Cheap DIY Cave Pool / Waterfall

I am starting to slowly make 3D terrain for my first DM campaign and thought perhaps you may be interested in seeing some of the craft hacks that avoid breaking the bank but still add to your campaign and most of all are FUN to make! I apologise that some of the photos are not the greatest quality.

What you will need

  • Foam board or sturdy cardboard
  • Scalpel or craft knife
  • marker pen or pencil
  • moisturiser (not essential)
  • mix of stone colour acrylic paints – this can be sandy colour stone or black and white for grey shades
  • Glue gun with hot melt glue sticks
  • handful of small stones or gravel or slate chips from the garden
  • Blue nail polish (optional)
  • Small Paintbrush
  • PVA glue

I use foam board a lot with my costume and stage design work so always have off cuts lying around. Foam board is used regularly in theatre set design to make models and is really useful for 3D terrain and furniture for D&D. If you do not want to spend on foam board, then any strong cardboard will do. You do not want it to be flimsy. To strengthen you can always glue layers together.

Start by drawing out the shape of your chosen pool. You want to bear in mind your scale.. for example the 1inch square grid maps where each grid space represents 5ft.. This will guide you as to the dimensions for your pool…Remember, it is your world so you decide!

Cut out your pool – don’t be too precious, the edges wont be seen.

Now there are 2 finishes I would suggest for your water. The first is just using acrylic paints and the second is to use a layer of hot melt glue to form the surface of the water and the waterfall. This is quite cool if you paint it with nail polish. You can use acrylics but you would likely need a primer or gesso first. I will show both options along side each other.

If using just acrylics for a basic pool, use a variety of blues and dot them randomly around your pool shape.

Using your paintbrush, spread the paint out around your pool. Try to follow the shape of your pool as the colours mix. You could choose to add some metallic blue nail polish to add some extra shimmer to your flat pool, once the acrylic is dry.

If you are choosing to do a textured pool with a waterfall you need to create the top layer of the pool with hot melt glue… Start by drawing a rough guide of your pool. Squeeze the glue out following your shape but leaving a 5mm to 1cm gap to the edge of the pool shape.

For the waterfall you can either wait until you have assembled the pool and rocks and make the waterfall in situ or you can prepare it. If you want to prepare it first, you will need some scrap foam board or card that has a slight gloss coating. To ensure your glue does not stick to the card, take a basic moisturiser and lightly spread it on the card where you want your to build your glue water. Then build up your waterfall with your hot melt glue and once it is cool enough pull it away from the card.

Once your glue layer of pool and your waterfall (if making in advance of assembly), or your painted pool surface are dry, glue the foam board pool onto a wider base of foam board (especially important to consider if you are using larger or heavier pebbles and stone). You can choose to just have the one layer of foam board pool without backing to more if you prefer, but I think especially for the waterfall one, the stones will get heavy so a base layer is a good idea. Use your PVA for this.

If You are using a hot melt glue pool top, use more hot melt glue to attach it to the foam board. Paint with your nail polish or acrylics and let dry.

Next, with whichever pool type you are making, start to glue a row of pebbles or stones around the edge of the pool. Do not be afraid of using a lot of hot melt glue. You want to make sure they stay stuck so it is better to use quite a bit. There are stronger glues available for this but they are generally a lot more expensive and not available at some smaller craft stores. The best option would be a 2 part epoxy but, if you are generous with your glue gun that still works well.

If you are choosing to do a simple flat pool, you do not need to add more layers of stones if you dont want to…BUT , in this case and especially if using more smooth pebbles, fill up all the gaps with your hot melt glue then paint the pebbles with a mix of stone colour acrylics.

If you are choosing to do a waterfall, then you need to build up the extra layers of stones, and keep building a pile of stones at the end that you want the waterfall. In my one I chose to use some of my purple slate garden chippings due to their colour and wonderful texture.

Once the waterfall stones are built to the height you want, attach your ready made waterfall or build up the water from the top and from the bottom, letting it drip and cool. If doing this you will need to take your time otherwise the glue will just all fall in a clump. Paint the waterfall in the same nail polish or chosen paint

Next cut the base foam board around the shape of the stones. You do not need to be too precise, just make sure the cut is not too rough. Then taking your small paintbrush , paint the stones to your desired colours. As I had such lovely top stones, I just painted the glue and the bottom layer of pebbles along with the base foam board edges. As these are going in my caverns I chose to paint in simple black and white mix for various greys. You can spend time stippling and dry brushing the stones to give the effect you want.

Again it is your world so have fun with it…. if something does not go as you initially planned, tell your players it was deliberate, it is sure to be a hit when you add it to your battlemap!

Since posting this blog we had a weekend of crafting terrain walls and had the opportunity and time to do washes and dry brushing to improve the finish so with my flat pool I did this:

Firstly took a mid grey and did a light covering of stones. Then with a light grey I dry brushed – Dry Brushing is where you load your paintbrush with desired paint but spend a while taking most of the paint off onto cardboard or kitchen roll so the brush is quite dry. Then you brush your model t=by quickly sweeping the brush over the surface so i catches the raised parts.. do not push brush and paint into all grooves.. I find a flat brush best for this. I repeated this step with another lighter grey and then a very dry brush of white. To finish, I then did a black wash… A wash is your desired colour watered down quite a bit. I dab it more than brush it onto model, letting the wash drip into all the cracks and grooves. if it pools too much in an area, take a little kitchen roll and gently dab it onto the pool until some is soaked away. Dont worry if you put too much on in any layer, simply wait for it to dry and repeat the steps you need.

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