Saturday, December 27, 2014

Cheap Trees for the Tabletop

 To run my big French & Indian War events, I need lots of trees. I mean LOTS of trees. I've been borrowing some from my friend Steve for the last couple years. I decided it was time I added to my own collection. And I wanted to do it in a relatively inexpensive way. So, I headed up to Michaels Craft store in the hope of finding something in their plastic plant collection that would work. I found a couple plastic pine branches meant as Christmas
decorations. The pine bristle parts pop off in "branches" of three fronds that look like trees on their own. They were the perfect height, too, so I picked one of them up for $4.99, at 60% off for about $3. Once I popped off all the branches, it would create 12 trees. I liked the looks of them so well, I went back and got a larger one at $9.99 (60% off for about $6). It was good for about 20.

Now, how to base them up? I would need washers for the base, of course. When the branches pop off, it creates a hollow plastic cylinder about 3mm in diameter, and about 1 cm long. I picked up a box of carpet tacks that the cylinder would fit tightly over. I found out after gluing the first batch down, though, that I needed heavier fender washers to keep the tree upright on the tabletop. So, it was back to the hardware store for about 30 big fender washers.

So, without further ado, here's the tutorial for creating pine trees for the tabletop on the cheap!

The carpet tack was epoxied upright over the hole in the smaller washer (1/8th inch hole by 3/4" diameter). However, the washer is not heavy enough to keep the tree from tipping over. Thus, it is epoxied to the thicker fender washer, as above.
A row of the washers with carpet tacks epoxied in place atop, waiting for the tree branch to be glued onto them. A friend suggested I should have had the carpet tack go up THROUGH the hole of the first washer, not just atop it. Good point, as I did have a few carpet tacks pop off during the process.
One of the Christmas pine branches from Michaels craft store. This larger one is good for about 20 separate trees.
Pop! The pine bristles pop easily off into a branch with three fronds that looks very, as Pippin would say, "Tree-ish"
I used a hot glue gun and placed a blob atop each carpet tack. Then the branch was pushed onto the carpet tack. The excess glue ran down onto the base to give a good contact with the washers.
I have a premixed batch of white glue and brown paint. I squirted some of this into the palette and brushed the glue/paint mix over the washer and onto the bottom of the trunk.
Quickly dip the wet washer into a tub of brown coarse ballast and swish it around to make sure the washer is fully covered. You will need to scrape or brush off the ballast that adheres to the bottom.
I missed taking pictures of a step here. After the ballast is dry, I fill up a dish with a premixed 50/50 white glue and water mixture. I then squirt some dark brown paint into it and mix thoroughly. I then dip each washer down into it, setting it to dry on something it won't stick to (I use a cardboard box that I place things on to spray prime). The dark brown glue and water mix settles into the crevices of the ballast as a kind dark wash -- sealing it at the same time. Next (the step pictured above), dry brush the base a khaki to give it depth.
One more dish of 50/50 white glue and water mix is put into a dish. I then do a final sealant by dipping the washer base into the dish and spreading the glue over it with a cheap brush. For the un-pictured step above, just imagine this white glue and water mix with dark brown paint in it.
And here they are -- my pine trees on the cheap -- with a 28m Conquest Miniatures Indian for scale.

So, how much did it all cost for about 32 trees? Well, I have lots of the small washers and carpet tacks left over, of course. I would estimate it cost me just a bit over 50 cents per tree. They were quick and easy to create and will look fine in mass on the tabletop. So, if you're interested, head out to the local craft store while they have the plastic Christmas pine branches on sale...!

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