Into the Woods

27 02 2011


Let me start by saying that I am REALLY pleased with the ways my trees have turned out.  So much so, that I am reluctant to blog about them for fear that next weeks work will really seem lame by comparison.  Not everything turns out the way I hope and on more than one occasion I have “taken a C” on a particular element of my miniatures and moved on.  Trees I nailed though.

A number of years ago I created trees for my original miniatures project.  I made about 20 or 30 one inch square stand with three trees on it.  It took a while to do but I was generally pleased with the results.  I used really colorful fall foliage because I thought it looked really nice.  In retrospect not my best move as very few battles where fought in the fall.  Still, it was my forest and I wanted fall colors.  Nyaah.

The first time we played with my trees I received a rude awakening.  20 or 30 stands of trees on a 8 foot by 4 foot table looked pathetic.  I missed creating the correct number of trees by well over an order of magnitude.  In fact I needed to go into mass production on my trees if I wanted my trees to look… well like a forest.  Instead of representing trees on my table with trees, we instead used green felt cut into patterns.  I stored the better part of a bolt of green felt along with my hills and would cut new pieces as needed whenever we set up a new game.  It was a workable but unsatisfying solution.


When I revived the notion of having a Civil War table, I considered the trees to be a central part of the problem.  My forests WILL be made of trees.

Impact on Battle

Scarcely a single battle of the civil war lacked for trees.  Some battles, like the Wilderness or Shiloh could be said to have been fought in a forest.  Even in battles where there was much open terrain, stands of woods had a mighty impact on the battle.  Here are a few ways trees influenced the Civil War battlefield.

  • Reduced visibility – Troops in woods could become virtually invisible.  Troops within the woods themselves could vanish within just a few dozen yards of heavy forest and many impressive acts of deception where achieved by maneuvering just on the other side of a path of trees.  Jackson’s surprise flanking march at the battle of Chancellorsville was achieved largely by the presence of trees
  • Cover – There is lots of cover In a forest.  Holding a wooded area proved to be a successful tactic, particularly if a unit held the edge of a wooded area and fired at the enemy in the open. 
  • Building supplies for improvised cover – If troops did not have the great fortune to be positioned within a forest, being close to trees and having a few minutes to prepare was very nearly as good.  Confederated in particular seemed to be extremely skilled moving felled trees to where they could provide meaningful cover for crouching and firing.
  • Reduced movement – On the downside, movement through woods would occur at a much slower rate than in the open.  Potentially movement could be halved or even quartered based on the density of the woods.

Building Trees

In my original tree project I mounted trees on the same kind of bases I mounted my miniatures on, namely hand cut bass wood glued to a piece of metal.  My thought originally was that I could store them on magnets.  This is a deeply bad Idea.  Given that my scenario calls for at least 10 square feet of woods (and the more I think of it, more like 16) storage will be an issue.  16 square feet of storage space will be costly, especially if I have to cover it in sheet magnet which can be $10 or so a square foot.

If I make everything light, I could just chuck everything into a shoebox and fix battle damage as it occurs.  Also, I need something a little easier than hand cutting bases.  Don’t they make bits o’ wood already? 


Michaels, seller of cool stuff, has on their popsicle stick isle, bits of stunningly cheap round bits o’ wood for about $1.99 a bag.  Huzzah!  A single bag will cover about 9 square inches in two different sizes(about 1.5 inch and 3/4 inch diameter circles.


I start by gluing two layers of Fine ballast to the top of the disk.  This will make for the painted dirt service.


Once done I spray paint the bases, generously, with brown paint.


I then dry brush the bases with burnt sienna (a style of painting where only the raised areas are touched by the paint).


I then paint the edges of the base with black paint.


This finishes the painting of the bases.  Next step is to drill three different size holes in the base for tree trunks.  I do enough of this that I have a drilling station in my garage.



I then cut dowels to fit the two larger holes.  These will become tree trunks.


I then glue the two different size dowel bits to each of the bases.  (note:In the smaller bases, I either put a small or medium hole.)


I then use ink to dye the dowels a more trunk like color.


Once dry I apply glue and static grass.  This is a really bizzare process involving a blowing the grass using a large squeeze bottle.


This finishes the ground appearance of the tree stand.


Next I create trees.  To create conifer trees I use black bump chenille.  This is basically a pipe cleaner with alternating long and short hairs.


I cut the chenille so that I have about 3/4 inch tall bits that go from wide to skinny.  I pull the a little of the black fur out of the chenille bit on the wide end so that I can attach these guys to the bases later.


Next I put a “light” layer of glue on the chenille…


… and dip the chenille into a dark mix of forest scenics grass blend.


Once dry, I can glue the trees to the bases by taking the protruding wire coated in white glue…


…and slipping them into the small holes in my bases.


I finish the trees by super gluing different colored bits of clump foliage to the tree trunks.


This is the completed batch of trees…


… and this is about 4 completed batches of trees.


I expect I will have about 8-10 batches of these trees by the time I am done.  It’s slow work but it beats the bejesus out of felt.



3 responses

4 03 2011

Great looking trees. Now, if I only had the tools you use I’d be making a lot of trees using your technique.

4 03 2011
Douglas G. King

The tools look fancier than they are. That drill press is a mounted dremel. It’s easier to use as a press but you could free hand it if you liked. The miter cut is a 90 degree cut so the cheapest miter box money can buy will work.

3 07 2015
Planting Trees | Velociengineer's Workshop

[…] Individual trees don’t look right to me at that scale. The tutorials I found were either too much work, fragile, or downright dangerous.  So I stole the good ideas from the last two and came up with […]

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