Wire Trees in 1/285-an Incomplete Exploration

The terrain board I’m preparing is for the historical scenario ‘Action at Galmanche’ from the I Ain’t Been Shot Mum 3 rulebook. The terrain includes a bit of row crops, some roads, and farm buildings, but the primary components are several orchards and a copse of ‘forest,’ which the little farming hamlet of Galmanche is arranged around.

I don’t have any trees of suitable size for 1/285 gaming. I’ve given some though to purchasing Chinese Z scale model railroad trees from ebay. They’re dirt cheap and look fairly decent when doctored up a bit (note: I haven’t had any personal experience with the ebay trees-this is all just internet hearsay). Unfortunately, as little free time as I currently have, I have even less discretionary income. With that weighty fact looming over my head, I’ve decided to make my own trees.

My girlfriend and I have been building some raised garden beds this week in preparation for spring planting. Part of the raised beds is a metal screen to prevent moles, voles, and other creatures with ‘oles’ in their name from digging up from the natural ground and eating the sweet succulent roots of our vegetablish progeny. This screen is rolled up and secured with malleable thin gauge wire, which is absolutely perfect for making small scale model trees. I’m sure this baling wire is available at any hardware store.

What you'll need

What you’ll need

You’ll need a pair of pliers, a pair of wire cutters, and (obviously) some of the aforementioned wire in order to make these tree armatures.

A variety of scales

A variety of scales

Making these trees has been an experimental process for me. Above are some of my early efforts, which used a simple two sections of wire twisted together. This works fine for small scale trees, but as you can see from the tall tree in the center, they can begin to look a bit bizarre. At least for Europe. Tall trees with no lower foilage make perfect sense in the context of the Serengeti plain. Maybe. In any case, the super simple method of only using two pieces of wire works great for my orchards (similar in scale to the tree with dark foliage to the right). More investigation was needed to arrive at a decent European or American oak/walnut/maple/whatever.

Components for a multi-branched tree

Components for a multi-branched tree

At 1/285, you can get away with depicting even the mightiest of oaks in an impressionistic way. I decided having two tiers of branches would do a fine job of depicting a tree with full foliage. A practical constraint on adding more branches is that doing so also adds to the caliper of the tree trunk, and the trunk can quickly get out of scale when working with such diminutive dimensions.

The initial twist

The initial twist

The operation for twisting your wire together is this: Cluster your wires together and grab the ‘root’ end (the end with the loops) with your wire cutters. DON’T CUT. Grab the roots maybe an 1/8th of an inch above the ends if you plan on having visible roots. If you’re going to be jabbing your tree into a base or foamcore or something of that nature, just grab the base of the trunk as low as possible and snip off the loops when the armature is constructed.

On the top end of the tree, grab the branches with your pliers. The end of your pliers should be placed at the point at which you want the lower tier of branches to begin. With this accomplished, begin to slowly twist. You should at least twist enough to get a tight ‘weave’ of the wires. I like to ‘overtwist’ the trunk a bit, because the excess twisting begins to introduce deformations into the overall shape of the trunk, and these deformations, if you don’t overdo it, look very naturalistic.

The photograph above shows the initial trunk twisting, which stops at the lower tier of branches. This lower tier of branches has been spread out and angled upwards about 60 degrees from zenith.

The basic armature complete

Now you grab the cluster of wires where you’d like the upper branches to begin. The wires will mesh together and won’t affect the lower trunk unless you begin to ‘overtwist.’ Again, overtwisting might be desirable. Once you have the trunk constructed, it’s time to bend and place the branches. This is easily done by hand. I just try to achieve some sort of naturalistic spread of branches that is going to also give me a full spread of foliage.

Next you need to make the root decision. If you’re going to be pushing the trees into some sort of soft medium, and aren’t concerned with the fiddly detail of visible roots, you should just cleanly snip off the end of the trunk. I’d cup my non-tool wielding hand around the tree armature to prevent injury from wire shrapnel.

If you want visible articulated roots, just snip the bends in the pieces of wire and spread them out in a manner similar to the branches. Obviously you’ll want a flatter zenith angle relationship to the trunk.

What to do about bark

I think this wire tree armature thing works quite well for 1/285 scale trees. A bit of googling will show some extremely complicated (but awesome) ways of doing wire trees for larger scales, but this is about as far as I’d want to go at my scale.

I had hoped that I’d be able to push these wire trees into my blue foam rigid insulation and pull them out later. Unfortunately, the foam tends to compress under the pressure from the wire instead of parting and gripping it. You might get better results with other, less dense, types of foam, or by grinding the trunk to a sharp point. I think I’m going to work out some sort of basing system for my trees, and go with the articulated root system.

I’ll show you how to clad these things in bark and paint them just as soon as I’ve figured it out. I’m thinking fimo, greenstuff, or drywall spackle and a shot of black primer with some quick drybrushing. Maybe I’ll try all three. Or maybe I’ll just paint the bare metal. I’m just after an impression, after all.

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  • arkiegamer  On 03/21/2013 at 1:44 pm

    Oh. I should say that constructing these armatures takes 5-10 minutes per tree. Quite quick and easy. This bark business might prove to be a real pain, though.

  • tinpotrevolutionary  On 03/22/2013 at 8:00 pm

    Outstanding. The final multi-wire tree is most verisimilitudinous!

  • arkiegamer  On 03/23/2013 at 9:04 am

    Thank you, sir. I’ve built enough trees to take care of my orchards, but I’ll have to acquire more wire to handle the forest. I’m excited to see how they look en masse.

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