DIY: Building a Thunderhawk From Scratch

diy thunderhawk

Come see the Thunderhawk one hobby maniac made with a ton of time, and motivation on his side!

In the scheme of life Money, Skill, and Time all seem to equal out to be the same. What do you have more of?


Hello everyone, let me start by presenting myself.

My name is Michel Beaulieu. I’m 45 and french Canadian (went to english school). I work as a programmer/analyst for an engineering company. I have been playing computer games all my life and roughly 17 years tabletop gaming mainly warhammer 40k/fantasy and as of late x-wing. I have also played, but very scarcely, flames of war and warmahordes. When they were looking for new blood to write blogs, I immediately shared some of my work to them and I was contacted.

It is a pleasure for me to write up my first blog ever. In this blog and the following, you will discover my view of things mainly in the DIY universe of tabletop gaming but sometimes on house rules or whatever I feel like sharing a piece of my mind either for my future followers or simply to get you guys talking about certain things that can make some people hesitate to play. For example “what is to much proxy”. But that will be for another blog.

cat shred

Now enough with the boring stuff. I would like to attack modeling with cardboard. Some see it as cheap stuff to use, to fragile, hard to work with. Now, lets compare with 2 common materials:

Plasticard: I would say this is the most expensive one to use. Somewhat flexible depending on the thickness and rigid. Thicker sheets are not obvious to cut unless properly equipped without damaging the edges. A bit like acrylic sheets but when properly handled and a bit of elbow grease to get your piece cut and formed, you’ll probably get the best work. Just take note that thin sheets can be very brittle.

MDF: Can be somewhat costly. Mainly made of denser cardboard making it very rigid. Like cardboard, you can still do finishing touches with a knife and sand it when needed. It’s biggest problem is that you can’t bend it. This can be a major problem doing certain projects. And keep away from liquids.

Cardboard: OK, lets be more specific. I’m talking about cardboard or card sheets. Not the ones we see everyday delivery boxes are made of. These also can be found in multiple thicknesses. Cardboard can fold, tear, shear, take water very fast and hard to sand when needed. Some might say it’s not rigid enough except for very specific things and even then, you could use plasticard. I personally find that any models no matter what should be away from liquids at all times. I’m sure I got all of you thinking about paints now…. lolol


We could add to this foams of all types. I find these mainly useful when you want to fill the emptiness of a model or for fast terrain landscapes purposes and nothing more. I personally use it for packing or terrain. You usually can manage a models rigidity without filling it up.

Those that use cardboard are often seen as people that do not have a budget or are scared to attack something that needs certain work like plasticard. Or they just think they suck at it. Here’s my take on the whole modeling material at a good cost without sacrificing to much of the quality of models.

Although plasticard is the top (well for me), I feel like using MDF for framework, if the project isn’t to big, is the best. Perfect for making a basic box and is cheaper then plasticard. You could also use cardboard. 1.5mm card can go a long way for small sections as long as you keep your model away from long term humidity but once painted ect, this shouldn’t be a problem. Compared to plasticard, you will usually need to sand your MDF, depending on what you used to cut, or your cardboard. As a first, you will need to use some type of sandable plaster to fill in the gaps here and there. I strongly suggest using ultra-fine grain like the one used on cars before painting. Larger normal grains will just make the finish of the cardboard shear away and not look good at all.  Keep in mind that the thicker the material, the more plaster you will need.

For curves or any none flat surfaces, use plasticard or cardboard. You can heat plasticard up if it is thicker for a better curve. Once again, you can see I used cardboard or even paper if you need a tighter tube for example. The real secret to having a good finish with cardboard is really the sanding and it is still surprisingly rigid. Of course, plan your model in terms of handling. We don’t want to use thin material when we will constantly have our hands on it. In most cases, this will not be where prominent curves are located.

Other then the extra work usually needed, where people get scared the most in using cardboard is the rigidity when manipulating the model. Unless you do not use the proper thickness, you will not have a problem. You can always add a few trusts within your model. The money spent versus the weight of the model and quality will be well worth the effort and well done, you won’t see any difference quality wise versus a fully plasticard one.

Using each material properly will give you a cheaper, money wise, model that will still be looking good and will still be rigid to manipulate without problems. ok, I do agree on the efforts in doing so. You might consider using cheaper stuff more trouble but not everyone has the budget to create what ever they want.


Here’s an example I did not to long ago. I wanted to have a Forgeworld thunderhawk but with high prices, I decided to build my own. Having built other things before, I told myself I could do it.

I went full cardboard on this model since it is pretty big.




We can see here I have plastered part of the hull and sanded it.



To glue the wings, I drilled 2 holes on each side and inserted a wooded stem to add to rigidity. If not, the wings would easily tear off. Less likely to happen with plasticard.



A little more work with sanding and plaster. if you look closely at the front hull. especially the bottom part, you can easily see what can happen with coarser grain when sanding.


More cardboard adding to the details.



You can notice here that I have used existing las cannons off of extra bits I had.


Here you can see more details added the the use of plasticard here and there. These bits were better used in this way because of the size and way they were added. also prevents me to sand these small pieces.


Based on the plans, I could of added more details but I felt I had spent enough time on this project and the look was more then satisfying. A few pics of the final product all painted up and weathered. I used plastic bits for the missiles and cannon also. As you can see, even if it is not the real deal, the quality is still pretty sweet. Yea I know, I could of done better with sanding at certain places. 🙂


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Hope you had fun reading this and maybe I have shown a few of you new stuff. DIY is for everyone. You can even share doing your stuff with your kids taking them away from iPads and the like and learning having fun. I’ll try to make my next adventure shorter then this one.

Cheers DIYers

About the Author: Michel Beaulieu

born in 1969. Programmer/analyst for an engineering company. Been playing wargames for over 17 years. Founder of Wargaming Saguenay (french based community).
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