Full Version: Uh...Noobie with a Tree Tutorial?
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Well, here goes a rank beginner and his method of making trees:

1. Go out and cut some limbs. I get mine from my yard and from work. I try to be particular, look for small limbs that have a forking structure that resembles a full size tree. If you can't find limbs that have a nice three dimensional forking structure, that is okay. We can add some other smaller limbs to the "tree" to fill it out... so you will also need some extra limbs for this. Certain species lend themselves well, others don't. Scout around your area to discover what works and what doesn't. Also, some of the species are more fragile than others. You'll figure it out. Trial and error.

2. Here are the basic tools you'll need for making the trunks:

diagonal cutters or wire cutters
pin vise and bits
X-acto knife
paint brush
board with holes drilled to hold trees
white glue
paint brush
paint (I use railroad tie brown

3. Trim the limbs into miniature size trees appropriate to your scale. This will be done by "feel". Do whatever seems right. After you do a few, you'll get the hang of it and you'll figure out what looks right. I think there is a tendency to make the trees smaller than they could be. Of course, we need to have trees of all different sizes. My tallest trees are probably around 50 scale feet tall.

At this point, preservation is a question. The trunks could be sprayed with a matte finish or Dullcote or some other stuff that might preserve them. So far, I am just hoping the hair spray we will use as glue later on will act as a varnish to preserve the twigs. I'm open to suggestion on this one.

Here is a pic of a bunch of "tree trunks" ready for processing.

4. Have an assortment of small twigs handy too. These will be used to fill out the tree trunks to make them more like real trees. You will need some straight ones, but little tiny forked twigs are good too.

Around here, we don't have too many species that have a nice three dimensional forking structure on the small branches. I hear that sagebrush is really good, but we have none around here.

Most of our species fork in only two dimensions. We'll just have to do a little more work then.

5. Here is a typical tree trunk with only four limbs forking in only two dimensions. We trimmed it to a pleasing overall size. This is the one we will use in the tutorial.

6. Next we will use the pin vise to drill a hole in the trunk so we can add another limb. Use a drill bit that is quite a bit smaller than the trunk itself so not to compromise it too much. Wiggle the bit around a bit to create a tapered hole, but be careful not to break the teeny tiny bit (oops). Drill the hole all the way through the trunk.

7. Pick out a small twig and trim the end so it will fit in the hole. Sometimes use straight limbs, sometimes use limbs with forks. I tend to use forked twigs for the most part, just to provide more limb structure with the least amount of drilled holes.

8. Add some white glue to the hole.

9. Put the limb in the hole.

10. Drill more holes to add more limbs to fill the tree out. Work your way from the bottom up to the top, adding more limbs. If you are lucky and have species with good forking characteristics, you may not have to add any limbs at all, sometimes maybe only one or two. In this case, we will add 5 extra limbs to get a good three dimensional structure.

11. Trim the limbs to the desired length, whatever feels right, whatever gives the shape you are looking for. You can actually cut the limbs a tad shorter than you would think, because later we will add poly-fiber to each limb and this will make them seem longer.

12. Here is the tree trunk with five extra limbs added. The flash on this camera might make these pictures seem a little bright, or there may be some reflections.

Anyway, this is looking pretty respectable. Again, we may consider spraying the whole thing down with some kind of preservative.

13. The ends of the limbs where we cut them off will be very noticeable. Paint them with some brown paint, also paint around the holes we drilled, cover up any light spots that will stand out like sore thumbs.

14. Before we add the poly-fiber, there are a couple of other limb techniques we can use, primarily for tree trunks that have limbs that are a tad too big.

One thing we can do is cut it off fairly short, then drill a hole in the center and add a smaller forked twig to it. Then the larger part of the branch can be tapered down, or it can be filled with putty or JB Weld or something for a smoother taper.

This technique works well for tree tops like in the photo... still needs some carving or some putty.

15. Another limb technique for the ones that are just too fat is to split them, then bend them into two limbs. I have been using the diagonal cutters to split them, alternatively you could use a knife, but be careful. After the limb is split in two, carve the profiles of the two new limbs into round shapes. I put a little white glue in the newly created fork to help hold the limbs in place. Some epoxy would work well too.

16. One more way to deal with those husky limbs is to just shave the diameter down to something smaller.

Of course, with each of these techniques, we need to paint the exposed inner part of the wood.

17. Time to get back to that tree we were working on. Next part of the process is to add poly-fiber. You should be able to find this at the LHS, or on-line. Now, in my opinion, it is critical that you get the black poly-fiber, not the green stuff. The black poly-fiber looks tremendously better than the green, it provides way more depth to the tree and is much more realistic. My first three or four trees were done with green... after that, I strictly use black, and would not even consider using green for trees.

Starting at the bottom, we will add poly-fiber one limb at a time. Yes, it is time consuming to do it a limb at a time, but it will give a much better looking tree than if you just gob it on.

18. Put some glue on one of the lower limbs.

19. Tear off a small piece of poly-fiber...

20. Place the poly-fiber on the limb by kind of stabbing the limb through it. Make sure it gets into the glue, maybe even twirl the fiber a bit. You want it to be glued to the limb so it won't fall off when we start adding leaves. Spread the poly-fiber out, all nice and fluffy, make it thin so the tree has a nice transparent look to it.

For longer limbs, it is better to use two separate pieces of fiber on the limb. Make a small ball, stab it onto the limb and push it close to the trunk. Then spread it out into a fluffy ball. Then take another piece of fiber and stab it onto the end of the branch. Spread this one out too.

It is tempting to make the poly-fiber too thick at this point. But adding the leaves is what is going to add the thickness... we still want to be able to see through the tree to a certain extent though. So don't make the fiber too thick!

21. Continue adding poly-fiber to each individual limb, working your way up the tree. Let the poly-fiber extend out past each limb a ways. The poly-fiber is used to represent the little bitty sticks and twigs and branches that support the leaves of a real tree. Make sure the poly-fiber is glued to each limb so it doesn't fall off when it gets weighted down with hair spray and leaves later.

Again, these pics may have an odd color or show some reflection off the poly-fiber making it look odd.

22. Here is a tree trunk with the completed poly-fiber. It really isn't this shiny, the flash did that.

23. If you want a lot of trees, it is best to mass produce them instead of one at a time. Do a bunch of trunks first, then poly-fiber all of them, then add the leaves. I took some 1x4s and drilled holes in them to hold all the trees while I am working on them.

It also helps to enlist some help. Fortunately my wife has been giving me a hand with these things, allowing me to produce twice as many in a given time (woohoo!)

24. Here are some of the products for adding leaves.

First, cheap hairspray to be used as spray-on glue, this is the extra-hold variety. Buy several cans if you are making a lot of trees.

For leaves, we use a variety of colors and textures of ground foam and flock. We use coarse ground foam, medium ground foam, fine ground foam, and the really fine grass stuff. Each texture will give a different effect on your trees, which is good for variety. You can even mix the textures, and definitely mix the colors.

This stuff is made by Woodland Scenics and Scenic Express to name a couple.

25. Spray a heavy coat of hair spray on the poly-fiber. You will actually see it beading up... but don't drown it.

Experiment and you will figure out how much to use. Still, it isn't all that critical. Attached

26. Sprinkle the ground foam onto the wet poly-fiber, trying to get coverage on all surfaces. Use a container to catch whatever falls off so you can re-use it.

27. Tap on the tree trunk to knock off any excess foam. At this point, if the tree looks too thick, keep tapping, not a lot you can do about that, but it really hasn't been a problem except with the fine powdery type grass stuff. If the tree looks too thin, just spray on some more hair spray and add more leaf material.

The coarse foam generally doesn't stick as well as the finer stuff. I often have to give it another shot of hair spray and more leaves, sometimes even two or three more applications. Also, if there is just a specific spot or two that look thin, just spray that spot and add leaves right there.

Use the tap technique to get the tree looking how you want it.

Now, be careful with the really fine leaf material, the stuff that is almost a powder. It sticks really well and can overwhelm the tree if you put too much.

As for colors, sometimes we pre-mix several colors and textures and then sprinkle it on. Other times, we do a solid color, let that set, then spray the bottom of the tree and add some darker color, let that set, then add something lighter at the top for some depth and a little highlighting.

The leaf material also comes in fall colors and you can throw a pinch in here and there for good measure. I am modeling late summer early fall, down here we have Chinese Tallow trees that start turning yellow and red pretty early.

28. When you are satisfied with the leaves, set it aside for 15 or 20 minutes to let the spray set up completely.

Now you can make some final adjustments of the poly-fiber, for instance, maybe it isn't covering the end of a chopped off limb and it looks odd.... just pull the poly-fiber around until it covers up the end of the limb.

Then give the whole tree a good overspray of hairspray just to seal everything together.

29. Let it dry and you're done. Here is a shot of the tree with flash, and one without.


Since my layout is going to be of the around the room shelf type, I am making quite a few trees that don't have limbs on the back. This way, I can plant them right up against the backdrop.
Here are a couple more trees we did that turned out okay.

And thanks for letting me do this, it was fun showing off my stuff.

Thanks to Gary S for authoring this informative and well illustrated tutorial Thumbsup, and thanks to doctorwayne for recreating it here.

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