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Making trees from ming fern

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  • Making trees from ming fern

    Tree making by Frank Palmer

  • #2
    Frank, Standing by to cast off'..



    • #3
      That was so fast I missed it!!!!!

      "And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln


      • #4
        Hey you guys it takes a long time to post all these pictures. Now I'm ready, ta-da.

        Remember: safety is always the first rule.

        Despite its name, the Ming fern is not a true fern. It is a member of the lily family and one of more than 400 plants in the Asparagus genus. Although known as one of the asparagus ferns, ming ferns are not edible, nor are they a vegetable. The nickname asparagus fern comes from its resemblance as a seedling to asparagus stalks.

        Cut wood to form a 4-sided tapered blank using a band saw or table saw. You can use cedar, bass wood or some other semi-soft wood; do not use pine as the grain is too wide. Drill an 1/8” hole 1-1/2” into the bottom of the blank. This has 2 uses insert an ice-pick to be used as a handle while planning. Then insert a 16d finish nail so the tree can be “planted”.

        Knock off the corners on the band saw. Please be careful, fingers are hard to replace.

        Round the blank with a block plane to form a nice smooth rounded tapered tree trunk.

        Using the “nail block” drag the tree trunk across the block to produce very rough gouges. These gouges will represent tree bark in the finished product.

        Smooth the trunk with a wire brush to get rid of the excess fuzz. Finish getting rid of the fuzz with a hand held propane torch.

        The next step isn’t necessary but if you want a nice wide base to your tree you can add BONDO to the base. Glue a base plate of 1/16” plywood or similar material to the base of the tree and carefully work the BONDO up using a palette knife or similar blade to form to form ridges representing bark. You'll have to experiment with set-up times. I like it to set fairly fast as the Bondo wants to slide down the trunk.

        I should add here that as you work the Bondo it will begin to harden at different rates and that's what causes the clumps to form. Accidently creating a gnarly tree trunk. This I noticed all by accident.

        Trim the base plate with a Dremel tool with cutting disk.

        Paint the trunk with flat black spray paint. This will be the deep shadow color.

        Using a fairly heavy “dry-brush” method paint the trunk with a cheap dark brown water based paint. These paints can be found in Michael’s or JoAnn Fabrics craft stores.

        Now with those same type paints lightly “dry-brush” the trunk with tan and light gray. If you feel the trunk is too light after application if these colors go over them with a light dry-brushing of the dark brown. Remember you’ve never go so far as to ruin a painted project. It can always be repainted.

        Cut the Ming fern into various lengths from 1 inch to 5 or 6 inches long. Look for natural breaks in the plant stem. Make about 5 to 10 cuttings in each size. Group the cuttings into small piles of each varying size. I place the short 1” ones to the left and each progressive length to the right. Ending up with a half-dozen or so different lengths.

        Drill holes into the trunk starting at the top rotating around for a couple of inches. Apply a small amount of glue to the end of the one of the shortest branches and insert it into the uppermost hole.

        Repeat the above step of drilling and inserting branches until the tree is finished.

        Floral paints of light green, paprika or a rusty color can be sprayed on the finished green tree to give it more character and imitating a dying tree.

        An alternative to the ming fern is to use small twigs to represent dead growth. This is usually found at the bottom of the foliage. It can also be used to create a diseased or dead tree. Ilex is a nice little shrub that can be used for this purpose. If tree making is your thing I suggest buying a half-dozen of these little plants to keep on hand as a ready supply of small twigs.

        An alternative to Ming Fern is Juniper. We started using juniper this year after seeing Ty Brown’s Fn3 modular layout. He’s made some great looking trees using juniper. I must warn you this is a somewhat expensive tree making method but I feel the results are well worth the time, effort and cost.

        Absolutely necessary, YOU MUST USE PRESERVED FERN OR JUNIPER. Do not use those products intended for floral displays. They will die within a few days and you’re out of luck.

        The following websites were contacted a couple of years ago so some may not be correct.

        Preserved Ming Fern, order number: drist-04267-12, $54.50 / case of 12

        5-6 beautiful 14”-16" tall stems of this preserved fern is included in each order - $18.00

        You will definitely want the berryless Juniper variety otherwise you’ll be picking berries off for quite a while.

        Call them and ask for the berryless ones and from what I hear they’re only available during certain months. September to December is their peak season and they deal with large orders to wholesalers only so wait till after the new year to give them a call.

        Telephone: (303) 644-3763, Fax: (303) 644-3045, email:


        • #5
          Ok, I need a couple thousand of those, get to it.....nice looking trees, Frank. Thanks for sharing your skills.
          Karl Scribner-Curmudgeon

          Cedar Swamp
          SW of Manistique, MI


          • #6
            Ok, I need a couple thousand of those, get to it.....nice looking trees, Frank. Thanks for sharing your skills.
            Karl Scribner-Curmudgeon

            Cedar Swamp
            SW of Manistique, MI


            • #7

              Thanks for doing this one Frank.

              Been looking for ming fern forever.


              • #8
                I thought only God could make a tree?

                Alright bad joke. But I heard Frank use it in person first.

                Nice tutorial for the larger scales.


                • #9
                  Very nice work Frank. Good pointers for future reference.

                  Kind regards,



                  • #10
                    Wow Frank. That's a really a outstanding tree. When are you taking orders??

                    They'll go quick for you O-Scale instead of those F-Scale ones!!

                    "And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln


                    • #11
                      Frank, that is Treemendous looking!!

                      You are definitely barking up the right tree.

                      Greg Shinnie


                      • #12
                        WOW... :up:
                        Were we go one We go All


                        • #13
                          Great How-to, and fantastic looking trees Frank however, a few here and there, but I don't see myself doing that many for a large layout. It would be a full time job once again.

                          Pacific Northwest Logging in the East Coast


                          • #14
                            Fantastic job on the trees Frank. Thanks for sharing.



                            • #15
                              No needling you about this one, Frank, I don't have to go out on a limb at all to say your tree clinic yields nifty results!