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Making a Simple Dirt Base

Discussion in 'Tutorials' started by pccampb, Aug 30, 2009.

  1. I wanted to share how I make my dirt Bases. It is easy and cheap to do. There are many ways to do this, this is mine. Here is a picture of the finished base so you don't have to scroll to see what we are making.


    First select a piece of plywood large enough for your base. I got this piece from a new house construction site, they throw tons of smaller pieces away on each job.

    Straighten the wires on your form as much as possible. Slip a piece of paper over the wires and mark where they come through the paper with a marker.

    Transfer the marks to the plywood where you want to attach the form and drill holes large enough to accommodate the wires.

    Place the form on the plywood to insure the holes are in the correct spot.

    Mark the shape of the base you want and cut it out with a Jig saw.

    Route the edges of both sides with a round over bit to remove the sharp edges.

    Place the base on a sheet of plastic to catch the mess. I use dry cleaning bags cut in half to make 2 sheets, but a trash bag will work fine. Without this plastic, the base will stick to your bench.

    Pour about 8 oz (1cup) of 2 part foam over the top of the plywood. This will vary with the size of the base.

    As it rises, place another plastic sheet over the top of the foam. Gently spread the foam around to cover the edges. Pat it down to control the height, you can trim the edges later. Allow it to set up.

    It is hard to tell what is going on in this picture, but I am removing the top plastic sheet. Also, separate the base from the bottom sheet but leave it on the plastic.

    Trim the edges to the shape you desire. Scuff up the top a little.

    Now paint it with a dark brown latex to help hide any thin spots on your finished base. Allow the base to completely dry.

    Once dry, generously coat the entire base with Elmer's glue or Modge Podge.

    Next we add the dirt. I used plain old ditch dirt, any dirt will work. Dry it completely and sift it. Completely cover the base with the dirt. It is better to use to much than not enough. Pat the dirt down to insure good adhesion.

    Lift the edges of bottom plastic to get good coverage on the edges.

    Carefully flip the base over to remove excess dirt. Spray the entire base with a 50/50 mixture of Elmer's glue and water. This is the seal coat so complete coverage is important.

    Remove the base from the bottom plastic and allow it to completely dry. I like to place them in the sun to dry them quickly. You can mess it up very easily while still wet.

    Again, here is the finished base. You can add plants or what ever you like. I hope this helps.
    Robert Baker, MixedupMel and Audra like this.
  2. bowhunr

    bowhunr New Member

    I have made some of mine the same way pretty much...I have also made them (smaller ones) by carving scrap pieces of foam left over from fish carvings then rasping and sanding to shape. I then cover them the same as what you have shown. Thanks for taking the time to post the pics.

  3. Great post. One thing I do is add a little brown and black powdered tempra paint to the foam when I mix it up. It turns the foam to a brown color so after it hardens you don't have to paint the foam.
  4. Bobbi Meyer

    Bobbi Meyer I luv to ride my tricycle, I luv to ride my trike

    nice tutorial, looks very simple!
  5. boarhunter67

    boarhunter67 Well-Known Member

    I see some greens and darker browns. Did you add color? If so, did you just airbrush colors or what?
  6. No added color. The green look is just the lighting, The darker brown is from the base paint color under the dirt.
  7. boarhunter67

    boarhunter67 Well-Known Member

    The problem with this site is that it teaches too much. There are too many good ideas shown. Now I have another thing that I love that I'll have to try to decide between when doing habitats. Seriously, thanks for the sharing.
    woakley144 likes this.
  8. Spray the entire base with a 50/50 mixture of Elmer's glue and water.

    Could you explain how you spray with the glue / water mix. Is this with an airbrush or some other container?

  9. boarhunter67

    boarhunter67 Well-Known Member

    In one of the pictures you can see a regular squirt bottle.
  10. Whoops, missed that giant and obvious squirt bottle.


  11. cflwrs

    cflwrs Member

    Great post its easy to unserstaand and looks good, thanks.
  12. Alberta ram

    Alberta ram New Member

    Assume thanks just starting out and my first base is for a life size dall sheep walking down a sheep trail , fingers crossed .
  13. Mandolinmama

    Mandolinmama New Member

    Love this! Thank you so much for posting such a good detailed tute!
  14. gottahunt

    gottahunt New Member

    I have pretty much done the same thing except I use used coffee grounds, it gives a darker more rich color. If you go to one of the many drive through coffee places and ask them for their used coffee grounds and supply them a 5 gallon bucket you will have more grounds in one day that you could make many bases.

  15. boarhunter67

    boarhunter67 Well-Known Member

    I've used coffee grounds, but they always look wet. I mix them with resin. Do you just use glue to make it look like dry dirt?
  16. linder

    linder New Member

    The coffee grounds wont cause a problem latter? Bugs,Milldue etc. also, great post
  17. joeym

    joeym Old Murphey

    Great post!
  18. bowelk

    bowelk Member

    Very informative post - Thanks for freely sharing!
  19. New York Rack Master 8

    New York Rack Master 8 New Member

    Very good info, 1 question, what is the best way to dry the dirt?
  20. Thank you for sharing .... great post!