Tutorial: The Lights Went Out in Georgia

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who stopped by and checked out the rust tutorial I posted last week.  I like to share my completed projects but people also appreciate learning something and taking something away to use in their own hobby.  I enjoy sharing completed projects but there is an old adage goes about teaching men to fish.  If I can make the additional time to document the, "what I did" or, "how to" components in projects I will try to include some more of that in the future.  This time around I made some utility poles to dress up my boards.  These are fairly simple to make, reasonably economical, and most importantly I think they look the part.  These poles should look right at home along a lonely road in the Wastelands or in the rotton core of a walker infested town.

Images of utility poles from web.  I mono-chromed them so it would be more about the shapes.  The one on the top right is from a derelict rural line and reminded me of a battered cross.

Utility poles are cosmetics in a post apocalyptic game.  If the power grid has been down for two or two hundred years they occupy a place in the psyche like a tumble down farmhouse or a rusting railyard in a Willie Nelson song.  They are the memory of what was; The echo of the loss.  Thematic terrain pieces like this evoke a mood, sell the setting, and turn a bunch of tumbling dice into rich narrative about living at the end of the world.  I hope you add them to your terrain set and that they invite you to imagine.  For practical purposes these poles have no lines attached, stand independently and can be moved where ever you want them on your board.  If you had a pole as part of a ruined building terrain piece you could probably could fishing line or brass wire to dress them up.  I love how the lines in the photos accentuate perspective and lead the eye around the photo.  I'd love to capture that on a board but I would probably just snag them on my hands or Goblyn would attack them.

This combined shot shows the tools and materials involved in build and assembly.

To build the utility poles you are going to need a few things:

  •  3/8"  wooden dowels: Cut to 10" (This gives you a 40' utility pole at 1/48 scale)
  •  1/16"x1/8" balsa wood strip: (cut to 1 1/2" these give you 8' cross members. 1 or 2 per pole)
  •  1/16"x1/16" balsa strip: (I cut the wood I used for cross members in half.  These are your braces or better yet just buy a length of thinner strip and save yourself the hassle)
  •  Small beads:  I used 11/0 glass beads I got at the craft store.
  •  Straight pins:  Ones with little metal heads not the bulbous plastic ends.
  •  1/4" nuts:  On the ground this will support the pole by sheathing it and providing some weight.  Looks like base on breakaway pole.
  •  Thick sheet styrene: Cut a 4cm x 4cm piece (blame construction for my mixed measurement systems) as a base for each pole.  The large footprint should help keep your pole upright.
  •  Thin sheet styrene:  You will roll this around a 1/4" dowel or similar size cylinder to make a transformer.  1.5cm width.  lengths of 5.5-6cm should make it sturdy enough.
  •  Wood and plastic glue:  I think a brush applicator plastic glue would be better.
  •  Wood stain (red-brown, black), or brown and black washes, or you could paint everything to your tastes.
  •  Hobby or Small hand saw:  You will be notching the dowels to seat your cross members.
  •  Thick Copper Wire.  Short, straight lengths to simulate braces for the transformer.
  •  Pin vice: With a small enough bit that you won't split your cross members when drilling pilot holes for pins.
Stages of preparation for the wood products.

The montage above details the preparation of the dowel and balsa parts.  Use one of your cross members to mark cut lines where they will be seated.  There are no set measurements as pole differ but pick something that looks right to you and be consistent if you make more than one pole.  Use a hobby saw to cut down into the 4 marks you made.  You want the cuts to be deep enough that the back of the member will be flush with the surface of the pole.  Cut the 4 braces (two for each cross member).  Again no perfect measurement.  You want the top one to sit halfway between the two members on the pole and in the middle of the member at a 45 degree angle.  The last preassembly step is to drill four holes in each of the members arms with your pin vice.  Try to use the smallest bit you can find for your pin vice that will make a hole that will accept a straight pin.  Each of these pins should have two beads threaded onto them.  That's pretty much it but don't be a hobby clown like me and glue your new toy together before staining it.  The dried glue will seal the wood and stop the stain from penetrating leaving you with a spotty pole if you are messy with glue.  I am messy with glue.

Stained them glued and assembled pole.

Hopefully this assembled pole makes the proceeding explanation less nonsense.  This pole was be stained, then glued together.  The pole was turned onto a nut and glued onto a 4x4 cm square of plasticard.  Both the nut and the square were primed when the pole components were stained.  The last step to build a standard utility pole is to superglue the beaded pins into the pre-drilled holes; These will represent the isolators.  I had to crimp the pins short so they would fit.  You could use a short piece of wire rather than a pin but I like the ball end for aesthetic reasons and to keep the beads from ever sliding off if the glue holding them on the pin let go.  The pro of finding an alternative for the blunted straight pin is that you might not have to go at the balsa wood with a pin vice.

I made a pole for the tutorial but got sidetracked building a barn.  Stock images save the day.
Before a final paint decide if you want to dress the pole any further.  It's easy to build or find an part in a parts box to use as transformer.  I made mine from thin plasticard turned around a broader dowel than the ones I used for the pole.  You could do the same with paper.  Embellish the transformer with a bead/pin combo if you wish or have a look at your reference photos and model something else neat that you see.  I painted the beads, nut, and plastic adds on the pole because they were so small.  I used a basecoat black as primer then painted them  up in greys.  Before doing the small parts you might want to drybrush some beiges or apply a brown or black wash or both over the surface.  Finish it by matching the 4x4cm base to your table top. 

Some variety but I didn't brainstorm anything really cool on them like you can.

If I made some more I would probably diversify.  This pole set could be placed anywhere that had a power requirement.  If I made an urban set I would probably litter the lower portion with posters.  It's too bad there isn't a way to simulate staples at this small a scale.  Another add I'd consider for a more rural or isolated pole would be steel rungs made from clips or brass wire.  A series of hand and footholds driven into the wood with a 90 degree hook turned upward at the end.  I'd distress older sets with the edge of my hobby saw or pick at them to simulate some rot like on that "cross" utility pole I posted in the reference photos. 


  1. Wow, great tutorial! Those look absolutely fantastic! Makes me feel bad for always using pre-made telephone poles :)

  2. You have put a lot of effort into these but the results are stunning. Just amazing!

    1. I think the tutorial was more effort than making the poles Bryan :( . You are so prolific and diligent with your own blog and mine is typically stagnant. I've been pretty busy and have managed to paint up and make lots of stuff over the past month and a bit. I've taken photos of what I've been up to but sitting down and hammering them onto "page" is a challenging. Whenever I consider it I usually put it off because there is something else I could be painting or modelling instead of writing about it. How do you motivate yourself to create so much content? Do you have any tips :D ?

  3. This is the tutorial I've been waiting/looking for!

    1. Hopefully it was helpful. I need to sit down and write something else here soon.


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