Building a Shipping Container

Since we recently started to play more games in a science-fiction setting (Space Weirdos, Xenos Rampant and I look forward to play Stargrave), I thought I’d add some modern-/sci-fi-terrain to my collection. For starters, I chose to build a shipping container (aka an intermodal container).
A container is technically not more than a big rectangular box with pretty colours. It is easy to build and a traditional staple on many modern and science-fiction wargaming tables.
In this terrain tutorial, I try to show how I build a shipping container, that can be used in your 28mm modern or science-fiction games.

Part I : Conception and assembling

1. Materials and tools used:

  • a thermocutter or a sharp knife to cut 5cm thick Styrofoam/styrodur
    SAFETY ADVICE : wear a mask and use the thermocutter in a well aired space. Safety first 🙂
  • a cutter or exacto-knife and scissors
  • glue (PVA glue or all purpose glue)
  • styrofoam or styrodur ; at least 5cm thick
  • “wavy” cardboard. You get them at craft shops or take the inner layer of some cookie package. I tried to look up the proper term, but failed :-/
  • cardboard of various thickness. Time to recycle some of those cereal boxes you were saving up.

2. General idea

When preparing the prototype shipping container for this terrain tutorial, I wrought my head around the dimensions the container should have. In real life, they came in various standardized sizes. They are meant to transport great quantities of goods of all sizes.
In the end I decided to went with my trusted 5cm height, which I used for all my stackable builds.

3. Dimensions and cutting

I started by cutting several 5x5x10 cm big pieces of Styrodur. They will be the core for my shipping container. I toyed with the idea of making some larger ones and eventually decided against it. For this tutorial I prepared four cores, that will (hopefully) end up as shipping container in my terrain collection.
As usual, I compared the size of the product with a miniature. (1)
Alternatively you can build the core elements by gluing some pieces of cardboard together. That said, I prefer having a “solid” core for projects like this.

I then cut out several pieces of cardboard and wavy cardboard to size. They will be glued around the core (with exception of the bottom.
Per container I need two 5x10cm pieces and one piece of 5x5cm wavy cardboard for the sizes. (2)
For the front and the top, I needed smooth surfaces. So I cut one 5x5cm and a 5x10cm pieces of thin flat cardboard. Finally I cut 2 pieces of the same cardboard 3,5×1,5(+)cm, which will be used to indicate doors of the shipping container. (3)

4. Glue… the bane of my existence

Once all the parts were cut, I glued everything together. I first tried some all purpose glue, but found it did not stick well and took way too long to dry. The shipping container I build as a prototype for this tutorial took like forever. I reverted to my trusted PVA glue for the other container. (4,5,6)

Hint: You might want to cut the sidepieces a millimeter or two larger. You can cut the excess off, once the piece is glued to the Styrodur-core. They will then be flush with the core and you avoid ugly gaps due to irregularities created during the cutting process

5. Adding some details

In a final step, I added some details. I cut several strips of 1cm wide paper. Since it was the beginning of the year, my old calendar with its thick sheets was upcycled as crafting material.

I then cut the strips to size and folded them along the length in the middle. You will want to have a glass of your favorite alcoholic beverage ready, since the folding is mildly frustrating.
The strips were then glued along the edges and corners of the shipping container. (7) Thus any gaps will be hidden.

Finally I glued the doors to the front and added some leftover bits indicating some details, like reinforcements, vents or hinges. (8)

Part II : Painting

I Painted the shipping container following the usual steps :

I first covered everything with a basecoat of Mod Podge and black paint. (9)
Anticipating that I will use clear and “bright” colours, I wanted to “preshade” the container. I therefore drybrushed it with a light grey. (10)
As basecolour I used ultramarine blue, a fine colour for a shipping container 😉 (11&12)
I intentionally did not cover everything thoroughly, hoping the irregular coat would make the shipping container look weathered and battered.

I drybrushed and highlighted the containers colours by adding white to the basecolour. (13&14)
“Pro”-tip : Let the basecolour dry properly, before you drybrush anything… like this container. I knew the drill, but I was (yet again) yet and ruined the top side, since I inadvertently scraped of the barely dry basecolour.
(For the red and green container (15) I used yellow to lighten up the colours)

I am hesitant to apply a wash to the container, but will do so (maybe) at a later moment.

The final product

It took me about two evenings of work to finish the four shipping container for this tutorial. (including drying time)
Lacking confidence in my freehand skills, I did not add any logos or graffiti. Maybe in the future 🙂 If you have the skills, I encourage you to add these extra details.
Eventually I will build some larger container in the same fashion. Large enough for some sci-fi-esque devices and machines to be transported all over the known universe.

Happy crafting 🙂

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