The Iowan

Repairs for Building Bases

By Stephen Pepin

Sometimes, the more careful I try to be, the more damage I make! This seems especially true for the bases of my buildings, where chips occur nearly every year when I do the setup or take down activities.

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While I really dislike damage to my pieces, I still want to keep them and display them, therefore I find ways to fix or hide the damage. In this column, I will show various ways to deal with such chips and damages on different types of building bases such as gray sidewalk-type bases, snow-covered bases, fall-green bases, etc. Of course, I did not purposely chip bases on my buildings for this column, but it is a great opportunity to fix various damages that I inflicted to my buildings over the past few years!

Minor Chips

For minor chips that do not require some type of reconstruction of the base, I make a simple fix using paint, and, if needed, landscaping materials. Photo 1 shows two Halloween buildings with such minor chips (near the black cat on the green grass part for the building on the left, and by the pumpkins for the building on the right).

Of course, finding exactly the right gray shade of paint would be difficult or impossible. Therefore, to do this, I use an acrylic gray paint (available at most craft stores) slightly darker than the gray or green on the building, and I mix in some acrylic white until I get the desired shade of gray (the same technique could be used with bases of other colors). I carefully touch up only the area in need of color.

If I am still bothered by the damaged area, I will use landscaping materials such as loose moss or snow to partially or fully cover them when used in a display. Photo 2 shows the repairs, with the one on the right being helped by a small amount of landscaping material as well.

Broken Bases

Now we go in the area of bases with pieces broken off. Here there are two sub-scenarios;

1) A piece shattered in several smaller pieces, which are basically unusable (or you bought a building at a good price because it had such damage).

2) A piece with a “clean” break or as a single chunk.

I don’t know about you, but scenario two is rare for me. My incidents usually consist of multiple shattered pieces (often quickly followed with words that are considered less than polite!). In any event, here are techniques that I use to address each situation:

Shattered Breaks or Missing Pieces

These repairs consist of doing some amount of reconstruction. Photo 3 is a good example of a base damage on one of my Christmas in the City buildings. The broken pieces were in sizes too small to salvage or do anything with. 

For this type of repair, I use air-dry modeling clay made by companies like Crayola®, Amaco®, and others. This type of clay does not require baking and dries hard, making it appropriate to use as a fix on an existing piece. Another relatively new product that can also be used is called Model Magic® by Crayola, which is a very soft, easy to shape material that eventually dries hard. Photo 4 shows both the air-dry clay and the Model Magic products by Crayola. 

The process is rather simple: first I spread a small amount of white craft glue on the exposed broken areas of the base, to create a bond between the base and the clay. Secondly, I take a small amount of either product, and manually shape it to fill the gap on the base. Rather than filling only the missing area, I typically overlap the clay very thinly on the surrounding base (photo 5). Using a fine point object, I reproduce any patterns, like sidewalk grooves, into the clay. Finally, after letting it dry overnight, I paint it as explained in the Minor Chips section above. Photo 6 shows the final result of the repair.

Note: that plaster may also be used for repairs, but I find it to be a more difficult and messier process, for similar results.

“Clean” Breaks

Of all my buildings, I broke one of the most visible buildings in my display; the Flatiron Building (Photo 7). Since the sidewalk break was fairly “clean,” I can reattach it using glue. I find that Woodland Scenic’s® Scenic Glue works well, but I suspect many other brands with similar strong bonding type of glue would work as well.

If there are still some imperfections in the broken area, I will use very small amounts of glue and the clay products to fill and smooth the area. The same painting process as explained before is next, and the building is now much more pleasant to look at again (photo 8).

Now, I will focus on trying to avoid doing the damage in the first place!

If you have any comment or questions regarding this topic, please don’t hesitate to contact me at If you are in the Phoenix area, please visit Millie’s Hallmark to view some of my display creations, in addition to a great selection of Department 56 products! 



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