I went looking for an artificial tree for an indoor nook that is both too dark to support life and too high to allow watering. What I found was that artificial trees available in stores are A) expensive, B) not quite the style I was looking for, and C) ridiculously simple in construction. So I set out to make my own.
All in this has cost me about $300, so it's not cheap. Most of the cost ($250) was in the branches, but I really didn't want to skimp on unrealistic boughs. Those looking for the bargain route could pick up an overstocked artificial Christmas tree and strip it for parts.
The basics of the plan are simple:
1) Find and prepare a trunk out of a real tree branch
2) Build a base to match the trunk
3) Drill holes in the trunk and stick in the branches
-- Tree branch to serve as trunk. Obtain with permission from tree-owner, of course.
-- Polyurethane. $8.
-- Pot. Mine cost $15 in wood and parts.
-- Cement. 1 60# bag will do. $3.
-- Rebar, 1' lengths x 3. $3.
-- 4" PVC connector pipe. $10.
-- Rubber cement. $3.
-- Artificial boughs. $250 including shipping, in my case. I used 25 of the 30 I bought to make this, so could have been cheaper.
-- Dried moss. $8.
-- Spray adhesive. Any crafter has it already.
Step 1: The Trunk
The actual tree part you use as your trunk depends on the look you desire. Since I wanted a Japanese pine, I looked for branches that were twisty and curvaceous, with several sturdy branches. You'll be stressing the trunk a fair bit with the torque of branches hanging off of it at various heights, and of course you'll be weakening it by drilling lots of holes, so select something several inches thick. Mine's previous life had been as the bottom branch of a 50' fir.
Cut off the branch, then cut off all the sub-branches that look too weak to support an artificial branch later on. You might leave one or two dead branches intact for verisimilitude. I didn't.
Next, using a wire brush or broom, scrub off the loose bark and dust.
Then, seal the branch in several coats of polyurethane. I used water-based, but spar would work well if you can stand the smell as it dries. Don't forget to seal all cut off ends. This sealing will slow the drying of the branch, preventing splits and rotting.
Even mat-finish urethane will leave an unnatural shine. It's probably not necessary, but I air-brushed the entire thing in a thin, brown-grey coat of acrylic paint. Gives it a nice, dusty look.