An Alternative to Wire Armature Trees for HO and N Scale

When it comes to model trees, wire armature trees are often considered the holy grail of tree making. Of course model makers have experimented with other methods for a long time – using sagebrush, other natural plants, seafoam, but nothing brings as much variety, flexibility and possibilities to the table as wire armature trees. If you have mastered both the twist and the wrap techniques, you can virtually make any type of tree in any scale – Z to G. Here is a classic example of a wire tree that is one of the most popular wire tree tutorials on the internet – Luke Towan’s apple tree:

Now, while wire armature trees are definitely top notch, it is also extremely time consuming to build from scratch. Also, twisting and turning the wires to make armature is one thing, then comes applying some sort of a modeling paste to create the bark texture. Once all that is done, there is then the question of foliage. I’ve never been a fan of clump or fiber foliage to make quality trees – those little out of control strings have always bothered me and the end result is often not hat realistic or pleasing to the eye. As Vikas Chander pointed out to me one day, the only thing that can make a difference to a tree is Silfor/ Mininature leaves. But now, we have a very time consuming process to make armatures, and then an expensive foliage. So unless you want truly fine scale tree to showcase in a central photo location of your layout or diorama, wire armature plus Silfor would be an overkill indeed.

When I endeavored into making some quality model trees to revamp Wrightsville Port’s scenery, I was looking just for easy way to make better trees. In the mean time I discovered seafoam, by far the best product that I’ve seen for model trees that delivers superb results. However, even the most impressive seafoam structures are only or trees with single stem structure. It is impossible to make models of trees with large trunk splitting into a fork with seafoam. So for trees with multiple boughs I decided to attach small seafoam brunches to the plastic armatures by Woodland Scenics. If you are following my work, I first attempted this method when experimenting distress modeling with my Coverall factory building.

About a month back, I sat down to make more trees in the same method, but this time when shaping the armatures, I once accidentally twisted the armature much more than what I intended. And I’m so glad that I did, because right at that moment, I realized that these plastic armatures are way more flexible and malleable than I thought! So, just for the sake of experiment, I continued twisting them and ended up seeing extra ordinary result – tree armature that looks EXACTLY like wire armatures.

From there on, things went very different than what I imagined. I discovered that it is possible to achieve really good results with these plastic armatures, and if you have the patience to add seafoam twigs to individual branches you can make pretty amazing trees that can compete with wire armature trees any day, especially for small scale. Moreover, the bark textures and additional details of these armatures are already there, so all you need is to use some basic painting techniques to bring out the details. All the twisting and turning also makes the bark texture more authentic. Here are four trees that I made so far – two generic summer trees (actually those are modeled after hickory) and two incredible fall trees (one sycamore and another birch). Here are the videos showing the method:

So there you go – if you are modeling in most popular model train scales like HO, OO or N, or smaller diorama scales like 1:72, this method (I feel), is a winner over the wire tree method in apple to apple comparison of details vs. the time it would take to make them. All you need are a bag of plastic armatures (Woodland Scenics, Heki and bunch of them are available in the market), some seafoam (I bought from Scenic Express, but you can get it from Heki or Gaugemaster), gel type super glue, some spray paint and some turf and leaves – you are set to make some really good looking trees for your models.

Now, what can be EVEN better AND EASIER? Stay tuned and subscribe to my YouTube channel to find out!

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