This is a tutorial on how to build (HO scale) pine trees. The method used in this presentation can be applied to any scale as long as you remember to adjust the height and circumference of your tree trunks to accommodate the scale your working with. For HO scale trees, I found that ½ inch square balsa wood works best. If you are modeling N scale, that would be about half that size or ¼ inch. For O gauge, use twice that size or about 1-inch trunks.
Building realistic pine trees can be a real challenge. As a result, many model railroaders would rather buy than build. If you are one of these folks who is frighten by the thought of building your trees from scratch, why not come along with me and see how I go about it. Hopefully, this clinic will help clear any uncertainties you may have.
Photo #1 shows the materials used for this presentation. For branches, I like using Caspia fern. If I’m modeling needle pines, then Asparagus fern is the material of choice. Caspia fern can be purchased at most crafts stores, such as Michael’s. Also shown, is a small wire brush and utility knife. These tools will be used to provide the trunk taper and bark effect. To insert the individual branches, I like using a sharp scribe to add holes where needed.
#2. Using a sharp blade cut the balsa sticks to their appropriate heights. For full-grown (HO scale) pine trees, cut your trunks 8-10 inches tall. Once cut to size, take your knife and slowly start tapering the balsa trunk as shown to form an even taper.
#3. Form the top of your tree trunk as shown. Extra care is needed at this point, as the tips can be easily broken.
#4. To add the “bark” effect to my tree trunks, I use a wire brush. You’ll find that the softness of the balsa wood allows the bru***o cut into the wood easily. However, care must be taken to avoid warping. One way to minimize warping is to turn the trunk frequently as you add the bark texture.
#5. To remove some of those “fuzzy” members of wood left by the wire brush, I use #240 grit sandpaper. The trunk is now ready to be stained.
#6 Dunk or brush your textured trunk into a wash of alcohol and India ink. (Tip) Use 2 full teaspoons of ink to 1 pint of denatured alcohol. Set the stained trunk aside, and allow the to dry.
#7. Close up of the completed trunk.
#8. The next step is to add the branches. First, take a pair of nippers and snip off the ends of the fern as shown
#9. Sort out the branches by size, using the larger ones for the bottom half of your tree. Again, for HO-scale these branches should be about 1 ¼ to 2 inches long.
#10. Using a sharp scribe, “poke” holes into the trunk where each branch will go. (Tip) instead of poking all the holes at one time, I like to add holes as I go. This makes it easier for me to see where the holes are needed.
#11. Measure approximately 2 inches up from the bottom of your trunk and insert your lower branches first. Turning your trunk, insert these branches as shown.
#12. Shows the bottom 1/3 half of the tree completed.
#13. Reduce the lengths of the remaining 2/3’s of the branches to provide an even taper as shown. (Tip) as you reach the top of the trunk, insert the smaller branches on a slightly upward tilt. Also, leave a bit more space between branches. Real pine trees often have fewer branches toward the top.
#14. Shows the completed pine tree. At this point, examine your tree to see if anything seems out of place. Fill any bare areas that might need additional branches. Also, trim any branch that is out of proportion. However, don’t make your taper too perfect, or it will look “toy-like”.
#15. As a finishing touch, I like to add a few “dead” branches to the bottoms of my trees as shown. To add this detail, use the dried (no leaf) portions of your fern.
#16. Shows the completed pine tree installed on my layout. I think you’ll agree that these trees look great. Besides looking good, building trees from scratch can really stretch your layout budget. The total cost of materials used to make six trees was less than $6.00 dollars!
I hope you enjoyed my clinic, and will consider adding these pine trees to your layout.