How to make model trees for a train layout

Written by david b. ryan
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Trees, bushes and other foliage can make a model train layout look much more realistic. Commercially manufactured trees can be expensive and many of them are not very realistic-looking. It is possible to make model trees using pieces of commonly available plants from the yard, park or woods. In addition to saving a great deal of money, this method allows for a maximum of creativity in creating vegetation for a model railroad. This article will focus on creating models of deciduous trees, such as oak, maples and ash trees.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Scissors or weed clippers
  • Access to plants outdoors
  • Clear hairspray
  • Super glue
  • Model foliage (available from several manufacturers)

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  1. 1

    Collect pieces of plants outdoors. The ideal time to do this is in late fall or early spring when vegetation is dormant. Fragments from many varieties of bushes, garden plants, tree twigs and also roots from garden weeds can make very convincing miniature imitations of the trunks and large branches of trees. Wash pieces clean of dirt as needed.

  2. 2

    Trim to correct size. Roughly speaking, trees in O or 027 scale can be up to 5 to 6 inches, S scale 4 to 5 inches, HO scale to 3 inches, and N or Z scales to 2 inches. The bottom of the "trunk" should be left much longer than needed, since the trees will be "planted" by drilling holes in the table or scenery.

  3. 3

    Dry the plant fragments for several days (some plants may be dead already and not in need of drying). It is important to store them in a protected place since most of the pieces are very delicate. Cats and other household animals may find them irresistible to chew, destroy or hide.

  4. 4

    Cover each tree framework with the model foliage or homemade substitutes, and gently touch it to the ends of the dead branches. Homemade materials may include laundry lint, lichen plants, steel wool or other materials. Alternatively, trees may be left bare of leaves if the goal is to model a late fall or winter scene.

  5. 5

    Spray the covered tree with hairspray to affix the foliage. Lay them aside carefully in a covered storage container or strong cardboard box. The model trees are extremely delicate and can easily be crushed or broken.

  6. 6

    Select drill bits that are of equal diameter to the trunks of your model trees. Drill approximately 1/2 inch into the table top or scenery shells. Put glue on the tip of the trunk and use tweezers to insert the tree into the hole. Hold in place for a few seconds while the glue sets.

Tips and warnings

  • In collecting plant pieces, be sure to cut them larger than needed so that there will be room to trim them further down.
  • Avoid gathering fragments of poison ivy or similar plants that can induce contact dermatitis.

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