A Model Tower for Miniature Lighthouses, Castles, or Prisons

a model tower made from air dry clay, a yogurt cup, and a cardboard tube.
Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd
  • 01 of 16

    Build a Basic Model Tower From Simple Materials

    Model tower made from cardboard and air dry clay set beside a quarter scale Petite Properties Kit
    The completed model tower can be used with quarter scale buildings like this single storey scullery kit from Petite Properties. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    The model tower shown here is simply constructed using a plastic or paper cup, a recycled cardboard tube, and air dry clay. This particular tower is three stories in 1:48 or quarter scale, but you can make it any size you wish. The tower can be used with the instructions for simple domed buildings, or faux stone walls made from foam. I will be using this particular tower as part of an easy to build Sea Witch Cottage for a Halloween village, which is why I show it with a quarter scale witch...MORE figure on the battlements. See the links at the bottom of this page for how to make a similar miniature witch.

    The tower is shown next to a single story, quarter scale "Cottage Side Scullery" kit from Petite Properties which is the type of building that adapts well to use with a small tower, if you prefer to buy, rather than build a simple one-room cottage like the Sea Witch project. The top of this tower can easily be modified to use as a lighthouse, and if a larger sized cardboard roll is used, the interior space can be opened for display as well.

    Continue to 2 of 16 below.
  • 02 of 16

    Materials Used To Build a Simple Model Tower

    Plastic cup, cardboard tube, air dry clay and glue used to build a model or gaming tower.
    Materials used to build a variety of model towers include a plastic yoghurt cup, air dry clay and a cardboard tube. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    This model tower is based on a recycled plastic cup or yogurt container, a cardboard tube, and air dry clay. You will also need pva glue, some simple modeling tools, acrylic paints in mid-grey, dark grey and beige. I've shown the tower with some windows from the quarter scale architectural accessories by Grandt Line, the ones I used are part #3708, "Silverton Station" round windows.

    You can adjust the size of the tower by using round cardboard containers from drink mixes, potato chips...MORE or chocolates instead of a cardboard tube (I used a tube from a roll of paper towels). The size of the upper tower for a lighthouse or battlements can be adjusted by using a different size of recycled paper cup or plastic food container.

    I used roughly 1/8 of a package of Martha Stewart's Crafter's Clay to cover my tower, although I generally prefer Delight air dry clay, or Creative Paper Clay. Any air dry clay will work for making the stone texture.

    If you prefer a plaster, stucco or brick effect you can artist's mediums like Golden Light Molding Paste or Gesso, or use grout or spackle (drywall filler). If you want the faux stone look but don't have access to air dry clay, you can use a simple papier mache made from torn tissue (or facial tissue or toilet paper) mixed with a bit of water and pva glue. If you want measured instructions for a similar paper mache mix, go to ultimate paper mache. com I would substitute talcum powder for the cornstarch suggested, and avoid recipes with flour if possible, as those materials can attract insects which may damage your model.

    If you need to build a custom tower, you may want to use a moldable board like task board instead of a cardboard roll or container.

    Continue to 3 of 16 below.
  • 03 of 16

    Measuring and Cutting A Scale Model Tower Wall

    The length of a model tower is marked on a cardboard roll in preparation for assembling a tower.
    A cardboard roll is marked for cutting to the length needed for a model tower. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    The size of the model tower is based on the height and width of your main tower wall. The diameter of your cardboard roll or container should be equivalent to at least 6 to eight feet sized to your scale. My cardboard tube for my quarter scale (1:48) tower was 1 3/4 inches wide (4.5 cm), the equivalent of 7 feet in quarter scale. I wanted my finished tower to be no more than 3 stories tall, as it will sit beside a modest cottage. I measured my tower wall to be 4 inches (10cm) long or 16 feet...MORE equivalent in quarter scale.

    Mark the length of your tower carefully by rotating your tube against a ruler. Use a sharp craft knife to cut your tube. I use a carving knife handle from Lee Valley tools which holds standard scalpel blades.

    Continue to 4 of 16 below.
  • 04 of 16

    Adjusting the Size of a Model Tower Top

    A plastic yoghurt cup checked for size against a cardboard tube destined for a model tower assembly.
    A plastic cup set on top of a length of cardboard tube to check the design possibilities for a simple model tower with a crenellated top. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    When you have the cardboard roll cut to length for the height of your model tower, test the tower against various recycled cups and food containers to find a top you can adjust for your tower. For my quarter scale tower a small yogurt container had an interesting flare and was a good proportion to make the tower top. It is too tall and will need to be cut down, but I can use both sections of the cup, one for the tower battlements and one to finish the upper floor.

    Continue to 5 of 16 below.
  • 05 of 16

    Use Tape to Mark Even Crenellations On a Model Tower Top

    Crenellations for a model tower are marked on a plastic up using strips of masking tape.
    Short strips of masking or painter's tape are used to space evenly sized crenellations on the top and bottom of a plastic cup used to make a model tower. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    To add interest to the top of my tower I want cut out crenellations or battlements. I cut my tower top from the top of my yogurt container leaving the lip in place as it will add to the shape of the tower.

    The easiest way to mark even cutouts is to use a narrow piece of tape, I used quarter inch wide (5mm) painters tape /masking tape. Each piece of tape is set one tape width away from the previous piece of tape. The final gap may need a bit of adjusting, but it is easy to see that with all the...MORE sections marked, and the tape makes it easy to adjust the gaps.

    Continue to 6 of 16 below.
  • 06 of 16

    Cut The Tower Top to Shape

    Cutting crenellations for the top of a model tower made from a cardboard tube and a yoghurt cup.
    Using Strips of masking tape as a guide, crenellations are cut into a plastic yoghurt cup to make the top of a model tower. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    I used sharp scissors to cut the top crenellations for my model tower as shown in the photo. The upper sections were bent backward and cut free along the fold line. The bottom section I cut along the sides of each marking, but bent the extra plastic tabs to the inside of the cup and left them in place. This will help hold my cup to the top of the tower (see following steps).

    Continue to 7 of 16 below.
  • 07 of 16

    Shape The Model Tower Sides and Top Support

    Wrapping the cardboard walls of a model tower with strips of paper to shape the tower.
    The walls of a model tower are thickened at the top and base by wrapping a cardboard tube with glued paper strips. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    My yogurt cup slides down the sides of my model tower, so I need to thicken the top of the tower wall so that the cup will stay in place. To do this, I've cut narrow strips of paper and glued them in neat layers around the top of the tower wall. Keep gluing strips until your wall is thick enough that the base tabs on your crenellated top will hold against the paper strips.

    As I am building a 'stone' tower, I want the tower to appear wider at the base. More paper strips glued and...MORE applied to the base of my tower wall will thicken the tower here as well.

    After shaping your tower, set it aside for the glue to dry before you proceed to the next step.

    Continue to 8 of 16 below.
  • 08 of 16

    Finish the Top Floor Assembly of the Model Tower

    base of a plastic cup upended and glued to the top of a cardboard tube as a model tower floor.
    The bottom section of a plastic cup is glued to the top of a cardboard tube wrapped with paper strips to make the floor of a model tower. The top section of the cup fits over the assembly to make the crenellated tower top. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    To make a floor for the top of my tower, I saved a section of the bottom of my yogurt cup. Once the extra padding on the tower sides has dried, I applied a thick pva glue, the Ultimate craft glue to the inside of the cup and glued it to the top of my tower wall.

    The upper tower battlement will fit neatly over the floor, held in place by the tabs against the thickened wall (see photo this page).

    Continue to 9 of 16 below.
  • 09 of 16

    Curve Windows to Fit the Walls of a Model Tower

    Curving plastic model windows over the sides of a tin can using a hair dryer.
    Held in place over a tin can using a wide elastic band, plastic model window are gently warmed and bent to a slight curve in order to fit a 1:48 scale tower. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    As I want to install windows in my tower walls, I need to curve plastic windows to fit the walls. Most plastic and styrene windows can be bent with the gentle application of heat. To get them to curve properly, I used a thick elastic band to hold the window against a can with a curve similar to my tower. Gentle application of heat via a hair dryer was enough to curve the windows slightly so they would fit better in my tower walls.

    Take care when heating your plastic that you don't heat it to...MORE the point where it warps. Watch for it to 'slump' a bit against your form and remove the heat source immediately.

    You can also make your own windows from scraps of lightweight photo paper or card.

    Continue to 10 of 16 below.
  • 10 of 16

    Cover The Model Tower With Air Dry Clay

    Glue on the sides of a model tower assembly will hold a thin sheet of air dry clay to the sides.
    The sides of a model tower are thoroughly covered with glue before a thinly rolled sheet of air dry clay is applied to cover the tower sides. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    To cover your model tower with air dry clay, wait until your added paper strip sections are thoroughly dry. Roll out a thin layer of air dry clay long enough and wide enough to cover either the sides of the tower or the crenellated battlement section. The two sections are still separate at this point of the construction.

    Cover the sides of your tower with a layer of pva glue, and gently wrap your air dry clay around the tower wall, carefully pressing the clay into the glue all around the wall....MORE (see next step). Repeat the same step for the top tower section.

    Add a layer of clay to the outside of your tower top battlements in the same way, clearing the excess clay away from the crenellated openings. Try to have the clay overlap the cut edges a bit. When the outer layer of clay on the battlements is dry (after texturing it in the following steps) you will be able to apply the inner layer of clay to finish the battlement.

    Tip Store air dry clay in a tightly closed zip lock bag along with a section of dampened paper towel or sponge. Remove any excess air before you seal the clay. Opened air dry clay will stay soft and useful for many months if you occasionally moisten the sponge or paper and reseal the package.

    Continue to 11 of 16 below.
  • 11 of 16

    Finish the Base Coating of Air Dry Clay on the Model Tower

    Model tower assembly coated with a thin layer of air dry clay ready for texturing as faux stone.
    After coating the model tower assembly with glue, a thin layer of air dry clay is pressed into place around the tower. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    With the clay wrapped entirely around your tower walls, press it gently into the glue, and use your finger, a modelling tool, the back of a knife blade, or the bowl of a spoon, or a dampened brush to smooth the edges of the clay together where they meet. You don't have to have the coating of air dry clay entirely even. Some odd edges will make interesting cracks on your tower as the clay dries. Take care not to make gaps between your clay and the tower walls. Don't overwork the clay.

    Do...MORE the same to the clay on the model tower top section.

    While the clay is still damp, proceed to the next step and finish texturing the clay before setting it aside to dry.

    Continue to 12 of 16 below.
  • 12 of 16

    Add Faux Stone Layer Lines

    Thread wrapped around a model tower makes the marks for stone layers.
    To make uniform lines of faux stones, layer lines are marked into air dry clay using thread wrapped around the sides of a scale model tower. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    Stone or brick walls are built up in layers. To create these layer lines on your model tower, wrap a section of thread around your tower at the height you want your first layer and pull it taut to make a line around your tower wall as shown. Continue marking all the layer lines at roughly the same spacing up the tower walls and over the battlements.

    If at any time you must leave your project before the texturing is completely finished, cover your tower sections with a dampened cloth or paper...MORE towel to prevent the air dry clay from drying out before it is textured.

    Continue to 13 of 16 below.
  • 13 of 16

    Fit the Model Tower Sections Together

    Untextured air dry clay covers the sides and upper section of a model tower.
    With a covering of air dry clay on the crenellated top and the tower sides, the two pieces are fitted together in preparation for detailing the faux stone finish. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    While your clay is still soft, carefully fit the top section of your model tower over the tower base as shown. If necessary pack a small roll of air dry clay around the area where the tower top will fit against the walls. You want the tabs on the tower top to stick into the air dry clay coating of the tower. Check that your tower top is square to the walls (or not, depending on how you want your model) and continue to the next step to carefully add the wall texture.

    Continue to 14 of 16 below.
  • 14 of 16

    Shape a Faux Stone Texture Into The Walls of Your Model Tower

    Air dry clay on a model tower is given the texture of faux stone walls using an artist's knife.
    Air dry clay is given the texture of a faux stone wall using an artist's spatula or other rounded blade. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    There are many ways to shape faux stone walls. If you are matching your tower to existing buildings, check to see how the finishes are shaped. I made my stone texture with 'squared' edges by using the end of a paint spatula. If you prefer a rounded stone finish see the instructions for a cobblestone finish made from paper clay. The same technique will work with other air-dry clays or paper mache. For a blockier finish, view the faux stone technique used on the faux stone wall.

    Shape your...MORE stones between the layer lines you marked with thread. When you have all the stone finish textured, set the tower model aside for the air dry clay to dry thoroughly before proceeding to the next step.

    If you will be fitting windows into your tower, you can press the windows against the clay to mark the area for the window openings, before you allow the clay to dry.

    Continue to 15 of 16 below.
  • 15 of 16

    Fit Windows Into a Model Tower

    Openings for round windows are cut into a quarter scale model tower.
    A craft knife with a scalpel blade is used to cut openings for circular windows on a model tower. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    Once the air dry clay has dried on the outside of your model tower you can cut the openings for windows and fit the windows. Use a sharp craft knife and make a small hole in the center of the window opening, then cut carefully outward, testing the opening and making adjustments until you can fit the window easily into the opening.

    To hold the window in place, run a small roll of soft air dry clay around the window opening and press the window into the clay. Smooth out the clay retexturing your...MORE stones if necessary. Clear any excess clay away from the window. Allow the clay to dry holding the window in place. If necessary you can glue the window into the opening after the clay has completely dried.

    When you are fitting your windows, take care not to crush the walls of your tower in the process!

    Continue to 16 of 16 below.
  • 16 of 16

    Paint a Faux Stone Finish on a Model Tower

    Painting faux stones on a model tower made from air dry clay, a yoghurt cup, and a cardboard tube.
    The join outlines for the 'stones' on a scale model tower are painted with dark acrylic paint, then the stones are colored with lighter shades of grey and tan. Photo © 2013 Lesley Shepherd

    To finish your model tower, color your finish with acrylic paints to match other pieces in your model village. For my stone finish, I used acrylic paint in dark grey for the joins between stones, mid-grey and light grey for the basic stone finish, and a pale buff-brown to soften the color of the stones to tone in with other pieces in my collection.

    Begin the faux stone finish by using a fairly stiff paint brush to brush dark grey paint into all the texture lines on your model tower. You don't...MORE need to be particularly neat. You just want to make sure all the deep lines of the texture will have dark color and no white flecks (or air dry clay color) showing.

    Once you have finished the joint lines, allow the dark paint to dry.

    For the mid-tones of your stone, use a dry brush technique to brush mid and light grey over your stones (see photo on his page) You can see more photos of the technique on the faux stone wall instructions . With the mid tone- layers try to avoid getting paint into the deep recesses between your stones and paint only on the top surface of the model. I usually empty my brush from one grey color, then pick up the next, alternating greys as I color in my stones so the two greys blend together as I paint.

    The final step is to soften the stones in places with a bit of soft buff or light dirt color. I usually use a mix of white and burnt umber for this color and brush or dab it onto the stones to give them a weathered appearance. The lighter color of brown can be used to add highlights to your wall, or you can use a darker color to deepen areas of your grey paint. Experiment and see what suits your working style the best!

    Make sure you paint your window frames using the same method as you paint your stone. If you are using plastic windows as I did, give them an undercoat of a plastic or resin primer and allow it to dry before you paint the windows. I usually use Model Master Acryl primer on plastic under layers of acrylic paint.

    Have fun building towers to fit beside buildings for your model villages!