Sunday, November 25, 2012

Felt Roads for the Tabletop

    As part of the process of planning for the "Campaign in a Day" we ran at Ellis Con last weekend, and in preparation for the bigger 1813 Campaign in a Day planned for the Spring of 2013, I decided that I might need more roads form my tables. Now, I have a nice set of the old Editions Brokaw "Flex Terrain" roads, and have augmented them with quite a few additional 2" roads from one of the current manufacturers of Latex roads (can't recall who I used). Painted they look very nice, buit even with the large sets I have, just not enough.

    Maybe 4 years ago, in preparation for our 1809 Historicon 2009 project, I made a set of 6 foot long roads out of dark brown felt, intended especially for the Wagram battlefield. They have come in handy many times  since then. I still had a sizeable piece of the same felt left over, depicted below, about 6 feet x 2.5 feet. One of the roads from the original set is depicted alongside. That was painted with the same specially formulated paints sold for use on the original Flex Terrain; alas, those finally dried up in the interim, so I could exactly replicate the colors or the technique - plus I needed these roads ready quickly!

A large piece of dark brown Felt, and one of the old roads previously made from the same felt. 

If you haven't worked much with felt before, the stuff is TOUGH! Xacto knives, carpet knives, and regular scissors are all but worthless when trying to cut it.  When I did my original felt terrain, I bought a pair of fabric scissors ("Fiskars"), which worked well for me for many years. However, when I went to use them (depicted above", they had loosened up enough (despite a "lifetime guarantee"), that they wouldn't cut the felt either!  Being short of time, I figured my trusty Paper Cutter might be up to the task, and... it was! I didn't worry too much about keeping the felt strips *exactly* 2" wide; certainly dirt roads would hardly have been uniform in width anyway. (P.S - I bought a new pair of fabric scissors the following week)

Actually, it made pretty short work of cutting the 2" wide strips. I decided to use some of the felt to make shorter segments,  

some about 10" long as depicted above, 

and some about 24" long as seen here.

Here are the 6 foot lengths (folded in half), along with the 2 foot and 10 inch lengths. It took about an hour to cut up all the felt. Now for some paint...

As mentioned above, the paint I used for my first set was neither usable nor still available, so I tapped by extensive collection of craft paints, and wound up selecting Delta CC Autumn Brown, CC Bambi Brown, CC Green, and Americana Light Buttermilk for the project. 

The idea with painting the 2" wide felt strips was to do it almost like a "layer cake", with the two dark brown stripes of (mostly) the base felt representing the wheel ruts. I have applied three "stripes" of the Autumn Brown, using the short edge of a (clean) kitchen type sponge, and thining the paint somewhat with tap water, then pressing the sponge to the felt rather like a rubber stamp. Quick, and gives a more "realistic", mottled look as seen on the sample above. 

About an hour later, all roughly 80 feet of roads have had the Autumn Brown stripes applied. They were allowed to dry until I was ready to continue the next night. 

Next up is the lighter, CC "Bambi Brown", applied in the same fashion on top of the first stripes, but lighter, leaving a fair amount of the darker "Autumn Brown" showing. I used the beveled edge of the short end of the sponge a lot to get narrower lines of the lighter brown applied. Once again, this took about an hour, and then  I allowed the paint to dry overnight.

Now it is time to add the CC "Jubilee Green" This is applied over the two outer stripes, but not the middle one. Actually  again using the sponge technique, I tried to apply the green to roughly the outer half of each of the outer stripes, simulating grass growing along the edge of the road (and also blending better when laid upon with the green felt tabletop). Glue and flocking could of course be used instead for this step, but when done with paint alone, the roads are all but indestructible!

Here's the set of roads with the Green applied to the edges. Once again, the paint was allowed to dry for a day or so before doing the next step.

The final color is the Americana  "Light Buttermilk", a slightly off white/light tan color. If I did it again, I might use regular Buttermilk, which is just a bit more tan in color. This paint is quite thick, which is what I wanted, as it will be applied in a much lighter "stamp pattern" over all three stripes - on the central stamp I mostly used the beveled edge of the sponge (held at a roughly 45 degree angle to the felt) to do a more narrow pattern there, while using the full short edge of the sponge on the outer stripes. 

And here is a close up of the final results. Quite presentable looking,  I think, and it took roughly 6 hours of work and perhaps $25 of materials to make 80 feet of roads - not bad!

So, if you're looking for some quick, cheap, easy roads that are a step up from plain strips of felt or paper, try out this method for your own table!

"The road goes ever, ever on...."



  1. Nice work, I have to decide some day about what to do for roads, your solution is quite good.


    1. They are also quite light weight, which helps with transport! The only thing is that I didn't attempt curves, crossroads, etc, although that would be easy to do as well using the fabric shears and a few simple templates.

  2. Nice work too. Been using felt roads for over 30 years. Brown with various terrain RR grass applied. I used a black marker to show the ruts. I thing I do for storage is roll up the roads with the upper surface on the outside of the roll. All my roads 18" or longer are rolled. Only the 1' or shorter lengths are kept flat. When placed on the table, the roll is opposite (the ends are curved downwards) hence lies flat on my textured mobile terrain boards. The unpainted/treated felt sticks to the rough mobile gaming tabletop terrain boards and hills.

    Peter, you can see on my WR blog examples for comparison.

    Michael aka WR

    1. Michael,

      Nope, nothin' new about using felt roads, although I see many without any further embelishment. While that's certainly OK, with a little work as in my method, yours, or others, they really look quite good. Advantages of the felt include low cost, fast preparation time, light weight, and abillity to make 6 foot sections of uninterupted roads, as well as adhesion to the felt used on my table covers. Great tip about rolling up the longer lengths!


  3. Finished items look great

    BTW have nominated your excellent blog for Leibster Award doing rounds of wargaming blogs :-)

    1. Thanks for the comment, and the nomination, Garry!