Hobby How-To: Cargo Crates With Canvas


I recently got the desire to make a war-gaming table in my basement, with my own terrain, . I had seen lots of rocky terrain made from insulation foam, and I knew that miniature trees were easy to come by. I wanted to find or make some generic scatter terrain that could be used for 40k or Star Wars: Legion. I don’t have a 3d printer, and I wasn’t feeling up to buying 3d printed stuff on Etsy. I came across this video on how to make cargo pallets: Cargo Pallets Of The Wasteland – FWW/TNT/MCC/DREDD/NECROMUNDA/40K – Ep 75. (by Hacksaw’s Hobby Bunker)

Loving the end result, I decided that I would try my hand at it. It was a great first project for getting my feet wet into DIY war-gaming terrain.

Materials needed

  • ½” insulation foam to shape the cargo crates (annoyingly, I could only get it in a 4’x8’ sheet).
  • Box of plain tissue paper without any decorative designs for shaping the canvas pattern
  • Retractable box cutter or hot wire foam tool for cutting the foam into box-like shapes.
  • PVA glue and water.
  • Old paintbrush for applying the glue.
  • 1/4” or 1/8” foamboard, hardboard, or MDF cut into squares for the pallet base. I used foamboard.
  • Your choice of primer and paint. Even cheap craft paint will do fine.

Steps To Make The Terrain

  1. Cut up foam board or MDF into box/rectangle shapes for the pallet base. Cut up the foam pieces into little cubes or rectangles. Glue them together into box-like shapes. Leave to dry.
    • I used a sharp hobby knife to cut my foamboard into square or rectangle shapes, then I used the retractable box cutter to roughly cut up the foam. I didn’t make exact shapes or measurements, just eyeballing each cut and trying to do it quickly. Don’t worry about rough edges. The tissue will cover it all up.

  1. Mix your PVA glue with water until you get the consistency of cream or milk. Again, I didn’t use any exact measurements. If you buy the watered down Elmer’s school glue, that might work as is. The thicker tacky glue will require a bit more water to dilute to the proper consistency. I used the standard Elmer’s glue, using maybe ⅔ glue to ⅓ water ratio.

  1. Using an old paintbrush, cover the foam cargo crates from step 1 with the watered down glue. Gently lay a tissue over each crate, spreading it out to make sure that the tissue applies to the glue. Leave the tissue to dry for a few minutes.

  1. Generously coat the top layer of each tissue with the watered down glue mixture, spreading the tissue to simulate canvas. Be careful not to press too hard and tear the tissue. I then applied a second layer of the glue mixture. Leave to dry overnight, around 12 hours.

  1. Once dry, cut off the excess tissue with scissors. It will be hard and durable. Any spots where you missed the glue will be noticeably soft. Reapply if needed and wait another day. The hard part is now done. Just paint is left.

  1. Prime in your color of choice. Since my hobby time is limited and I didn’t want to paint after priming, I used color rattle can primers. Leave to dry.

  1. For weathering, wash with a brown or black shade/wash of choice. I used Army Painter Strong tone, a dark brown wash. Leave to dry.

  1. To finish the weathering, apply a drybrush of a taupe color over the raised edges to create a worn canvas appearance. I mixed craft paints of khaki, light gray, and white to create the color I wanted

Close Up Photos

My Finished Terrain Pieces

The color primer cans I used were Rust-Oleum 2x army green, earth brown, khaki, and flat red.


I live in rural New Hampshire with my wife, our son, two cats, two dogs, no more chickens because they all got eaten, too many fantasy books, some miniature models, and my wife says I have too many keyboards (only three). Small and steady hobby progress wins the race when you have a toddler.

Clay’s contributions