40k: Building a Space Hulk, Part 1

It seems everyone has space hulks on the brain this year. Iron Sleet has the Primogenitor invitational. WIP shots here.

On a good day I can usually put paint on the right end of a paintbrush and slop it onto some plastic. Compared to the usual quality of Invitational painters I might as well be using my fingers. I doubt I'm going to make it as an "official" participant, but the concept is interesting and it's nice to have an imaginary deadline.

Games Workshop

Step 1: Method

What am I going to use to build this space hulk? I narrowed it down to 4 choices:

1. Plastic Terrain

  • Games Workshop's new Zone Mortalis kit is amazing.
  • Plastic is very easy to customize.
  • All current-generation GW terrain is built on the same (undisclosed) measurement grid. Sections from different kits fit together easily.
  • Official consideration. GW, or semi-official campaigns, are unlikely to feature a competitor's products. Since I don't intend to submit this project for official consideration I can use whatever methods I'd like.
  • Cost. Building a small board is viable. Building a larger board, or a few hangar-sized interiors, would blow the budget for this project.
  • Iteration. The cost of trying something, screwing up, and tearing down is much higher with expensive plastic kits.

2. MDF / Lasercut Terrain

  • I've never managed to paint MDF in a way that makes it not look like MDF. I've tried textured sprays, plaster skims, sand, etc.
  • Stacked flat sheets always look like stacked flat sheets. Death Ray Designs does astonishing work concealing the nature of their product, but edges and cuts are always visible.
  •  Measurements are not available.

3. 3D Printing

  • Infinite flexibility.
  • Moderate cost.
  • The new hotness, so plenty of tutorials exist.
  • Fiddly. It's easy to screw up 3D printing.
  • Comparatively slow, depending on the size of the printer.
  • Temptation to tinker endlessly and not get anything done.

Maybe in a year or two I'll pick up a printer. In the meantime:

4. Plaster Casting

  • Hirst Arts' Gothic and Sci-Fi lines mix easily to make gothic starships.
  • Fast. A full cast to demold cycle is 30 minutes. Sorting the bits takes longer than making them. It's a nice way to relax after working on a thought-intensive project.
  • Relatively cheap. Once you have the molds or mold-making material, casting is almost free. A 50lb bag of hard cement will last a lifetime.
  • Flexible. I can cast plastic bits, sculpt new bits.
  • Excellent measurements and guides. 
  • Time. A full mold cycle might take 30 minutes, but some of the official plans call for 30 or 40 casts.
  • Plaster isn't the easiest to work with. Soft plaster, like plaster of paris, snaps and crumbles. Harder plasters, like hydrostone (what I'm using) or dental stone, still produce lots of powder and flakes when cut and sanded.
I've decided to use a mix of existing plastic bits and plaster casts.
Side Note: Hirst Arts
This is what the internet used to be like. Hirst Arts' website is absolutely charming. There are so many tutorials, tips, guides, and tools! The owner genuinely cares about their work. There's no trickery. All measurements are given. All methods are described.

Other options might have tempted me, but I felt inspired by Hirst Arts. I'd recommend them without hesitation.

Step 2: Sharpening the Axe

Before casting anything, I used the measurements provided on Hirst Arts' website, plus a few of my own, to build a crude but functional 3D model of every part in Sketchup. I assembled them like LEGO bricks, checking alignment, height, and compatibility.

I also examined projects other people had completed using Hirst Arts blocks. Sveamore's space hulk is an excellent resource, though I wanted my hulk to be a bit less cramped and chaotic. I'd like the sections to feel designed, as though they were once harmonious elements of some vast cathedral-starship.

The central design is simple. Five 12"x12" sections, each 7" high, will be placed in a cross. They are modular and can be rearranged, but the base arrangement has a 24" long hangar, a cargo bay on one side, a fuel depot on the other, and a docking control temple-shrine on the end of the hangar. Small corridors and rooms with 3" high walls will branch off these main rooms.
Sveamore's space hulk
Side Note: 40k Overlay Gothic
For me, part of the High Imperial aesthetic is functional, simple, industrial purity overlaid with gothic elements. A shrine in the middle of a nuclear power control room. Pipe-spars turned into buttresses. Everything is old or decorated to appear old. New things are dangerous. An alcove full of skulls reminds you that this place is safe. Generations of workers have lived and died here.

Ideally, the space hulk I'm building will have that aesthetic. A functional, far-future sci-fi core encrusted with grim darkness and millennia of tradition, poorly understood ritual, and decay. Pulsing blue power columns controlled not by advanced cogitators but by hardwired servitors. A simple hatchway decorated with candles. Lots of rust, lots of chipping. A ship that's dead but not yet rotten.

Step 3: Cast

Using Mold Star 30, I made a quick one-sided mold of some 40k panels and items. Some test casts with plaster of paris failed, and some elements of the mold didn't work as well as I would have liked, but it's reasonably functional.

Here's an evening's casting results. Most of the parts are from Hirst Art molds.

Quality is slowly improving. There are still plenty of bubbles... but bubbles look a lot like bullet holes!

Step 4: Story

There'd be no point in crashing an Invitational without coming up with an appropriately gothic story.
I'll put proper fiction in the next post, but in brief:

Twin Rogue Traders, Barabbas and Barnabus Cadrel of the Cadrel Dynasty, seek to raid the space hulk for filthy profit. "Unknown energy signature" is just another word for "treasure". While better-armed and less subtle factions seek to smash the space hulk apart and destroy its inhabitants, the Rogue Traders plot to sneak aboard on a small Ossifrage-class shuttle, acquire a few legendary items, and return to their ship with minimal loss of life and equipment.

Magos Clarity Urksa, seeking redemption in the eyes of Mars, dispatches servants of the Omnissiah to shadow the Rogue Traders and prevent sacred archaotechnology from falling into profane hands.
And, as ever, the Inquisition lurks in the background. Who could walk the Primogenitor's twisted decks and return uncorrupted?

If all goes well all factions will have a small Inq28-style / Kill Team force plus an Arvus-sized landing craft. Stay tuned for more updates.


  1. Looks great! I'm excited to see the finished product, so good luck!

  2. I am excited to see your results.