Sunday, 20 November 2005

Building a big forest

Now that the [Crisis 2005]( has come and gone, I have time to write up a few articles on the terrain for [our Arnhem
game]( (as opposed to having all the time taken up by actually building the thing). I intend to write what I hope will become a series of articles on
the various techniques and materials I've used in building this terrain.

This first article focuses on something I have [hinted at before](
building the oodles upon oodles of trees that are needed to represent the
areas 1st Airborne fought in, over and through in those fateful September
days. This is a step by step photo article on how to construct trees using
[Woodlands Scenics]( products.

Step one: The materials

src="../pics/treebuilding/HPIM2341_resize.JPG" alt="The materials"
title="The materials"/>

To build the trees, I use a number of Woodlands Scenics products, as seen in
the photograph:

  • Tree
    . I use the smallest size, nominally 1/2" to 2" in

  • Clump
    . I use three colours: light, medium and dark green.

The only other indispensable item needed is glue. WS recommend their own
glue (of course), but I use standard contact glue ( [Pattex Contact glue](
). In principle, contact glue has to be applied to both surfaces to work
correctly (that's why it's called _contact_ glue), but I find that the
standard Pattex contact glue (_not_ the transparant one) is tacky enough to
apply to only the tree (this is a _conditio sine qua non_: you can't apply
glue to the foliage material without going insane).

Additional stuff used is some kitchen paper for spillage and some blue tack
(which in Belgium is white) to hold down the tree bases (which I only use to
hold the trees temporarily -- on the terrain setup, they're pinned directly
into the ground).

Step 2: A tree, straight

src="../pics/treebuilding/HPIM2342_resize.JPG" alt="The materials"
title="The materials"/>

This is a typical tree armature you get from WS. It has a number of
branches, and a little pin on the bottom that slots into a base (which comes
attached to the trunk but is easily removed) or that can be pinned into the
ground of your terrain setup. The particular tree armatures I use come in
about four sizes ranging from a tiny 1/2" armature with two small branches
to a 2", four to five branch fellow.

The armature needs to be twisted and bent into a somewhat convincing tree
like shape. This sounds more complicated than it is. In nature, every form
of tree shape occurs, so anything will do here, really. I usually try to
have branches stick out in three or four different directions.

Also note one inevitable effect of building lots of trees this way: little
bits of shrubbery get stuck to your fingers, as evident in this photo :)

Step 3: A tree, twisted

src="../pics/treebuilding/HPIM2343_resize.JPG" alt="The materials"
title="The materials"/>

This photo shows the result of the tree twisting exercise: a more or less 3D
tree shaped bit of plastic. The tree will now be covered in glue (I apply
the glue using the tube of glue itself, not using any tools) and dunked in

Step 4: Dunking the tree

src="../pics/treebuilding/HPIM2349_resize.JPG" alt="The materials"
title="The materials"/>

Once the glue has been applied to the tree branches is when the real fun
starts: dunk the tree into the flock. Although the WS instructions suggest
to use more than one color of flock, I find that at least for this scale of
trees, one colour is more than enough. Anything more than that, even in tiny
amounts, just looks awkward.

Step 5: Press down on the flock

src="../pics/treebuilding/HPIM2350_resize.JPG" alt="The materials"
title="The materials"/>

Cover the still dunked tree in flock and press down on it. This ensures that
the flock will have a better contact with the glue and will thus stick
better. After that, take the tree out and shake it a bit to dislodge the
loosest flock.

Step 6: A tree, freshly canopied

src="../pics/treebuilding/HPIM2352_resize.JPG" alt="The materials"
title="The materials"/>

This is what the tree looks like freshly out of the flock. This still needs
some work. The flock uses is called 'Clump foliage' and that has a reason:
it's called that because it clumps. Instead of the tiny flecks of shredded
foam we're used to from other flock, these are tiny flecks of shredded foam
_that stick together_. This is good, as that simulates a tree canopy a lot
better and easier, but it also means that if you stop at the current stage,
you're going to run out of flock fairly soon, as you're taking big chunks of
it away with each tree you build.

So, we need to pluck the tree.

Step 7: A tree, plucked

src="../pics/treebuilding/HPIM2353_resize.JPG" alt="The materials"
title="The materials"/>

This is just what it sounds like: you pluck flock off of the tree until you
are left with a more sparse tree. This not only conserves flock, but also
makes the tree look better (unless you think that real trees look like a
stick with a ball of green stuff on top, in which case you might want to
skip this step. But buy more flock if you are so inclined.).

Step 8: A tree, finished

src="../pics/treebuilding/HPIM2354_resize.JPG" alt="The materials"
title="The materials"/>

And that's it: this is what the tree looks like when finished. Nice, eh?

Step 9: A forest, sprayed

src="../pics/treebuilding/HPIM2355_resize.JPG" alt="The materials"
title="The materials"/>

To increase the durability of the trees a bit (I don't mind some flock
falling off -- it adds to the reality of the terrain setup -- but the vast
majority needs to remain on the tree) I spray them with Woodlands Scenics
Scenic Cement (which is just thinned down white glue, but as David Black
once said to me -- 'Yeah, but it's premixed and 3 bucks for a big bottle'.
He was right.). I imagine you can also use spray varnish or even hair spray.

That's it: repeat this process several hundreds of times and you have an
Arnhem sized forest. Ouch.

The result can be seen in [Alan's post](


  1. I totally agree with the idea of buying Scenic Cement. It also lasts longer, and is just a bargain. You can also buy pre-finished trees from WS, too. They're priced okay, but I've never been able to get my flock to stay on like they have. Theirs are just more durable than I've ever had my own turn out.

  2. Bart, where do you get your materials? Do you order them online or is there a shop in the neighbourhood where you purchase them?

  3. Not being able to have the PC and the painting table in the same room I have to rely on the headphones to keep me sane while I am painting. I ought to download somm BBC stuff to the Mpeg player and indulge in some podcasting - a whole weeks worth of the Archers - well maybe not.
    My table is located in the attic and for the moment is replacing my gming table so that I don't get destracted by too much tinkering. I am building about 15 vehicles for my 15mm late war Germans and Brits. I also have another 8 phalangites on the go (only 160 to go), a 16 figure battalion of foundry 1914 Brits, and I have started work on a Red Army for "Triumph of the Will" - all are bases and base coated, and their White opponents are sorted and about to be based up. Unfortunately, well maybe, I have diverted into building a FoW Grenadier company for 1944. As an introduction to historical gaming these rules seem to have a lot to offer, they are simple and bloody, and unfortunately far too full of Boys own adventure type writing, but they do capture the imagination and include a lot of basic tactical advice and tips to get one started - such as how to position ones ATGs to be mutually supporting etc etc.
    If all else fails and they don't live up then I've a nice Regiment to play BKC with!
    Graham K


  4. Bart, where do you get your materials? Do you order them online or is there a shop in the neighbourhood where you purchase them?

    I get my Woodlands Scenics stuff from EC Scenics in the UK - they offer the full range and offer good service (keep you informed and ship quickly).
    They're at
    [EC Scenics](
    Tell them I sent you :)

  5. Glad to see you tried the WS scenic cement. I love the stuff, especially for bases where I used sand as the main ground texture. BTW, did I mention it's pre-mixed and only about 3 bucks?

  6. Hmm - looks like I replied to the wrong post!

  7. Woodland scenics products are also available in Belgium from 'Verschooten' (Eiermarkt, Antwerpen). They have clump foliage and different kinds of flock and ballast.
    BTW I get no pictures in the tutorial - just 404.