Tutorial: 15mm Palm Trees

15mm Palm Tree Tools Saturday afternoon I put together three more wire palm trees. I took a few photos while I did so, so here’s a mini-tutorial on masking tape and wire palm trees.

Gather your tools! I used paper masking tape and 0.9mm gardening wire. I had 0.6mm gardening wire handy as well but I believe it probably wouldn’t be thick enough to make a palm that could stand up to regular gaming. You’ll also need something to cut the masking tape, and something to cut the wire too.

The final ingredient is a half used up tube of Selley’s ‘Knead it’ Multipurpose. This is a two part roll of epoxy putty with a working time of roughly 5 minutes. It fully cures to a wood hardness overnight. Fellow modellers recommend the ‘Aqua’ flavour of this product but I’ve never managed to lay my hands on it. It always seems to be out of stock for some reason. Our US visitors may be able to suggest a suitably cheap, DIY epoxy product available in the States?

15mm Palm Tree Wire First step is to cut a bunch of lengths of gardening wire. For my palms I usually go for 19-20cm long pieces and use five pieces per palm tree.

Then cover the end of each piece of wire with a folded strip of masking tape, between 6-8cm long for a 3-4cm long palm frond. Don’t worry about folding the masking tape exactly in half, since you’ll cut away any excess shortly. As you can see I’ve just banged the masking tape over the wire disregading excess on either side.

15mm Palm Tree Fronds Now you need to cut each piece of masking tape into a reasonable looking palm frond. Going from right to left this is all I do:

Cut the tape into a rough ‘club’ shape, tearing off an excess at the end. Don’t worry about leaving a tatty stub at the base of the frond, because it turns out on painting that actually adds to the effect.

Take the scissors and cut into each side of as far as you can go. I start from the tip and work my way back to the base of the frond, varying angle and depth a little as I go. I also try and make the cuts a little wider towards the middle for a thicker frond.

Repeat for all five branches. Leave the fronds flat for now, the frond on the far left has been bent a little to show you what they’ll end up looking like after you’ve assembled the palm.

15mm Palm Tree Wrapped Now take all five fronds and start winding them together, about 2cm down from the base of the fronds. The only trick here is to try and keep the wires as ‘smoothly’ wrapped as you can (if that makes any sense).

Try to avoid any large loops or one wire being more prominently wrapped that the others. This is really only important for the final step where I wind an epoxy ribbon around the palm for the trunk so everything ends up as even as possible.

Don’t twist the entire trunk, but leave 2cm at the bottom as well. Splay the ends out and you’ve got a some straight roots to fix to an MDF or plasticard base. I usually masking tape the tree down across the roots and then lay down a thin layer of Selly’s Knead It around the trunk to secure it to the base.

At this point I bend the fronds out in a sweeping curve, which tends to spread the individual leaves apart. I mess around with the fronds until I’m happy with their final arrangement and straighten and angle the trunk appropriately. I also run each frond through my fingers to bend the masking tape down, making them hang more naturally towards the ground, rather than straight out in the photo below.

15mm Palm Tree Wrapped Finally I mix some Selly’s Knead It and roll a piece into a 3mm tube and flatten it out into a strip on a wet piece of plastic. Taking the strip I spiral wind it around the tree from under the fronds down to the base, forming the trunk of the palm.

Actually once you’ve started it’s easier to hold the putty and spin the tree slowly, pulling it onto the trunk. As the putty hardens in 5 minutes it’ll usually take me 2-3 strips to wrap the entire tree.

Once I’ve finished I leave the whole tree overnight so the trunk fully cures. In addition to looking kind of like a palm trunk, the wrapped epoxy also adds a fair amount of strength to the finished tree and holds the wrapped wires in place.

They’re not the most realistic looking palms, but they’re cheap, with roughly $30nz of materials giving you enough to make maybe around 30 palms. They’re fairly quick to make too once you get the hang of them. I can bang out 4-5 in an evening in front of the television.

As with all terrain, a decent paint job can make them look as good as a store bought product once they’re on the table! I’m in the process of painting a couple of bases of them up for my Flames of War table so I’ll post them sometime this week once they’re done.

Addendum: Painted Palm trees appear in this later post.

Tutorial: Detail Casting Plaster

Finish Rinse AidThis post is a note to myself in case I forget the ‘recipe’ I’ve been using for detail casting in Ultracal 30. This may seem pedantic but I hate it when I come back 6 months later and have forgotten how I achieved a certain effect or mastered a certain technique.

If you’re plaster casting it might be useful to you as this is how I go about casting 15mm detail pieces with almost no air bubbles. I reject around 1 in 10 pieces cast because of problems with bubbles.

1. Preparing molds for casting:

  1. Mix a capful of Finish rinse aid ‘anti-spotting’ agent into a 1.5L soft drink bottle of water.
  2. Fill a container that’s large enough to hold your molds with this mixture.
  3. Sink your molds into the container so they’re completely submerged.
  4. The above steps are essentially the Hirst Arts ‘wet water’ technique.
  5. Take a hog bristle art brush and run it through the molds while they’re submerged to dislodge all the air bubbles you can see trapped in the mold details. I use hog bristle brushes because the stiffer bristles help remove bubbles.
  6. Remove the molds you’re about to use from the container, pouring out most but not all of the water in the mold. Leave the molds maybe 1/3 full of water depending on where the most detailed part of the mold are. The idea here is you want the mold detail to remain underwater so no new air bubbles can form.

2. Mixing plaster for casting:

I’m lazy so never bothering measuring anything. I find I can mix Ultracal 30 and Hydrostone successfully ‘by eye’ now. It’s really more about achieving a certain consistency of mix than exact measurements imho.

  1. Pour a suitable amount of plaster into a container and add the same Finish/water mix to the plaster that you used above.
  2. Thoroughly mix the plaster until it’s a thick but still liquid consistency – very like a thin pancake batter. Don’t concern yourself with bubbles too much at this point.
  3. After mixing, give the bubbles a few seconds to rise to the surface then ‘dust’ a little more plaster over the top. This will kill the surface bubbles and thicken the mix more. Carefully stir this additional plaster in…avoiding air bubbles as much as possible.
  4. Leave the plaster mix to ‘slake’ a for a couple of minutes before you move to the next step.

3. Pouring plaster for casting:

  1. Before pouring make absolutely sure the prepared molds you’ve removed from the ‘wet water’ mix above are on a flat surface with nothing trapped underneath them. This is essential for the CD cover method (detailed below) to work properly.
  2. Pour plaster into the mold from a height of 5-8cm and as a thin, unbroken stream. This will cause any remaining bubbles in the mix to pop before they enter the mold. Don’t completely fill the molds but cover any detail in the mold with plaster. Recall that the molds are still at least 1/3 full of water. The heavier plaster will initially mix with this water but will eventually settle to the bottom of the molds, displacing the water towards the open face.
  3. Take your wet hog’s bristle brush any vigorously run it through the plaster in the mold. You’re trying to dislodge any remaining bubbles in the mold details before pouring the rest of the plaster. Of course plaster is opaque (unlike most two part resins) so you can’t see what you’re doing, but you should see some additional bubbles rising to the surface.
  4. Once you’ve finished with the brush make sure you give it a good rinse – otherwise you’ll be throwing it away once the plaster sets.
  5. Carefully pour the remaining plaster into the molds, overfilling the molds a little.
  6. Take a long, heavy object (I use a steel ruler) and give each outside wall of the mold several solid taps. I find this tapping is just as effective as the ‘pound boards’ or ‘vibrating tables’ people swear by on the Hirst Arts forum. This should release any final bubbles lurking in the mold details.
  7. Let the plaster settle into the molds for a couple of minutes until you can see a surface layer of clear water forming in the open face.
  8. The open face of the mold may contain some very small bubbles underneath the thin layer of clear water. You may wish to ignore these as they’ll be in the hidden face of whatever you’re casting. However I find these tiny bubbles can be popped by simply blowing air across the mold at about 45 degrees.
  9. Take the clear cover of a CD jewel case and slowly smooth it over the mold from one edge and direction. This will press the excess water and plaster out over the edges of the mold. You can see what’s happening through the clear CD cover. Smooth the CD cover down over the mold until it completely covers the mold and all excess plaster has gone. If you find that air starts to leak back in underneath the CD cover and forming bubbles then your mold isn’t on a flat surface, your CD cover is warped or you under filled the molds while pouring. This particular step may take some practice to get working consistently.
  10. Once the CD cover is placed over the mold I usually slide it around in a few small circles to spread plaster out over the CD cover a little more. This helps the plaster form a hydraulic seal between the CD cover and the mold and stops air from sneaking back in.

4. Demolding cast pieces:

I generally leave the CD cover on while the plaster is setting however this tends to trap water in the open face of the mold. This simply means you should expect demolded pieces to still be quite wet, despite the fact they’re fully set. You can remove the cover earlier for drier pieces but beware of adding unwanted texture to the open face when doing so.

Ultracal 30 takes around 40 minutes to set before it can be safely de-molded. If you’re casting fine detail I’d leave it for up to an hour before attempting to remove pieces from the mold.

Hydrostone seems to set faster and can usually be demolded in around 20 minutes (or half the time of Ultracal 30). Unfortunately Hydrostone is more expensive for me locally so I always use Ultracal 30.

Both these plasters are very hard once set, however I have noticed that the above technique can reduce the strength of the set plaster slightly. Particularly in the open face of the mold where plaster and water have mixed freely while the poured plaster settles. However a light sand of the ‘underside’ of cast pieces will remove any loose or patchy plaster.