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  • Scenic Modeling: Tree-Building

    Modeling N Scale (and background HO) Birch, Elm and Chestnut

    By Scott Seekins
    Color photos by Dave Engler

    Weeds, Baby’s Breath, Woodland Scenics Poly Fiber and AMSI ground foam are the raw ingredients. It’s what you do with them that can make a tree as ac curate a model of the prototype as a locomotive or freight car.

    “The birch, most shy and lady like, of trees,” to quote James Russell Lowell, appears especially so in N scale, with its finite delicate structure (Fig. I). Think about it; the base of most trunks should be no bigger than a scale railroad tie, certainly very few would have a diameter larger than a scale human figure. The trunks must then be of extremely slender width, and it would be possible to once again employ super fine Baby’s Breath stems . An even more suitable source exists in urban vacant lots , however. Forage through such areas during late fall or early winter, searching for select dried weed stem tips, the tall, minutely precise plants, common varieties that seem to overrun the landscape. Carefully inspect each plant, and trim off 2- to 3-inch birch material. One will gradually develop an eye for this process. It is important to maintain concentration through the maze of weeds and continually think “tree,” picking only the most ideal stems.

    Trees with trunks made from comon Spirea. The dead tree was made from dried Spirea stems.

    Paint dried “birch” trunks first with white spray enamel such as Testors Flat White no. 1 258, then lightly coat the upper third of each with Model Master Graphite Metallic Spray Enamel and even lighter touches of Testors Flat Black no. 1249. Add darker birch bark markings by means of a black magic marker (Fig. 2). The finished birch limbs may now be covered with poly fiber and fine turf ground foam, applied with hair spray, the best adhesive for these delicate trees.

    Stately Urban Tenant : The American Elm

    N scale enthusiasts intent on modeling cityscapes and urban settings leave a lot to be desired if they neglect common residential trees such as the elm on their scenery. Luckily, the easily available Spirea shrub, found encircling almost every used car lot, high-rise and community college across the country, provides excellent elm tree material. The dried flower twigs, which appear as a billboy mauve-colored blossoms in the spring, surrounded by soft green foliage, are ideal model trunks and limbs for tall, straight specimens, 40 to 100 feet in height.

    I find it best to pick plant stems the following spring, allowing the dried flower portion to “age” throughout the winter. The surface of each trunk will then have the appearance of miniature timber, with a slight grayish tint. Dozens of these stems, with trunk ends sharpened by means of an X-acto blade, can be inserted into scrap pieces of insulation board (styrene), and trees completed en masse. Again, I prefer hair spray as the adhesive, once poly fiber is very thinly draped around the branch structure, lightly sifting on ground foam in layers. How one trims and prunes tree helps determine species (Fig. 3), with leaf color also being a factor. In fact a number of varieties, like the bitternut hickory, flowering dog wood and red maple, among others, can be completed using Spirea.

    The more common trees line the upper limestone bluff and roadbed.

    Golden Rod Chestnut

    Dense, thick trees having relatively great depth and a bulkier, broad ape appearance may be created from the dried flower stems of the goldenrod, a very common plant found throughout North America, a composite biennial or perennial with stems resembling wands of bright yellow which change with the onset of fall to billowy off-white plumes. It’s best to collect these dried flower stems during mid-winter, care fully selecting only the smaller plants, ones with dimensions that relate to N scale.

    Mount plant stems in insulation board (styrene), and trim and shape potential trees be ore application of ground foam. It is preferable to coat the entire surface with spray enamel, including trunks, which may be painted the desired color to match the species modeled. Spray adhesive, such as 3M Spray Mount Adhesive, is recommended for these compact trees with dense foliage, and darker shades of fine foam, like Woodland Scenics Weeds (T46) or Green Grass (T45) produce the best results. The deep, rich specimens made from these base colors may be used to simulate maples, beech and large shade trees like the horse chestnut (Fig. 4). Avoid prolonged exposure to adhesive vapor and mist, and use only in areas with sufficient ventilation.

    Complete and finish ground cover and shrubbery before planting desired forest landscape, cementing trunk stems in pre-drilled holes with a small amount of Elmer’s or carpenter’s glue. The more delicate trees should be planted last, after the larger varieties have been inserted.


    A view of the hardwood trees along the upper bluff.

    Fig. 1 Birch trees are often found in clusters of four to five trees with their trunks in close proximity and the finer, darker branches near the top.

    Fig. 2 Use a marking pen to dab the weed stems with black lines and spots to simulate Birch bark.

    Fig. 3 - Examples of tree possibilities, the Red Maple, left, and American Elm, right, which can be made from Spirea.

    Fig. 4 - A dense, large chestnut tree created with a gold enrod flower stem for the trunk. The smaller trees sur rounding the trunk have trunks made from Baby's Breath (Gypsopilla). Dave Engler photo

    Article Details

    • Original Author Scott Seekins
    • Source Railmodel Journal
    • Publication Date July 1992

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