Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Making a Scrubby Table...

 How I did the last one...

On the Facebook groups where I occasionally post there seemed to be a lot of interest/questions re. the table for the last set up ("How do you do it?", "is it a sand table?" etc.), so here's a quick "How I do it" post..

Now, this table was for a specific 6mm set up (from Featherstone's book on wargame campaigns - though the original was for 1/72 scale) but I use similar methods for all my "scrub/semi-desert" type games of all scales.


1) Books, oddments and bits of wood to provide the basic high-ground profiles.

2) Some kind of "underlay" material and off-cuts (old blankets, other battlemats etc.) to soften edges. 

3) A sheet of cheap, cream coloured "fleece"; the kind of stuff they make fleeces/hoodies out of. Lightweight, slightly textured but no actual "pile". I "dyed" mine with watered down Pound Shop acrylic, mixed with odds and ends of DIY acrylic and artist's acrylic.

The material I found has a slight nap to it (see pic below with 6mm bods), which can be raised with a sued brush if desired for "long grass" (I sometimes use this for selected "fields" then flattened again after). The material holds sand and scatter on slopes well, isn't too thick, nor too thin.


4) A shoe-box of sand/gravel mix from the beach. 

5) Odd bits of flock and clump-scatter in various greens (home made and bulk-bought cheapest quality model railway stuff).

Dried tea leaves (from used teabags) for tracks and buildings, fields, crop lines etc. for colour. 


1) Lay out the table and place books, blocks and whatever for the hills required. As I've said, the previous project was to a specific plan, so took longer. Usually I'm more random or less picky about placement. 

2) For this layout I wanted the re-entrant/spur and gully effect you get in the part of the world where this was set, and the shapes of the "peaks"and ridges on the original plan.

To help achieve this I cut up an old cardboard box into lengths, which I then bent or taped into a "Toblerone shape" for ridge lines/watersheds. These were placed at salient points on the book, wood and oddment piles. 

3) I then put off-cuts of material on the "hills" to soften the outlines of the peaks and spurs.

I wanted two small, flat-topped peaks and a "saddle" on Djebel Kourine, so a book and a couple of can tops were pressed into service for this. 

4) On top of this went the fleece itself; pressed down in the valleys, smoothed and pulled around till I was happy with the effect.  The trick is to just press lightly with your fingers, smoothing any unwanted ridges and adjusting the fleece edge as you go. Doesn't take long once you've got used to it. 

5) I then added the clumps of trees and sand from the beach - pouring by trickling half-handfuls of mixed sand/gravel onto the higher areas and letting this roll and scatter randomly. By doing this the sand and "rocks" fall and gather "naturally", as they would in real life. If I want a smaller selection of granules I have an old kitchen sieve which I shake the sand through. If I want bigger rocks I sieve over the storage box and use the large bits that stay in the sieve. 

Where I wanted extra weight to further pull down the gullies and "passes" I simply added more stones and sand (esp. fine, sieved sand) in a more targeted way, pushing them about with fingers, and old comb (to separate sizes of stones)  or a bit of card.  

I carry on doing this in stages, brushing with my hand or a comb/brush where necessary, until I feel things have a pleasing, "natural" look.

6) Next came the clump scatter - again poured/scattered by hand in "lightly thrown" handfuls or trickles through the fingers.

From pictures of the actual geographical area for this scenario the bushes etc. seem to concentrate on the slopes (not the steep peaks) and the gully/valley bottoms. I tried to replicate this - the nap of the material holding the clump scatter well on the slopes.

To a large extent the clump scatter, like the sand and gravel, heads for the gullies and happens to end up where scrubby bushes etc. grow naturally (i.e. where there is water run-off in the rains), so you get more "green" where the ground is better for growing things.

Again, a little extra scatter was added where I wanted it (the line of some of the nullahs etc.). I kept adding scatter until I was happy with the overall effect and got something like the pattern I was seeing in photographs of the areas (Google Images and Google Maps is your friend here) .

7) Last came the "set dressing" of additions trees, buildings, concentrations of gravel etc. where "tors" or collections of big rocks were felt to be necessary for cover or "geographically appropriate". Basically large terrain items are just set down as normally, with sand dribbled through fingers or funnelled using card to conceal edges of terrain pieces. 

I then added the tracks (simply "pinches" of tea leaves run in lines) and field boundaries - made by running a bit of card lightly over the sand and gravel to build up simple "walls", occasionally "pinching" the lines here and there with fingertips. This works with 6mm. Also looks in scale for the kind of rough "token" field boundaries you see in various parts of the world in 1/72 scale.

I do have proper 6mm "walls" for terrain features, but didn't feel they were appropriate to this set up (too European-looking). 

And that was that...

All simple enough stuff, but quite effective I feel - and storage is easy; the books go back on the shelves after, the oddments and buildings back in their boxes (as always it's the buildings take the space), a shoebox for the sand and scatter (collected when the fleece is shaken over a newspaper). The fleece is just folded away. 

If I want to separate out the clump scatter from the sand I just shake the box and the different materials sort themselves (like panning for gold, but less lucrative)

It probably sounds time consuming, but actually isn't. I stripped the above today down to table level (5 mins.), then built the simple random set up below (1/72 Old West cum Colonial cum whatever?) which, with the "field building" and "prettifying"took about 25 mins - inc. about five mins. lost messing about with the railway lines (Grrrr) and thinking time..

There are lots of pics of other examples of this method scattered on the blog (in fact you can probably trace my "learning curve" by going through in sequence...).

It is possible to go overkill on the sand (pic below :) ) - and to get drawn into too much "prettifying", but hey, it's a hobby, I enjoy setting up a table - and I recycle/multiplay a nice table from time to time, so no real loss......

This method is best used as a base for desert/scrubby terrain rather than more temperate countryside I feel. 

Perhaps for the latter use of model railway scatter instead of sand would have a similar effect (?), but I have never tried that. I'm currently using Teddy-bear fur for 1/72 Temperate - and having not had out my ACW & 7 Years War/AWI 6mms for many many moons... Watch this space...?

So there we are. How I do my scrub and deserty tables. As always, any queries please ask. 


  1. You get some spectacular results. I must try and get a sheet of that "fleece" material.

    1. Many thanks. Not too shabby an effect I thought. And really quite simple.

      I got my cloth from my local "cloth shop"; seems to be pretty common. I try not to buy cloth online because I've been caught out before now (I buy too much cloth to make medieval clothes with) but needs must at the moment. Cost less than £5.00 a yard at a standard 5ft bolt width a couple of years ago.

  2. Some useful ideas there,always good to see how the other chap does it.

    1. Many thanks.

      One of the great things about the Web; so many different folk out there showing what they do.

  3. A truly beautiful table! The Toblerone tip is brilliant in its simplicity! Thank you for all of this very useful information!

    1. Thank you for your kind words.. My pleasure.

      It's a pleasing effect, I feel, for not a huge amount of effort..

  4. Great to see the 'Master' behind the curtain at work! Thanks for doing this Ian and yes I agree; the 'Tolberone' bits are genius!
    (I might just be inspired to abandon the old sand table for some inside, less inclement, fun!)

    1. Ha, ha... Sometimes my meandering mind comes up trumps..

  5. So cool! I love this look, much better than just having terrain plopped down on a flat table.

  6. Cheers. I find it works for me; cheap, easy to set up and take down, minimal storage required and, for my money, gives a pleasing effect for the time spent and cost.. :)


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