Friday, 11 July 2008


A glance at the map for Charles Grant's Action! shows that I need plenty of trees. Perhaps not as many as at Fontenoy, but still sufficient to provide an appreciable area of bad terrain on both flanks of the field of battle. I don't have to count up the number of trees I currently possess, because I don't have any to count. So it's really high time to turn my thoughts to what's to be done about them.

I want trees that will look good, be robust enough to survive any knocks during gaming or in storage, be big enough to look like proper trees rather than overgrown shrubs, be small enough that they don't take up much room in storage, and stable enough to not get knocked over during battle. And, of course, they mustn't get in the way of any troops lurking beneath them. That's a fair number of conflicting requirements, so some compromises will have to be made.

It has to be said straight away that 'overgrown shrubs' are what the sensible wargamer uses. Large trees have a habit of getting in the way as you try to move figures. If you knock them over the tress are at best merely annoying, it they are firmly rooted then you are lucky to avoid damaging them or else impaling your hand. However, I decided that the look of thing overrides such sensible considerations, if only because I liked the novelty of bigger trees than I have used in the past.

Having decided on size, I chose to have trees that can be firmly attached to my terrain modules (for stability), but removed for ease of storage. This can be done by embedding a threaded nut in the terrain module and incorporating the corresponding bolt in the bottom of the trunk of the tree. It might be simpler to do things the other way round - with the bolt in the terrain and the nut in the tree, but this would make storing the terrain harder as the thread of the bolt would stand proud of the terrain when the tree is removed.

The tree's trunk is build from bottom up. An irregularly shaped piece of card, with a hole drilled through it for the bolt, establishes a good flat surface where the tree is in contact the ground. The bolt is pushed through the card and positioned so that the correct amount of thread is exposed. I then wrap milliput between the card and the head of the bolt, and (temporarily) screw the nut onto the bolt to hold the cardboard firm while the milliput dries. The main trunk of the tree is made out of old fibre tip pens, because I happen to have a load of these I'd never thrown away. The head of the bolt is simply embedded into milliput at the base of the trunk, the milliput also being used to build up the trunk - which should naturally be wider at its base.

Embedding The Bolt

The nut can now be taken off the partially completed trunk and inserted into the terrain module. The two layer construction of my modules makes this relatively easy - the nut is epoxied onto the 4mm thick MDF that forms the lower layer of the module. The foamcore upper layer - with an area cut out where the nut is going to go - can then be glued onto the terrain module, hiding the nut from view.

The boughs of the tree are made of twisted wire. Twist two wires together to make a bough. Twist two of these together to make a bigger bough, etc. The assembled boughs are then pushed into the trunk of the tree, wedged in with milliput to hold them in place. Milliput is then used to cover the wire, hiding the twists in the wire, and adding strength.

Component Boughs

Basic Trees

More boughs can be added using twisted wire to make the tree more convincing. I wrapped some around the outside of the tree trunks to form lower limbs for the trees. Others were added to the upper boughs to create more complex structures. You can buy terracotta milliput (intended to repair garden pots etc.) and this can be used to provide a brown base colour, thus simplifying later painting.

I have yet to decide on how to add foliage. In the past I have used wire wool dunked in sawdust. This looks good, but tends to be messy with sawdust being shed everytime the trees are used. My current idea is to use chopped up bits of a green bathroom spong - if I can find such an article in the shops. So any suggestions on alternatives would be welcome.

Nearing Completion


Steve said...

Henry had an article describing how he used foam (in a far more stylised way) on his Battlegames blog that might be worth a look at??

I went with K&M tree's I'm afraid - - a traditionalist at heart... ;o))

I used the same aproach w.r.t to being able to move the trees though - K&M's come with a separate base in the shape of a cutoff trunk, with a drilled hole to take the wire trunk of the actual tree - I glued the bases to my terrain item, but left the tree's free to be removed as I needed....

Stokes Schwartz said...

Happy Weekend Andy,

Great looking trees and an interesting discussion/description of your production process. I'm eager to see the end product. Very good work there!

Best Regards,


Fitz-Badger said...

Very nice looking trees, so far! I'm sure they'll look very realistic on the tabletop.
If you can't find foam in the proper color you could alwys try painting some after you shape it.
Woodland Scenics makes foliage clumps that look fairly realistic, but may not have the strength to stand up to battle.

Bluebear Jeff said...

Heck, I like them as they are. Perfect for a winter campaign.

Woodland Scenics (and others) sell lichen that would probably work well if you must have foliage.

-- Jeff