Building Wooden Model Ships

Building Wooden Model Ships

            Wooden model ships can be built from kits or from “scratch”. Kits usually include castings of things like cannons, cleats, binnacles, etc. and wooden parts such as blocks (pulleys) and belaying pins. Building from scratch means that the builder constructs all of those things him or herself, making it muchmore difficult. Kits from suppliers such as Artesania Latina will supply the above plus pre-cut frames, deck houses, wood for inside and outside hull planking and deck planking, sails, thread for lines and almost everything needed to complete the model. 

            Wood parts generally do not need much shaping except for the wood for the spars. Wood for spars, masts, booms, etc. are simply dowels and need to be tapered accordingly. I use a stationery belt sander or disc sander, tighten the end of the spar in the chuck of a variable speed drill. While rotating the spar with the drill, carefully push the dowel against the running sander. With some practice and good hand/eye coordination you can make a good looking tapered piece.

            Other tools needed and recommended are head mounted magnifiers used for making jewelry and other close work. Sharp pointed tweezers, various files, wire cutters, drill bits, very sharp blades such as utility knives, clothes pins (for clamps) and measuring tools such as metric scales and calipers. A small hammer or a special pin pusher is useful for attaching the inner planking. Modeler’s putty such as Grumbacher’s is used for smoothing the inner planking. Several different grits of sandpaper will be needed. Various small reachers and grabbers for doing the rigging are useful, the list goes on and on. 

            Different glues and adhesives are necessary. I like Aleene’s Quick Dry Tacky Glue, and G-S Hypo Cement is good for reaching hard to get to places. Be careful of superglue, it can be useful for many applications, but it can be highly toxic! It can make you very sick. It doesn’t affect everyone but if you are allergic to it like me use it very sparingly. 

            If you are a beginner modeler choose a relatively simple kit such as the Virginia American Schooner by Artesania Latina. It isn’t easy and will test your skills but it will give you an idea of what is in a good kit and what tools and skills are needed. 

            I recently completed the Bluenose II kit from Artesania, it was a very difficult project. It is a beautiful model but very challenging! The joy is in the building of the model and the greater the challenge the greater the joy. That kit is considered intermediate by professional modelers and Artesania says, “Recommended for initiated modelers.” It was the most difficult model that I have attempted. It turned out well but not perfect by any means. After I complete a few other projects I may go back and re-do some things. I of course can see all of my mistakes and shortcuts but to all except experienced modelers it probably looks amazing.

            The instructions for Bluenose II are excellent. They include text and photos and are relatively easy to follow. In contrast, the instructions for the Pen Duick model by the same company are severely lacking. The text is incomplete and the photos are somewhat blurry and far from complete. The model is also not to scale, some of the rigging is just not there. It looks beautiful from a distance but is somewhat a disappointment. 

            The take away from my experience with these two models is that if you choose to build a wooden ship model do all of the research that you can. Read all of the reviews that you can find. Don’t choose something too easy but don’t pick something that will discourage you from continuing with this very satisfying pursuit. 

            Email me with questions,