Introduction: How to Make Quick and Easy Model Wire Trees

This guide will take you through the steps to create quick and easy model wire trees. These trees are great for model railroads, architectural and landscape models, or simply for decoration around your home (if you're into that kind of stuff). These instructions will take you through the steps to create a typical deciduous tree (let's say a pin oak) but once you've learned the technique you can create nearly any type of tree imaginable. Anyone with two hands and a little creativity can complete this tutorial (children should have parental supervision when completing this process). Your first tree will probably take you five to ten minutes to create but with some practice you'll be able to whip one out in about 30 seconds. Let's get to it.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

To create one of these beautiful trees you'll need to gather a few things:
  • 15+ feet of aluminum Wire (I'll be using 28 gauge for this tutorial)
  • 1 small board (2.5" x 12" x 1" or larger)
  • 2 small nails (2-3" in length)
  • wire cutters
  • hammer
  • 2 clamps
  • A table or similar sturdy, flat surface
  • small pliers (optional)
  • steel wool (optional)
  • model railroad flocking (optional)
  • spray adhesive (optional)
Got everything? Good. Let's get started.

Step 2: Prepare Your Base

This step will help you set up the base that you will use to create your tree. This base can be reused for any future trees you may make so you may want to hang on to it after you are done.

1. Using a hammer, pound the nails into the board.
  • The distance between the nails should be about 1/2" wider than the desired height of the tree you are looking for. For this tutorial I will be using a 4 1/2" spacing to create a 4" tall tree.
  • Pound the nails in about 1/2" to 3/4" deep so that they do not move if you try to wiggle them.
2. Using the wire cutters, clip the heads off of both nails.

Warning: Nail heads are sharp and will fly off very quickly. Wear eye protection to avoid injury.
  • Clip the nails as close to the head as possible.
  • After clipping both heads, you may want to use the hammer to pound out any sharp edges left on the nails.

Step 3: Set Up Your Workstation

Now that you have your base ready to go, it is now time to set up your workstation:

1. Using your two clamps, secure your board to the edge of your table or work surface.
  • Fasten one clamp at each end of the board. You do not want any clamps between the nails as you will most likely scrape your knuckles on them in later steps.
  • If you plan on making many of these trees at once you may want to consider the comfort of your workstation. If you prefer standing you may want to use a higher table or workbench and, likewise, you'll want a lower table with a chair if you would like to sit.

Step 4: Wrap Your Wire

Now that your workstation is ready to go, it is time to start making a tree.

1. Tightly wrap the wire around the nails
  • Holding the end of the wire in your left hand, tightly wrap the wire around the nails in a clockwise motion.
  • Each full (360 degree) rotation will eventually create 2 branches, so keep in mind how full you want your final tree to look. For this tutorial I will be using 20 full wraps for a 40-branch final tree.
  • Be sure to end your wrapping on a full rotation (so that the excess wire on the end is on the side that the beginning of the wire is).

Step 5: Clip the Wire

In this step you will clip one end of the wires to create a U-shape that will later become the trunk and branches of the tree.

1. Pinch the wires.
  • Using your thumb and forefinger, pinch the wire at the opposite end of the excess wires created in the last step.
2. Clip the wires.
  • Using the wire cutters, clip the wires on the inside of the opposite nail of where you are pinching (the inside being the area between both nails). Be sure to clip through all of the wires. If your pliers cannot cut through all of the wires at once, cut them in smaller groupings.
  • This will leave you with a bunch of (20 in this tutorial's case) very small V-shaped wire clippings. Feel free to discard the clippings.
You should now be left with 20 V-shaped pieces of wire that are about 4" long

Step 6: Twist the Trunk

Now it's time to twist the trunk out of the V-Shaped pieces into the trunk of your tree.

1. Rotate the pieces 90 degrees.
  • Rotate the V-Shaped wires around the nail 90 degrees until both cut-ends are pointing at you
2. Twist the two halves around each other
  • Grabbing the left half of the wires between the thumb and fore finger of your left hand and grab the right half between the thumb and forefinger of your right hand.
  • Move the wires in your right hand to the left, over top of the wires in your left hand. At the same time, move the wires in your left hand to the right, keeping them underneath the right wires.
  • Repeat the above step 7-8 times or until slightly less than half of the length of the wire has been twisted. You may want to complete more or less rotations, depending on how tall you want your trunk to be.
3. Pull your tree off of the nail
  • Grab the tree by the trunk and pull it vertically until it is no longer hooked around the nail.
If done correctly, your tree should now look like the letter Y. If it does not, re-hook your tree around the nail, untwist the wires, and retry Steps 1-3.

Step 7: Create the Branches

Now that your tree has a trunk, it is time to add some branches.

1. Separate your wires into groups
  • Separate the 40 untwisted wires into 2-5 groups of varying sizes. It is important to have at least 2 wires, and no more than 20, in a group.
  • Variation in the size of these groups will help your tree take on a more natural form.
2. Twist one branch
  • Starting with one of these groups, twist the wires from that group around each other 4 or 5 times
  • After four or five twists separate on 1-5 of the wires from the group and continue twisting the rest of the group.
  • Every 3-5 twists separate out a few wires and continue twisting until there is about 1/2" left of untwisted wire.
  • Once you have reached this point, go back and twist the wires that you separated off until they also have 1/2" of untwisted wire left.
3. Twist the remaining branches
  • Repeat step two with the remaining groups
  • To make your tree more realistic, it is nice to add some variation in your twisting. This can be done by adding more or less twists between separations, by using more or less wires in each separation, or by leaving more or less untwisted wire at the end of each branch.
You should now have something that should resemble the form of a tree. We'll refine this form in the next step.

Step 8: Sculpt Your Tree

Once you have your branches twisted you can sculpt your tree into a desired form.

1. Sculpt your tree
  • By moving and twisting your branches around, you can start to form your tree to take on the form of a real tree.
  • Most trees have a vertical leader so it is often a good idea to have one of your branches pointed vertically.
  • It may be helpful to look at a real tree (or a picture of one) to inform how you shape your branches.

Step 9: Conclusion - Personalize Your Tree

Congratulations! You have just created a beautiful model tree that will be envied by all of your friends. You can use this technique to create nearly any other form and size of tree imaginable. Oh the possibilities! You may want to use some pliers to flatten the trunk of your tree if you are going to stick it into something (such as a piece of foam).

There are also a number of ways that you can customize your tree:
  • You can cover the canopy of your tree in spray adhesive and sprinkle on model railroad foliage for a realistic canopy effect.
  • You can stretch steel wool or cotton between the branches for a fuzzy canopy.
  • You can use spray paint to create a colored tree.
Try inventing your own finishes to create a unique work of art that is personal to you.