Articles - Trees (method 1: basic)
11/15/2011
I admire those who can build trees that match prototype ones, but I am not there yet. This article describes how I build generic, larger foreground trees for my layout. Again, because I model in S-scale, my trees will need to be quite large to convey that trees do tower over houses, engines, telephone poles, etc. On this page I show how I made some 9 to 12 inch trees. Again, note that these are just another set in my evolution of learning how to make realistic-looking scaled trees; it will probably take me years of practice to become better at this. Here's the materials list (excludes tools):
Because these are large, more in-your-face kind of trees, the main trunk of the tree needs to be quite large. I used 3/16" (scale 1 feet), 3/8" (scale 2 feet), and 1/2 (scale 2-1/2 feet) diameter dowels for the main trunk. Some trees have twisted trunks, but those could only be formed out of sculpted clay or a large bundle of wires, which would be very time-consuming to make. The use of dowels represents a majority of typical trees and is a lot faster to get a large quantity of trees up relatively quickly. I shape the trunks by using a knife to remove the material near the top of the trunks, to get them to look more like pointed spears. I then used alcohol-and-india-ink, wood stains, and/or watered-down acrylic paints to stain the dowels. All three were used to make the trunks shown in this first photo.
Trees (method 1: basic)
I use a very rough rasp/file to scrape the dowel. You can do this straight up-and-down the dowel, or you can rotate it a bit as the file moves across the surface. After staining, and then after dry-brushing the trunks with white acrylic paint, the close-up result can be quite convincing.
Trees (method 1: basic)
I bought a bundle of branches of "Sweet Huck" at my local Hobby Lobby store (in their dried flowers section). You could also gather these from your backyard, but this saved me a lot of time, and they are all about the same size.
Trees (method 1: basic)
It is then just a matter of finding the correct drill bit for a particular diameter of branch, and drilling a hole in the appropriate location of the main tree trunk into which to insert the branch. I used thicker branches near the bottom of the tree and thinner ones near the top. I use a drill bit vise for the smaller diameter bits and an electric drill for the larger diameter bits. To drill the hole, I start the drill bit perpendicular to the trunk, otherwise the drill bit will slip and go into your fingers instead! Once the drill bit has a bit of a hold, I angle it up at the desired angle for the branch. The hole only needs to be deep enough to hold the branch. Next, I cover the end of the branch with some white glue and insert the branch in the hole. I use a piece of paper towel to remove some of the excess glue, but not too much. The glue will dry somewhat clear and it will look like a knot at the point where the branch meets the trunk, which is very realistic.
Trees (method 1: basic)
It is then just a matter of finding the correct drill bit for a particular diameter of branch, and drilling a hole in the appropriate location of the main tree trunk into which to insert the branch. I used thicker branches near the bottom of the tree and thinner ones near the top. I use a drill bit vise for the smaller diameter bits and an electric drill for the larger diameter bits. To drill the hole, I start the drill bit perpendicular to the trunk, otherwise the drill bit will slip and go into your fingers instead! Once the drill bit has a bit of a hold, I angle it up at the desired angle for the branch. The hole only needs to be deep enough to hold the branch. Next, I cover the end of the branch with some white glue and insert the branch in the hole. I use a piece of paper towel to remove some of the excess glue, but not too much. The glue will dry somewhat clear and it will look like a knot at the point where the branch meets the trunk, which is very realistic.
Trees (method 1: basic)
I drilled a hole in the bottom of the larger trunks and installed a metal wire. I applied a drop of superglue to the joint. For the larger trunks I prefer to use a wire mounting pin, and for the smaller trunks I prefer to just drill a hole in the scenery matching the trunk's diameter. By the way, I do most of my work on a tree with the trunk mounted in a bench vise. This one has a swiveling head, so it makes it easy to position the tree exactly the way I want it to.
Trees (method 1: basic)
Here are those dowels shown above transformed into tree armatures.
Trees (method 1: basic)
I wanted to try my hand at modeling the trees' roots, the top of which are typically visible at the trunk's base. To do this, I started with a sheet of insulation foam board. I covered most of it with wax paper. After inserting the trees, I used Sculptamold to form and shape the root base.
Trees (method 1: basic)
After I let the Sculptamold dry overnight, I painted it with watered-down acrylic paint. When the paint was dry, I applied the alcohol-and-india-ink solution, followed by dry-brushing with white paint. This photo is a close-up of one of the larger tree's roots. The purpose of the wax paper is to make it easier to remove the tree from the base.
Trees (method 1: basic)
Next, we move on to the foliage of the trees. This photo shows Woodland Scenics' polyfiber on the branches. I had previously used polyfiber as the main "foliage" of the tree and it doesn't really come out well. I then bought and tried the Woodland Scenics' "Foliage" polyfiber-with-foam, but that also didn't yield the results I wanted. The "Foliage" material is actually great for modeling patches of green weeds on the ground, but I don't find it useful for trees. What I realized is that the plain polyfiber needs to be viewed as the base for the ground foam to be applied to the tree. The ground foam will represent clumps of leaves. The polyfiber needs to represent the very fine branches that yield the leaves. So, the idea is to really try to stretch out the polyfiber as much as it will let you, and then drape it, or weave it in and around the individual branches of the tree. This, too, is a technique to master, and I am not there yet.
Trees (method 1: basic)
A handful of these kinds of trees have been planted in the foreground (in front of the telephone/telegraph poles and lines). I sprinkled all sorts of ground foam on the polyfiber trees using 3M's spray glue. It worked, but a couple of the trees just didn't look right. Some of the branches were broken off and used as smaller trees and the rest of the donor tree was thrown away. Don't be afraid to do that. As you can see I probably need another 10 to 20 trees to populate this area.
Trees (method 1: basic)