Makin' pine trees

This is a brief summary of how I go about making the pine trees for my layout. It is fairly quick and easy. I tend to do a dozen or more at a time and would estimate that it takes 30-60 min/tree. But I've never really timed it. Usually what I do is identify an area on the layout that needs to be forested. I'll estimate the number of big trees needed to fill the area as well as the smaller understory trees....that's the batch I'll work on.

I start with a balsa stick. I forget where I got them, but it was online. They come in a wide variety of thicknesses. This stick is 3/4" so the trunk I will be carving in O scale with be a 3' width by 75' tall.

When I start carving, I start at the top of the tree. What I'm looking to achieve is a taper from ground to tip of tree. I whittle off the corners and start moving down. It doesn't have to be perfect, just get the taper and get rid of what looks like flat edges. These pics show the progression from stick to final carving.


  • The tools for the trunk making are very basic. Knife to whittle, rasp to finish rounding of edges and put in score lines, and a stiff wire brush to put the bark texture in.

    These pics (not the best focus) give an idea of the trunk after being hit by the rasp, then the brush. To cut down (but not eliminate) the fuzzies, I put on a leather glove and rub the trunk.IMG_0846
  • This is what I am looking for in the final trunk. Rounded edges, good taper, and nice bark texture.IMG_0850
  • For the rest of the demo (and for the sake of time) I'm going to use some smaller trees that could be used in O or HO scale. The larger tree here is 2' x 50' in O scale, and the smaller is 2' x 50' in HO scale. I have painted them using dark brown camo paint.

    Note the reverse taper at the base of the trunk of the smaller tree. I'll fix that by cutting it off later. Also note the nail coming out of the trunk of the larger tree. I cut the heads off of finishing nails and use these to hold the trees onto foam while they are being painted, etc.
  • I use caspia to start with the branches. I picked it up at a local hobby store. I pre-painted this batch but that is not necessary. A lot of the caspia has flowers on the tips. Knock these off.

    I start with the trunk by using a pick to put holes for the branches. I start at the bottom and go around the trunk and place 4 or 5 holes. These can be at the same height, but I tend to let mine rise like a barber pole. Decide how wide you want the spread of your foliage to be and break off a branch, dip it in glue and stick it in the hole.

    The lowest branches should be the thickest. Continue upwards towards the top. Be careful poking holes at the top of the tree. It's easy to break off the tip or to jab your finger...believe me on this one.

    Notice how the branches get smaller as they rise, just like a pine tree. Trim these as necessary. Don't worry if they don't look perfect. This is not the final branch structure.IMG_0853
  • Moving right along, I'm going to finish this out with some photos from previous builds.

    I did forget 1 thing though. After painting trunk and before putting in branches, I use a black wash on the trunk. about 10:1 with black craft paint.

    I use a thick air filter called Naturalaire and cut it into triangles for the large tree and square/circles for the small trees. This should be teased out like you see in the photos.

    For the big trees place these pieces on top of your branches. Once in place, use a spray adhesive to hold in place. This WILL make a mess. For the small trees skewer the pieces onto the trunk. Once dry, paint with brown camo paint again.IMG_1200
  • Excellent tutorial Bryan, thank you for posting. I just have never been able to make good looking tree...
  • Once this is dry I "wet brush" the trunk first with a light brown then with a light gray. My colors of choice are "mushroom" and "barnwood". Make sure you paint any dead branches with the light gray.

    Now we add the foliage. I use a heavy hold hair spray as the adhesive. Spray the branches from above. Wet them good, then sprinkle your foliage of choice from above letting it cling to the tops of the foliage pads, but not so much on the bottom. My choice of foliage is Scenic Express "farm pasture" with a little bit of dark green short pine needle thrown in. Keep adding until it looks good to you. Hit it hard with the hairspray again, then add just a little bit of "light green fine" ground cover on the top. This gives the highlights on top of the foliage. Hit it with the hairspray again.

    I always give a shot of hairspray at the bottom and sprinkle some of the foliage to simulate moss.IMG_0860
  • The smaller trees are great old growth for HO scale, and understory growth for O scale. What I like most about this method is looking up inside the tree and seeing the branch structure created by using the caspia. Keep all of the bits of broken caspia that didn't make it onto a tree. It makes great forest floor debris. After I plant the trees and put the forest floor in, I always sprinkle some brown pine needles under the tree as well.

    The biggest downside to this method is the lack of root structure.IMG_1189
  • Bryan, great tutorial. I model in HO and use a similar method. However, I start with wooden dowels. I also found a quick way to achieve the taper. Place the dowel in a drill. While the dowel rotates in the drill, pull it across a belt sander or one of those stationary belt sanders (of course, they need to be running as well). You can achieve a great taper in matter of seconds. If fact, if you don't pay attention, you can taper too much. BTW I also use caspia for my branches and I flock the trees in a similar manner. Phil
  • Thanks Brett.

    Phil, its a tried and true method and gets good results. I really like the way the caspia gives branch detail. Put some pics of your trees here.

    I've tried dowels for smaller trees as well. It eliminates the need for the carving, but is harder to add the bark texture for me.
  • Bryan, very good tutorial and wonderful tree! thanks for taking the time and effort to post it. I'll post a picture or two of mine later.

  • Bryan, nicely done tutorial. That last picture tells the story, very realistic. Love the loose appearing shaggy bark and the dead lower limbs with moss, just like the real thing. I have avoided doing pines, spruce, fir, as I don't have the confidence to give it a shot. This will help tremendously, thanks for doing it...
  • I'm sure the will turn out great Ken. Post some pics when you give it a try.

    Same for you Bill, look forward to seeing what you have done.

  • Thanks for the tutorial, Bryan.
    I love the tree with the "twin trunks" in the middle picture above. How do you make the one on the left appear curved?
  • Great! I need about 300. LOL
  • Bill, the twin trunk is one of my favorites. I used balsa sticks as described above, and cut the based to angles so they mated at the base. Glue together, and once dry texture the bottom glued part to match the top part.

    The curve is an illusion. When I put the foliage on, I filled it in heavier in the space between the 2 trunks.

    I'm on it Carl.
  • I'll try to post a few pictures here but I don't want to burden Bryan's great tutorial with my pics. more can be seen at a new thread I am starting on "My ON30Layout". There is still work to be done on the three largest trees, such as adding the lower dead branches and some moss. On the newest design I only have one shot that shows it fairly well. All the other trees I spent lots of time on are the old furnace filter design. None of their tops look good and I plan on reworking the tops soon. Like Bryan, I use a long finishing nail in the truck with the head removed and sharpened. The best pic of the new design:IMG_0029

    The three largest trees, hard dowel, 1 1/16" dia. I drilled a 1X2 and pounded in small nails, about 3 dozen, so the sharp ends protruded through about 1/8th to 3/16". clamped it down and pulled the dowel trunk along the nails to create the bark texture.


    More can be seen on my new thread as soon as I can get it started.

    Thanks Bryan for encouraging me to post here. I need to do lots of work to make them more presentable.

  • Hi There tree men I want to post a few pictures on how the moss looks on the pine trees in my front yard hope that you do not mind and it is raining now so they could be better.




  • Good shots Carl. Excellent information. Thanks for sharing with us.
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