The Mold-Making Story

Hero QuestIt all started with a game called "Hero Quest" by Milton Bradley (anyone else out there heard of it?)

I've always liked miniatures, role-playing games, and especially models. But I was fascinated with this game's board, detailed stone textures, and especially the pieces: treasure chests, doorways, furniture, weapons, I loved the game! (Actually, I liked the stuff more than the game itself. After a while it was "Go here, kill this monster, go there, kill that monster" and so forth).

But there was something about the anticipation of adventure while looking over the detailed pieces and board. I could imagine myself in a room, and thinking of all the possibilities that could happen there. Many of these sparked stories for role-playing games. I not only wanted to play out the adventure, I wanted to see the stage set in miniature.

Paper Castles

Paper buildingMy first attempt was to add on to the Hero Quest game with 3-D paper rooms. I had some heavy card stock that I measured, cut and folded into rooms and stairs. The only way to put stone texture on it was using pencil or water colors (very time consuming). That led to the idea of making photocopies of stone texture on card stock, folding it up and gluing it together.

During this time I had been experimenting with CorelDraw software. The program made it easy to layout room and wall pieces in exact dimensions so they would fold up correctly. I also made it possible to make better looking stone textures printed from the computer. These, of course, I would photocopy onto card stock to be folded and assembled into the rooms I wanted.

The Castles Book

My first book Seeing my imagined rooms come to life in 3-D was exciting (although I doubt any of my friends were impressed), so I decided to make a book of 3-D fold together castle rooms, printed on card stock. I designed the rooms so that they could fit together in different combinations to make new layouts when rearranged. These included steps, bridges, windows & doors, pits, and lots of other details.

A page from my bookI printed out the pages from the computer, photocopied them onto card stock, then bound them to create my first book. Unfortunately, I had no way of making the book available to anyone but my friends, and it quickly disappeared into obscurity.

Regardless, when I see something in my mind, I just have to do it, even if everyone else thinks it's a massive waste of time. That's why I went ahead and started a second book with some very complex pieces like wrap-around stairs and complex towers.

The Matt Board Church

Outside of the churchInside of the churchThe next project in my quest for the perfect 3-D model, was to build a church from matt board. This project took about six months to plan and build. I still have it today. All of the doors open, roofs and wall sections are removable, and it actually lights up on the inside.

Even though it was the best looking thing I had made to date, I was still dissatisfied with the results. It took too much work to make something like this, and it didn't even have a real stone texture (I used ink washes to decorate the walls).

The Warhammer Display

Warhammer display standAround this time, I was interested in the Warhammer miniatures available from Games Workshop. They are the highest quality, best designed gaming miniatures I have ever seen!

I decided to build a display stand for my Warhammer miniatures, but I wanted it to have real stone texture. A textured surface is easier to paint using a dry brush method and it brings out all of the stone details.

The only way I could think to do it was to build the walls out of matt board, cover them with polymer clay, texture the clay, and bake it in the oven. My friends thought I was nuts to put that much work into it (kind of reminds you of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind where the guy builds a mountain in his basement). The display turned out great, but it was way too much work!

Experimenting With Casting

Around this time, I was intrigued with the idea of making molds and casts. I thought, why not cast a whole wall at once using this method? That would give me the texture I want without doing it tediously by hand.

Cheap mold material cracksSo I bought a retaining wall from a model railroad shop, and made duplicates using some cheap silicone rubber for a mold. Needless to say, there was lots of learning involved. I found that wall sections wouldn't line up well, it was obvious where they were pieced together, and I didn't have the freedom to build what I wanted. Also, the cheap silicone rubber I bought from the hobby shop started to crack after about 3 months.

I had always wished they made Legos with nice stone textured building blocks, arched windows, and flat stone floor tiles so you didn't have those bumps sticking up everywhere. Then you could build a dungeon layout that looked good, play it for a while, then tear it apart and build a completely different one.

More Problems

It's amazing how long it takes to come up with a really good idea. Somehow my mind connected: Legos, molds, stone texture. It all fell into place. Why not make building blocks with nice stone texture? Then I could build anything I wanted and it would be detailed inside and out!

I started working on the idea immediately. I created some blocks out of polymer clay and made a mold of them. It worked! (almost). I ran into several problems:

  1. The bricks wouldn't stack up well. They would have to be created to precise dimensions (within thousandths of an inch) in order for them to line up. Even the slight shrinkage from the molding and casting process had to be considered.
  2. How do you carve super smooth details like window and base trim?
  3. The silicone rubber I used ended up cracking in a few months, where do you find the good stuff like they use in the manufacturing industry?
  4. You have to create lots of original blocks to mold from. If you repeat a few over and over, they form an obvious pattern when you put them together.
  5. Exactly what pieces do you make? If the pieces are too simplified, you don't have the freedom to build what you want with nice gothic details. If the pieces are too complex, no one could figure out how to put them together.

In Conclusion

Solving these problems took a couple of years, a few expensive pieces of equipment and a whole lot of work. Most of the original pieces had to be created over and over in order to compensate for shrinkage factors and other unknowns.

If you're hesitant to spend the money for rubber molds, and think you might create your own molds from scratch, feel free! I guarantee you'll spend more time and money than most sane people care to. All of the work has been done, and it's far cheaper to get the molds pre-made and start building what you want right now!

So that's the history of how all this got started. If you'd like to see examples of what people have built, check out the Gallery Page.