Making Smoke Markers

I’ve had several inquiries as to how I made the smoke columns seen in the pictures from my games marking everything from burning tanks to exploding aircraft.  The last time I added to the collection I took a bunch of pictures, so the following is a photoessay of how I produced these game aids.  It is really pretty easy and quick to churn out a couple of dozen.


Grey Foam – I scavenged mine from computer component boxes.

Paints – Black, Grey, Red, Orange, Yellow.  Cheap craft paints are perfect.

Beer – optional but highly recommended.


Scissors, needle nose pliers, disposable cup, paint brush.

1. Open the beer, consume when required. Repeat as needed.

2. Cut the foam into rectangular columns about twice as wide as the desired finished width of the smoke columns

3. Cut the corners off the rectangles to make roughly octagonal columns

4. Use the needle nose pliers to grab a small bit of the foam. The exact size can (and should) vary and will depend on the size of your smoke columns.

5. Continue to pull out small bits of foam in a row, moving in a spiral around the foam column

6. Example of a row of removed foam in progress.

7. Continue spiraling the row of removed foam around the column from one end to the other

8. Rotate the column 90 degrees and start another row. Repeat the process to create another row of removed foam roughly parallel to the first.

9. Continue to rotate the column and start new rows. Eventually you will begin removing foam from between previous rows and the column will become rounded.

10. A rounded column at the end of the foam-plucking stage. As you complete the column, taper or round over one end while keeping the other more or less flat

11. Be prepared to generare a significant volume of waste foam. Having a trashcan nearby is handy.

12. Flip the column over to it's flat end.

13. Glue a washer to the bottom of the smoke column to provide some weight and allow it to sit upright.

14. Dilute some cheap black craft paint in water in a disposable cup. Once the glue is dry on the washer, dip the foam column in the dilute paint. Squeeze the foam to get the paint into the spaces.

15. Set the columns aside for the paint to dry. The dilute paint will run out, so be sure to place these on something dispoable or that you are willing to get black paint all over.

16. If you want some extra heft on the bottom, fill the space of the washer with lead shot, BBs, or some other suitable heavy objects,

17. Place a self-adhesive felt disc over the washer. This will allow you to set the smoke columns on your vehicles without screwing up the paint. It also serves to hold in whatever heavy stuff you added.

18. Paint the bottom of the smoke column with a little red, orange, and yellow to get a burning look. More subtle is better here as it will look like flames as seen through a pall of smoke.

19. Drybrush the rest of the smoke column with grey

Most of my smoke columns are 1/2″ to 1″ in diamter and 2″ to 3″ tall, but I think the technique would work equally well for larger smoke columns suitable for 28mm and if you were willing to use tweezers, probably even for making smaller microarmor size .



11 responses to “Making Smoke Markers”

  1. Eli says :

    It occurs to me that this would also work for making manicured decorative trees for ground terrain. Give them a coating of glue and a roll in some sponge flocking and you can line them up along walk ways and fence lines.

  2. Miles says :

    Excellent How-too

    It’s a lot better than the pulled apart cotton balls I use!

  3. Joe says :

    Awesome article …. thanks so much !

  4. Donogh says :

    Thanks for sharing – looks pretty easy, and durable too

  5. Brian says :

    They are pretty easy to make and definitely durable. Mine are transported simply by being shoved into a box. The only issue I’ve had is occasionally one of the washers pops off the bottom. I still haven’t found the perfect glue for sticking foam to a smooth washer.

  6. Rye says :

    My big question is, how or were did you make/get your flight stands? Top notch blog!


  7. Eneas says :

    To stick foam to a metal disc you could use hot glue.

    • Brian says :

      You could use Hot glue, but I’m just not a big fan of the stuff, especially when trying to stick something to a smooth surface like a washer or metal disk. The glue itself is not really very adhesive and tends to pop right off of smooth surfaces. I just used some good cyanoacrylate glue (Zap, Jet, etc) – which is my answer for 75% of my hobby adhesive needs.

  8. zonk says :

    Brian do you have a tutorial on how you made your flight stands?

    If not could you list the size of brass tube and wire you used?

    Perhaps a descripton of how you attached the tube/wire assembly to the flight base?

    Each incremental marking on the vertical is for 1 TAL? How long are your TALs (each increment)?

  9. mark says :

    at Brian seem a little late to post this but scratch the smoothed surface or roughen it up then the glue should stay in place, maybe not forever but definitely many, many times longer 🙂

  10. LS Sixfifty says :

    Wow – those look very good.

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