Making pine trees for a model railroad

Louis has been in touch again. This time he shares making pine trees for a model railroad:

(his last post is here).

“Hi Al

After the 1950’s computer controlled post I saw that some modellers wanted to see my pine tree how to.

To make the tree I do the following steps.

1. I got scrap lengths of 4 mm electrical wire (AWG 6) from the local electrical contractor.
2. Strip the plastic off and separate the strands, There is 7 strands in the wire.
3. Clamp each strand in a vice and then spin it with a drill to straiten them.

Making pine trees for model railroad

4. Use about 300 mm (12”) of wire or longer and fold it double with a loop at the closed end.
5. Unravel small lengths of hessian twine that will form the branches.
6. Insert the twine between the wires for the full length of the wires.
7. Insert the two open ends into a drill (I use my cordless drill) and hook the loop into a secured hook.
8. Wind the two wires together with the drill to form the tree. This method is well documented on the internet.
9. Snip off the top and use scissors to form the tree. Once done spray it green.

Making pine trees for model railroad

10. From the local woodwork or DIY shop get a bag of sawdust.
11. Sift the sawdust using a fine (flower) sift to remove any large pieces to get fine sawdust.
12. Mix some green fabric dye in water into a glass bowl.
13. Cover the bowl with a piece of cloth and then press it into the dye.
14. Add some sifted sawdust into the dye in the cloth. The cloth is used to get the coloured sawdust out. You only do it once without a piece of cloth then never again.
15. Put it out in the sun to dry. Different colours of sawdust can be used as ground cover.
16. Once dry put it into a shaker to sprinkle it on trees etc.
17. Spray the formed tree with spray adhesive and then sprinkle the coloured sawdust over it.
18. Make sure that you sprinkle over an open container to catch the excess sawdust.
19. Once done I lightly re spray the tree with adhesive to lock the sawdust into place.

Making pine trees for model railroad

Making pine trees for a model railroad:

20. To make the tree trunks I use a 6mm (1/4”) dowel cut into short lengths.
21. Drill small holes into both ends of the dowel. I use my woodwork lathe for this.
22. Shape the one end into a taper using a file and the lathe.
23. Use a rasp file or wire brush to scour the trunk length wise.
24. As a base, paint the trunk using Burnt Umber acrylic paint.
25. Use white PVA glue to glue a small nail into the bottom of the trunk. Helps with installation.
26. Trim the bottom wire of the tree to length and then glue it into the top of the trunk.

Making pine trees for model railroad

Making pine trees for model railroad



A big thanks to Louis – it reminded me of Boyd’s excellent tree post:

“Just a reminder that it’s not too hard to come up with makeable things to save money on a RR platform.

On S.S. It would be hard to come up with the $$ to purchase what is needed. So I have been making most all of the scenery.

To go along with old time theme’s, I have made houses, and shops out of painted boxes. Log cabins out of dowels. And green painted wide popsicle sticks glued to cardboard for a roof. I live in the South, so I picked a bag full of Spanish moss, boiled it for 20 min’s. to kill germs and bugs. Expecting to chop it up in a food processor today for ground cover.

Made 2 wooden tunnel entrances and of course the mountain is still in progress. Also, I have made a RR bridge, and expect to make a covered bridge out of painted black popsicle sticks. With the sticks glued in x forms, I glued 2 cat food cans together, wound green wire around twice and tightened to look like cables, all to be a water tower. Black paint plus other colors does wonders to change the appearance of many items.

Also I was looking at bushes in the area, (Don’t know what kind?) but they look like pine, or spruce. On the tips of each branch they came to a point and looked just like small pine trees. I broke off a good number that will never be noticed. Already a darker green, I painted them a green I wanted, then sprayed with clear laquer to preserve. Hopefully they will not turn brown and fall off. These became a lot of free pine trees.

Most things you would want on a platform can be made with a little ingenuity. And popsicle sticks!


“Dear Al,

I would like to add a small suggestion for scenery ‘stuff.’

I recently was in a situation where I needed to sharpen a bunch of pencils (~50). As I was about to empty the shavings, I stopped and looked and thought that the shavings would be excellent material for a layout. It’s dried, natural, and has that random curliness that can bring some realism to an area.

I know many people don’t use regular wood pencils anymore, but if you know a teacher or other organization that does, you could ask for them to save the shavings for you over a period of time. Voila, free material!

You could use as-is without painting or add paint or mix it in with other material as you see fit.

Also, shavings of the graphite part of the pencil would be great coal dust or weathering powder.


Love all the good info shared on this site. Thank you to you and your contributors!


“Hi Al,

a quick update on my new layout, after been on holiday for 2 weeks afraid not a great deal done, but least getting one side of the layout looking more like a railway again



Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

A huge thanks to everyone. Great to see Dave’s layout coming along – again!

Also thanks to Louis for sharing his way on making pine trees for a model railroad.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS More HO scale train layouts here if that’s your thing.

11 Responses to Making pine trees for a model railroad

  1. Rube Simon says:

    Louis, thanks for the tree tutorial. I rarely see model trees that I like, they looking like duplicates of themselves. Yours are unique individuals, and seeing how you go about it makes perfect sense. You are truly your model’s “God”, caring for each one in its own right.

  2. Rod Mackay says:

    Liked its more industrial look beforehand, Dave, but I expect we’ll get used to the countryside. If you’re keeping the bridges it would look a bit more lifelike to carry the river on under more bridges in the foreground for the road and low-level railway. Try Googling Carmarthen!

  3. Wm althaus says:

    Wonderful series of tips and ‘How To’s’

    Always learning new things from all the contributions!

  4. Dan Hulitt says:

    To Louis;

    Just made a few trees this weekend prior to reading your post. I ended up using sisal rope, just unwound the strands, stuck between the wires and zip with the drill. I suspect that step 14 is very important. I will be getting some dye today. Your trees look very good.
    To Susan,
    I can see that shavings could be a useful texture to the scenery. Some caution with the graphite, as while very conductive, it is also a lubricant, so it if gets on the track, depending on the location, it could hamper traction. Careful spraying of the scenic location with a matte fixative should minimize that.

    MN Dan

  5. Don Ripper says:

    To Dave, To each his own, personally I love your new country village look. All the best, Don

  6. David Henady says:

    Questions for Dangerous Dave: what brand/code track do you use? Do you re-use old track when you redesign your layout? If so, how do you remove it, clean it, and prepare it for re-use? Where did you get your backdrops? They are fantastic and create a great depth of field. I will soon be retired and have already started acquiring supplies for my first HO layout.
    Another Dave from Indiana.

  7. Love the tree tutorial… Excellent ideas…
    Dave’s wonderful railway has always been a treat… But the latest version is just flat out amazing! Really love some of the new scenes… Very realistic with a good scenery to track ratio.
    John CA – USA

  8. Ian McDonald says:

    the how to on pine trees is great. Daves layout is looking good. thanks for sharing.

  9. david says:

    Thank you for comments , to answer Dave from Indian , I do use about 50% of re cycled track , some gets beyond being used again , to lift it , I just spray with PVA water mix , leave for about 15 min/utes , then get a thin knife and slice underneath , usually lifts quite easy , then just clean off with a wire brush , the back drop scenic paper is from Gaugemaster , 3 rolls for about £8 which will cover 10 ft with a 1 ft drop …There not doubt will be a few changes before I complete the layout , but all suggestions will be taken in to consider if and how can be added …..Dangerous Dave

  10. Larry Johnson says:

    I’ve used dyed sawdust (RIT) for more than 35 years. It can be dyed in any shade. Makes a great ground cover. I use rip sawdust sometimes, for s different texture.

  11. Mike says:

    Hi Al, I retired just over a year ago and have spent my first year in retirement sitting around and twiddling my fingers wondering what to do next. Then having seen your site and enjoyed reading the many comments decided that a model railway layout would be just the thing to get rid of the boredom. So about six weeks ago I set too and built my case board which is 4:5 meters long and 2:5 meters wide with access holes to allow me to reach any part of the board, I am sure many of your readers have done this too. i asked a couple of art students to from my local University to draw and paint a backdrop onto canvass which they did. But now I am torn between which scale to use and what to buy in the way of track, loco’s and rolling stock, to be honest I simply don’t have a clue which way to go now or what to do. Should I go Analog or DCC? Which manufacturer to use! There are so many to choose from. I need help from your readers. One more thing Al, how does one add pictures to your site, I can’t see any way of doing it.

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