Tree Making - Trunks

Tree Trunks

Mangled trees that I found down behind my work table when I moved it.Forests - Recreating The Woods

You will be happy with the way these come out. I have never seen a better looking miniature tree, that anyone can make, than these ones. Well, not the ones in this picture but made the same way.

I put this pic here to illustrate - perfection is relative. Nature is somewhat misshaped.

If you are making your tree trunks. Try not to make them all the same. Identical twins are very rare and clones are just down right creepy. Nature has all shapes and sizes.

Materials and Tools (Tree Making)

TOOLS and supplies (C) means conifer trees (D) means wire twist coniferous type.

(C) - A cheap wood rasp or file (If you don't have the belt sander) (I use a small 7 inch rasp; curved on one side flat on the other, it has both fine and coarse teeth and was about $10) It is also excellent for terrain foam carving work.

(C) - Sandpaper (med and coarse grit if you don't have access to a belt sander. You may want a piece anyway, handy stuff.)

(C) - Electric drill (or rechargeable) (optional too but helps out even more than the belt sander)

(C) - Wire Brush attachment for the drill (A good steel one, short bristle, small diameter, not the brass or light wire mini Dremel type. Dowels are generally made from a hardwood.)

(D-C) - Sharp whittling or hobby knife (extra blades)

(D-C) - A good “Cut Anything” type pair of scissors

(D-C) - Small pair of hobby type scissors

(D-C) - Paint brushes, cheap hobby type.

(D-C) - A good quality Spray Adhesive This is one of the more important ingredients as you want good bonding strength but flexibility.

(D-C) - Spray Paint - Three (or more) needed - Primer (I like ruddy brown or red oxide colour), Flat Matte Black, and a Clear coat like Matte Lacquer. Any nice flat or matte browns you can find; avoid gloss and satin paints, as they are just too shiny.

(C) - Sisal - Sold everywhere as garden twine and as rope. Note, do not confuse it with jute. There are many thicknesses to choose from. Pick a size compatible with the tool you are using to cut it with. I have found that so far alternating between a pair of Stanley snips and some old tin snips as my hand gives out works the best for me.

(C) "Washable, cut to size, Permanent furnace filter material" -This stuff makes the best conifers. It is sold at hardware stores like Canadian Tire and places like Walmart. Most often it is a blue colour but I have seen it in brown.

(C) Some “fine” fiber filter material or a worn out pot scourer pad.

(C) - Wooden Doweling - I use 1/8”,1/4” and 3/8” the most. As much as I hate to say it next to the dollar stores, Walmart was the cheapest for these, they were also the longest pieces. Michael's was the most expensive and the shortest length, shop around. Save your old round paint brush handles.

(C) - Round tooth picks - Used for the 1” - 2” conifers. They come already pointed and there is really no need to do any extra work to them.

(D-C) - And of course flocking; coloured leaf material. I use Woodland Scenics stuff quite a bit. It is readily available at most hobby stores. I use the fine turf and the foliage types. I have tried the clumping material with a fair amount of success too. There are some other materials out there but I have yet to see them at a store anywhere near me, usually you find them in small ads in some model railroad magazine. I’ve had good success using stale spices and herbs ground to the right size. I have not been able to figure out how to grind up foam rubber small enough yet or how to colour it. Fine sawdust also works and it you can dye.

Making Tree Trunks

This section concerns straight trunked trees like the pines, spruce, fir, cedars, etc.

SAFETY - Practice it

The first step in making any of the trees is the manufacturing of the trunk itself. Almost all of my trees are made in one of two ways, either wires covered in a flexible coating or I use wooden dowels. I’ll cover the dowels in this section and the deciduous types later on.

The first step is to cut your wooden dowels to the correct length. cut_treeFor war gaming, four to six inches lengths is approximately the same as twenty to thirty foot trees. For doweling, I use 1/8”, 1/4”, and plain round toothpicks the most.

This is where the electric drill comes in extremely handy. If you don’t have one start with the fine wood rasp and holding the dowel flat on a work surface taper the end to a long point. You can use coarse sandpaper to do this too.

You need to taper the dowel.drill_tree



The idea here is to take the piece of doweling and to shape it like a tree.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, just pointy!

Using a drill with a belt sander like shown in the picture to the right will speed up the tree tapering by many, many minutes. If you don’t have a belt sander, the drill and using the sandpaper in hand or stapled to a work surface will work too, just not quite as fast.
Or as mentioned, use your wood rasp to rough it out and then hand sand to finish.

Make it pointy on both ends so you can mount them in your terrain easier. I use a pencil sharpener later on if I forgot to point the base with the sander.

Detailing the Bark

A drill also works wonders for detailing the trunks after. Run a wire wheel up and down the dowel lengthwise.

wire wheel

If you want to speed things up... Kind of dangerous though as you loose finger skin every now and then. Lock your drill in a vice with one of these wire wheels on. Power it up and run the dowel on it length wise. This gives a very realistic effect. But as mentioned... it hurts when you make a mistake.





If you are making a rather large tree. You can use a small piece of real bark here and there, glued in to place.


Tree making

Furnace Filter Conifer Trees

You will want to make up several of the trunks prior to starting the branch stage.

I save all of my "dead" paint brushes, most of them are already a tree trunk shape.

So grab all of your potential tree trunks even the broken ones.


Branches - Conifer Type A

Tree making

Pull apart the layers of the coarse filter to separate small thin layers of branches. Again, make up a bunch so you don’t have a lag in your production run. You want fairly small and sparse branches.

Remember that they don’t have to be perfect as you will be trimming them later. Plus if you trim them after the flocking is on, you will have some great looking dead fall for around the base of the tree when you mount them. It is also good for doing repairs as the colours in the flocking will match.

You will only need a very small amount of the fine filter material for each tree; approx. the size of a dime.

Tree making

Starting with the small piece of the fine material, pierce each piece of the filter material onto the trunk.Tree makingBuild up the tree using small pieces into the basic tree shape. Putting larger branches on the bottom and the smaller ones near the top. trees1


Tree making

Working in nice fairly close layers will produce a spruce tree. Alternating a larger piece then a small piece with a fair amount of white space will give you nice pines. Experiment a bit before the glue stage. You can also stop part way up and finish the top half using the sisal method in the next chapter.


Tree making

The branches will be quite loose at this point, so once you have them all where you want them, holding the can pretty close, spray some glue onto the trunk and give the tree a slight spin rolling the trunk between your fingers. This will ensure the branches are glued to the trunk. Let them all dry overnight.

Although they are all very fragile at the starting stage, they will be much stronger after the paint and subsequent coatings of glue, flocking and lacquer are applied.


tree MakingNow that the Glue has dried, you are ready for paint. Prior to this stage I do only minor trimming of the branches, they are much more useful to you for dead fall, ground cover, small bushes, etcetera, if you trim them later on. Sometimes you need to spot glue another branch in place, but then again irregularity in your forest will make it look much more realistic. Let any touch-ups dry before you paint.

Tree makingHaving always been somewhat backwards in life, I start with the flat black spray paint first and coat the whole tree black. I let that dry, then I use my brown primer over top. Sometimes I go thin to show more of the dark under coating, and sometimes (depending on the actual colour of the primer) I spray it thicker. At this stage the trees look almost exactly like a pine bark beetle infestation has gone through your forest.

I now use what ever detailing colours I have to finish it off. Sometimes one is lucky to find a suitable spray paint, sometimes you have to use a paintbrush and your acrylics over top for more detail or for doing touch-ups.

A tip though; when all is finished, looking up from the bottom of the tree, the branches need to look bare and brown. The flocking stage will cover the top part of the branch. Just like real trees you want your needles to be where the sun shines and the underside bare. So make sure you cover the underside of everything with paint.trees

If you read this all through before you started you’ll notice a fair amount of glue on the newspaper left over from spraying the branches.

Read the next section and have your toothpicks and some sisal ready.

Then have two separate pieces of newspapers spread out; one for spraying glue over and one for flocking.

That way you can use your cut sisal and do some salvaging of the glue.



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