I found my 15mm trees are too big for my 4 inch hexes on a Deep Battle table. I figured the answer was trees scaled for 6mm (1/285th) or 5mm (1/300th) wargames. Although I had some trees for 6mm scale, I realised I needed to get a lot more, quickly and cheaply. The method I describe here got me over a 1,000 trees for £10 (more or less).
How to make pipe cleaner copses
I’ll quickly outline the tools, materials and method.
You’ll need a few tools:
- Glue gun
- Strong scissors (or small wire clippers)
- Tea light (i.e. small candle)
In terms of materials you’ll need:
- Hot glue for glue gun
- Pre-cut MDF bases or cardboard
- Bumpy chenille pipe cleaners in blackish green
- Wood filler (dark brown)
- Pine green spray paint (RAL 6028 Pine green)
- Flat earth paint
- Dark sand paint for highlighting
- Pale sand paint for highlighting
Do the base preparation in one big batch.
- Prepare bases:
- Buy pre-cut MDF or cut out cardboard bases
- Undercoat bases in black
Go through the steps 2-4 in batches of 7 pipe cleaners. Repeat until you want a break or are done.
- Turn 7 pipe cleaners into trees:
- Select 7 pipe cleaners
- Cut each pipe cleaner into 8 mini-pine trees plus one or two saplings (collectively called “trees”)
- Shape each tree using the flame of a tea light
- Assemble copses:
- Warm the glue gun
- Put three to five blobs of hot glue on a base
- While the glue is still hot, twist four or five trees into the glue
- Stick trees to another base to let the first base cool
- Return the first base and glue on more trees
- Repeat until you have used up all of your trees from this batch and/or filled up four bases
- Fill with earth:
- Use wood filler to fill gaps between the exposed glue and the edges of the base
- Use wood filler to rough up the surface of any remaining exposed glue
- Leave to dry
When you have enough copses piled up to give you a warm glow, finish them off with paint.
- Paint copses:
- Spray paint all the copses pine green
- Leave to dry, which I found took a while
- Paint any exposed earth with flat earth
- Dry brush earth with dark sand
- Dry brush earth with pale sand
Then bask in the glory of owning more trees than any other wargamer in the surrounding 160 km (100 miles).
Further explanation and description
Some of the above needs additional explanation.
Bumpy chenille pipe cleaners
Bumpy chenille pipe cleaners are, well, bumpy. The diameter varies from 6mm to 15mm and a stem is 300mm long. The stems are made from nylon and iron wire. They come in a bag of 100.
You have a variety of choices for colour but I went for blackish-green and dark brown because these colours will look okay under the pine green spray paint. If you are going to pick one colour go for blackish-green. Brown actually makes a better base, resulting in a darker green colour for the trees which I find quite convincing, but the brown trees take masses more spray paint. The blackish-green trees just require a few coats to get to good enough.
Batches of seven pipe cleaners
I undercoated all of the bases together because it was easy.
After that I did batches. I settled on batches of 7 pipe cleaners. That is enough for about 65 trees which is enough for just over four copses. I think I did them in batches for two reasons: I found the tree cutting bit tedious and I like to see the end result quickly. A stronger soul might be happy to do them all as a batch of 100 pipe cleaners (I’m thinking of you Chris).
You could do the final painting at the end, after you’ve got all the copses finished. I didn’t and ended up doing the painting piece three times. So about 20 copses each time. Mainly because I wanted to see the end product and adjust my process.
Most of my 15mm trees are individually based on 2 pence coins (diameter 25.9mm or about 1 inch). My existing 6mm trees are on 1p coins (diameter 20.3mm). For this project I wanted something different, something bigger, because each copse has several of the mini-trees.
I’m lazy so I purchased circular and pill bases from Warbases. For 1000 trees I need about 70 bases (actually I used 67). If you are going down the Warbases route I recommend getting four shapes which come in a variety of pack sizes:
1 x Circular 25mm Diameter x 2mm (Qty 20) – each fits 5-6 trees
2 x Pill 50mm x 25mm x 2mm (Qty 12) – each fits 11-12 trees
3 x Pill 70mm x 25mm x 2mm (Qty 8) – each fits 17-18 trees
3 x Circular 50mm Diameter x 2mm (Qty 8) – each fits 19-20 trees
Since you need about 17 of each shape, you’ll end up with some spares. I used my spares for marshy patches of ground. But that is another blog post. You might notice from the photos I purchased considerably more bases than the rather modest amount listed here. The reality is I just didn’t know how many I’d need and didn’t want to have to re-order.
If I hadn’t gone the pre-cut route, I would have made some bases from cardboard. My cardboard of choice is “Daler – Rowney Studland A1 Mount Board – Coffee”. I buy them in bulk (packs of 10 sheets), making them relatively cheap.
I undercoated all of the bases in black. Both sides. Mainly because I undercoat everything in black. But I could also argue it makes the MDF and/or cardboard more resilient to damp (imagine a glass of water/beer/cola splashing over a wargames table). And it really, really, guarantees that there will be no exposed bases once the copse is finish (although the Pine Green spray is probably sufficient to guarantee this). I did experiment with black followed by flat earth paint – but this extra step didn’t actually give me anything.
Scissors or wire clippers
I used my heavy duty but otherwise normal scissors to cut up the pipe cleaners. After 1000 trees the scissors are blunt and I’ll probably have to replace them. So consider small wire clippers.
Hot glue gun
This method requires a generous application of hot glue from a glue gun.
Cut into mini-trees and saplings
Cut each bump roughly into half to get two tall trees.
You will get some thin sections as by products from between the bumps. Use these as saplings or young pine trees. I only bothered with saplings over 1cm and discarded all the shorter ones.
I planned several possible cuts (Cuts 1-5), but ended up going with Cut 6.
These pictures imply more precision than I’m capable of. I found the cutting tedious and just did it quick. Which I justify as giving a nice variety of tree heights.
Tea lights to shape the trees
For my first first copses I didn’t bother shaping the trees. But they came out a bit too bushy. Admittedly nobody will notice at 4 foot (1.2 m) in a dark wargaming hall. But they offended my sensibilities. So I shaped each tree, top and bottom.
I used a small flame – that of a tea light – to do the shaping.
To shape the bottom of the tree, I held the tree by the tip and twirled the base near, but not in, the flame. This burns away 1-2 mm of foliage from the tree trunk.
To shape the top of the tree, I held the tree by the bottom and twirled the tip very quickly through the flame. This gives it a nicely pointy tip.
Gluing on the trees
I tried being sparing with the glue but that was a mistake. Generous dots of hot glue are what is needed.
To insert each tree I found just poking a tree into hot glue made for a weak bond. I found twisting the tree after I’d poked it into the glue helped attach the glue to the trunk and making the whole thing more robust.
To my surprise the hot glue heated up the wooden bases. So I found it convenient to alternate gluing trees onto two bases. Put five trees on one based, put it aside to cool, and meanwhile put five trees on another base. Then repeat.
My normal flocking technique uses sand. I tried that with the copses but it didn’t look right. The sand didn’t fill the gaps between the giant blobs of glue. So I went to wood filler instead. I used dark brown wood filler in case any showed through the spray paint. None did, but it pays to be cautious.
To apply the wood filler just go around each copse and smear in some wood filler with a spatula anywhere where there is either a gap between blobs of glue or exposed glue.
I spray painted the copses with Pine green spray paint (RAL 6028 Pine green). Aside from providing necessary colour, the spray paint also stiffens the trees making them slightly more robust.
I sprayed the copses from all angles in an attempt to cover all of the trees natural colour. For blackish-green pipe cleaners I only had to go around the trees once. For brown pipe cleaners I had to put the spray paint on really thick and do multiple coats. That is what put me off the brown – too much spray paint.
I tried dry brushing the trees a lighter colour but found it wasn’t worth the effort. I think a spray painted pine colour, and having massed trees on the same base, gave sufficient depth and variation to the colour.
Spray painting covers everything – trees, wood filler earth, glue, and any other gaps between trees. That all gives a general sense of green, which is perfect. You could stop there if you want but I also painted the earth an earth colour.
Aside from using wood filler rather than sand, I used my normal Flocking Wargaming Figures with Flat Earth and Dry Brushing. Okay, with so much green on the copses, I didn’t bother with static grass. I just painted the wood filler with flat earth then dry brushed dark sand and pale sand over the top.
Twisting tiny trees made from pipe cleaners
There was a lot of twisting of tiny trees so I had to perfect my twisting technique.
I had to twist when shaping the bottom of each tree, twist when shaping the top, twist when inserting each tree into the hot glue. Times 1000 trees. I got quite good at twisting.
The secret is to have your fingers slightly damp. With dry fingers I found I couldn’t make the nylon trees spin in my fingers.
My inspiration came from three places: