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How to Make a Display Base – Part1

PZ IV G complete on base This is a 1/35th scale Panzer IV on it’s homemade base.  The base cost only a couple of Euros and was made entirely made from scratch.


The subject of bases, including why to use them and where to buy them, is covered in the tutorial ‘All About Bases’ .

This tutorial is for those people who wish to consider making their own display base from scratch – well, from a plank of wood actually.

There are plenty of commercially available bases in all shapes and sizes, so there is no real need to make one from scratch.  However, there is a certain satisfaction in creating the base as well as the model.  It also means that you can get a base that is exactly what you want and you might save yourself a bit of money.

Making a base from scratch involves the use of sharp tools and the sanding of wood.  Care is needed to avoid injury and a filter mask should be used when sanding.  This should not be undertaken by children.

Step By Step Guide

Base making 01

1. Get The Wood

You will need to obtain some suitable wood.  Planks of wood intended for shelving are a good choice and are easily available from hardware stores.  It should be untreated and unvarnished.  Try to buy wood that is the right width for the bases you need to make to reduce the amount of sawing you need to do later.

You may have the choice between hardwood (such as oak) and soft wood (such as pine).  Hard woods are more expensive and more difficult to work with but will produce a better result due to their fine and dense grain.  Soft wood is more prone to splintering and sometimes produces a rough finish.

In this example, I am using a plank of pine wood which is actually made up of several smaller strips glued together.  This cost only five Euro and I shall make three bases from it.

Base making 02 2. Measuring

Measure the length of wood you need to cut off to make the base for the first model.  It is best to be a little generous as a model does not look good on a base that is too small.  Remember to take account of any projections sticking out from the model such as the gun on a tank, since you will probably not want these projecting further than the edge of the base.

Mark the line you want to cut along with a pencil making sure that it is at a right angle to the edge of the wood.

Base making 03 3. Saw the wood

Using an appropriately sized saw cut off the amount of wood needed for the first base along the pencil line.  A tenon saw is usually the best type for this job.  Make sure that the piece of wood you are cutting off is supported when you get to the end of the wood, so that it does not snap off prematurely.

Base making 04 4. Shape the wood

You will now have a rectangle of wood and this is fine to use as a base as it is.  However,  most people prefer to shape the edges of the wood.  The ideal way to do this is with a router which can give very good results and create a variety of different profiles.

If you do not have a router, or just want to keep it simple, then simply use a plane to put a 45 degree chamfer around the edge of the base.  In this photograph, I am using an electric plane, but a manual one will work just as well, it will just take longer.  Do not set the blade too deep.  Better results will be obtained by taking the wood away in small amounts.

Base making 05 5. Sand and smooth the wood

Now it is time to get some sandpaper and make sure that the surface of the base is smooth all over and elminate any rough edges and splinters.  Start with a fairly rough sand paper and use gradually finer sand papers to get a good smooth finish.  Try to sand in the same direction as the grain of the wood.

If you have an electric sander like me, then this only takes a couple of minutes.

Base making 06 6. Colour and stain the base

You may wish to leave the base a natural wood colour, but most people will wish to apply a woodstain which can be used to create any shade of wood desired.  When the wood has been stained, then two or three coats of varnish – either gloss or flat depending on taste – will finish it off.

As an alternative to staining and then varnishing, you may wish to consider a coloured varnish, although I feel they do not generally produce such good results.  Here is a completed base with a Challenger tank mounted on it.

Base scenery 01 7. Mark edges for scenery

You can stop at step 6 and use the base as it is.  However, your model will probably look better if displayed with some scenery to show it in a realistic setting.

The first stage in adding scenery is to mark the edges where you want the scenery to end.  A black marker pen is ideal for this.  The hole that can be seen in the middle has been drilled to allow me to fix the model to the base using the method shown in the article ‘Attaching models to bases’ .

Base scenery 02 8. Apply masking tape

It is necessary to protect the edges of the base during the next few steps, so apply masking tape around the outside edge of the lines you marked in the previous stage.  By leaving the lines exposed they will be covered by the scenery that is to be added, so they will not be visible on the finished product.

Hint:  Leave a flap of masking tape doubled over at the end of each strip of tape, to make it easier to remove the masking tape later on.

9. Apply glue

Base scenery 03 I usually use neat PVA glue applied with a large (and old) brush.  The glue is dabbed on to give a thick coverage.  I have found that the PVA glue adheres to the base well.  However, if you really want to make a stong bond, then you should roughen the surface of the base before applying the adhesive to give it a good key.  Remember to wash the brush as soon as possible, before the glue has time to dry on it.

Base scenery 04 10. Add large items of scenery

If you wish to add any large stones, pebbles of other scenic items then this is the time to place them on the base.  Make sure that they are not placed where the wheels or tracks of your model will go.

Base scenery 05 11. Sprinkle sand and dust

Now sprinkle fine sand and/or dust/dirt on to the base to give a textured effect.  I find that the fine sand made specially for children’s sand pits works well.  It is advisable to do this on a sheet of paper that will collect any overspill of sand.

Lightly press the sand into the adhesive and then tip up the base and tap it to remove the excess sand.

Now is a good time to remove the masking tape.  It will be much more difficult if you wait until the glue has dried.

Simple base completed 12. Paint the base

When the adhesive is fully dry, you may wish to seal it with a layer of PVA glue diluted with water in the ratio of three or four parts water to one part adhesive.  However, this is optional and normally the sand is secure without needing to do this.

Put masking tape around the edges again and then paint the scenic area.  An airbrush is best, but a large brush will also do.  Choose the colours carefully to blend and improve your model.  The colours on the base scenery should match the colours of any dirt you have applied to your model in the weathering process.  The base colours should also act to enhance the look of the model.  Avoid painting the scenery in a single colour.  Remember you are simulating a natural environment so use different colours of paint and vary the shading.  Try to make the area under your model a darker shade to simulate shadows.

Your base will now be complete and will greatly enhance and protect your model.  If you wish you could go further and use a dark wash and light drybrusing to enhance the texture.  You could also add a label.


The above tutrorial shows that is it within the abilities of many modellers to create their own unique display base from common materials.  If you need to purchase wood stains and varnishes specially for this task, then it may well not be worth while.  However, many people may find that they have most of the products needed already lying around in their sheds, or garages.  Perhaps it is worth a bit of an explore of the shelves to find out what you have before you start on such a project.


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GRAB YOUR FREE STEP-BY-STEP VIDEO GUIDE !Here you'll find the BEST on the web video tutorial on how to make 1:48 scale WW2 German jet. In our friendly step-by-step video guide we cover topics like: drybrushing, applying washes, applying decals and many more. Do not miss out - WE GUARANTEE THAT YOU WILL LEARN SOMETHING NEW!!!!New GraphicName: Email: We respect your email privacy