Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

How To Build Realistic HO-Scale Pine Trees (Photo Intensive)

24683 views
25 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    April, 2006
  • From: Fountain Valley, Ca.
  • 744 posts
How To Build Realistic HO-Scale Pine Trees (Photo Intensive)
Posted by Bob grech on Thursday, July 06, 2006 10:00 PM
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.
Have fun….
Bob.





Have Fun.... Bob.
  • Member since
    March, 2006
  • From: Holland MI
  • 624 posts
Posted by CSXFan on Thursday, July 06, 2006 10:23 PM
Wow! those close up photos look great! I'll have to try that. Thanks for posting!
If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space...Wink
  • Member since
    December, 2004
  • From: Indiana, PA
  • 10,310 posts
Posted by SpaceMouse on Thursday, July 06, 2006 10:42 PM
Nice photo essay ese.

How would you do the one's I'll need? HO scale 3 inches in diameter, 24-30" tall.


  • Member since
    October, 2004
  • From: Mississippi
  • 819 posts
Posted by ukguy on Thursday, July 06, 2006 10:42 PM
Great in depth tutorial Bob, many thanks for sharing, I am currently building about 100 trees in a similar method, and I know Arthill has had great success with the caspia twigs and balsa trunks already. Its tips like these that we all need to share, thanks for taking the time and doing it so concisely.

A caspia based hickory tree



A caspia based fir tree



Best regards,
Karl.
  • Member since
    October, 2004
  • From: Mississippi
  • 819 posts
Posted by ukguy on Thursday, July 06, 2006 10:45 PM
just use a bigger dowel Chip, or another piece of wood, I am using 1x2 soft pine ripped down the middle and cut to 18-24" length. then just use larger limbs from the caspia, they sill look great. I'll give you a time scale per tree when I get an average but I'm guessin 30mins each.

Have fun & be safe
Karl.
  • Member since
    January, 2005
  • From: Cedar Park, Texas
  • 967 posts
Posted by Tom Bryant_MR on Friday, July 07, 2006 4:46 AM
Great. Perfect. Just enough detail and good job. I've added this to my How Too's favorites. I will need to build some of these for the Elgin patch on my layout.

Thanks for taking the time and sharing Bob.

Tom
  • Member since
    November, 2002
  • From: US
  • 4,494 posts
Posted by jacon12 on Friday, July 07, 2006 7:05 AM
Bob, this is much appreciated. I too have added the tutorial to my How To folder. Maybe before too much longer I'll start in on the scenery and this will come in mighty handy.
Jarrell
P.S. Ya can't get too photo intensive for me... :)
 HO Scale DCC Modeler of 1950, give or take 30 years.
  • Member since
    April, 2003
  • 282,456 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Friday, July 07, 2006 8:34 AM
Add my thanks to all the others.
  • Member since
    April, 2003
  • 282,456 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Friday, July 07, 2006 11:12 AM
Bob, I use the same tech. but switch off between Black and Brown I/A stain, this gives some trees the dark gray-blk and some a red-brown on the bark.

When you use Aspargus fern what do you spray the fern with to keep the needles from constant sheding?

Your trees look great and excellent How-to
  • Member since
    March, 2005
  • From: New Brighton, MN
  • 4,382 posts
Posted by ARTHILL on Friday, July 07, 2006 12:12 PM
Great work. Thanks. I was working on a similar tutorial, but it was not this good. Now I can skip that. The only differnces I sometimes use are:
1. I start with a dowl and sand it down to a point and put bark in with a dremel tool.
2. I cut slots in the top to put more sprigs of caspia for those trees that are very full at the top.





For those who have not tried this, it is a blast, you get good trees the first time and can get great trees with practice. BG's are exceptional but not beyond any of us. (Some of his stuff is). I have found that Micheals occassionally has variations on Caspia that make fuller trees. I have also learned that putting the Caspia facing down makes a Red Pine and putting the Caspia facing up makes a better White Pine.

Show us your trees. As we look at each others we all learn. "Only God can make a tree", but we can have a blast modeling them.
If you think you have it right, your standards are too low. my photos http://s12.photobucket.com/albums/a235/ARTHILL/ Art
  • Member since
    December, 2004
  • From: Indiana, PA
  • 10,310 posts
Posted by SpaceMouse on Friday, July 07, 2006 1:19 PM
My best trees are not evergreen, but I'll put them up anyway. I basically use the flowers from the sedium plant. I'ts just a matter of spraying with hair spray and varying the color of the ground foam.




And this is what they look like on the layout.




  • Member since
    April, 2003
  • 282,456 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Friday, July 07, 2006 3:37 PM
Here's a couple of my Big Boys

  • Member since
    August, 2004
  • From: Phoenix, Arizona
  • 1,978 posts
Posted by canazar on Friday, July 07, 2006 4:02 PM

Here are the ones I put together. I used trimmings off my orange and grapfruit trees for the turnks and used the poly-extruded foam (green cottonball stuff) with your typical over the shelf ground up foam glued on. The big thing I found that works realy well with these is after I shape install the extruded stuff, I use a lighter, very carefully mind you, to burn off and melt any little straggles. Helpt ot give it a nice shell, so to speak, and add a bit more "stiffness" The trick is to hold the lighter, or candle, about 4-6 iches above the flame. Spray with diluted glue and water, and whola! Trees.


I need to get some better pictures though....


Best Regards, Big John

Kiva Valley Railway- Freelanced road in central Arizona.  Visit the link to see my MR forum thread on The Building of the Kiva Valley Railway

  • Member since
    April, 2006
  • From: Fountain Valley, Ca.
  • 744 posts
Posted by Bob grech on Friday, July 07, 2006 7:53 PM
Karl, Art, Chip, and Bob:

Great feed-back. Love the work you guys did with those trees! Like everyone else on this forum, I enjoy learning new techniques when it comes to Model Railroading.

Keep up the good work!
Bob...
Have Fun.... Bob.
  • Member since
    February, 2005
  • From: Vancouver Island, BC
  • 19,797 posts
Posted by selector on Friday, July 07, 2006 10:10 PM
If I could suggest a big time saver for those using 1/2" dowels, hold the to-be 'fat' end in one hand, and turn it under a hand-held disk sander. You'll have your taper in about four minutes, unless you are in a hurry and don't mind the slightly tarred look where the wood gets too hot.
  • Member since
    March, 2005
  • From: New Brighton, MN
  • 4,382 posts
Posted by ARTHILL on Saturday, July 08, 2006 9:30 AM
I use a spindle sander, the advantage being for crooked trees like Scotch Pine, I can carve the twists as I go. A 1/2 inch dowel makes a great 1/4 inch twisted trunk.
If you think you have it right, your standards are too low. my photos http://s12.photobucket.com/albums/a235/ARTHILL/ Art
  • Member since
    November, 2002
  • From: US
  • 4,494 posts
Posted by jacon12 on Saturday, July 08, 2006 11:34 AM
Bob, do you use any type glue to hold the 'limbs' in place and also do you use anything like cheap hairspray on the tree when finished?
Thanks,
Jarrell
P.s. looking back at the photos I see the wood glue so I guess that answers that part.
 HO Scale DCC Modeler of 1950, give or take 30 years.
  • Member since
    November, 2002
  • From: US
  • 4,494 posts
Posted by jacon12 on Sunday, July 09, 2006 4:39 PM
Bob and some of you fellas make this look sooooo easy. I tried it today and believe me.. you ain't gonna see it. But, it was the first one I've ever done and after fixing up Bob's photo some..

and printing it out, I can see where I went wrong. Maybe my next one will be more 'treelike' :)
Jarrell
 HO Scale DCC Modeler of 1950, give or take 30 years.
  • Member since
    March, 2005
  • From: New Brighton, MN
  • 4,382 posts
Posted by ARTHILL on Sunday, July 09, 2006 5:20 PM
Keep at it. As you discovered there is a trick to this, but a learnable trick. I started to get good ones with about the sixth one. I still don't have a great one, but good enough for Mt Sublime. Show us one when you like it.
If you think you have it right, your standards are too low. my photos http://s12.photobucket.com/albums/a235/ARTHILL/ Art
  • Member since
    April, 2003
  • 282,456 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Monday, July 31, 2006 7:40 AM
Great tutorial Bob!  I like it :-)

My question is, do you apply anything to preserve the caspia or is it already in a preserved state when you buy it?  Once the tree is fully assembled do you spray coat it with anything to help it stay instact?  Will the caspia fall off over time?  In your experience, What's the life span of one of these caspia based trees?

They seem a great solution to my tree requirement.  I would also love to hear from all others re: their experiences with this topic.

Thanks,
Trevor
  • Member since
    April, 2003
  • 282,456 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Monday, July 31, 2006 9:28 PM

I have the same question as TGG and a lot of other people who want to do this GREAT idea for pines, is the caspia already sealed, or do we have to seal it to prevent it from falling apart? If we do have to seal it, what can we use???

Editing this, I actually meant the fern, because I personnaly thought it would dry out and fall apart, thanks for the clarification :P

 

  • Member since
    April, 2006
  • From: Fountain Valley, Ca.
  • 744 posts
Posted by Bob grech on Monday, July 31, 2006 9:45 PM

In response to the question of sealing the caspia fern:

I have never had to seal the fern. Some of the trees seen on my layout were built over 10 years ago and have not dried out. Most likely, this means the fern was pre-cured with some kind of preservative. However, if need be, the fern can be sealed with a light dusting of dull coat or other sealer. The only time I've had drying issues is when lichen was used. Lichen will dry out over time. Fortunetly, this material is seldom used today.  

Have Fun.... Bob.
  • Member since
    April, 2003
  • 282,456 posts
Posted by Anonymous on Tuesday, August 01, 2006 8:01 AM
Thanks for the clarification Bob.  Much appreciated.  I can't wait to try this method out. 

Trevor
  • Member since
    March, 2005
  • From: New Brighton, MN
  • 4,382 posts
Posted by ARTHILL on Tuesday, August 01, 2006 9:34 AM

Note of clarification, Caspia is not fern. They both work really well, but the trees look different and model different prototypes in different scales. Try the both, including different species of Caspia. You can find all the variations in craft stores, but sometimes not all the same week.

If you think you have it right, your standards are too low. my photos http://s12.photobucket.com/albums/a235/ARTHILL/ Art
  • Member since
    December, 2010
  • 1 posts
Posted by OHWOW52 on Friday, December 10, 2010 8:42 AM

I can't wait to do this tree(s) for my grandson N scale layout.  It looks so realistic and it is made by hand.  Not the store bought kind.  Thank you, 

  • Member since
    November, 2011
  • 3 posts
Posted by JimMac on Thursday, December 12, 2013 8:34 PM

Nice article. Thanks for posting it. Only one thing, real pine trees actually have more, not less foliage at the top as the top of the tree gets the sun. At least the pines in my backyard down east here in Maine do.

 

cheers!

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!
Popular on ModelRailroader.com
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
Find us on Facebook

Loading...