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How to make a Display Base – Part2

PzkpfIII overview This is the model with the commander figure.


This article will give a step-by-step guide to creating a simple scenic base for a Tamiya Panzer III tank.


Tamiya’s Panzer III makes up into a fine model and is suitable for beginners since it has only injection molded styrene parts and they fit well.  This particular model was made largely ‘out of the box’ although metal mesh was used over the engine grills which is not provided in the kit.  The model comes with a commander figure which is always useful on a vehicle to give it a sense of scale.  I decided that the tank would be further enhanced by mounting it on a small scenic base.  The advantages of bases are discussed in the article ‘All About Bases’ .

Step By Step Guide

Step 1 – Select and prepare the base

Base start Step 1

The model was placed on a piece of paper to get an idea of the size needed.  It was decided to place the tank at about 45 degrees to the edge of the base, which generally looks better, but means that a larger base is required.  In this case, since it was intended to put the model in a scenic setting the base needed to be somewhat larger than the model in any case.

Having decided on the size of the base, a pre-varnished medium colour square wood base was purchased at a model show.  A small router bit in a Dremel motor tool was used to roughen up the surface to improve the grip of the groundwork to be added later.

Step 2 – Drill a hole in the tank and base

PZIII drilled hole Step 2 – hole in tank floor

Base bolt Step 2 – nut, bolt and washers

Normally, a modeller has to choose to either have the model permanently fixed to the base or to have it loose on top.  Both have disadvantages.

In this case, it was decided to use a method whereby the tank was attached, but could be removed easily.  The first stage consisted of drilling a hole in the base of the tank just large enough to take a bolt.  This is done in the middle of the hole where the turret fits.  The ideal time to do this is before the tank has been built, but in this case it had been left until after the tank was completed, so great care was needed not to damage the model.  A small pilot hole was drilled and this was enlarged with a needle file checking regularly with the bolt that it was not too large.

The bolt to be used is shown on the left.  It was purchased very cheaply from a hardware store.  Since bolts come in all lengths and thicknesses a check was made beforehand of the dimensions that would be needed.  Note the large ‘mending’ washer which will be needed.

The tank is then put on the base in the correct place and the position of the hole in the bottom of the tank is marked on the base so that a corresponding hole can be drilled through the base.  The bolt head on the underside of the base needs to be countersunk so that it does not stand proud and to achieve this a second larger hole was drilled part way through the base from underneath.  More detailed information about attaching models to bases in this way is given in the article ‘Attaching models to bases’ .

Step 3 – Attach the tank to the base and check layout

Base bolt head Underside of the base showing the bolt head.

PZIII interior bolt Step 3 – This is the inside of the tank showing the end of the bolt.

The tank can now be temporarily attached to the base using the bolt and nut.  A large washer is used inside the hull of the tank to spread the load and reduce the stress on the bottom of the tank hull.  A piece of stiff plastic card could be used instead.

It should be noted that care is needed when tightening the bolt that holds the tank down.  Only tighten the bolt by hand with gentle pressure.  It would be all to easy to over-tighten the bolt to the extent that the vehicle’s suspension was crushed.

The exact layout of the scenic base now needs to be decided.  I felt that the scenery should be kept simple as the base was not intended to detract from the model.  However, there was space in the corner of the base that needed something added.

The garden and neighbourhood were scoured for a variety of twigs that could simulate a fallen tree, but none of these looked quite right, so a second search for stones was made.  A number of different stones were tried in place until one was found that filled the space well and looked right.

Base layout The particular stone that was chosen had a rough surface and when suitably painted would look like a large rock.  It added interest to the base without hiding or detracting from the tank.  It also left a space of about the right size to fix a name plate to the base.

The tank was removed from the base ready for the groundwork to be added.

Step 4 – Prepare for groundwork

Base PVA Step 4- Mask edges and apply PVA

Two layers of masking tape are put around the outside of the base to protect the areas not to be covered by groundwork.  It is important that the masking tape is paralell with the edges so the base was carefully marked 1 cm in from each edge with a fine black pen.

The bolt that will hold the tank in place was glued in position from underneath and masking tape wound round the thread to protect it.

A layer of diluted PVA glue was then painted on to the base.  This will improve the adhesion of the groundwork to be added.

Step 5 – Apply the groundwork

Base Materials The first stage is to gather the necessary materials together.  These consisted of:

  • Very fine sand (actually sold as play sand for children).
  • Very coarse sand (taken from a pile on a building site).  This is so course that it contains tiny pebbles 2-3 mm in size.
  • Cork chips – these are sold in bags intended for railway modellers.  It would be possible to create this by breaking up corks from wine bottles.

Base filler Step 5 – Applying filler

Tip:  It is worth keeping a look out for potential scenic materials wherever you go.  They can be bought in shops, but there is a sense of satisfaction in finding materials yourself that do not cost anything.  The garden is often a good source as is a walk through the woods, or on the beach.  If you do collect material then it is a good idea to heat it in the oven to sterilise it and ensure it is perfectly dry.

Base smoothing Step 5 – Smoothing the filler

There are a variety of materials that could be used for making the ground work, such as plaster of paris or Celluclay.  Anything that is malleable, dries hard and adheres well should do.  I prefer to use decorator’s interior filler because I am used to it’s properties and there is normally some in stock in the garage.  It is also very cheap.

Sufficient filler was mixed up to cover the base to a thickness of about 3-4 mm and this was spread over the base.

The filler was roughly smoothed over and thinned at the edges where it meets the masking tape.  The idea is that the ground work should be 3-4 mm over most of the base but should taper away to nothing at the edges.

Base sanding Step 5 – Applying stones

There is no need to worry about getting this perfect because, after all, we are simulating natural ground which is not normally pefectly smooth. The top surface of the filler is then wetted by spraying it with water from a mister in order to improve the adhesion of the sand and other materials that are to be added next.

Base plus tank Step 5 – Pressing the tank into the sand

The next step is to apply the scenic materials starting with the largest and working down to the smallest.  The large rock is placed first and well bedded down into the filler.  Then cork chips were individually placed making sure that they were not in the path of the tank.

This was followed by sprinking some of the coarse sand in patches fairly randomly.

The fine sand was then liberally sprinkled over the whole base making sure every area was well covered.  The sand was then gently pressed into the filler.

Base remove tape Step 5 – Removing masking tape – note the tank tracks

The masking tape was removed from the bolt and the tank hull put in place pressing down gently to form tracks in the filler.  This was done again to make a continuous length of tank track impressions from the corner of the base.  The liberal coating of sand made sure that the filler did not stick to the tank tracks.

The final stage in this step is to remove the masking tape.  It should be removed before the filler has set.  Once the filler has set over the masking tape it will be much more difficult to remove and there is the chance of lifting the filler off the base.  The filler normally sets in a couple of hours but it is best left overnight to make sure that it has fully hardened.

You will note that there is no vegetation added to this base.  This was a deliberate decision to keep the base simple and because the scene is in the Russian winter.  However, it would have been easy to add one or more types of simulated vegetation that is either commercially available or home made.  The bristles from an old sweeping brush often make very good coarse tall grass.

Base after spraying This is the base after the airbrushing.

Step 6: Painting

The base was airbrushed with Tamiya Nato Black making sure that it went into all the recesses that would be in shadow.  This was followed by airbrushing dark brown and patches of lighter browns.  The area around the large rock and the ground that would be under the tank were left darker than the rest of the ground.

Once this had been given a day to thoroughly dry, a wash of burnt umber oil paint was applied.  A day later this was followed by dry-brushing with Tamiya Buff acrylic paint.  Although each of these stages do not take very long, it is necessary to leave plenty of time for the paint to dry after each step.

The dark wash and dry-brushing gave depth and life to the scenery by emphasising the low and high spots and simulating shadows and highlights.

Base after oil wash The base after the oil wash Base after dry brushing The base after dry brushing

Step 7: Getting it all together

The base was sprayed with matt varnish and a label was added.  The label was made on a home computer by printing the text on to photo quality paper and this was glued to the base with Revell Contacta Special.  Finally the tank and commander was added.  Job done.

Base complete

A Note About Colour

The best time to consider what sort of base, if any, that you want to display your model on is during construction.  The model and base need to compliment each other and the model needs to look like it belongs on the base.

The model used in this article was completed before any thought was given to putting it on a base.  The tank has markings for a unit operating in the Russian winter of 1942.  I planned to make the base shades of grey which I thought would be appropriate for a bleak winter scene.  The base did look good after the initial airbrushing until I placed the tank on it and realised that they did not go at all well together.  The only solution was to completely repaint the groundwork in colours that matched the colour scheme of the tank.  The photos below demonstrate this.

Base wrong colour

This bleak grey landscape looked great until the tank was placed on it when I realised that the colours clashed badly.

Base right colour

After re-spraying the base in brown tones the overall effect was greatly improved.

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One comment

  1. Joachim Chiantella

    Like how you mounted the model (Panzer III) to the base. I just leave mine lose. Groundwork was what I have done in the past, serving me very well as it has for you. The base in shades of gray made me think the AFV was passing through a built up town. Otherwise if out in rural towns or country sided you would have varying degrees of brown. The only thing I can think of is that when looking at black & white photos one might get confused on coloring. Overall great work!

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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