Wargaming Tradecraft: Building Tin Cans into Trees


Building Tin Cans into Trees

This is the base for the Tin Can Tree project.. over the next few weeks you'll see how to turn this into a beautiful forest scene with tall trees, a waterfall and clear waters. This part was provided by the store / our local press ganger.

To begin, all you need is some thin wood, which you can get relatively cheap from most hardware stores. Even press board like MDF (Medium-Density Fibreboard) will work, but can be more susceptible to moisture and warp. Cut it to whatever size you want; large, small, or even a wavy pattern.

The tin cans are just recyclables which end up glued to the base but you could even use pop or juice bottles and really anything you like. Caulk was used to attach the cans to the MDF. It's a strong silicone (rubbery) glue that'll hold heavier duty stuff together. [Read more on Caulk and glues]

There's still plenty of work that needs to be done though, and this post will lead up to just before we actually start painting.


In order to create roots for the trees, I've wound wire together and screwed it into the tin cans.

To get a good strong twist on the wire, I've folded it in half, then held one end with my drill, the other with pliers and slowly spun it. You can then fold the wire again and again and repeat this process depending on how much your want it wound.

In the left photo above, you can see I've cut the ends of one of these winds and bent it into smaller roots.


To build up the top of the large tree, I've simply ripped up cardboard and taped it to the tin can.

For the spout where the waterfall will be, I've created a wire frame and covered it in smaller pieces of cardboard and tape.

Paper mache won't stick too well to the tin can, so everything has to be wrapped in masking tape. Just buy the cheap stuff, because you're not actually "masking", you're just covering.

A key thing when creating any terrain is to keep in mind that it needs to be usable on a battlefield. I planned the placement of the waterfall so that there'd still be room for models to pass between the trees.

The roots needed more definition, so I've cut all around them and folded the tape back in, wrapped tighter.

Paper Mache

There's a lot of information on the 'net that talks about how to do paper mache, including different recipes. The basics are this:
  • LOTS of strips of torn news paper.
    • Put on a movie and just start ripping. Junk mail's never been so useful.
    • Larger strips save time in big areas, but smaller ones bend and wrap around details easier.
    • DON'T use shiny magazine-like paper. You want the news-paper stuff that'll absorb liquid.
  • A bunch of some kind of glue, mixed up in a decent sized tupperware container that isn't going to be used for something else later.
    • TheWife made me a 50/50 mix of warm water and white glue. (Warm water helps melt the glue) If your glue isn't too thick or find you're having problems with paper not sticking, use more glue. You might also have to stir up the bottom of the container while working as glue begins to settle.
    • Others recommend adding flour into your mix... do your research if you go this route. TheWife warns that moisture can cause flour based paper mache to mould.
    • Hobby stores also sell paper mache mix (powder) with its own instructions.
Once you've got your paper and glue mix, it's time for the messy and tedious part. Dip your strips of paper in the glue-mix and layer them over your structure. Once it's dry, you might have to add a few layers. Use large pieces for big open areas and small pieces any time you need to fit in little areas or around details.

River Bed

It's always handy to sketch things out before you begin working. That's what I've done for the lake, keeping in mind where the waterfall will land.
Another useful supply for larger terrain projects is spackle-like paste. You can either buy it from hobby or hardware stores and is basically a thick white paste that can be shaped and dries hard.

This paste will act as the edge of the lake, so I've shaped it steep on the water side and blended on the side that'll transition to grass.

Stick around later this week for the next part of the Tin Can Tree tutorial.

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