Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Palm/Alien Trees for under 25mm

Being "in-between jobs" since May 2007, my entertainment budget is based on what I can sell from my old Games Workshop collection of miniatures. Thus, when push comes to shove, I use a part of the income from that to purchase rules and miniatures and then am left with the need for terrain (I gave away my extensive collection of Geo-Hex, trees, and other items when I first moved across the continent nearly 20 years ago).

As my sons and I are playing in the ATZ campaign, and I intend for us to play other games from Two Hour Wargames, I felt it was time I re-established a selection of terrain for us to use.

I first purchased some felt cut-outs, at a nice and cheap price, which I will use for hills, wooded areas, water, etc., but I also wanted 3D terrain to go with the paper and foamcore buildings we have or will make.

When I came across this article on The Miniatures Page, a few months ago,  I knew that it was time for me to put my intents into action.

I then went to Michaels and purchased, for $1.99, some 30ga. floral wire, as the thicker wire is best saved for 25mm scale trees, in my view.
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This is thin enough to work for 6mm, 10mm, and 15mm trees, but not so thin as to snap when being worked with in a gentle manner.
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I then cut lengths of the wire, approximately 2-4 inches long, with four similarly sized lengths being used as the trunk and branches, with another length of about 10 inches, which I wrapped around the other four, to bind them all together and give a better appearance for a "palm" tree.

In the above pic, you can see a few of the assembled trunks and branches, along with the US pennies which are used as bases.
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I then spread the branches and roots a bit, to get an idea of how the would look. The labels pictured here are for file folders and they are approximately 1/2" by 4" in size. I could have gone with a different size, but these work well for the smaller scales and they were free, as I snagged them from my mum (she always has labels in her office).
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Since these labels are smaller than those used in the article at TMP, I didn't want to try to get the thin version of the palm leaves, but went for a representational leaf. You can plainly see that I folded a label over a wire branch and then trim and snip to get the desired appearance. They do not have to be perfect, they are for a general appearance only, not an exact replica of floral life.
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I purposely chose to use four branches, instead of six or eight. This way, I can make more trees, and the more branches means they become more fiddly to make. Sure, they would look more "real", but so what; these are table top terrain pieces. One can easily bend the wire, slightly, to give a bit more life to the individual branches, and to also cover up any mistakes in trimming and snipping.
The lengths that make the branches need to be held together and then the trunking wire tightly wound about them, starting approximately 3/4" from the top. This gives enough room for the labels. Also, leave 1/4-1/2" for the roots at the bottom; if left long, the extra can be snipped off with wire cutters. If too short, there won't be enough wire to prevent the tree from being yanked out of the filler by a falling tree being caught on something.  photo image_zps3cb4b78d.jpg
Next, I covered the pennies in non-shrink filler putty, a common construction item found in any DIY shop. This was followed by inserting the roots of the trees into the putty, firmly, but not forcefully. This serves to secure the tree, and when using a knife to cover the resultant holes, the tree will not come loose. note: The roots need to be spread out some, to grab the filler and to keep the tree upright. Failing to do this will allow the tree to be pulled from the base.
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Feel free to experiment with different tree trunks or branching structures. The above is meant to represent two trees that are so close together as to be one trunk, but have divergent branches. As long as you wrap the one wire around everything, they all will hold together fairly nicely.
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Be prepared to pay a price, in blood, as the wire is prickly enough to puncture the skin. The sting doesn't last long and a tissue sorts the blood easily enough.
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After the filler putty was dry, I painted the trunks, branches, and the underside of the leaves, with the thickest Gesso I could find at Michaels. This was the most costly item of the materials, but a 40% off coupon (they have weekly coupons available online that you can print and use once a day) reduced the price to under $4.00. The Gesso is necessary to keep the paint on the trees, as wire doesn't take paint at all well. Additionally, when applied to the leaves, it strengthens the leaf, making it less susceptible to being torn or bent when dropped (accidental tests confirm this).

Using thinned white glue, I added fine sand to the base, covering the putty, and giving a better texture to the base, allowing for proper painting, and increases the security of the tree on the base.
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The final stage, the painting, went the quickest, as drybrushing is the proper technique, after an undercoat of black. I used two shades of green, one dark and the other light, two more shades of brown for the trunks, and then two shades of earthy colors for the base. The colors are sold under the Americana or Ceramcoat labels at Michaels/Wal-Mart.
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The completed trees, a group of ten out of an eventual forty or so.

Apart from using eight lengths of wire, giving four lower and four upper branches, a useful addition would be to add a drop of superglue at the very top, where the branches extend from the trunk, and then sprinkle some static grass onto the glue. This should be painted dark brown, and gives the tree a more "alive" appearance as the typical palm tree, of those around where I live, are not clean up top, but rather have a "hairy" appearance from the bits and bobs of bark and broken branches. I almost did this for the first batch, but chose not to as it would have delayed finishing these first trees. I may do it in a later batch.

There are many varieties of palm trees, and there are at least three common ones used around here, so nothing has to be exact or true to a particular species. Just make the best use of the materials and time that you have available to you.

You can easily make the trunks and branches while watching your favorite TV show (as I don't watch TV, this was the most tedious part).

All in all, including drying time, these took about four hours to do. I could have gone with a different filler, which would have dried sooner, and I could have used superglue for the sand, but I wasn't in THAT much of a hurry and much of the four hours was spent while my sons were playing with Legos or watching a DVD.


  1. Hey, Thanks for sharing this!

    I'm gonna borrow this idea. =)

    1. Hey, I borrowed it from others, too! No sense in reinventing the wheel. :)

  2. Good tutorial and a nice result. I'll be referencing this if I ever get around to making jungle terrain.

    1. Thank you. The basic technique is also useful for making deciduous trees, it just takes more thought in building the trunks and branches.