Cheap trees

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Seeing the Forest for the Trees by pluv

1:18 scale cheap tree tutorial based on Darkwynter's Slayer Con 2 demonstration.



Last March at Slayer Con, Darkwynter showed a group of us how to create 1/18 scale trees for dioramas. Up until that point I used house plants, fake bonsai trees, or aquarium tank decorations any time I needed a wooded setting and couldn't find it outside. All of the other tutorials for trees in this scale proved too cost or time prohibitive to create even a few trees' worth. Darkwynter showed how to create both evergreen (pine) and decidious (leaf) trees quickly and with enough supplies for under $20 to create several trees. This tutorial focuses on a leafy foliage type tree.

Darkwynter's dio with trees he created


  • Tree/bush branches
  • Spray on adhesive
  • Sprinkle on foliage/turf from model train or gaming store
  • Dish washing sponge
  • 2"x4" piece of balsa wood
  • Small wood screw
  • Wood glue
  • large box or plastic tote, wide but not deep
  • somewhere to spray the adhesive
Foliage using bushes, underbrush, and fine turf (not pictured)

Step 1: Branching out

Darkwynter special ordered a tumbleweed branch that very much resembled an in-scale Elm, Oak, or Maple tree with its darker color and rough ridged texture. Determined to do this as cheap as possible I scoured my yard for a tree or bush branch that would work. The trick is finding one that has a good 360 degree coverage since most branches like to curve up towards the sun. I finally found some worthy branches on one of the flowering bushes out on our walk-way. They have more of a cherry tree type bark.

Step 2: Attach base

The tree, formerly known as branch, needs to stand up. For that we need to attach it to a base. Not knowing what terrain this will be for yet I'm going with a smaller base. I can always dress it up more later or cover it entirely. I used a 2 inch by 4 inch piece of Balsa wood from the hobby store. This is from the same plank I use to make diorama doors with so I tend to always have some around. If you are using a larger/heavier branch you will probably want a bigger piece of wood. Either way apply a small drop of wood glue on the bottom if the tree and use the wood screw to tighten the base to the tree. Now we're ready for foliage.

Step 3: Sponge chunks

Cut up the dish sponge into small chunks. The size of the chunks depends on the size of the tree. We're going to use these chunks as filler to make the tree look fuller, so be sure to cut the chunks into natural shapes and not sharp angular cuts. Unlike I did, try to choose a color sponge that more closely matches the overall colors of the tree.

Step 4: Make like a tree and leaf

You are going to want to do this next step in a well ventilated area but not outside in the wind. You're going to spray the adhesive and then place some of the cut-up sponge chunks into larger open areas on the tree. This should be done over a box or plastic tote so you can reuse anything that doesn't stick. WARNING: Do not sprinkle where you spray. The foliage will stick to even a small amount of spray of adhesive. There really is no wrong placement in this step. Every tree looks different.

Spray on more adhesive and then sprinkle on some of the gaming bushes or under foliage, again, over the box. You will most likely have to spray and apply the turf several times for it to fill out the way you want it. Spray and sprinkle. Spray and sprinkle. Pick some of the fallen turf off the bottom of the box. Spray and sprinkle again. It is okay if the foliage sticks to the Balsa wood base. Real leaves fall from real trees all the time.

Note: I used two shades of green and went with the lighter shade first (bushes). Those will be the ones getting less sunlight. Then I went with a much darker olive green over it (under foliage). Find some color combos you like on real trees and try to match their appearance.

When I felt the tree had a decent amount of coverage I mixed what was left of the two together and added a third type (burnt turf). While the color was a perfect match to the darker green, the real reason I used it was that it was finer grit and would be able to stick to the really skinny branch tips better. With the combination of the foliage types I went back to spraying adhesive and then sprinkling foliage to fill up the bare spots and do some final shaping.

Foliage mixture


Major thanks goes out to Darkwynter. He made this look super easy. This was my first try without his supervision and while it could have been better it is still pretty good. I probably spent more time setting up the camera than I did actually working on the tree. The only real cost was the foliage. Between coupons and holiday sales I only spent $8 total on it despite what the sticker prices say.

Final tree with Owen Commander there for scale
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