Not More Bits Of Cardboard?

I don’t do work-in-progress posts often, particularly when the projects in question aren’t yet finished! But since Dave Stone’s Season of Scenery challenge is now under way, I’ve made a start on some stuff for that so I thought I’d share my progress!

I’ve been quite motivated to work on my Paraguayan War armies lately, so I wanted to use this challenge to work on some related scenery, particularly since that’s an aspect I’ve neglected lately overall. I need to make some field fortifications for my Paraguayans, but they also need some boats!

The boats in question are called chatas. A chata is basically a shallow draft, low freeboard, wooden barge that carries a heavy gun on a swivel mount (typically a 68- or 80-pounder muzzle-loader). Chatas carried no means of propulsion and were usually towed into position by other vessels. Their low freeboard made them very difficult targets and the Paraguayans made good use of them against the Brazilian navy on the Paraguay and Parana rivers.

I’ve got a couple of pictures and simple plans of chatas, more than enough to work from to make a couple of models. Most of the ships and boats I make to go with my 20mm forces are “semi-scale” i.e. more representative than true scale models (otherwise they’d never fir on a wargames table). Because of that I tend to think of them more as scenery items, hence their suitability for the current challenge. I also tend to make the models fairly simple, without all of the detail normally associated with vehicles, like tanks for example.

I started off by roughly drawing the deckplan I wanted, using a compass to mark out the bow and stern radii (shown above – haven’t used a compass for drawing since I finished my engineering degree, but still have the one I used then). I then drew out the same shape on 5mm foamcard and used the back of a scalpel blade to scribe on the deck planking (shown below).

I used a DIY knife to cut out the deck shapes for the two chatas, removing a rectangular section in the middle of each.

I then used PVA glue to stick a layer of 1mm mounting board to the bottom of the foamcard and cut it to the same shape as the deckplan. This layer provides more area for the sides to be glued to – as most of you will know, you need to be careful gluing foamcard as some contact adhesives can melt the foam, hence me using PVA.

I then cut some 7mm high strips of mounting board and glued them to the side of the the decks – this leaves enough height to form a slightly raise coaming around the deck edge (which is way easier than matching the height of the deck exactly). These strips were then bent and glued around the stem and stern and cut to length.

I then added lengths of card to form a coaming around the central hold section, along with hatches on the decks. I marked out the position of the turntable for the gun and added some small bits of cardboard to act as blocks to keep the gun mount roughly in position – this means I can use the chatas without their guns as simple barges in a number of settings.

Descriptions and drawings show the gun mounted on a central pivot and restrained by various rope and tackle positions around the central hold. I opted to make a simple round turntable with a rubber/steel layer on top so that crewmen with magnetised bases would stay in position when the gun was turned. I can only imagine that chatas must have rocked a bit when they were fired to either side! I’ve not added the rudders fore and aft, or any anchors, since they’re small, fiddly and most likely to get damaged.

The guns are 3D prints from Shapeways and are ACW naval guns in HO scale, so slightly smaller than 20mm scale but they fit the chatas quite well. Crew are Newline Designs ACW gun crew with plasticard discs and greenstuff added to convert their kepis into the taller Paraguayan shakos.

Overall, these only took me about five hours to make spread over three days, so pretty easy going (the crew were prepared beforehand). In true wargaming style, I’m not going to paint then yet, but am moving on to the next bit of scenery to scratchbuild. Just have to remember to come back and paint them before the challenge finishes at the end of August!


  1. Off to an excellent start John, the planning and execution of these is perfect. I to still have my compass from my engineering days, but has been used a lot over the years.
    I’ll try to remember, to email you a prompt on painting these if we haven’t seen a post on them towards the end of the challenge.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Dave! šŸ™‚ A decent compass is pretty useful – I think I’ve still got the extension bar to let me draw much larger radii – useful for road bends and rivers! Good to know our engineering training hasn’t gone to waste!
      In theory, the two chatas shouldn’t take too long to paint – it’s the crewmen that’ll slow me down! Fortunately, they have a dual use and can be used as gunners in fortifications (so that’s absolutely not a clue as to what might be coming next)!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Mark! šŸ™‚ To be honest, unlike with tanks for example, I can adopt a “that’s near enough” approach with “scenery” items, so that tends to make them a bit easier to make (and involves less measuring and awkward shapes)!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Bloody hell, nicely done! The fifth photo down honestly looks like something you’d buy at a model shop. Really looking forward to seeing these painted up, they already look amazing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Matt, that’s much appreciated! šŸ™‚ They’ll be fairly dull when they’re painted, since I’ll be going for a mid-brown finish overall with only the crew to add some colour! I might need to see if I can make/find some removable deck accessories to maybe make them look a bit more cluttered.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. These look great.

    And although its personal preference I like the WIP posts, especially as they often show tricks and tips that others have come across and are willing to share.

    Looking forward to seeing them painted.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Anthony! šŸ™‚ I mainly did a WIP post so that people could see I’d made a start on my scenery challenge stuff since I don’t think I have many tips or tricks to share that people don’y already know about! šŸ˜‰ I’m maybe also thinking I should move onto painting them sooner rather than later!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This is excellent work, John! I envy your skills because this is the exact kind of terrain work that am not very good at making truthfully. Then again, I don’t have any math or science skills like yourself so I shouldn’t be surprised šŸ™‚ I look forward to seeing the chatas painted up!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Jeff! šŸ™‚ Of course I might have just made up for my lack of skill by making a dozen chatas, but only posting the two that appeared to have come out half decent – it’s what you don’t tell people that counts as much as what you do tell them! šŸ˜‰

      Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Steve! šŸ™‚ I’ve been thinking about what happened when they fired as well – a 68pdr is a big gun (nearly 9 inch calibre apparently). According to reports, the gun was mounted on a pivot that permitted it to turn, but did they fire broadside on? Heavy guns will recoil slower to be fair and they may use inclined slides in the carriage to reduce the recoil further. If the gun centreline (axis of the bore) remains low then the overturning moment on recoil probably keeps the gun fairly level, but it’d be interesting to see!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Very nicely done John; I liked the way you went about the design, thanks for sharing.
    They’ll look superb when painted – better than a shop bought kit any day, all that satisfaction of making something yourself šŸ™‚

    Liked by 3 people

  6. John, lovely WIP post and wow, what a great design and execution. As a somewhat trained engineer I truly appreciate the way that you conceived of the chatas and built them. I see you have a much nicer drafting compass than mine and I need to get a good one like that for future use. I would imagine that they could have been difficult to have good fire control but maybe they used less solid shot and more grapeshot-like projectiles with less charge? Not sure if the ranges used were more short or long, though Iā€™d have to imagine the CG had to be lowered someway. Anyways great work and great post.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Mark, I thought you might like this post! šŸ™‚ That compass harks back to the days when I had to produce engineering drawings by hand (coincidentally enough when I did my industrial/work experience placements with British Shipbuilders during my degree). It has an extension bar for really big radii (good for road and river bends) and somewhere I’ve got an adaptor to fit a drafting pen (a very long time since I’ve drawn in ink).
      From what I’ve read, chatas tended to engage Brazilian ships at fairly close ranges and I think they could fire shot, shell or canister/grape. The Brazilians found them difficult to engage with ships due to their low silhouette, but I’d imagine musketry and grape would be quite effective against them if you wanted to close the range!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have to say mate that your little craft are amazing, top work, I feel have an engineering background must give you the edge when it comes to making a model like this, I have to agree with Savgeddt comment about paying more attention to maths all those years ago!!

    Liked by 1 person

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