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How to make model trees for model railroads

Updated on October 25, 2011

Making Beautiful Scale Sage Trees Like This

Completed "Maple" sage tree for an On30 model railroad layout.
Completed "Maple" sage tree for an On30 model railroad layout.

Great looking trees can make or break a model railroad scene

Great looking trees turn so-so model layouts into outstanding model train layouts. Bad looking trees can ruin a model railroad scene distracting the eye towards something that stands out as toy-like. We know what trees look like, we see them everyday so a good tree will fade into the background and our eyes will focus on the amazing models while a bad looking tree will jump out and spoil the scene.

The following technique uses sage brush branches as armatures. Sagebrush is "a coarse, hardy silvery-grey bush with yellow flowers and grows in arid sections of the western United States and Western Canada. " Desirable traits to model railroaders is the detailed bark and dense branching.

If like me you have in-laws living out in Montana, then you can ask them to be on the look out for sage branches. Wild sage branches should be dried out in the oven at about 400 degrees. They'll start to smoke a bit but it's a pleasant smell. You just want to dry out any flowers and kill any critter that might be living in the brush. If you don't have a convenient local source for these sage plants then you can buy them commercially.

A Note On Scale Tree Sizes

Too often model train layouts have under scale trees. The next time you are outside take a real good look at the size of actual trees. Compare their size to cars and houses. They are huge! They tower above three story houses and cars look small compared to their height. Remember that the next time you look at a model railroad.

Method of Making Sage Trees

The method I used for the above photograph is as follows. I used a product from Silfor called Mininatur Maple Foliage late summer. I got this product for $24 from Scenery Express and it made about four or five trees. The late summer color gives some random leaves that are starting to turn color. I'm modeling late summer so a few trees with this effect in the foreground is perfect.

The Silfor product comes in sheets. You snip apart small squares and then pull the product apart using tweezers. Don't use your hands because that causes the product to condense and stick together in clumps. You want to pull apart a nice air canopy. I applied the leaves to branches with craft glue and after it dried I sprayed the whole tree with Matte Medium. The results are amazing foreground quality trees!


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