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Modeling Palm Trees. Click for bigger photoReturn to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer pageOn30 Display Trains
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Written by Howard Lamey
(with a little help from Paul Race) for Big Indoor TrainsTM
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Note from Editor: Glitterhouse designer/builder Howard Lamey created these "palm trees" clumps to go along with a beach house project he was working on. He also suggested using this project with a manger scene. This is how he explained this fun and simple project to me.

Modeling Palm Trees

This easy project will bring a sea-side texture to your indoor railroad or display village.


    Click to see bigger photo.

  • Artificial leaves, like those from an artificial "silk" fig tree. The leaves are best if they have a wire going up into the leaf part, that gives you more control over the final appearance. You'll need 5-7 leaves per tree, more if you're making a very large tree.
  • Burlap scraps
  • Brown pipe cleaners (like you get at the craft store)
  • A twig or dowel for the "trunk" (For a thinner trunk, you may use a piece of #10 or #12 electrical wire instead.)
  • Fine wire for binding the leaf stems. You can use button hole thread, if you have that on hand.
  • White glue like Elmer's
  • Sawdust
  • A sharp craft knife
  • Masking tape
  • Cardboard for the base (optional if you want to fasten the tree directly to something you've already made, like the base of one of our beach houses)
  • Acrylic paint in a neutral color like beige or light brown for painting the base (optional, depending on how you are installing the finished tree)
  • Sand for gluing to the base (optional, depending on whether or not you are using a separate base. I used aquarium sand; you can use "play" sand, swimming pool filter sand, whatever looks right with the rest of your setting. (optional, depending on how you are installing the finished tree)

Making the Palm Leaf Clump

  1. Click for bigger photo.Trim the leaves into uneven heart shapes. Don't make them all exactly the same size. (Note: For a more tropical look, allow the "leaves" to remain longer, more like blades of grass than the examples shown.)

  2. Cut the leaf into ribbon strips about 1/16" to 1/8" wide with a sharp craft knife.

  3. Cut the edges of randomly selected strips to a point and shorten others for a natural look...

  4. Ruffle, crinkle, wrinkle and muss-up the strips...don't leave them all laying in same direction...

Making the Trunk

  1. Make the trunk longer than the finished tree to start with; the extra length gives you a handle while you work.

  2. Attach the fronds to the trunk with a narrow strip of masking tape (below left).

  3. Trim off any stems that stick out below masking tape binding.

    The branches have been gathered together and bound by a thin strip of masking tape.  Click for bigger photo. The branches have been trimmed and wrapped tightly with tire.  Click for bigger photo.

  4. Wrap and bind the masking tape with fine wire (abover right). Alternatively, you can use button hole thread as an option. Click for bigger photo.

  5. Unravel your burlap strip a bit as shown in the photo to the right.

    Click for bigger photo.Now glue it around the bound area to cover the masking tape and wire (or thread).

    For best results, let the glue dry before the next step, and between each of the following steps.

  6. Twist the brown pipe cleaner around trunk, starting at the base of burlap and Click for bigger photo.working your way down.

  7. Secure both ends with white glue. Allow to dry thoroughly.

  8. If you wish, once the glue is dry, you can "tone down" the color of the trunk with a dry brushed application of gray acrylic paint.

  9. Lightly coat the top of the trunk wrap and the bottom of the burlap with white glue and Click for bigger photo.sprinkle on sawdust.

  10. If you can see the top of trunk through the green fronds, dab on white glue and a sprinkle of green dyed sawdust.

  11. Trim the trunk to the desired length.

  12. Install in a hole in your project, or make a separate base (optional)

Making the Base

  1. Make the base out of irregular cardboard shapes. Thick cardboard like the back of a writing tablet is best. If you use corrugated cardboard, you'll have to make a point of gluing sand around the edges to cover up the holes.

  2. Paint the base with the color you chose to blend with your sand; then punch a hole in the middle to fit your "trunk."

  3. Glue the palm trunk into the base. For an even more attractive seaside look, add some "sea grass" to the same base.

  4. When the assembly has dried, glue sand over the base.

Click for a bigger photo.Conclusion

The palm tree in this example looks a lot like the "scrub palms" that grow well in many parts of Florida. It looks especially nice if you intermix it with the results of our Modeling Sea Grass project. Again, if you want a more dramatic tree, say for a nativity or tropical setting, use a narrower material for the trunk, and cut the palm leaves longer and narrower.

Please let us know if you find this project useful - we especially appreciate photographs.

Return to the Sandy Shores page for more links to seaside projects.

Return to the What is a Glitterhouse page for links to more putz (vintage cardboard house) projects.

Return to the Big Indoor Trains Primer page for links to many more how-to and informative articles.

Return to the Big Indoor Trains Home page.

Many more links are shown below.

For other articles on making foilage for indoor trains and towns, check out:

Other Articles about Glitterhouse include:

Other Putz House Resources:

  •, Howard Lamey's own site about putz houses, featuring many he designed himself.
  • "Papa Ted's Place" Ted Althof's extensive resource about vintage pasteboard houses. Includes some history, many photos from other people's collections, and resources to help you build your own. The links below will take you right to the approprate page on "Papa" Ted's site. You'll find lots of other pages to look at while you're there, though.
    • Building from Scratch - "Papa" Ted Althof has collected tips and photos from other glitterhouse builders including Tom Hull and Ted Howard.
    • Repair and Restoration - "Papa" Ted Althof publishes Tom Hull's tips for restoring damaged antique glitterhouses.
    • Reproduction Parts - Ted offers authentic reproductions of just about every door and window that were used in glitterhouses over a 35-year period. These include celophane and paper "see-through" windows, as well as "stick-on" windows. If you don't know what sizes you need, you can order a template or sample pack. The page includes several photos showing how the replacement parts bring otherwise solid vintage glitterhouses "back to life."
    • Making "Flocked" Windows - Tom Hull's method for making "fuzzy" windowframes on celophane, with additional tips by author and glitterhouse collector Antoinette Stockenberg.
    • Repairing or Replacing Trees Tom's article about the "lufa" trees that were common on pre-war glitterhouses, and can be repaired or else replaced by new lufa carefully cut, soaked with dark green acrylic paint, and allowed to dry before gluing and applying white paint for "snow."
  • Author Antoinette Stockenberg's home page - includes photographs and comments on putz houses and life in general.

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