Sagebrush Tree Construction

Tree Closeup

This tutorial will go through a step by step process to create realistic looking miniature trees for use in wargames, dioramas, and train layouts. These steps are very similar to those packaged in the Sweetwater Scenery poly fiber package and those described by Lynn Gobin in the tutorial on the West Side Lumber Co. web site. Please feel free to print, copy, or reproduce this tutorial in any form. No fees of any kind are required, but a simple credit listing would be appreciated. Enjoy!


Description of Materials

The trickiest part of making this type of tree is finding the correct materials. Sage brush can be found in several places including specialty hobby shops, online shops, and simply out in nature. Note that if you find and prepare the armatures yourself, they should be put in an oven and 'baked' for an hour or so at around 400 degrees to kill off any fungus, bugs, etc. The two vendors that I use are listed below in the links section and do an excellent job of preparing and selecting the highest quality armatures. Since I do not know of any sage growing in my area, I opted for the next easiest (unfortunately the most expensive) method of obtaining this material. A local hobby shop specializing in trains called Hobby Haven carries Sweetwater Scenery (a hobby company) sage brush for $2-3 per armature. The cost is quite a lot considering there is still a lot of work which needs to be done to get a tree out of the deal. I do, however, prefer the look of the finished product over anything that can be bought or of any of the other attempts at tree making I have done.

I also picked up some Sweetwater Poly Fiber since Hobby Haven happened to carry that as well. I prefer it over the Woodland Scenics since it is black vs green. The black seems to give the tree a bit more depth. The bag was under $3 and should make dozens if not hundreds of trees (depending on size - I've made seven trees thus far and haven't made a visible difference in the amount left in the bag).

The cheaper the hair spray the better (usually). What is basically needed is a spray adhesive. Real spray adhesives such as those from Elmers should work as well, but I haven't tried them. I use Unscented AquaNet hair spray which I picked up from K-Mart and have had good results.

As with my other terrain products I use Woodland Scenics flock to add 'leaves' to the trees. I am curious as to how much better (or worse) AMSI ground foam is, but I could not find a good source to get it from. I use Burnt Grass Fine Turf as the foundation for the trees with a touch of Green Grass Fine Turf to add a bit of highlight. Hobby Haven and Hobby Town USA both carry Woodland Scenics products for pretty much the same price. I buy from both.

A pair of clothes pins or a small clamp works well to hold the armature while working with it. When connecting two clothes pins in an L fashion they also serve as a convenient stand to keep the tree upright when drying.  Reference some of the photos below for a pictorial description of what I'm trying to say.

A pair of tweezers helps out a lot when trying to pull the fibers over the branchs.

At the base of each tree I poke a straight pin in to help hold the tree in place when 'planted' on the layout. After the pin is stuck in the end is clipped off with a pair of side cutters.  Sweetwater also offers more 'finished' armatures which include a pin already in the base of the armature.  I have yet to see a 'finished' version of the sage since the hobby shop had only 'bulk' in the smaller sizes - I believe other finishing touches are added to the armature in addition to the pin.  In a future revision of this tutorial I will attempt to purchase a 'finished' armature and compare and contrast it with the 'bulk' armatures.

A simple pair of side cutters or anything else which will cut a straight pin will work just fine.

Sagebrush Tree Construction Steps

  1. Prepare the armature. Stick a straight pin into the base of the tree to add stability when 'planted'. Clip the pin head off after inserting the pin. [Image]
  2. Pull a very small amount of poly fiber from the bag. About 1/2x1/2x1/4 inch section will do. The sections do not and should not be exactly the same size - just keep them fairly small. [Image] [Image]
  3. Pull the piece apart so it is the density of a three dimensional spider web. Be sure to pull the fiber out in all three dimensions rather than making 'sheets'. [Image]
  4. Starting at the bottom of the armature, place the fiber on a single branch of the armature. Try not to span multiple branches - each branch should get its own fiber. Note that I have done three separate branches in this photo: [Image]
  5. Continue the process working your way from the inside and bottom of the armature to the outside and top. Continue until all desired branches have been covered with fiber. It is fine to leave some branches uncovered to represent a dead branch here and there [Image]
  6. Be sure that the fiber is not too dense. It is tempting to have a very 'full' looking tree at this point, but after the flock is applied it will be far too thick.
  7. Over a bag or in some other environment set up to catch the overshoot, spray the fiber with the hair spray until the spray beads up on the fiber. Be careful not to blow the fiber from the branches - try to spray in bursts instead of one constant stream. [Image] [Image]
  8. Carefully and slowly sprinkle on the flock. Darker flock can be applied to the bottom side of the fiber then apply some lighter to the top of the tree to give it a bit of a highlight. It is very important not to overdue the flock. You should still be able to see through the tree after the flock has been applied. [Image]
  9. Set the tree aside to dry and admire the creation! [Image]
  10. Tap off the extra flock into a container.
  11. Give the tree another light coat of hairspray to help keep the flock in place.
  12. Doing three or four trees at a time can speed up the process a bit and look nice all out together. [Image]

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For additional tips and another aspect of building sagebrush trees, please visit West Side Lumber Co. Model Railroad Club: Tips & Techniques listed below.

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