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Building trees that come apart

888 Views 9 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  Jenn&MattFromPA
I had a very ambitious idea for this halloween so I've decided to start early. I had this idea to build life size prop trees that I can use for years to.... frame doorways, add spook to graveyards, hang projection material from etc.

I've got a few ideas on how to style them and how I'm going to build them HOWEVER.... I have limited storage in my house. In order to keep these props long term they have to fit into my crawl space, which means I'm going to have to take them apart and be able to put them back together again year after year.

I'm curious if anyone who's built large scale props have a tried and true method for attaching multiple pieces in a secure way.

I've experimented with wire hooks (like fake x-mas trees), and have given some thought to simply bolting the pieces together which might work for the trunk pieces - but am unsure how to create branches that come apart.

Any thoughts?

Here's my inspiration/model for the larger tree. The idea is to take a 4" concrete tube and wrap it in kraft paper wrinkled and twirled to make gnarled bark then at the top of the 4" tube adding two smaller twisted segments wrapped around foam or pool noodles or something. Coated in monster mud and or drylok, then painted and waterproofed. It should give the tree an overall creepy, twisted, bare creepy tree. IDEALLY... one that comes apart and fits into my crawlspace.
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My biggest go-to(s) on pieces that need to come apart have been Velcro and magnets. Got the magnet idea from that kamui cosplay chic on youtube. Maybe like glue one magnet to the trunk and one to the branch and they SHOULD pull apart for take-down...?
Just throwing this out there, but instead of a concrete tube as the core, you could start with a 4" PVC pipe. You could cut the pipe into sections and then put the pieces back together with various types of PVC splitter fittings in between each section. Your branches would extend from those fittings. You could even bend some of the smaller pipes with a heat gun. It would be up to you which pieces you permanently glued together and which you just wedged together in order to pull apart later.
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If you are not wedded to the totally realistic style, I'd suggest flat tree silhouettes, for ease of storage
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If you are not wedded to the totally realistic style, I'd suggest flat tree silhouettes, for ease of storage
I might wind up doing that this year while I work on the ultimate goal. You can never have too many haunted trees.
I got a take apart, eight foot tree from spirit, years ago. Came apart and went in the storage shed each year. Spirit had them as floor props and I scored one for two hundred when they shut down after halloween.
I don't have a tested idea, but I think the Christmas-Tree idea is a good start. Since you will have things outside, I wouldn't recycle an existing tree for strength purposes. Use a thicker piece of wood as the core. For storage, you might just wrap up the tree with rope, to squeeze the branches in. You might be able to stuff several into a zip-up type of Christmas trees storage bag. If you put an L-shape bend at the base of a branch, you might hinge it to the tree center so that it will bend up, but not bend down. However, that hinge would have to be near the surface of the foam to permit that. So, you might have to add wood spacers to the trunk. I will attach a quick sketch of what I am thinking. The hinge is a pair of "U Nails". I suggest getting the barbed kind)

I wouldn't use any hard coating on the outside. Perhaps use pool-noodles to build thickness. You can cut the noodles into strips and wind them around your core. Hot glue works to some extent, but only if you use a glue gun that can set for low-temp. To cover, I would use dark brown fabric and attach it with something like 3M's 77 or 90 spray contact cement. I've even seen bark print on a fabric in the past. The example you gave has things twisting around, and I think that is a great approach. It will really help things hold together.

I am not sure what convenient hardware-store wire to recommend for the core of the branches. I suspect that drop-ceiling wire is too thin. And for the spacers. I drew square blocks of wood. But, I suspect that they should be rounded to form the knob that often forms where a tree branch attaches. Your own miniature has a pretty substantial root spread at the base. But, I suspect that you can just omit that, and save a lot of storage space. Also, I would make the tree trunk and branches thinner for the sake of storage.

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I don't have a tested idea, but I think the Christmas-Tree idea is a good start. Since you will have things outside, I wouldn't recycle an existing tree for strength purposes. Use a thicker piece of wood as the core. For storage, you might just wrap up the tree with rope, to squeeze the branches in. You might be able to stuff several into a zip-up type of Christmas trees storage bag. If you put an L-shape bend at the base of a branch, you might hinge it to the tree center so that it will bend up, but not bend down. However, that hinge would have to be near the surface of the foam to permit that. So, you might have to add wood spacers to the trunk. I will attach a quick sketch of what I am thinking. The hinge is a pair of "U Nails". I suggest getting the barbed kind)

I wouldn't use any hard coating on the outside. Perhaps use pool-noodles to build thickness. You can cut the noodles into strips and wind them around your core. Hot glue works to some extent, but only if you use a glue gun that can set for low-temp. To cover, I would use dark brown fabric and attach it with something like 3M's 77 or 90 spray contact cement. I've even seen bark print on a fabric in the past. The example you gave has things twisting around, and I think that is a great approach. It will really help things hold together.

I am not sure what convenient hardware-store wire to recommend for the core of the branches. I suspect that drop-ceiling wire is too thin. And for the spacers. I drew square blocks of wood. But, I suspect that they should be rounded to form the knob that often forms where a tree branch attaches. Your own miniature has a pretty substantial root spread at the base. But, I suspect that you can just omit that, and save a lot of storage space. Also, I would make the tree trunk and branches thinner for the sake of storage.

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These are some GREAT ideas - I really appreciate you putting the thought into this reply. Thank you!
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I'm curious if anyone who's built large scale props have a tried and true method for attaching multiple pieces in a secure way.
My trees are all sonotube, skinned with expanding spray foam, with PVC limbs that attach to 45 degree PVC angles, mounted to the sonotubes. Two issues that I've found;
1. Any long limb will be heavy. Reinforce the attachment points with wood on the inside.
2. No matter how much you waterproof them, they'll get moisture that will cause them to deform. That's where the reinforcement helps the most.

This fella here is the entrance to our Haunted Forest section. He's 8' (plus about another 1.5' for his upraised arm) and he breaks down into 6 pieces. The body is 2 parts, the arms come off and the hands come off of the arms. I can stand the arms and hands inside of the base for storage with only a about a foot sticking out of the top. He's been changed a bit since these pics, but It was all cosmetic.

Hope that gives you some ideas!
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Here's a thread already on this forum that could be helpful - Evil Trees

Also, Stiltbeast Studios has an awesome DIY video about making your own trees -

You may have already checked these out, and there are also a lot of pictures/links on Pinterest.

Another option might be something like this, where you slide pieces together to make something more dimensional -

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Wood Plant Gesture Art Tree
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