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All About the Base: Aircraft Display Base Tutorial

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  • Member since
    February 2012
  • From: Olmsted Township, Ohio
All About the Base: Aircraft Display Base Tutorial
Posted by lawdog114 on Monday, May 25, 2015 3:59 AM

Hello fellow modelers,

Adding a simple base to a build not only enhances the presentation, but it also adds realism.  Like capturing a snapshot of a moment in time.  It also provides you something to hold during examination when you don't necessarily want to touch your model.  Knock off a radiator flap on that Hasegawa 109 much??  Been there done that.

Anyways, I get alot of questions and comments on my display bases so I figured I would finally do a tutorial on how I do them.  Each build gets one and its fairly easy.  On my last build, a P-51 B, I decided to document the process.  Here's how I do it:

We start with a simple pine plaque that can be bought at a craft store.  I get them at a place called Pat Catan's for like 2 bucks each.  I pre-stain all of mine in this nice oak brown by Minwax, but any stain or paint will do.  It's time for a border for the groundwork.  I like a 1/4 inch space between the ground and the beveled edge.  Lay down some cheap masking tape on a clean flat surface (I use this mirror) then use the edge of the plaque as a cutting template and work your way around (see'll get the idea)...

See......about a 1/4 inch...

Repeat and work your way around until you get here...

Now we have our barrier protecting the edges. Unless you like a messy bench, grab the box top to your now built model (or any flat box) and put the plaque in it.  This is now your work area and will catch any terrain that doesn't stick (more on that soon)... 

Now were getting to the fun part.  Get some white glue (I use good old Elmer's) and with an old wide paint brush, lay it down covering the entire surface thusly. 

Now for the secret...real dirt.  I keep all different kinds in these little cups (like Tom Sizemore in Saving Private  Ryan).  I even have sand for African or tropical venues.  Shake it on then turn the base on its side so the excess falls off.  Leave those pebbles on there, it adds to the effect. 

Heres why we need the box top.  Be sure to dump the excess back into the cup for later use.

This is optional, but I like tire ruts in the ground, to simulate the plane landing and then coming to rest after a sortie.  Afterall, I am trying to capture a moment in time.  Use an old paintbrush handle and carve the tire marks into the wet glue/dirt (be sure they match your plane's wheelbase). 

You can add more glue and dirt as needed, depending how pronounced you want the tracks. Here I added more glue and dirt which causes the tracks to swell a bit.  I like the effect. 

Time to break it up a little bit.  Were gonna replicate some grass which was common on European airfields.  In the desert or tropics, we may just have sand.  Its up to you.  Here we add more glue and dab it down thusly.. 

I use Woodland Scenics Railroad grass. I got mine at my local hobby store years ago and have several textures and shades.  I think the "Fine Turf" is good for 1/48 scale.  I use their "Burnt Grass" sometimes too, which has more brown in it.  Sprinkle it on, shake excess off, pour back into container....

It should come out like this.  Don't worry about glue showing through, when the glue dries you won't see it.  Now run that brush handle through the grass too... 

Now its time to make it more three dimesional.  I use a "Course Turf" and add it sporadically on the grass, to simulate  taller weeds or grass.  I just press it into the still wet glue.  Shake off excess....recycle.

Sometimes I like to fade out the grass by lightly airbrushing the grass with a little XF-59 Desert Yellow.  It sort of blends everything in.  Again, it depending on the look I'm going for. 

Time to remove the tape, which is best done when the glue is still wet.  A perfect edge....

Thats pretty much it.  I can usually crank one of these out in under a hour (I pre-stain my plaques remember).  Make sure you let the glue dry before you add the plane. 

Now stick those tires at the end of the tire tracks......done!

You have a piece of aviation history captured in a moment of time.  Now go to the backyard and collect some dirt!..





 "Can you fly this plane and land it?...Surely you can't be serious....I am serious, and don't call me Shirley"





  • Member since
    December 2002
  • From: Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England
Posted by Bish on Monday, May 25, 2015 6:31 AM

Nice tut Joe. I want to do some bases like this for my 32nd builds, rather than the bases I do for my 72nd dio's. Thanks for posting this.

I am a Norfolk man and i glory in being so


On the bench: Airfix 1/72nd Harrier GR.3/Fujimi 1/72nd Ju 87D-3

  • Member since
    February 2011
Posted by knox on Monday, May 25, 2015 8:24 AM

 Thanks for taking the time to prepare and post this.  I will try this.                              knox

  • Member since
    October 2010
Posted by hypertex on Monday, May 25, 2015 8:25 AM

Good tutorial, lawdog. I'm working on my first base, but I'd like to permanently attach my aircraft. Do you permanently attach yours? If so, how?

  • Member since
    November 2008
  • From: Central Florida
Posted by plasticjunkie on Monday, May 25, 2015 9:24 AM


That is a very good looking Mustang. The NMF looks spot on!

Just to add a couple of things to your very well detailed TUT. The dried flower dept. at the craft stores often have a bunch of dried vegetation that will make excellent bushes, trees and high grass. I also use crushed kitty litter (unscented) tinted with craft acrylics for rubble or rocky terrain.


To attach a plane to the base you drill the bottom of the tires and insert toothpicks leaving about 1/4 inch, trim and then match the holes on the base, drill add some white glue and insert the tires in place..




Too many models to build, not enough time in a lifetime!!

  • Member since
    March 2012
  • From: Corpus Christi, Tx
Posted by mustang1989 on Monday, May 25, 2015 9:30 AM

Cool Joe!! Thanks man!! How do you attach the prairie grass? Been looking at doing some thing like this for a while now.



  • Member since
    December 2006
  • From: Phoenix, AZ
Posted by Fly-n-hi on Monday, May 25, 2015 9:56 AM

Nice post!   Thanks for sharing!

Do you or have you also glued on tarmacs/carrier decks?  I'd like to see how you do that (if you do) to display modern stuff.  I've been wanting to learn how.

  • Member since
    August 2009
  • From: MOAB, UTAH
Posted by JOE RIX on Monday, May 25, 2015 9:57 AM

Excellent tutorial Joe. Thank You. Certainly a limitless amount of things you can use to create and augment the substrate. Just open your eyes and be creative.

"Not only do I not know what's going on, I wouldn't know what to do about it if I did". George Carlin

  • Member since
    August 2012
Posted by AndrewW on Monday, May 25, 2015 1:04 PM

I sometimes use a very similar technique, Joe.  One thing I do slightly differently is once I have everything laid down, I put half and half white glue and water in a sprayer bottle and spray a layer over everything just to help seal it all in, then I mist with flat or semi gloss varnish.  Nice tutorial, and I love the look of the wooden base, I will have to look for those.  Woodland also makes some packets that are meant to represent long grass, looks almost like hair, in greens and browns that I'll sometimes use as well, just to vary the turf.

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne.

  • Member since
    October 2006
  • From: Tucson, AZ
Posted by Archangel Shooter on Monday, May 25, 2015 3:19 PM

FSM ought to post your tutorial in one of their issues.

 Your image is loading...

 On the bench: So many hanger queens.



  • Member since
    February 2010
  • From: Maine
Posted by Stage_Left on Monday, May 25, 2015 6:56 PM

Thanks for the tutorial Joe- thread saved Yes


  • Member since
    June 2013
Posted by bvallot on Monday, May 25, 2015 11:06 PM

Joe, this couldn't have come at a better time.  I've been diggin through pages of everything I can to find the best way to set up the base I'm about to do.  I do like your way of keeping the same curve for masking...that's cleverly simple!  I also hadn't considered painting any of the grass afterwards to blend different shades of green.  What I have in mind this time will be simple, but those tips will certainly come in handy in the future. =]

Much appreciated.

On the bench:  

Tamiya F4U-1  Kenneth Walsh


  • Member since
    August 2013
Posted by Jay Jay on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 8:03 AM

Ty so much for the tutorial Joe.  

I've always wondered how the textured "ground effects" where done but didn't have the imagination to figure it out myself.  

As a former carpenter, i have made many wooden bases and have quite a stash of them on hand. Time to put them to good use .






 I'm finally retired. Now time I got, money I don't.

  • Member since
    February 2012
  • From: Olmsted Township, Ohio
Posted by lawdog114 on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 7:22 PM
Thanks folks and I'm glad it will be I useful. Indeed the options are limitless. I've heard of the cat litter method and some even use sawdust and paint it. I've also considered trying the taller grass for some Pacific pplications, so we'll see.


 "Can you fly this plane and land it?...Surely you can't be serious....I am serious, and don't call me Shirley"





  • Member since
    November 2008
  • From: Central Florida
Posted by plasticjunkie on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 10:11 AM


Another method I use is Durham's Water Putty from Home Depot. The can is really cheap! I mix it with Elmers and tint it with cheap craft acrylics and pour it on the base.

The Elmers will make it stick to the base and the putty will not separate. While wet you add rocks, grass, debris or whatever. You can sculpt it or add tire/track marks and let it dry overnight.  




Too many models to build, not enough time in a lifetime!!

  • Member since
    June 2014
Posted by BrandonK on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 1:05 PM

I would really love to do this with my kits, but alas, I just haven't the room for such nice bases. I appreciate you taking the time to enlighten us on how you do this. Thanks.

On the bench:

Tamiya 1/35 M4A3E8 "Fury" with crew,

1/32 Kittyhawk Kingfisher,

1/35 Meng Panther Ausf A Early,

1/48 Pro Modeller P-51C "Boise Bee"

On Deck:

Tamiya 1/48 F4U Birdcage, 

1/25 Revell 32 Ford Coupe

1/12 Bandai "Mandolorian"

2022 Completed:

1/25 Revell 29 Highboy

1/48 Tamiya Sea Harrier

1/25 Revell 70 Boss 429 Mustang

  • Member since
    December 2004
  • From: Houston, Texas
Posted by panzerpilot on Friday, May 29, 2015 8:56 AM

Thanks for posting this, Joe. It's very helpful.


  • Member since
    February 2012
  • From: Olmsted Township, Ohio
Posted by lawdog114 on Thursday, June 4, 2015 7:23 PM

Your welcome...I'm glad some will get use out of this..

 "Can you fly this plane and land it?...Surely you can't be serious....I am serious, and don't call me Shirley"





  • Member since
    September 2014
Posted by rooster513 on Thursday, September 1, 2016 8:15 AM

Wanted to give this one a bump as I think it's a great tutorial for added some cool details to a build base. I just made my first base using Joe's method here and I'm happy with how it turned out. I should have some pics posted tomorrow! Thanks for the great tutorial lawdog!


  • Member since
    February 2012
  • From: Olmsted Township, Ohio
Posted by lawdog114 on Thursday, September 1, 2016 9:02 PM
I'm glad it worked for you Andy.

 "Can you fly this plane and land it?...Surely you can't be serious....I am serious, and don't call me Shirley"






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