges of the silicone. It’s best to go sparingly and add more as you think you need it.  If all goes well your river now looks like it’s flowing as the highlighted ridges look like white water.

Below are a few pictures of the various stages referred to above.  Images of the completed diorama will be posted soon.

On the Work Bench – New England Style Wooden Bridge

Work continues on my American Civil War  diorama, a feature of which is a New England Style wooden Bridge.  The bridge is based on an image I found online albeit that the “real” bridge and river were wider. Nature has few space constraints but alas my diorama base does so it was necessary to construct a shorter bridge!

The bridge itself was constructed using wooden coffee stirrers to make the base and sides, match sticks to make the front and back trim and cardboard to make the wooden shingle roof.  The finished bridge was then painted using a variety of oil based washes. For further details and information on construction and painting methods please refer to my “Building Projects” section.

Below are a few images of the bridge during construction. My next step is to work on the river, more of which in my next post.



28mm Building Project No: 4 – Railway Freight Depot

I’ve always admired model railways but never had the space to truly consider building one so when I discovered that had produced an old western steam locomotive I decided that this would have to be my next diorama. The train even in 28mm scale is a reasonable size and it took me a while to determine how best I could present the model whilst finding room on the base for a building and a few suitable figures.

originally I had wanted to build a railway station but even at 28mm this was to big for the base I wanted to use.  I finally decided I would construct a small-scale Freight Depot building but struggled to find suitable figures and so for a while the idea remained on the back burner until eventually I discovered some western railroad figures produced by

I was now in a position to get my latest project off the ground.

As mentioned in Building Project No: 3 I had already determined that my next building would have a “wooden” shingle roof.  I had also decided that for this model I would try using foam board as the backing to the wooden stirrers instead of cardboard.  As with my previous build my first step was to establish the dimensions of the building and overall layout of the diorama.

In addition to the train Sarissa also produce track and other wagons.  I couldn’t accommodate additional wagons on this occasion but did acquire some track for mounting the train.

Having drawn up rough plans for the building (an end shed, an office in the middle and an open canopy at the other end) I set about cutting the foam board to shape and cutting away for doors and windows.  As with my previous builds I then cut the coffee stirrers to shape and glued them using PVA to the foam board.  Once the front, back and sides were complete the wood was weathered using a wire brush and a modelling knife for later painting.  Window and door frames were made using match sticks and clear plastic was used for window glazing.

I followed the same oil paint wash method for painting the outside walls as previously published.  Although I did not intend for the roof of the building to be removable I did take account of the fact that you could see inside the building through the open door and the window.  With this in mind I clad some of the interior and added a couple of wall posters and a couple of bits of furniture.

The next step was to have a go at my first shingle roof.  The basic structure was a simple piece of cardboard cut to the right length and then folded in half.  Before then gluing it to the main structure of the roof I drew lines at regular intervals on it. These lines would serve to line up the shingles.


The central part of the building before adding the “wooden shingle roof

The shingles themselves were made from cardboard strips that were then cut into much small rectangular pieces.  A tedious job but not one that takes that long.  A line of PVA was then added to the lowest part of the roof and the individual shingles attached.  Using a cocktail stick dipped into a small amount of PVA makes it easier to pick up the small shingles.  The process is then repeated line by line.  It doesn’t take long to get into a rhythm and the process becomes quicker that you might expect.  I tend to put on a You Tube play list and before you know it the roof is complete.

When dried the next step is to paint the roof.  I chose Burnt Umber oil paint thinned with a little white spirit as my base coat followed by a black wash and then by a grey wash.  Once dried I used white as a dry brush applied going against the grain of the roof tiles.  This I felt highlighted the shingle edges.


The central part of the building with the “wooden” shingle roof added along with the left hand side shed and the right hand side open canopy
Some further images of the buildings before final completion.  Note the inside detail.

With the buildings complete a few additions were added in the way of posters, weeds, grasses, dust and ladders etc for added realism.  The next step was to work on the train and the figures.

The train itself went together quite well and painted up OK too I felt.  I added wood to the Tender and a few pipes and levers to the cab.  The figures themselves were then painted using oil paint and placed on the diorama.  I also allowed for the Tender to be removable if required.

The finished train.

Images of the completed model appear below.

28mm Building Project No: 3 – Livery Stable

Having completed two building projects I was ready to have a go at scratch building one.  I already knew that I wanted to build a Livery Stable and had in mind a rough idea of how it would look when completed.  To be fair the idea was based upon an old Britain’s Livery Stable (see image below) which I used to play with as a kid.


My first step was to put my design down on paper.  Having taken account of the base size, and working to a scale of 28mm equals 6 feet (and therefore 5mm equals approximately 1 foot), I drew the outline on graph paper (front, back and sides). Coffee stirrers were then cut to shape and using pva glue were stuck to card.  I used thick card, the type they use for making picture frame mounts.

Outline graph paper drawings and coffee stirrers

As part of my design I intended to have a roof which could be removed in order to look inside, so coffee stirrers needed to be stuck to both sides of the cardboad. The one thing I had not accounted for was the contraction brought about by the pva drying.  As a consequence the dried walls curled up a little rather than lay flat. Had I weighted the sides down while drying things might have been better.  The problem wasn’t insurmountable but it became clear that I needed to redesign the inside slightly so that the sides could be braced and pulled together when assembled and glued.

Early internal images showing the upper flooring and stable posts which were used to brace the sides at assembly

You will notice from the images above that the inside was also painted at this stage as it was much easier to man handle the model and gain access to all internal areas. My next steps were to add the door frames, construct the winch system, build the doors and begin the roof.  Coffee stirrers were again used and cut to size.


Various images of the outside and roof as the model began to come together and the figures started to be included

The right hand side of the roof as viewed in the above image was made to be removable while the left hand side was fixed.

The next stage was to paint the outside of the building but before doing so the wooden stirrers were roughed up using a wire brush and a modelling knife to add character which would become more obvious when the painting and dry brushing was done.  For painting I used a variety of different colour washes.  The washes were all created using various oil paints thinned out using white spirit.  I’m sure the purists would be horrified at the use of white spirit but I think the medium is great and use it all the time to thin and matt down oil paints.  The great thing about using real wooden coffee stirrers is the paint washes soak into the wood and in my opinion produce a nice finish.

With the building essentially complete attention was now directed to the figures and internal detailing.  The figures were mostly from – their Old West and American Civil War series.  Minor conversions were made to an artillery figure which was adjusted to pull the rope and the riden horse had saddle bags and a blanket added.

Ground work was essentially grit swept from the curb side and the greenery comprises of static grass, taller grass made from string and Seafoam Trees purchased from  These trees are aimed at railway modellers but they are ideal for 28mm scale either as trees, bushes or climbing plants.  They are best painted with a diluted paint and then dressed with leaf materials applied using hair spray.

Images of the completed model appear below.

It was only after I had completed this model that I saw some images of roofs made of wooden shingles and thought they looked much better.  I decided that shingle roofs would be the next step towards improving my scratch built buildings.  More on this when I get round to publishing Building Project No: 4.


28mm Building Project No: 2 – Pioneers Cabin

For this diorama I wanted to try to improve upon my first building project.  As a theme I decided to go with a pioneers cabin set in the middle of nowhere and where the early settlers would have had a non violent relationship with the local tribal indians.  The completed result appears below.


The building itself is another kit from Sarrisa (North American series) which has had some modifications.  As mentioned in my earlier Building Project No: 1 post, I wanted to add some depth to my next building and decided to use coffee stirrer’s to help achieve this.  I wasn’t bold enough to clad the building walls but did alter the roof.  Overall I was pleased with the outcome and with hindsight wished I had done something with the walls after all!

The building also featured a stone chimney.  Being laser etched the chimney looked very flat and so along with doing alterations to the roof I decided to build a new chimney using cat litter and filler.  Picture below.


Another first in this dioram was the introduction of “water”.  Woodland Scenics “Realistic Water” was used in the water trough and for creating the small waterfall and stream.  See below.

As with most things done for the first time there is a learning curve.  “Realistic Water” is like real water in that it runs everywhere and will escape all over the base unless it is properly contained.  If you want to add water to anything you do this stuff is great and there are some excellent tutorials on Youtube which can tell you how to use this stuff far better than I can.

The figures and wagon are all 28mm Dixon Miniatures.

A few more photo’s of this diorama are below.


For my next building project I decided I would try my hand at constructing a building completely from scratch.  More on that to follow.  In the meaanwhile I need to work on my photography skills as these images aren’t that great!




28mm Building Project No: 1 – Undertakers & General Store

As mentioned in my previous post, I decided that scaling down to 28mm was my best option if I wanted to include buildings within my dioramas.  Having reached that decision a quick internet search for 28mm old west Buildings led to my discovery of Sarissa Precission’s website (  Sarissa have a whole host of buildings covering various periods including the Old West and North America both of which were of interest to me.

Sarissa’s buildings are made of MDF with laser etched detail, fit together perfectly and look very good when made up.  They were just what I was looking for and so I purchased two of them for the model pictured below.  The building on the left is Old West model code SmallPLUS Building 1 and the building on the right is Old West model code SmallPLUS Building 4.  For both buildings I also purchased the optional apex roof (I’m no fan of the characterless flat roof that comes as standard).


The aim of the diorama was to simply capture a moment in time on the street of a western town.  The buildings themselves were simply painted but, as can be seen from the additional photo’s below, I also chose to fit out the insides of both buildings. For reference all the figures in this diorama are from Dixon’s Miniatures (http://www.dixon-minis.comand the various internal accessories are mostly from Frontline Wargaming (

Inside the General Store

Inside the Undertakers

The only minor adjustments I made to both buildings was to add clear plastic glazing where appropriate to doors and windows, to make a hole in each roof for the chimney of the wood burning stoves and to add the main signage (this was done using Word together with a downloaded western font which was printed and given a light colour wash).  Overall I was pleased with the outcome of my first building but as is often the case we are often our own worst critic and so, on closer inspection I felt there were improvements which could be made next time around.

A better painter than me would have been able to add depth to the wood of the building and to the roof tiles.  That was beyond my skill set and so my overall impression was that the end result was rather flat and lacking in character and depth.  How I could improve upon this came to me in Burger King while I was stirring my coffee – use real wooden coffee stirrers for cladding!  Which leads nicely onto the subject of my next post, My Second Building.


Buildings – Introduction

As a kid I can remember Britains toys adding to their swoppet range by introducing western buildings and I can recall having been given the Bank, Jail, Hotel, Ranch House and Livery Stable as christmas and birthday presents.  I mention this only because it was these memories which inspired me to want to go beyond just painting figures to adding buildings to my modelling.

One of the first things to consider is the scale you want to build in.  As a modeller I had for the most part painted 54mm figures up to this point and as a consequence my initial idea was to build in this scale.  I soon realised that this presented two problems. Firstly, the constructed building would be quite large.  Secondly, how would I store or display it and keep it free of dust?

Pathetic as this sounds it took me a while to reach the obvious answer – build in a smaller scale!  I had only ever really considered 28mm to be a war gaming scale and as such had never properly looked at available figures and accessories. Needless to say a quick internet search opened up an entire new world and I haven’t looked back since.

I am by no means an expert on constructing buildings, if I were then I would would not be The Imperfect Modeller.  However, in a short period of time I have managed to move on from simply constructing and painting bought buildings to constructing my own frrom scratch, a most rewarding experience.

In this series of posts I will go through the evolution of my buildings.  In the meanwhile a picture below of a Livery Stable I constructed completely from scratch. It’s not without it’s faults (which I will highlight going forward) but it was only my third building ever.