Freight Port Table - Planning & Prep (updated)

The Inspiration

Not having made any scenery for some time I've been starting to get itchy fingers. So when I saw this Tetris-inspired idea for a modular small storage space table on the Infinity forums I decided to start a new table.

Daixomaku's original Sketchup design and tiles:


Rather than a direct copy I'm using the basic idea of stackable tiles (and 3x3 16" tiles to make a 4x4' board) but making it more industrial/SF-looking by taking the idea of the big walls and cladding them with micro-corrugated card to make freight containers. As this is a table that doesn't need to be so easily transportable I have more freedom in the design.

The main currently planned changes:

  • More variation in height of tiles, for example some pairs of tiles only being one row high and some being three rows high.
  • Several 'blank' tiles with just tarmac texture so that freestanding buildings can be placed on the table.
  • Several more open blocks than the original so that there are more options for terrain density.


Construction Test

So, first things first, the test container to see if the concept is practical. The basic idea is to use expanded polystyrene for the forms/structure and clad them with corrugated card for added strength as well as texture and colour. As the card came in many different colours the containers themselves will need very little painting, mostly some weathering.

The single biggest issue for cost and time was how to deal with the edges of the containers - previous tests using L-profile plasticard ended up being expensive and fiddly so a new approach was needed. After some experiments, partially-cut and then folded card left enough of a channel to glue in some small stringers cut from dense mounting board.

The EPS for this test container was a piece of 50mm square profile with the ends trimmed with a long snap-off blade using the edges of the card as a guide. 


The next step was to glue the card to the EPS, PVA and plenty of weight while drying did the job.


The back ends will be more corrugations and the front ends will get the absolute minimum to look like a container from a distance - scribed indentations for the edges of the doors and some thin plasticard strips glued on to represent the locking bars.


In that last photo you can see that the corrugated layer had been cut off in a strip along the bottom edge of the container, partly to reduce the need for more card stringers and partly because some containers look like this anyway.

The card stringers were painted grey before being glued on and the door end after construction. With a minimal amount of shading and a bit of edge highlighting it's come out really well.


As you can see, even a single-height container does a good job of hiding 28mm figures.

As the container is solid rather than hollow it's pretty strong and should hold up to general gaming and transport, although I might need to use some bubblewrap or thin foam sheets between the boards during transport.

Weathered v. unweathered sides, with some black areas painted in to represent forklift slots.


I class this as a success, but even with a lot of corners cut it's still going to be labour-intensive to do a whole 4x4' board.


Materials & Mass Production

Fortunately I live close to a builder's merchant who will cut wood to size for a good price. £17.80 got me a sheet of 6mm MDF cut down into 18 400mm/~16" squares (lots of spare tiles) plus 2.4x1.2m of 24mm expanded polystyrene insulation sheet. The EPS double-up will give me 48mm forms for the containers.

LOTS of expanded polystyrene! These are all 1200mm long but variable width, I had to cut down the sheet to get it onto the passenger seat.

Cutting the EPS manually for this many items was going to be much too time-consuming and inaccurate so with a bit of lateral thinking I managed to turn my much-adapted mini circular saw bench into a hot wire cutter table using an old Proops cutter clamped in place.

A piece of aluminium profile at right-angles behind the wire as a fence and then some mounting board added to make the bed a bit bigger got me started in cutting the big pieces into 48mm strips.

WARNING - hot wire cutters can produce toxic fumes if the wire gets too hot or if anything is left on the wire to burn. Always use in a well ventilated space and never leave the wire hot when it's not cutting!


The slider bed I made a while ago then had a few changes made (mostly stops so that I wouldn't be trying to push the bad through the fragile wire) so that it could be used to cut the 48mm wide strips into 151mm lengths - 151mm happened to be the right distance so that the corrugated card ended in the middle of a corrugation to make a channel for the upright stringers.


Test container next to the start of the first 'production' container.


Layout Tests

Some layout and height tests done before the MDF tiles were bought, using assorted offcuts of EPS roof insulation. Note that Scarface is on an oversize 65mm base.


Plus some angled layout tests including a 'small models only' section.



Next Steps

  • Clean up at least nine tiles.
  • Lay out tiles in pairs of interlocking designs for stacking.
  • Paint one side of each tile with textured paint, spray black and overspray lightly with grey.
  • Possibly stencil in some road markings.
  • Construct container 'stacks' as single pieces and glue onto tiles.
  • Weathering and detailing.

I've also got a big stack of scenery items waiting to be reviewed, this table should give me a kick up the behind to get the reviews done.

In the longer run I'd love to do some container cranes etc.


Update Monday 23rd

After copious amounts of cutting, enough pieces of EPS for 60 containers have been done, which works out as ~24 stacks of one to six containers. Here's eight tiles roughly laid out in interlocking pairs, although they've been tweaked a bit since then.

I cheated a little on the bigger stacks by using offcuts on the inner pieces, here's one of the three-wide by two-high stacks in construction, upside down.