Paperhammer Basics

Long overdue.  Many thanks to the six of you who still check to see if this page ever gets updated.

I’m finally going to have some time to work on some new projects, but I thought it might be good to go over some of the basic paper-crafting elements first.  There’s a lot of stuff I skim over when I describe stuff, usually in a “just do this” way, and I figured maybe I should finally explain how, exactly, to do this.  That’d be helpful, right?

So, let’s start with the very basics...

I get most of my cardstock from food boxes—mostly cereal and frozen pizza.  It’s probably worth mentioning that most frozen food boxes tend to made of slightly thinner cardstock.  I’m guessing it’s a temperature thing.  Mailing envelopes are even a little thinner.  Regardless, it’s a good thing to keep in mind when plotting out which templates are glued to which sheets of cardstock.  Back when I built the Imperial Knight, I had a bunch of issues because the template is actually designed to work with paper, not cardstock.  That difference in thickness caused some of the more complex elements to be a little bit off—just enough to notice and cause problems.  So if something’s really elaborate... maybe aim for thinner material until you’re sure how it’ll go together.
The most basic paperhammer shape is a box.  It’s something you’ll use all the time, and it’s kind of the cornerstone of paperhammer.  All you need to remember about boxes is to make edges match—a 1” edge here meets a 1” edge there.  It sounds simple ‘cause it really is.  Check out this quick diagram.  Four sides, a top, a bottom.  This would give me a cube because all the edges are the same length.

(more or less the same—I sketched it quick in Paint just so we’d have something to look at...)

If alter the edges, I can alter the shape of the box.  Look at this example. I shrink all the side edges (but not the top and bottom edges) and now I’ll get a square, flat box.  This is the kind of thing I stick on larger models to add some detail and texture.  I could also go the other way—doubling or tripling the sides to make a long, rectangular box.  As I mentioned above, shapes like these are a cornerstone of the paperbuilding craft.  Even with nothing else, you can use several of them together to build scenery pieces, simple vehicles, and more.

This is probably a good time to mention tabs.  Trying to glue cardstock edge-to-edge with white glue is pretty much impossible, so it’s always good to add extra tabs on to the basic shapes. These are just the parts I bend and slip into the model so the glue has something to grab onto.  Some templates have them, but often they’re tiny little things that are all but useless.  Others don’t have them at all.  I add or enlarge on a case-by-case basis, and try to make note of where I do.

Helpful Hint--Always remember that tabs can be pretty much any size or shape because they’ll end up hidden inside the shape you’re building. The only thing I need to be careful of is overlap.

It’s also worth mentioning that sometimes I can skip a side and just use tabs.  If I know, for example, that my flat box is going to get glued to the side of the building, I can leave off that connecting side and just put four tabs where that side would go. It can make pieces sit a little cleaner sometimes, rather than gluing big flat surface to big flat surface.

Now, you can use these same techniques to build an elaborate box, something with a more irregular shape to it.  This diagram shows how I built the engine for the Gargant.  I used the five-edged side as my starting point, and that told me what all the other panels and edges needed to be, size-wise—remember, boxes are just about making the edges the same length.  I mirrored the other side, added some tabs, and put it together.  The triangular boxes I added on either side went together the same way.  Also remember that some shapes which look really complicated on their own (like that Gargant engine) become a lot simpler if you break them down into component shapes.

One term I’ve mentioned once or thrice is consummate Vs (which is a StrongBad reference, you heathens). I first used them, if memory serves, back when I built the classic Land Raider. Simply put, when I build a box (regular or elaborate), I’ll usually save some strips of cardboard close to one of its dimensions.  Then I trim said strips to be just 1/8 of an inch narrower.  For example, if that flat box up above was 3/4” deep, I’d try to end up with some strips that measured 5/8” wide and four or five inches long. 

Before I seal everything shut, I fold these strips back and forth (into Vs, or maybe Ws--just zig-zags, really) until they can fit inside the box. They end up becoming interior, load-bearing walls.  Sounds a little silly, I know, but these make boxes incredibly solid.  If you have any worries about how strong a paperhammer model can be, try a few experiments with strips.  They’ll hold up stacks of books, so a bump from a plastic Carnifex isn’t going to do much.

For the longest time if had to make a cannon or tower I built it as a paneled cylinder.  This is when I have a long card with numerous scores in it to create an octagonal (or decagonal or dodecahedral...) cylinder.  On the plus side, these can be easier to work with because they’re all flat surfaces. It’s much easier for things to attach to them, or to attach them to other things.  Also, it’s very easy to hide where the two edges of a paneled cylinder come together.

On the down side, paneled cylinders tend to look...well, kind of blocky.  They tend to make things look like polygon models without the skins.  It can also be a little tricky working out the diameter of one of these if you need a specific size and you’re not going off a template..

The flipside of this is a rolled cylinder.  Just like the name implies, it’s when I make the shape by rolling the cardstock.  On the plus side, it’s round and curved, which helps a paperhammer model look much cleaner and blend in on the tabletop.  Also, it’s much easier to work out how big the diameter of a rolled cylinder will be. 

On the downside... well, curves and cardstock don’t always go together well.  It’s much harder to hide the seam where the edges of the piece join.  Also, that seam is going to have a lot more pressure on it compared to a cylinder with lots of folds. Finally, that curve makes it harder to glue the cylinder to another surface.  So working with rolled cylinders means working a little slower and making sure everything dries solid before moving on.

Finally, tools. Really, all you need for paperhammer is your basic hobby knife and some sharp blades.  But over the past couple of years I’ve found a few other things that definitely make some stuff quicker and easier.  A good pair of scissors can help, especially when cutting out larger template pieces.  So can a straight-edge or steel ruler.  I use basic wooden clothespins all the time as miniature clamps. 

Also... hole punches.  These are probably the best investment you can make if you think you might be doing a lot of paperhammer.  I have three. The basic 1/4” one, a 1/8” one, and the 1/16” (which may be my favorite).  They can make perfectly circular holes or discs, either of which can make for great detail work on a model.  I use the 1/16” for rivets, which make things look amazing.  I know some folks will say 1/16” is too big for a rivet, but there’s such a huge history of things being excessive/oversized in Warhammer 40,000 that... well, I’ve never had any complaints.

So, now that I’ve gone over all of that... let’s build a tank.  Haven’t done that in a while.

However... that’s going to be in two weeks. I won’t be doing anything this hobby-related this Friday, Saturday, or Sunday because I’m  at Texas Frightmare Weekend (so I’ll be about 1200 miles away from my tools and glue).  If you happen to be in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, please stop by and say “hello.”  

Otherwise—two weeks until tanks.