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Art of Making

Gum Trees

The Art of Making Gum Trees

The past twelve months have allowed me to resume my model railway project. Previously I have never completed the scenery on a layout before either deciding the layout wasn’t right and starting again or moving house.

Having bought a house I am confident I will be able to complete the layout however, just in case I decided I would build the layout in stages completing each stage as fully as possible before moving on to the next stage.

This brought me to the challenge of scenery which I have not had to face since I was a young child. While ballasting, base board coverage and buildings seem to have a ready supply of solutions for the Australian modeler these days, I was unable to find any reasonably priced gum trees.

I turned to the pages of AMRM which I have been collecting over many years on and off and found several articles describing various methods of making trees. One article discussed the number of trees required to make a realistic scene. I quickly realised I was going to need a lot of trees and a way to make them quickly. Out of this need I developed the following method and choose to share this with you.

15 AMP power cable (multi core)
Selleys no more gaps (white)
Black Ink (Parker black ink is ok)
Supa Glue

Wire cutters (or pliers)
Sharp hobby knife
2 small pliers
Soldering Iron


Wire Preparation
I like to make about twenty trees at a time, usually in two different heights. The 15 amp power cable has three core wires each separately shielded. Cut off a meter of the cable then strip away the outer shield by running a sharp knife down the length of the cable. Once done, with some effort you should be able to separate the three inner cables.

Cut 10 lengths of 10cm and 10 lengths of 15cm without removing the shielding. Strip a 1cm section of the shield from each short length by rolling the cable on a flat hard surface with a sharp hobby knife. Repeat this for each length. [Photo – Wire being cut with 3 core in back ground and soldered wire in foreground]

Coat the exposed end of the wire with solder. Before the wire cools grasp the soldered end with pliers and use the second pliers to pull back the remaining shielding. Doing this while the wire is hot makes it easier to remove the shield. Otherwise simply run the knife down the length of the wire and strip back the shield. I prefer the first method as I’ve had less cuts from it.

Give the wire a small twist about two thirds up the length of the wire and then solder the wire at this point.

Once completed you should have twenty lengths of wire with solders ends.

Shaping the Tree
Above the second solder point separate the wire bunch into two smaller groups. This creates your first two branches. Repeat this up each of the branches once more and then spread the remaining wire to form the top of the tree by shaping the finer wires into cups. [Photo – shaped tree]

My first tree took fifteen minutes to share, then I continued to play with it until I was truly happy with the outcome. After that I was able to get the shaping process down to two minutes per tree at the worst case.

Making the Goo
My next challenge was to put a coating on the bare wire that would cover up the wire and provide a flexible finish that would allow me to reshape the tree at a later time when placing it on the layout. I traveled down to my local paint store expecting to be able to purchase rubberised paint as used on trampolines only to find this was a specialty paint which could be ordered in.

Being rather impatient and not wanting the expense of the paint I asked if there was a suitable substitute. The sales person pointed out that Selleys no more gaps is water based and could be thinned and may suit my purpose.

Find a container which will allow you enough depth to dip your tree, I use a V05 hair gel container (mega hold). Fill the bottom third of the container with no more gaps, add water and stir until you have a mixture which flows slowly about the consistency of a cake mix. It may take a while to mix the selleys with the water and I advise adding small amounts of water to the mix until you get the desired consistency.

Making the Tree
Dip each tree into the mix making sure you cover the trunk and branches. Place the tree solder end first into a piece of polystyrene. Keep an eye out for and blobs forming on the branches and remove with an old chop stick (the wooden ones you get with takeaway Chinese are great for this job) if they form. Depending on the desired thickness of the trunk you can repeat this process being mindful that you will need one final coat to get the final finish. [Photo – Tree dipping]

Colouring the Trunk
I pour a small amount of the goo into a shallow container or container lid. Drop two or three drops of black ink into the goo. Stir the goo with the chop stick to drag the ink through the mixture forming a circle, similar to the spirals you get on fancy hot chocolates. [Photo – Tree dip with pattern]

Then simply drag the length of the trunk through the mix to form light and dark patterns on the trunk.

Adding the Foliage
I use XXX foliage. Simply cut of a small section, enough to cover the top of the tree, stretch and shape so that it covers the branches attached to the first trunk separation. Touch the tops of the branches with  a supa glue pen making sure only a light coating is applied, then place the foliage onto the branches. Repeat the process for the second branch and all the remaining trees.

The art to making believable trees is in making them all different. Mixing a red-brown paint instead of black gives you a red gum instead of a ghost gum. I’ve played with creating trees with different height branches. This gives the semblance of natural variation that you can see in the bush. [Photo – Various trees]