This article shows how I make some generic background trees (filler trees, really). Materials needed include:
- floral wire (Hobby Lobby)
- wooden dowel rod (3/16", but depends on scale/desired size; Hobby Lobby, Lowe's, hardware store)
- sisal rope (Lowe's, hardware store)
- spray glue (Lowe's, hardware store)
- spray paint (for bark/branch color; Lowe's, hardware store)
- fine ground foam (Hobby Lobby, hobby shops)
The purpose of the floral wire is to build the heavier branches coming directly off of the main trunk of the tree. Late Fall, or Winter, is a great time to study the formation of branches on various trees. I cut the floral wire to pieces of approximately 3 inches long.
I grab a handful of these pieces of floral wire (3 to 6) and twist the end of them by hand or with a pair of pliers. As shown here, leave one strand sticking out of the bunch.
I then form the strands into various branch formations coming off of the twisted base. Some can be twisted to make other, less-heavy branches, and some can just be sticking out by themselves to simulate skinnier branches. I don't do any trimming at this stage. I build a number of these wire armatures, usually about three per tree. The more you put on a tree, the more dense the tree will become.
The main tree trunk is next. I make these out of 3/16" wooden dowels. I bought a package of 12-inch dowels at Hobby Lobby, but any dowels available at any crafts store or hardware store can be used. The diameter of the dowel determines the diameter of the scale tree, so you can use whatever size is right for your scale. A 3/16" dowel makes a 1-foot diameter scale tree trunk in S-scale. This is probably just a basic small/young tree. I cut the dowel to about 6 inches long. Next, I use a very rough rasp file to add some bark texture to the trunk. I do a light treatment on the bottom half of the dowel, and a more heavier one on the top half of the dowel. The heavier treatment on the top half also shapes the trunk a bit, i.e. make it skinnier near the top. In the photo, on the left is an untreated dowel and on the right is a roughly shaped tree trunk.
Within the top 3 or so inches of the dowel, I drill holes for the three wire armatures I have made. The diameter of the drill bit is the same size as the single strand of wire sticking out of the bunch. The tighter the fit, the better. A loose fit will not allow you to keep the armature in the desired position while the glue sets. I space the armatures around the tree about 1/3 around the diameter and at different vertical positions. I also aim the armatures up. I drill the hole at a downward angle (aiming toward the center of the trunk). Once I am happy with the armature's position, I put a good-size drop of superglue at the joint. After the glue cures, I apply another drop. The bare wood of the dowel soaks up a lot of the first drop of glue. Next, I shape and trim the armature branches to give the tree its overall shape. Once the glue is dry, you can carefully bend the armatures to shape them. I trim some of the branches down to give the tree its overall fullness. The trimmed off pieces of floral wire are then glued back into the main trunk to give the tree some additional, smaller branches. I may even take three of them and form another small armature, just to give the tree more "body".
If you look at a tree when it has no leaves, you will notice that the heavier branches branch off to skinnier ones. Those skinnier ones to even more skinny ones, etc. In N-scale these are simulated by using polyfiber covered with fine ground foam. However, for the larger scales we can actually simulate those branches. This is a technique I learned from a method for building conifer trees. It is always good to experiment and to possibly even mix different methods together to create a unique tree shape. To simulate these skinnier branches I use short pieces of sisal rope. I got this 3/8 diameter rope at Lowe's. You really don't need to get anything thicker than that, because otherwise it becomes hard to cut. I use a pair of scissors to trim short sections of the rope off, which I capture in some container. Some of the sisal will cling together, so you may need to loosen them up a bit. Cut more than you need for the next batch of trees you are going to cover.
I then take the trees (wire armatures attached to the dowel trunk) outside and spray glue over the armatures. I use 3M Super 77 spray glue. It costs $11 here in Houston, Texas and it is the most expensive part of the project. However, I have bought the cheaper Duro spray glue, but it just doesn't hold things (I love Duro's superglue, though); after a few days the material starts falling off. 3M's glue is much better and worth the extra cost. I spray the armature and then I lightly sprinkle the sisal rope pieces over the armature, rotating the tree in my other hand. By the way, use a glove on the hand that holds the tree, because this gets messy and sticky. You will notice that a large number of the sisal rope pieces stick out of the branches that they cling to. This gives the illusion of skinnier branches. I then spray the tree with the glue again and apply a second coating of the rope pieces. This gives the tree even more body and some of the second set of pieces will come off of the first group of rope pieces, for an even more realistic branch formation. I then spray the tree with glue one more time to make sure the second set of pieces are secure. The glue leaves a white residue, which is why the tree appears snow-covered now (this may be great for those modeling a winter scene). Note how some of the rope pieces will stick to the main tree trunk also. Again, this adds to the effect by simulating new-growth branches. If they come too far down the main trunk, you can remove them or flatten them against the trunk.
Next comes the base bark color that I spray painted. I bought gray, but it turned out darker than the cap on the can. Oh well.
I made a base out of some left-over wood into which I drilled some holes for the size dowel I'm using for the trees. This makes it easier to work with them from now on. I used some white paint and used the dry-brush technique to age the lower, exposed part of the main trunk.
I then use various types of ground foam (and also various colors) that are glued to the armature using the same 3M Super 77 glue. It is a good idea to use different sizes of ground-up foam, and different colors to achieve a slightly different look between groups of trees. I am still experimenting. The idea is that my less-than stellar trees are squeezed into the background of the layout. When I am happy with the overall look of the tree, I drill a hole into its base and superglue a piece of metal wire to act as the anchor. In this photo I haven't straightened out the wire yet.
After I have determined where on the layout the tree will be planted, I drill a matching hole in my scenery base, dip the trunk wire in some white glue, and plant the tree. When the glue dries, the tree is in the base good enough to stay. However, should the need arise, I can easily pull it out. The arrows point to the three trees that you saw above in the wood base.