Sunday, October 25, 2015

Trees for Battletech

Being a cheap gamer, I am always looking for ways to get nice looking terrain and scenery for little money.  I've seen pipe cleaner trees many times, and made some in the past from bump chenille.  I didn't like how these turned out, so I'm tackling them in a different way.

I prefer my trees to be based individually and be placed on a template, as I will use them for Battletech and other 6mm gaming.

Unfortunately these pictures turned out terribly, but they will still convey the basic process.

Start off with two regular pipe cleaners.  Brown or black is the best to use, but I've picked up all kinds of colors for very little money, so I will be using a variety.  An advantage to building these trees is that I can grind through TV shows on the DVR with my girlfriend and still get some projects done.

Twist the pipe cleaners together to form the trunk of the tree.  A bit will also be needed to attach the tree to a base.

Loop the long ends back to the trunk.  These loops will form the bulk of the trees branches and foliage.  When I do this I use it to create 4 "branches."  

Loosely twist the loops together to create branches.  

Roll the branches up towards the trunk.  

Use a lighter or other controlled flame to melt the chenille fibers on the trunk.  It stinks and is probably toxic (I'm guessing they are made of polyester), so do what you feel you need to do to protect yourself.  Don't apply too much heat or the fibres will liquify and drip off, leaving just twisted wire.  You want just enough heat to melt the fibers.  If you're really tough you can roll the trunk in your fingers immediately after melting the fibers to smooth it out.  It is hot though and may burn you, so touch at your own risk!

This completes the basic construction of a tree armature.  The steps below will lay out painting and flocking trees.  I am using a red tree as a test because I want to see if I need to dye the odd- colored trees before flocking and painting.  This tree is also a bit bulkier than the one in the example above because an extra pipe cleaner was used in bulking out the branches and foliage.

Start off by painting the trunk.  Use whatever tree colors you prefer.  I am using Delta acrylic paint, Burnt Umber.  This is cheap craft paint readily available at Wal Mart or any craft store (Michaels, Jo Anne Ect., Hobby Lobby, etc.)  I went pretty heavy to soak up and cover the red colors.  Coverage was adequate.

Insert the tree into your preferred base.  In my case I am reusing the bases from my previous tree project.  They are made from 40mm poker chips.  In Minnesota thrift stores always have poker chips, and they go for $1- $3 for 100 of them.  They make great bases for models and terrain.  These chips were primed black and based with my standard mix.  A hole the size of the tree trunk was drilled in the center.  The tree was then super- glued into place.  As you see in the picture the trunk pokes through the base a good amount.  When the glue is dry, clip this off flush with the bottom of the base.

The top of the tree is then coated in a liberal amount of white glue.  I made sure to completely saturate the fibers.  I then rolled it in Woodland Scenics Course Turf, then squished it in.  I then tapped off the excess.  Despite the heavy coverage, the red underneath still shows true.  The fibers will have to be colored ahead of time.  Spray paint might work.  Dyeing it black with watered down paint might work too.  I am going to mix black paint in with the white glue and see if I can dye and glue the turn down at the same time.

A picture of the tree on one of my typical woods templates with a Dragon and Jenner from the Introductory Box Set.  I will post more pictures as the experiments continue.


  1. Looks pretty good. If they were taller, would that make it easier to position miniatures on the board?

    1. You could easily make them taller. I like them a little shorter just for aesthetics. I place them on individual bases so they can be moved about to fit models on the forest template.

  2. Take sharp scissors against the stem and cut around. It will still leave enough fiber to hold glue. Sobo craft glue is better than Elmers as it has more even stickiness and won't yellow over time. Take the tree trunk base and spaly it out to make roots. Use E600 to attach it to any surface. Apply a thin layer to both surfaces then press together. Hot glue guns are just melted plastic and can get brittle and not adhere over time. If you need to make something on the cheap and need ideas, let me know. My best cheap out is a dragon scale shirt made with duct tape.