Design and Manufacture of Fine Scale Models by John Hunter and Laurie Green


by Laurie Green MMR


Every layout needs hundreds, if not thousands of trees. This is especially true if you are modelling mountain railroads, where pine trees and spruces dominate. And if we need thousands of these trees, we need a very cheap, fast and easy method of making them. Below is a method of making these trees that meet the above criteria.

You will need the following materials:

  • Lengths of soft wire (used for flower arrangements) obtained from florists or craft shops.

  • Bailing twine or course fibrous rope (available from hardware shops)

  • Pine Green crumbed foam (available from hobby shops)

  • Cans of cheap brown spray paint

  • Hand drill or cordless drill

  • Wire cutters

  • Pair of scissors

To build one of these pine trees, cut the twine into approximately 2” lengths (for Ho scale) and store in a container. Then take two or three pieces of this twine and untwist each piece and lay on the bench. If you are building larger trees, say in 1/4" scale, Run a bead of hot glue down the wire to hold the twine in place. You can then trim the twine to the triangular tree shape before twisting into a tree armature.

Tip: To take out the curved shape of the twine caused by it being stored in a coil, uncoil it and boil in water for an hour and then hang out to dry in a straight length.

Spread out the strands with them slightly thicker at one end (this will be the bottom of the tree). Take one of the lengths of wire and bend in the middle to form a ‘V’. Slide one side of the ‘V’ under the rope strands as can be seen in the diagram. Press the other piece of the wire firmly down onto the strands leaving a loop at the bend in the wire. Keeping all this flat so it doesn’t fall apart, insert the two ends of the wire into the chuck of the drill and tighten. Carefully lift the drill and tree armature and place the loop over a secure fixing point, such as an upside down nail.

Tip: You can glue the wire to the strands using a ‘hot glue gun’ or other tacky type glue. This is recommended when building larger trees.

With a quick starting motion, start to tighten the wire to form a bottle brush effect. Continue to tighten until a nice even cylindrical shape appears. Do not over tighten, as this will distort the tree trunk. When this is done, cut the wire off at the very top point of the tree. Leave the wire on the bottom to use to plant the tree in your scenery.

Tip: It’s best to do the next stage outside or in a well-ventilated area, unless you like the smell of paint fumes, and wear disposable gloves so you don’t get paint on your hands.

Spread the green foam out on a tray. You can mix several shades of the green foam together which will give you a light and shade effect.

Holding the tree by the bottom of the trunk, give it a heavy spray of the brown paint. While it is still wet, roll it in the green foam to get an even coating. Stick the trunk into a block of foam and set aside to dry.

Tip: If you find the cover of foam is lacking in an area on the tree, give that area a spray of matt clear lacquer, and roll that area in the green foam again.

If you want to make a Blue Spruce’ tree, which are found in high mountain areas, make the tree exactly as described. When dry, give the whole tree a spray of the matt clear lacquer, and using a kitchen sieve, sieve a fine dusting of ‘blue spruce’ coloured fine foam over the entire tree. This will simulate the new growth on the trees. The old growth turns to the normal dark green.

Remember, with all these trees, it will take a few to get the method right and make a good looking tree. The really bad ones don’t have to be thrown away, but can be used a part of a forest. Plus, there are some really ugly looking trees that nature throws up.