How to Make Miniature Cornstalks for Your Model Train Track

  • 01 of 06

    Modeling Cornfields

    model cornfield
    Ryan C Kunkle

    Modeling a cornfield can be a challenge. How do you get the look of a large crop without breaking the bank? An inexpensive and very convincing cornstalk can be found in a very unlikely place...Christmas garland.

    This article will take you through how to turn a decoration into a field like this.

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  • 02 of 06

    Cutting the Corntalks

    Ryan C Kunkle

    Artificial Christmas garland comes in several varieties. For our purposes, the most inexpensive will work just fine. A great time to acquire your corn material is the after-holiday sales. One pack of garland will do a good size field in HO, O, or even G scales. You can pick up enough material on sale for only a few dollars.

    Begin by cutting the garland to length. You'll need a good pair of heavy wire cutters to get through the wire core of the garland. The length you choose will depend on the scale and time of year you model. At harvest, cornstalks reach a height of about seven to eight feet (two to 2.5 meters.) Use a scale rule to set the height, or just estimate. Remember to make your stalk just a little longer than necessary so you'll have enough "roots" to plant in the scenic base.

    Since you'll be making a lot of these, it is a good idea to create a master stalk or template to keep stalks at a consistent height. In general, most stalks will be consistent, although a few shorties along the outer crop rows is not uncommon.

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  • 03 of 06

    Trimming the Miniature Cornstalks

    trimming cornstalks from garland
    Ryan C Kunkle

    Once you've cut all the cornstalks you can, the next step is to trim the "leaves" to length. This is not a very scientific process. All you need is a pair of scissors. Trim the green artificial needles to varying lengths as seen in the photo. It doesn't look like much yet, but in the next step, you'll see the dramatic transformation from pine needle to ​corn stalk. You may want to practice on a few stalks with different lengths to find the look that's best for you.

    A word of caution with this simple step—it can get very messy in a hurry! The plastic pine needles have a lot of static and will stick to just about anything. If you've ever had an artificial Christmas tree you may already know this. Now imagine taking that tree and cutting off hundreds of those little needles! Work over a trash bag and have a vacuum handy.

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  • 04 of 06

    Curling the Leaves of Miniature Cornstalks

    cornstalk jig
    Ryan C Kunkle

    So far your cornfield looks like a pile of smaller pine branches and a big static green mess. Now for the fun part!

    The key to getting that corny look is curling the long leaves. This is very easy to do using a heat gun. You'll need a large heat gun (not just a hairdryer) to do this. Simply hold the heat gun a few inches above the stalk and in a few seconds, the leaves will shrink and curl.

    Start on low heat and gradually move the gun closer to the stalks until they curl. You want curling, not melting.

    Safety first! This may seem obvious, but the heat gun will be hot! You can not hold the cornstalks while you do this.

    For your safety, and to speed the production, make a jig by drilling holes in a scrap of lumber, leaving a long enough handle to keep your hands ​clear. You can now safely curl several dozen stalks at a time. Within a few seconds of curling, the stalks will be safe to handle.

    Many brands of garland have an inner-weaving of a brown plastic needle. Often, these will form small brown tufts at the top of the stalk which nicely represents the tassels atop a cornstalk. You can create additional changes by adding a little paint.

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  • 05 of 06

    Painting the Cornstalks

    painting cornstalks
    Ryan C Kunkle

    How you finish your cornstalks will depend on the season you're modeling. If you live near a cornfield, the best way to get started is to take a picture around the time you've chosen to model. The height and color vary with the season.

    Summer Corn

    The deep green color of the pine needles is not a bad match for summer corn as it is. If you're not completely satisfied, however, the stalks could be painted to any hue. Painting each stalk by hand would be time-consuming and, with most of the stalks hidden in back rows, a largely wasted effort.

    The quickest method is best for this job. Use either an airbrush or a spray paint to coat the stalks in bulk. Spray the stalks in the jig used to hold them during the curling step. Remember to work outside or in a well-ventilated area with proper safety protection when spraying paint.


    Towards the end of summer, as corn reaches maturity, the signature golden brown tassels form at the top of the stalks. When looking down on a large cornfield, this little splash of color really stands out and helps to define the individual crop rows.

    When using garland with a brown inner-weave, the brown needles themselves will often pop up like tassels automatically. But this is not an exact science, and it doesn't always work as planned. How do you get the tasseled look without making extra stalks?

    It is easiest to paint the tassels after the corn has been planted. An acrylic or oil-based golden-brown hue will work. Use a paint roller and apply a light, even pass over the top of the rows.

    Autumn Corn

    Feed corn is often left on the stalk into the autumn and not harvested until the entire plant has turned a tan color. Floquil Depot Buff is a close match. Apply with an airbrush, or find a similar hue in a spray can. Using the curling jig, apply an even coat to the entire stalk. You can let a little or a lot of the green show through to show stalks that are in the process of turning.


    Most of the corn will be largely hidden in back rows. If you want to add any highlights or extra color to the outer row of corn, this can be done with a small brush once the corn has been planted.

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  • 06 of 06

    Planting Miniature Cornstalks

    cornfield planting
    Ryan C Kunkle

    Preparing the Field

    A piece of styrofoam insulation works well for a scenic base. The wire stalks will press in easily and remain upright. Keep in mind that the stalks will be closely spaced, so there is no great need to detail the entire base. A coat of brown or black latex paint is all that is required beyond the first two or three rows.

    Mark the rows of corn with a pencil. Keep the contours of your scenery in mind. Most farmers plant across a hillside to prevent excessive runoff. Run your rows accordingly.

    Add a thin layer of dirt to the perimeters of the cornfield. You only need to go a few rows deep.

    Planting Corn

    Simply press the wire stalks into the foam to plant. Keep the spacing tight and the rows parallel. You can easily make up for any slight height differences at this point as well. It is easiest to start at the back and work forward.

    You will probably be surprised at how many cornstalks you're using. Even a modest field can consume hundreds of stalks. If you run out, simply go back and make more. You probably won't have a really good idea of how many you need until you get started.

    In a little time, you'll have a detailed cornfield that will be the envy of many modelers, none of whom will believe it started as a Christmas decoration.