I want to share with you a terrain alternative that a friend turned me on to. Made by Cicada Crafts, I purchased a two-pound bag of their random Hydrostone bits. It is available at the link above for $30 (as of October, 2020). The order took about two weeks to arrive… actually, two weeks to the day. The packaging was very well done to protect the contents, without being superfluous.
The first impression that I received is that two pounds of this stuff is A LOT. It fills a one gallon ziplock bag, and the pieces vary from about 1cm cube blocks to three-inch square floor tiles. It is truly a random assortment of pieces. There are bookcases, grain bags, kegs, columns, building pieces, doors. A ton of variety, which is very much a strong suit.
I wanted to test a variety of things with these pieces. I wanted to know how they took paint because the material has a dusty quality to it, and it’s all a bright white. I wondered how the surface would react, and I wondered if I would need to use some sort of sealant, like Modge Podge, and prime it before I could really do anything with it. Also, since the column bodies, headers, and footers are all in profile, I wanted to see how these pieces took to gluing so that I could create three-dimension pieces. For what it’s worth, I like that they came in profile, because that opens up more possibilities for attaching them to other structures made with other materials like foam core. Lastly, I wanted to see what sort of tools they responded best to for shaping.
Starting with the painting, I broke out just a standard water proof acrylic to see how it would stick. My guess was that it would stick alright, but that the base coat would be unstable or dull as it soaked into the material. Strike one for me, because they painted beautifully. I pulled out a dinosaur-type creatures foot from the back, added a base code of veridian green, and it kept the color depth and smoothness very well. I did not wash or take a brush to the piece either, because I figured the material didn’t have any sort of coating on it. In hindsight, taking a light brush to it to clear away dust probably would have been a good idea.
But this illustrated a couple of things to me. For one, they do not need sealing before you paint them, which is really nice since that adds a lot of prep, an extra material, several steps and delays to the painting. They also didn’t need primer, the standard basecoat stuck and cured to the pieces just fine, and in the amount of time that I would have expected (if not sooner). Given that the material feels very porous, I was glad to see that the paint didn’t fade too much. All good things!
The next thing that I tried was affixing the pieces to each other. Because of the nature of the material I didn’t bother doing any scoring or anything on the glue surfaces. I started with hot glue, because if I am going to affix these to foam core or styrofoam, that is what I am going to use. The glue seemed to cure fine and hardened, but did not adhere to the surface. In retrospect again, I wonder if this is a dust problem, and not a material problem. I don’t think so, since the glue really didn’t seem to bond into the material at all across the body of the glue dollop. What did work excellently was the model superglue that you would use for assembling plastic miniatures. So, we can adhere the pieces to each other, but using them for larger foam core structures requires preparation on the glue side.
Finally, I started working with a couple of tools to shape and cut through some of the set pieces and see how they perform. I started with just a simple hobby knife, and got limited results. The penetration wasn’t very good. I moved to some bigger blades, a 12 inch hand saw that I use for thicker styrofoam and a 6 inch sheet rock saw. The hand saw worked fine, but really slowly, and created a ton of dust. The sheet rock saw probably worked ok, but made an AWFUL screeching sound across the medium. Thanks, but no. I also tried just simple mid-grade sand paper, and it did fine for finishing work, but not for any sort of shaping.
Given how well the handsaw worked, I decided to try the cutting blades on the small Dremel tool. These definitely worked the best, but they kicked out A TREMENDOUS amount of dust, and because of the motorized blade it flew everywhere. Seriously, I could see dust flying through the air for fifteen minutes afterwards, and it was super fine particulate. Also, for the thicker pieces I was trying to cut, the Dremel would get jammed as the cut approached the post. That was a little bit of a surprise, I didn’t think that the material would have that much friction, but there it was.
At the end of the day, these are a great addition to my terrain collection, and you absolutely can not argue with the price point. That is easily the best reason to look at these bags if you are already working with a collection of terrain, and looking for ways to augment it with detail pieces. They take paint very well, better than I expected to be honest, and they cut/shape fine but be very careful and wear a mask and do it in a well ventilated area. A really solid find!