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Making Realistic Trees Print E-mail
Written by Craig Linn   
Thursday, 11 August 2011 15:35

Realistic Trees

by Craig Linn


I've constantly been looking for a way to make realistic trees. Not until I saw Dave Stewarts "Appalachian and Ohio" did I really understand what it would take to make a tree. But it got me thinking, why can't you make a tree like it really is, with trunks that are shaped different, with various branches, and various colors. So I started to invest a little time and this is what I came up with. My philosophy is "Trees are models also." However, like most models, they take time. These trees are not intended to be trees for a huge forest, but moreover, just trees in the foreground of your layout.

Bill of Materials
*Square Balsa or Basswood (size will be dependant on the scale your doing)
*Candy Tuft (Found at Michaels or Hobby Lobby in the dried flower section)
*Scissors and/or hand cutters
*Rail Cutter
*Hobby Knife
*Thick CA glue (thin will work, but will make your life a nightmare)
*CA Accelerator
*Small diameter brass rods
*Spray Paint (will be used for the color of your leaves, as candy tuft only comes in harvest gold colors)
*Bottle Paint (This will be your paint for your trunks, so colors may vary. For this seminar I'll be using Light Grey, Sand, and Roof Brown)
*Paint Brush
*Pin Vise and Bits
*Dremel and Sanding Drum. (Sanding stick will work, will just take a LONG time)

In the Beginning……
The first step to making our trees if figuring out what period of the year you are modeling. Remember, Candy Tuft only comes in a harvest gold color, so unless your doing late fall for your trees, you will need to get some spray paint to repaint the leaves. I am modeling mid-late summer on my layout, so this will mean I will need to use a Medium Green color with variations in green tones. My choices for paints were Olive Drab and Medium Green (testers Model Master spray paints). Once I had my color figured out, I did an overall paint of my Candy Tuft, while it was still mostly in the bag. By only cutting one side of the bag open to paint, I was able to keep my hand protected against any over spray, as well as get a 'non uniform' effect on the leaves. (In Mid to Late Summer in the Nebraska Panhandle, leaves tend to burn in the sunlight, leaving different colors on the tree). Once the leaves have been painted, do a quick once over to make sure you got the coverage you are looking for.

Just like Johnny Appleseed!!
Now that you have the branches/leaves painted, we need to start our base or trunks. Depending on the type of tree you are making, sizes will vary. For the layout I'm doing, trees range from Cottonwoods to Ash, so trunk sizes will remain the same for the most part.

Take a look at the two diagrams below. These pictures shows how I usually start off with my trunks, with the image on the left showing the major pieces and the image on the right showing how they are pieced together. Lets focus on the right image. The red piece of balsa is, you guessed it, the trunk. This piece needs to be your largest piece of balsa you will need. Depending on your scale and the size of the tree you want to make, sizes will vary. I made mine about 4 to 5 inches tall. The green, blue, and gold pieces are the branches. Sizes will once again vary, however, you will want to make them smaller then your trunk. Sizes on mine were around 3 to 4 inches long, but I also used a smaller balsa stock. You can use the same stock for the branches as you did for the trunk, but just remember to sand them down smaller at the shaping stage.

Click for larger image.


Lets start notching out the trunk for our branches. You may ask "Why notch out the trunk?" This serves two purposes: 1) Gives the branch a much more secure base to attach to. 2) Gives a good joint for the sanding phase. By notching out the trunk, it also gives us the ability to go a different angles for our branches, because, lets face it, branches are NOT straight.

You will notice in the diagram that I use three sides of the trunk. If you want to use all four, go ahead and do it. The sky is the limit with these trees.

After you have notched out the areas for the branches, get your branches. At the butt end (end that will mate with the trunk) cut the angle you want your branches to grow out on. I generally go between 35 to 55 degrees on mine, but as before, it is all in preference. Once you have the branches cut, put a generous spot of thick CA glue on the butt end, and put it into one of the notches. Now, put on a small amount of accelerator to speed up the hardening process.

Once you get done with adding all of your branches, you should get something similar to the diagram in this section.


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