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Idiots Guide to Making Terrain #2: Trees

As I have mentioned in lesson
of this series, terrain generally hovers between functional and attractive.

Today’s lesson starts with trees that are functional, easy and cheap. The latter
half of this article is definitely NOT for beginners, this is due more to the
tools needed rather than the skill required to do the job. If you are prepared
for this, the trees you can make will greatly exceed the quality and functionality
of the trees in Part 1.

Part 1: The idiots guide to trees.

Trees are a critical feature on the battlefield. They are a common site in
most climates of most fantasy and futuristic worlds, and are an important link
in the ecological web. Trees come in many shapes and sizes, from the diminutive
Bonsai to the towering Sequoia. on our battlefield, trees provide cover, and
break up the open terrain even more so than hills, permitting only the stealthiest
troops to slip through unhindered.The idiot can take solace in the fact that
many premade trees are available for purchase, most at very reasonable prices.
A good source for these is a model railroad store, from manufacturers such as
Woodland Scenics and Life-Like.
Little is needed to deploy these trees, a hill from the first lesson or even
a flocked piece of cardboard.

This is a nice open piece, with BIG trees, plenty of room to move your fingers
and figs around. The cardboard is cut into a desired shape, and then cut so
that it has a bevelled edge. The ragged corrugated edge (if that is the kind
of cardboard you used) is filled in with drywall spackle, and than lightly sanded.
Glue the trees onto the base, and then flock. This piece is easy to make, and
can be torn apart and rebuilt if doesn’t turn out as desired. The major drawback
is that often, the glue used to hold the flock down will warp the cardboard,
making the piece curl up like a seesaw. Cardboard isn’t particularly rugged,
either, and will eventually wear out from use.

Games Workshop sells trees in packs, the trunks of which end in a twisted metal
wire. These can be inserted into the foam hill at even intervals, and viola,
forest. This is even easier, and makes your hills multi-purpose. If you need
another hill, just remove the trees. The major drawback here is the quality
of the trees. They are painted and flocked bottlebrushes (which explains the
wire “trunk”) and aren’t very attractive. They would be easy to copy, but may
actually be cheaper to buy pre-made than going out and cannibalizing new bottlebrushes.
A ready and cheap source for the latter will mitigate this problem.

OK, there are two solutions, neither perfect, but definitely adequate.

Part 2: The idiots guide to the modular tree system.

WARNING! Probably not for beginners. Read on and
decide for yourself. Now that you have seen some of the alternatives, I shall
now present to you what is possibly the best compromise. Problem: Forests
are too dense, and static, and sometimes leave doubt as to their edges. Troops
dont fit well in these forests, and massed troops avoid them by default, even
if they have the power to move through them. The solution is the modular forest,
an attractive and incredibly functional terrain piece. Tools:
This project requires some power tools. Can the modular forest be made without
them? Yes, but at the cost of your sanity. Trust me, you need to beg/borrow/steal
these tools, or forget it. You could do this with lesser materials, but youll
be sorry.

rotary saw. This will be used to cut out our hardboard pieces. This job can
be done with a powered scroll saw, or a band saw, but this is the cheap and
relatively portable compromise. If you are looking to borrow one, fine someone
who hangs drywall, they probably have one. Cost: about $40.

Dremel tool. Probably the hobbyists best friend, there is little the Dremel
cant do. Except be used as a rotary saw. Actually, there are Dremel tools that
can do both, but they are expensive. You should buy a standard model if you
dont already have one. Make sure you have a drum sander bit with a coarse grit,
this will be used to shape the rough-cut pieces, as well as bevel the edges.

Sander. The above model is the Mouse, by Black and Decker. The kit comes with
many different sanding pads (which attach to the sander with Velcro!), and an
extension for the “nose” to get into smaller areas. I love this little sander!
Any sander will do, even hand sanding, but since you are buying a Dremel, get
the Mouse. About $40.

Drill. (no picture) This can be as simple as a pin vise or hand drill, or as
expensive as a bench drill. You need a bit, too, 1/8″ for the trees well be
using (see below for more info)

Glue gun. (no picture) These are cheap and a terrain maker shouldn’t be caught
dead without one. Get a cheap one, with medium or low temperature gluesticks.

Materials: Hardboard (as little as 12″ X 12″) A “tree kit”wood glue, super
glue, flock. As always, this cutting should be done outside, as it throws a
lot of dust. Using a small round template, such as the lid to a can of spray
paint, trace circles onto your hardboard. Make as many circles as you have trees.
In the remaining area of the board, make some “forest floors.” This is the strict
edge of the forest, and troop crossing into this boundary has entered the trees
and undergrowth.

will want to make sure that at least 2 tree bases fit onto your forest floor

It is easier to cut if you have a way to secure the board. I have used a C-clamp
and a cheap cardtable for this.

The rotary saw will cut through the board fairly easy, but will dull the blade
in short order. If you find you have to push hard on the saw to get it to cut
through the board, adjust the depth gauge to use a different part of the cutting
bit. A burnt smell is a sure sign you need to adjust. These blades are relatively
cheap, about a $1 a piece, you may use up to 2 on this project depending on
how many pieces you are cutting out.

trees I have elected to build all have a peg at the bottom of 1/8″ thickness.
Drill a hole at about the center of the base. You will probably have to trim
some of the peg off, as they are a little long, well get into that later.

off any jagged pieces and bevel the edges of all the bases with the Dremel.
Sand the whole piece, front and back, so its nice and smooth. Mmmm, smooth…
once all of this is done, you can move the project indoors and put all the
power tools away.

Now we need to make trees. Woodland scenics makes a fine array of premade trees,
but the kits are better because we get the bases the way we want them, and we
can paint the trunks if we want, etc… These kits are about $25 new, and come
with a different number of trees based on size. This kit has the largest trees
available, and there are 7 of them in the bag. They come with small bases of
their own, but they are too small for our purposes and not even recommended
by the manufacturer. That is truth in advertising!

The kit also has 3 different shades of flock. This is a self-clumping flock,
which is supposed to look like big fluffy leaves, but can be a little tricky
to work with. You can buy all of these parts separately if you want to provide
your own flock, by the way.

2 of the colors, and crumble them up into a container. Here, I have them in
a bowl with a zip-lock bag as a liner, but I should have used a shoebox or larger,
as I got sloppy with the flock and it wound up all over the floor (see below).
When done, I will use the zip-lock bag to store the unused flock.

Here are two trees. on the left, is the tree as it comes out the bag. on the
right, is the tree after I twisted the hell out of it, giving it a nice, natural
shape. The plastic used to make these trees is meant to do this, and it will
retain its shape without losing its rigidity. Twist all the trees to your liking,
Take this opportunity to clean up the flash on the trunks as well.Here is where
I diverge from the printed instructions on the bag. I use a hot glue gun to
attach the flock in large clumps to the ends of the branches, Woodland Scenics
recommends its own glue. I am happy with my results, but I cant comment of
W.S.s glue, as I haven’t used it. You will have to glue one branch at a time,
grabbing a handful of flock and wrapping it around the hot glue blobs. Yes,
you will get a hot glob of glue on you if you don’t have enough flock in your
hand. There is plenty, don’t be stingy.

After you glue tree flock on all the branches, let all the glue spots cool and
harden, its time to shake out the dead wood. Hit the tree on the table as above
to get all the loose flock out, including anything hanging by a hot-glue thread.
If you think you have too little flock left, you can always add more. When you
are happy, pick all the hotglue “spider webs” out of the tree.

tree should not fit into a base easily. Trim the peg so that it doesn’t stick
out through the bottom of the base. Glue the tree to the base with super glue.
It is stronger than hot glue, and this is an important bond.

Flock the trees and forest floor with your flock of choice and wood glue. Mine
is a fine-ground foam mixed to look like grass. You can put a couple small details
on the tree bases, but NOT the forest floor. This should be as plain as possible,
so that anything placed upon it stays flat. Let this dry well, and then brush
off the excess foam.

There you have it! Now units can move through the forest without having to be
taken off movement trays, and skirmishing troops can be placed without jamming
them under immobile trees. The forest floor never has to be moved, so the forest
edges are never in doubt. Just move or remove the trees when they are in the
way, replace them when the forest is empty. If you have flocked the tree bases
in the same manner as the hill from lesson 1, they may be deployed there as
well, making a forest without ruining your hill.If you are curious, there are
ways to make these trees completely from scratch, but that is for another article.

Links: Black and Decker, Dremel


Posted in Terrain Building.

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