Creating realistic scale trees

October 21, 2001

By Jim Rosado

There are two basic types of trees that exist, coniferous (or pine) trees, and deciduous (or broad leaf-shade) trees. Depending on the type of tree that you want to model, you will need different base materials.


The same tools will be used for each, though, so I will start with a list of the tools:

1.     A pin vise with various size drill bits.

2.     Elmer’s Wood Glue.

3.     (Lots of) Tooth picks.

4.     Small cups like the kind you get hot mustard in at a Chinese restaurant, or Dixie cups cut down about 1 ˝ “ high.

5.     An X-acto knife with a good blade.

6.     A couple “4 penny finish” nails (for the bottom of the tree).

7.     A good pair of scissors; I use Fiskars.

8.     A small aluminum foil pan, about 8“ by 10”.

9.     A sheet of Styrofoam, to temporarily plant your trees, about 8” by 8”.


That takes care of the tools. Now, I’m going to move onto tree construction. I will be dealing with deciduous trees this evening. They are the easiest and least time consuming to make.


For my trunks, I use REAL TREE ROOTS that I find from overturned trees wherever land is being cleared. Do Not use tree twigs or real branches. Why? Because the roots have a very fine, intricate structure and almost hair-like growths, which, in scale, look like small branches and twigs. They also have a gnarled appearance.


To make the foliage, you will need some additional materials:

1.     A bag of “Poly Fil.” –  (It looks like cotton batting and is available at linen stores or craft stores for stuffing pillows, etc.)

2.     Various dried, ground leafy herbs: parsley, basil, and oregano. Buy the largest container available if you plan to make several trees.

3.     Spray paint: I use Testors Olive Drab and Testors Dark Green. Stay in the Olive, brownish-green range for realism.

4.     Latex Gloves.


Step One: Start by cleaning the dirt off your root. (I always hate when I get dirt on my roots!) Spray it outside with a spray hose; you may need to bang it a couple of times to dislodge any dirt. Some times an old toothbrush helps.


Step Two: Take some Poly Fil, cut off apiece about 4” by 4” and begin pulling it apart while still leaving some body and density. Put a couple dabs of glue on the branches it will be sticking to. Gently wrap the Poly Fil around the branch structure. Because of the fibrous nature of it, it will grab the branches easily. You can pull and “tease” the fabric to get the desired effect or trim it as you see fit. Make sure you trim any renegade fibers pointing outward.


Step Three: Once it is fastened properly, you can spray paint it. Make sure, though, that you have your leaf mixture ready in the aluminum pan, about ˝ inch deep, well blended. Spray your tree (cotton only) until it is well saturated, but not dripping. You want to color the whole thing. Immediately dip your wet tree into the leaf mixture and twirl around. You may also sprinkle on where needed to fill in hollow areas, or you may “leave” some spots blank, as you will. Poke a hole into your Styrofoam base and insert the tree to dry.

Jim Rosado

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