Friday, 15 July 2011

Tree bases

One of the horrible expenses of wargaming, both in time and money, is decent looking terrain. Today, I'm going to talk about a fix for trees.

Trees are always a pest. Unlike hills and rivers, they don't scale satisfactorily; you have to have groups for all the figure sizes you're likely to use, just as you do with buildings. And unlike buildings, you tend to need a lot of trees. Small numbers of them just look wrong.

You can make trees, but it's a lot of work and you need to be good with your hands. You can buy them, but robust ones tend to be pricey and the strongest ones you can get don't really look very much like trees, being far too round and regular. The other annoying thing about trees is that you need to find a way to get them to stand up. Tree models are top heavy, and they usually just come as little wire stems in the expectation that they're going to be speared into a permanent layout. Wargamers don't do that - they need trees in little clumps which can be dotted round the table or tightly clumped to make forests. I've never been able to come up with a way to spike small scale trees into a base which stood up over time.

Last week, I took delivery of about a hundred nice trees which were made out of wire cable, and had to do something with them. And I think I may have cracked it. The problem is to get a base which is thick and rigid enough to hold the wire stem firmly without being too thick or heavy. And it needs to be something which is soft enough to drill holes in, without being so soft that the tree will wobble out.

The answer - provisionally - is a specialist woodworking component called a biscuit. It's a compressed lozenge of birch fibre 4mm thick and about one inch by two. They're made for a joinery technique called biscuit jointing, and you buy them in bags of a hundred. Chamfer the edges so that they'll blend somewhat smoothly into the table surface, drill holes in them, and then poke the wire stems into the holes with a dab of wood glue. Paint and flock the bases to fit your terrain scheme, and there you go. It seems to work for trees scaled for 10mm and 6mm, where you're going to get about four trees on a biscuit without crowding. Once you go up to 15mm scaled or 25mm scaled trees, you're probably going to be better off buying proper plastic tree bases and gluing them to scrap card bases in the normal way.

I think I did the first batch the wrong way, throwing them together and then painting and flocking the bases; I'm doing a second batch now by painting and flocking the bases before I drill them and glue in the trees. The quickest and safest way to chamfer the bases is with a sanding wheel on a dremel; the texture of the biscuits doesn't lend itself to shaving them with a knife. The other thing to keep in mind is that the biscuits are designed to swell up when they're coated with PVA glue, so it's a good idea to seal them with paint before you do any flocking.

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