Sagebrush Tree Construction
This tutorial will go through a step by step process to create realistic
looking miniature trees for use in war games, dioramas, and train layouts. These
steps are very similar to those packaged in the Sweetwater Scenery poly
fibre package and those described by Lynn Gobin in the tutorial on the West
Side Lumber Co. web site. Please feel free to print, copy, or reproduce this
tutorial in any form.
- Sage brush
- Poly fibre
- AquaNet hair spray or spray mount and
- Clothes pins or small clamps
- Straight pins
- Side cutters
Description of Materials
The trickiest part of making this type of tree is finding the correct
materials. Sage brush can be found in several places including specialty hobby
shops, online shops, and simply out in nature. Note that if you find and prepare
the armatures yourself, they should be put in an oven and 'baked' for an hour or
so at around 400 degrees to kill off any fungus, bugs, etc. The two vendors that
I use are listed below in the links section and do an excellent job of preparing
and selecting the highest quality armatures. Since I do not know of any sage
growing in my area, I opted for the next easiest (unfortunately the most
expensive) method of obtaining this material. A local hobby shop specializing in
trains called Hobby Haven carries Sweetwater Scenery (a hobby company)
sage brush for $2-3 per armature. The cost is quite a lot considering there is
still a lot of work which needs to be done to get a tree out of the deal. I do,
however, prefer the look of the finished product over anything that can be
bought or of any of the other attempts at tree making I have done.
I also picked up some Sweetwater Poly
Fibre since Hobby Haven happened
to carry that as well. I prefer it over the Woodland Scenics since it is
black vs green. The black seems to give the tree a bit more depth. The bag was
under $3 and should make dozens if not hundreds of trees (depending on size -
I've made seven trees thus far and haven't made a visible difference in the
amount left in the bag).
The cheaper the hair spray the better (usually). What is basically needed is
a spray adhesive. Real spray adhesives such as those from Elmers should work as
well, but I haven't tried them. I use Unscented AquaNet hair spray which I
picked up from K-Mart and have had good results. Spray mount is probably
the best spray glue for this application. Spray fixative, used by artists is far
better than hair spray.
As with my other terrain products I use Woodland Scenics flock to add
'leaves' to the trees. I am curious as to how much better (or worse) AMSI ground
foam is, but I could not find a good source to get it from. I use Burnt Grass
Fine Turf as the foundation for the trees with a touch of Green Grass Fine Turf
to add a bit of highlight. Hobby Haven and Hobby Town USA both
carry Woodland Scenics products for pretty much the same price. I buy
A pair of clothes pins or a small clamp works well to hold the armature while
working with it. When connecting two clothes pins in an L fashion they also
serve as a convenient stand to keep the tree upright when drying.
Reference some of the photos below for a pictorial description of what I'm
trying to say.
A pair of tweezers helps out a lot when trying to pull the
fibres over the
At the base of each tree I poke a straight pin in to help hold the tree in
place when 'planted' on the layout. After the pin is stuck in the end is clipped
off with a pair of side cutters. Sweetwater also offers more 'finished'
armatures which include a pin already in the base of the armature. I have
yet to see a 'finished' version of the sage since the hobby shop had only 'bulk'
in the smaller sizes - I believe other finishing touches are added to the
armature in addition to the pin. In a future revision of this tutorial I
will attempt to purchase a 'finished' armature and compare and contrast it with
the 'bulk' armatures.
A simple pair of side cutters or anything else which will cut a straight pin
will work just fine. Sagebrush Tree Construction Steps
Prepare the armature. Stick a straight pin into the base of the tree to
add stability when 'planted'. Clip the pin head off after inserting the pin.
Pull a very small amount of poly
fibre from the bag. About 1/2x1/2x1/4
inch section will do. The sections do not and should not be exactly the same
size - just keep them fairly small. [Image] [Image]
Pull the piece apart so it is the density of a three dimensional spider
web. Be sure to pull the fibre out in all three dimensions rather than making
Starting at the bottom of the armature, place the
fibre on a single branch
of the armature. Try not to span multiple branches - each branch should get
its own fibre. Note that I have done three separate branches in this photo:
Continue the process working your way from the inside and bottom of the
armature to the outside and top. Continue until all desired branches have been
covered with fibre. It is fine to leave some branches uncovered to represent a
dead branch here and there [Image]
Be sure that the fibre is not too dense. It is tempting to have a very
'full' looking tree at this point, but after the flock is applied it will be
far too thick.
Over a bag or in some other environment set up to catch the overshoot,
spray the fibre with spray mount. Be
careful not to blow the fibre from the branches - try to spray in bursts
instead of one constant stream. [Image] [Image]
Carefully and slowly sprinkle on the flock. Darker flock can be applied to
the bottom side of the fibre then apply some lighter to the top of the tree to
give it a bit of a highlight. It is very important not to overdue the flock.
You should still be able to see through the tree after the flock has been
Set the tree aside to dry and admire the creation! [Image]
Tap off the extra flock into a container.
Give the tree another light coat of hairspray to help keep the flock in
Doing three or four trees at a time can speed up the process a bit and
look nice all out together. [Image]
For additional tips and another aspect of building sagebrush trees, please
visit West Side Lumber Co. Model Railroad Club: Tips & Techniques
listed below. Resources