A little birch – realistic wargaming trees

Wargaming terrain without trees would be a joyless and boring affair indeed. After all we try to recreate naturalistic surroundings for our games and even in arid or cold regions some tree species will dwell. As you will be aware, there are plenty of techniques out there to make visually appealing model trees. Some use prefabricated armatures made of plastic or metal, others go the scratch built route using wire, others again use natural products, such as twigs and sea moss (botanical name chenopodium aristatum). A large variety of foliage products exists, too: Clump foliage, either bought or self-made, fine turf in combination with loose ‘leave’ scatter or foliage nets.

In the end you want to combine the materials that give you the best results, but you don’t want to spend ages making trees either. I hear you! This short tutorial focuses on an easy and fast technique that yields very realistic results. We will make a simple birch tree for 15mm scale using sea moss and MiniNatur foliage nets to achieve a true to life appearance while keeping the time involvement at roughly one hour. If you are looking for a more involved project and even more realistic result have a look at my Oak tutorial or my ancient yew tree.

birch tree, daggerandbrush, 28mm, 15mm, tutorial, sea moss, MiniNatur

Some facts about birch trees

Birches are broad-leaved deciduous hardwood trees of the genus Betula, in the family Betulaceae.  Given there are a number of varieties we first have to decide which species we would like to depict. Not all birch trees feature the black and white bark one usually associates with them. Given this feature really makes them stand out, I decided to make a silver birch (betula pendula). This species is native to Europe and can thus be used for many periods of time and regions. In southern Europe it can only be found in higher altitudes, so it might not be your first choice if you want to give your table a mediterranean feel.

The twigs of the silver birch are slender and often pendulous, the leaves roughly triangular with doubly serrated margins. Comes autumn they turn yellow before they fall off and create a beautiful contrast with the white and black bark. On a related note, model builders and gamers love the seed pods of birch trees. They provide perfectly shaped 28mm scale ‘leaves’ for decorating bases.

birch tree, daggerandbrush, 28mm, 15mm, tutorial, sea moss, MiniNatur

Sea moss – practical considerations

If we look at the sea moss branches out of the box their natural shape works well to depict the silhouette of a silver birch. One small twig is enough for a medium-sized birch tree in 15mm scale. If you intend to make birch trees for 28mm, you need a wire armature that you can add to using the sea moss. However, for 15mm all we need to do now is to shape the branch, add some bark texture and finally drape a foliage net over it.

The entire process without drying time takes about an hour. The tree holds up well to the trials and tribulations of the gaming table, but you cannot just toss them in a box and hope the best. They will break if handled without care, even though the Plastidip and filler add some strength.

What you need

  • A small sea moss twig.
  • A pair of small scissors to shape the twig.
  • A pin vise with a 0.8mm bit to drill a hole in the ‘trunk’ and to insert a piece of wire for added stability.
  • A piece of very thin wire or a needle.
  • Plastidip to cover the entire ‘Meerschaum’ twig for added stability.
  • Wood filler to create a realistic bark texture and to give the sea moss more strength.
  • Acrylic paints: Black, grey and white to paint the bark.
  • Fast setting glue, I use Insta-Cure+ to fix the foliage net in place.
  • MiniNatur foliage net. The birch nets come in spring, summer or autumn varieties. I used half of a small sheet.
  • A broad brush and a very fine brush.
birch tree, daggerandbrush, 28mm, 15mm, tutorial, sea moss, MiniNatur

How you do it

Remove any dry leaves from the twig and clean up the lower section, carefully removing some of the fine twigs  to achieve a clearly distinguishable trunk section. Mount the twig on a piece of styrofoam, but don’t drill a hole in the trunk yet.

Cover the entire twig in Plastidip. This pretty much rubberizes it. You can use the aerosol spray can for this step or decant some of it and use a brush. You might need several coats to achieve a flexible and durable coating. Let cure.

With the help of some wood filler add some texture to the trunk and other twigs in the lower parts of the tree. This also adds some thickness. You can also use caulking for this step if you want to preserve the flexibility of the rubber coating.

Painting the birch

Mix pale grey and paint the entire twig. If the natural colour shines through in some areas this will add some nice colour variations. Now mix a dark grey and add some irregular patches to the trunk and thicker twigs. With some more thinned down shades of dark grey you can add the characteristic horizontal dark lines birch bark has. Finally, with a very thin wash of grey add some colour variation to the lower sections of the trunk.

Adding the foliage

MiniNatur products come in sheets, so you have to cut the sheet to size and tease it carefully apart to make the shape more irregular. Apply some fast setting glue and attach the foliage to the twig. Less is more, as you want the tree to look light and airy.

After the netting is applied, remove the tree from the styrofoam base and drill a hole in the trunk. Insert a piece of wire and secure with glue. Now you can pin it to your gaming table and easily change its position or you could make a base for the tree featuring a magnet to make transport easier.

birch tree, daggerandbrush, 28mm, 15mm, tutorial, sea moss, MiniNatur

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and please comment down below if you have suggestions or would like to share your own techniques to achieve realistic trees.

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Atelier-Robin
6 years ago

I have only just found this (slaps forehead!) How resiliant is the Meeschaum once the tree is completed. I like the idea very much but currently use etched brass which is eye-wateringly expensive. I need tio be re-assured that this Plasti-Dip does the business on the Sea Foam.
Cheers.

trackback
6 years ago

[…] Here’s a link to the Dagger and Brush guide to painting Birch […]

aceobjection
6 years ago

Fantastic tutorial! You make it seem so easy to produce such realistic trees.

aceobjection
Reply to  DaggerAndBrush
6 years ago

Tried it tonight and I’m really happy with how it turned out. Although I think yours still looks better. I may have gotten a little overzealous with the colors :p but it was fun!

aceobjection
Reply to  DaggerAndBrush
6 years ago

Hmmm technology seems to be winning the fight against me today, but I’ll eventually have pics of it up on my blog. I’ll talk about and link your tutorial to it too so hopefully others can get inspired to try some different kinds of trees in their miniatures.

Roslind
7 years ago

Your pictures are wonderful. I use cork bark logs to make my woodland themes. This would be a great item to add as I only use natural things from our glen. My trees were the only things that were artificial so I am definitely going to try this if I can find out where I can buy the sea moss

trackback
7 years ago

[…] trees I found 1, 2, 3 different ways of making […]

Opa Wuttke
8 years ago

Thanks for the tutorial. Your works are always a source of inspiration

DeDa
DeDa
8 years ago

Klasse Beitrag!
Aber wo ich ein bischen skeptisch bin ist die Stabilität?!
Im Urzustand ist das Zeug doch fast gummiartig.

tinpotrevolutionary
8 years ago

What a brilliant looking set of trees you have there, I have to say I am very fond of your miniature photography, it looks amazingly realistic!

tinpotrevolutionary
Reply to  DaggerAndBrush
8 years ago

I look forward to it!

briansmaller
briansmaller
8 years ago

Great tutorial I have to get making terrain as I am currently stuck with a green cloth and books to contour hills.

Tony Harwood
8 years ago

Great tutorial thank you for the link.
Tony

arkiegamer
8 years ago

Another excellent detailed tutorial. Lovely results!

arkiegamer
Reply to  DaggerAndBrush
8 years ago

I think they would. The price might not be such an issue-I think the biggest single improvement to my bocage would be to increase the variety of foliage. If you look at photographs of the real thing, the hedges are wild, not some sort of unkempt mono-culture. A few foliage nets might really spice things up. I need to buy some and try it out.

I really want to try your birch tree painting method. I think it would work on my twigs, with a few minor adjustments.

40kterminatus
8 years ago

Lovely looking trees and great tutorial 🙂 What are you using for your beutiful backdrop for the pictures ?

40kterminatus
Reply to  DaggerAndBrush
8 years ago

It is something I need to get round to and I`m sure people would be interested if you wrote an article 🙂

sylirael
8 years ago

The birch bark you’ve painted looks so realistic! Really reminds me of the many birch forests I’ve hiked through on various quests (in real life)…

Those MiniNatur nets really seem to be the ticket if you want properly natural looking foliage. I think it’s worth it to pay a bit more to have that kind of look at your fingertips, as opposed to having to sacrifice ‘realism’ or go flake by flake yourself 😉

172fixer
8 years ago

That’s pretty slick. I’ve always gone the Woodland Scenic route, but yours look a heap more realistic. Nice tutorial! 🙂