AOH :: SHIPM-2.FAQ|
Ship Models FAQ part 2
Expires: Fri, 2 February 1996 00:00:00 GMT
Last-modified: 28 December 1995
This is the Frequently Asked Questions FAQ (part 2) on ship modeling.
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The questions being addressed are listed in part I of the FAQ.
9. I have some plans I bought from Floating Drydock a few years
ago of the Montana-class battleship and Alaska-class cruiser.
I'd really love to scratchbuild these guys in the future, which
leads me to my inquiry...
None of the articles in the modelling mags show how people have
scratchbuilt their ship hulls. I'm wondering what experiences
others have had in doing it, especially what techniques work
the best for them.
A. A lot depends on the scale you're using, and on the intended
purpose. The best method for a 1:1200 waterline model is
probably carving from the solid; for a large model either
bread-and-butter, planked bulkhead, or some combination of the
two will probably serve best. <John O. Kopf>
***If you are considering building a hull for display on a
fairly large scale check the these references: Scale Ship
Modeler, June 1995, Mike Winters has an article on building a
cruiser (USS Memphis) using bread and butter method using
styrofoam insulation panel instead of wood. I have been working
on a liner at 1:192 and found this material easy to work with
and am quite satisfied with result. I modified Winters
technique, though. Try Scale Ship Modeler March/April 1995
where Jack Melody describes building the battleship USS IOWA
(1896 vintage) at 1/20, 1 inch=20 ft. using a hull made partly
of solid balsa block below waterline and bulkheads above with
balsa sheathing. <Al Rauber>
***Mine is not the approved method, but here's how I always did
1) Take appropriate size chunk of wood.
2) Using saber saw, band saw, whateversaround, cut out the
basic outline of the ship.
3) Make templates from the hull sections on your plans.
4) Carve/file/sand the hull until it conforms to the templates.
OK, that's a gross oversimplification, but the basic technique
I freely admit that I did not use the bread-and-butter method.
The reason is that I worked in relatively small scales,
(1/500-1/600) and big-enough wood was readily available.
<David R. Wells>
***I seem to recall that the Nov/Dec '94 issue of Model Ship
Builder magazine had an article about scratch-building a hull
of the type you are referring to. I believe the author was a
long-time builder of static-display wooden sailing ship models
(I'm working from memory, here) and he decided to build a model
of a more modern ship as a change of pace. Some scratch builders
construct their hulls with plastic sheet, but his approach was
much like building a sailing ship model, with plywood bulkheads
and wooden strip planking. If you can find a current issue of
MSB, you can probably back-order that issue for about $6.25 or
so. <Brett Denner>
***OK, I'll chime in on this. First and foremost, you're in
real good shape with those plans. In looking at the listings
in The Floating Drydock's catalog, your Alaska plans will have
the hull sections you need for building the hull. As for the
Montana, go out and fing a copy of Dulin & Garzke's "U.S.
Battleships" (ISBN:1-55750-174-2). In the section on the
Montana's you'll find a set of hull lines for her.
Now the fun (?) part. Hull sections (HS) look like a funny
drawing of the hull with one half looking aft and one half
looking forward. On each of these halfs, there are curves
lines that are labeled with either numbers or letters. These
lines are frame references, and they'll correspond to marks
below the outboard profile (OP) view. These marks show where
each of the lines on the HS drawing are located according to
To build from these, I use the plank on frame method. What you
want to do is to set out a keel dimensioned to the length of
the bottom of the hull on the OP. It doesn't matter the shape
right now. Next, use the HS drawing to make each of the
bulkheads shown. Now remember, you're looking at half of it,
so duplicate the left (or right) side for each bulkhead.
Number each bulkhead as you make them so that you can keep
track of them. Next. mark the positions of the bulkheads from
the OP on to the keel piece. Attach the bulkheads to the keel
at the proper places, and you'll have the frame of the ship.
Once you have the frame, the next thing to do is to start
placing planking on the outside of it. Use relatively small
pieces to do this, and don't worry about making them fit
exactly since you'll eventually sand them smooth. Once all of
the planking is in place, sand out the rough parts and joints,
and you'll have your scratch hull.
Two words of warning. First, when you're at the point of
attaching the bulkheads to the keel, it'll be very delicate.
But if you break off one of the bulkheads, just glue it back.
Second, make sure that you allow for the width on material
you're using. I use .06" plastic for my hulls, so when I
measure out a bulkhead, I've got my calculator programmed to
automatically subtract .12" from the overall calculation.
***I can't say which works best, but a long time ship modeller
locally builds his hulls from 1/2" basswood planks. The planks
are first cut to shape to match the widest part of the hull
section, and once all of the layers are glued together the hull
is sanded to shape by removing the "steps" in the planks. He
notes you have to be quite careful not to create convex/concave
surfaces doing this...
***Since many modern ships have a relatively square cross-
section for much of their length, a combination of bread-and-
butter for the ends and planked bulkheads for the center work
relatively well. When I've done this, I start with a plank
cut to the shape of the lowest waterline. The severely curved
ends are build up as bread-and-butter sub-assemblies. The
"central" portion of each is rabbeted for the ends of the
planks. These ends are fastened to the bottom plank. The
intermediate stations are drawn onto plywood, allowing for the
thickness of the planking (I don't use a central "backbone",
although I have seen others use a "box-beam" here - that's
simply a long plywood box that the bulkheads slid onto -- very
rigid and torsion-resistant!).
Also allow for a thick strip at the sheer (and, if the curving
of the bilge is extensive, I also allow for a block there).
The bulkheads are glued to the bottom plank in the appropriate
locations, and the shear strip (and bilge blocks, if used)
are installed. Planking the remainder is now easy, as the planks
will all be relatively straight. <John O. Kopf>
10. How do I bend wood for a ship model?
A: The best method to use depends upon the dimensions of the stock,
and on the degree of bending required. In general, wood
*should* be pre-bent; if it is simply "wrapped" onto the model
the resulting tension can easily tear the model apart after a
few years. Instead, use one the methods listed below to pre-
shape the wood; fasten it after it has "set" and holds the
shape by itself.
First of all, you'll have better luck if you chose your stock
so that the grain runs lengthwise (I've frequently found
commercial strips to be severly cross-grained at some point,
perhaps with the grain running as much as 45 degrees to the
length -- this is often because the strip was cut from a board
near a knot).
A thick or complicated shape may be easiest to form by carving
it from the solid -- perhaps laminating the solid from a number
of pieces so the grain tends to follow the final curve (I use
this technique for sailing ship head-rails, which can be a half-
circle in some cases).
You can also laminate a piece from a number of thinner pieces
bent to a former -- the thinner the individual wood pieces, the
easier they are to bend, an the necesary thickness is achieved
by gluing these side-to-side over a form...the result will hold
it's shape when it's removed from the form. (This method is
frequently used to make "mast hoops" by wrapping a glue-coated
plane-shaving around a waxed dowel and then slicing off the
hoops when it has dried.)
Wood can also be bent more easily if it is wet or hot or both.
Simply soaking a strip in water will make it more pliable. If
you then bend it to shape, and let it dry out it will "spring"
back only a small amount. Hot water works better than cold.
Wood is a "plastic" material, and thus can be deformed under
heat or as a result of chemical softening.
Many people use household ammonia for this purpose (instead of
soaking in water) -- if you can bear the smell. It may also
discolor some woods.
You can also hold the strip over a kettle and steam it. The
trouble with this is that thin strips cool off so fast that
you'll end up working with cold, wet wood by the time you get
it in place.
For reasonably thick work, such as deck beams, I've had some
success either wrapping the stock in wet rags, or floating it
in a dish of water, and then microwaving it for about a minute.
It's relatively easy to wrap planks around a hull. it's much
harder to bend them sideways (i.e., give them an "edge-set").
For some places where I need a plank bent edge-wise (e.g.,
railings), I find it easier to take a WIDE piece of stock whose
thickness is the final width, and bend this piece to shape. I
then saw curved planks from the edge.
Do not use these methods on multi-layer board (e.g., plywood).
Water soaks the glue and causes the board to warp or split.
The best way to bend boards is to score the "inside" curve and
build a jig.
You can also get a good job with the plank-forming pliers and
bending jig from Micro-Mark. Jig is adjustable. Using a plank
bender without heating or soaking the wood will likely just
fracture the wood.
(This includes suggestions from: Chris Maxfield, Clayton A.
Feldman, Rich Gortatowsky, Ron Ginger, Trevor Farrell,
PKAeronaut, Jack Silvia, and Keath Wong.)
***In bending planks, I use an old soldering iron I got over
twenty years ago.
It no longer has a label, so I don't know what the wattage is,
but the barrel that holds the nib is about 3/4 of an inch in
diameter and the nib is about 1/2 inch, and I suspect it runs
about 40 watts. I think it might have been used for automotive
body work, but don't know for sure. Scrounge the yard sales
and flea markets...
I find it works better than a plank bender, because a plank
bender, at least the ones I've seen, works the arc in the plank
while holding the plane of the width of the plank constant.
This gives you a nice curve for a plank that would lie on the
hull all in a horizontal plane, but hull planks usually sweep
up in addition to curving toward the bow and stern. With the
soldering iron, I can form both curves at the same time.
Here's the steps I go through:
1 - Cut the bow and stern taper in 4 planks, leaving them about
4 inches (2 on each end) longer than they need to be on the
hull. You use the extra to give you something to hold onto
while you bend them and install them. Cut them in pairs, one
for each side of the hull.
2 - Float them in a soaking tray, (a piece of 4" or 6" pvc
capped on both ends, then cut longitudinally in half works
well for this) for about a half hour. Flip the planks over
and soak for about 15 minutes more. Pay attention to which
planks form a pair. Plain, warm water works fine. For some
woods adding ammonia helps, for others it makes them more
3 - While you're waiting, cut two more planks and set them
aside, clamp the soldering iron in a bench vice (by the handle)
so its sticking straight up, and plug it in to heat.
4 - Work the flat of a plank against the side of the nib holder
of the soldering iron, stretching it and pulling it into shape.
For one side of the hull, use the side of the iron opposite to
you and pull the bend toward you and up, for the other, use the
side nearest you and work the bend away from you and up.
Remember that the bends need to be mirror images of one
another. Work fairly quickly, and pay attention to how dry
the wood is getting. If it dries out completely, it will
discolor or burn. Feel free to dunk it into the water if it
does begin to dry out too much. What you're doing is making
steam that penetrates the wood, pulling it into shape, and
cooking the water back out again.
5 - Once you have it close to shape, you can install it on
6 - Between installing the first and second planks, put two
more into the soaking tray, and cut two more and set them
aside. Installing two planks, while two planks are new in
the soak tray, seems to work well relative to the timing of
the soak. Just keep track of which are new. You should
have 4 in the tray all the time you're working.
7 - I've been using a cryo based glue (Krazy glue, wood &
leather) as my working glue, and it doesn't seem to care if
there is still a little moisture in the wood. A day later, I
reinforce the joints between the bulkheads and planks with
carpenters (elmer's yellow) for as many strakes as I can reach
before the sides meet the deck. I've got two hulls I did
in 1986 that don't show any signs of separating, even at the
strakes that are held only by cryo, but who knows how they'll
look 100 years from now. I also 'nail' my hulls though, so
that may also be helping to hold them together.
8 - Keep repeating the process from step 4 until you get bored
or tired. Then call it quits. When you do, clamp the keel
into a keel clamp to make sure it doesn't bend while the wood
Note: The important message here is work one plank on each
side of the hull at a time, even if you're doing the second
layer of a double planked hull. Once the planks are fastened
to the bulkheads or inner hull, their environment is different
from wherever you were storing them. They change shape and
try to straighten back out. Wood is an imperfect medium, so
you can't control the shape change. Working port, then
starboard, with the help of a keel clamp, tends to average
the stresses out by the time you reach the gunnels. You can
hide a slightly bent keel, when the distortion is side to side,
when you mount the model, but if you hog the hull, there's no
way to hide it.
Note 2 (for beginners): A keel clamp is fairly easy to make.
Get some oak flooring, 2" wide and longer then your hull
length, and drill holes about 1/2 of an inch from one edge, so
you can put 1/4-20 bolts through and clamp the boards together.
Slip your keel in along the oposite edge, between the oak
boards. Tighten the nuts down and let it sit overnight. If
you want to get fancy, and have a much easier time rigging,
you can rig a stand to one side of the clamp so you can hold
the finished hull in a bench vice while you're doing the deck
houses and rigging.
*NEW* ***Another easy way is to heat up an old style electric
soldering iron, clamp it vertically in a vise, and bend your
hot water soaked planking strips around it, moving the strip
slowly into the curve you need with second or two of contact
at each mm along the way. Experiment with a bit of scrap to
determine the correct contact time for bending and before
scorching. <mailto:email@example.com (Clayton A. Feldman, MD)>
*NEW* ***This method can certainly be used - but you had better not
try to use the soldering iron for soldering afterwards! I found
that my iron was covered with a sooty residue after bending
planks (of course, the iron may have been too hot. An iron on
which you could regulate the temperature would be the best for
Anyway, the point is that wood can be bent using heat, and
water will keep it from scorching. You can also use live steam
to bend planks, as a lot of modellers do, but it would involve
a bit of gear (heater, water container etc) and I guess you
could easily get burnt. What I like about the water/candle
method is that it doesn't involve a lot of equipment - and you
don't have to have an electrical outlet within arm's reach.
*NEW* ***I just use the 100w light bulb on my bench lamp...it's
plenty hot for stripwood. <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
*NEW* ***I used to attend the very active Alberta Ship Modellers'
Society meetings and the modellers have two methods.
1. Use a (.5in or .75in dia) copper pipe to contain the plank
strips and run live steam from a kettle through the pipe. Pin
planks to hull formers until dry then glue.
2. Soak the planks in laundry ammonia to soften them. You will
have to do this in the garage or outdoors on account of the
stink. <mailto:email@example.com (Peng F. Mok)>
*NEW* ***I find that the candle-and-water technique I have mentioned
earlier on this group works well - I basically first bend the
planks one way for sheer and then bend it the other way to lie
against the frames - it takes time, though:)
I would guess that any bending technique can be applied in
this manner: First sheer, and then the other way. If you use
steam, I guess the whole plank will become wet and flexible -
pin it in place while it dries and it should fit pretty well
when it dries! Anyway. the important thing is to make the
plank fit naturally in place, so the pins and glue don't have
to force it to keep in place!
Different woods behave differently, too. I used obeche for
wales on my Neptunus model (80 guns, 1789) and I found that it
was much easier to bend and handle than pine, not to mention
balsa. If the planks on the Golden Hind won't behave, you might
consider bying planks of a different wood and using them
instead - it is available if you know where to look.
<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org (Staale Sannerud)>
*NEW* ***Several years ago Philips made a travel steamer; a small
hand held container which you fill with water. Plug it in and
steam comes out of a row of small holes. The steam issued at a
high temperature and with a bit of pressure. The purpose of
the device was to steam the wrinkles out of clothing when
I found that the row of steam holes was just right for ship
model planks. A few moments in front of the device and you can
bend a plank to fit any stern curve. Hold the curve until the
wood cools, let the plank dry, and then glue it in.
There must be similar units on the market now.
11. I am building a solid hull ship; the kit comes with paper
cut-out templates to check the hull shape.
Will these paper templates suffice to check out the shape or
is it intended that one should use the templates to cut out
A: Typically, the paper templates are too flimsy to use to
accurately verify the shape of the hull. It is better to copy
their pattern to a stiffer cardboard or poster board. You can
also use these patterns to make a stand to keep your model in
while you work on it, and also to make a nice permanent stand
for the finished model.
Ideally, getting a copy of the original ships plans, and
creating patterns from the ships lines is the best. Many people
abandon the solid hull that came with the kit, and create their
own plank-on-frame/plank-on-bulkhead hull (deviating from the
kit in an attempt to create a more accurate/appealing model is
quite a common practice among ship modelers). <Monica Chaban>
***I usually mount paper templates on some sort of card stock,
adding stripwood as needed to stiffen the body. <Kurt (Seaphoto)>
***IMHO stiff white cardboard has the minimal stiffness and
durability for hull templates. Mattboard found in art supply
shops for matting pictures would be ideal.
You would, for example, fix the printed template patterns to
the mattboard with rubber cement (not water-based glue) and
cut as close to the line as you dare with a fine fretsaw or
power jigsaw, then clean it up with sandpaper to the line.
Some hull section diagrams are printed in such a way that you
might need the additional step of tracing them with high
quality tracing paper (also from your art supply shop) and
then cementing the traced pattern onto cardboard. <Septimus>
***...good quality card (file folder stock, etc.) stock (or
thin sheet styrene, or even metal, such as stock from aluminum
soda cans), and trim that to shape.
A good idea is to block up the hull so the waterline *or* keel
is level, and then cut a "tab" on the pattern so it can sit
using the table as a reference plane...that's more work, but
it's also more accurate than trying to fit the pattern to the
hull at the keel and shear line only. <John Kopf>
***Even better for templates is 1/64" thick aircraft ply. The
rubber cement and cut-pout process is just as described above.
It's very durable. <Clay Feldman>
***Regardless, Use something with a bit more stiffness than
paper. Even 'shirt cardboard' works. The pointer about adding
'tabs' which would permit setting all to a horizontal waterline
is very useful. Try to keep the working edge of the template
as thin as possible while retaining the necessary rigidity.
***...The plywood works great as it is strong and stiff. The
balsa has a tendancy to be soft when pressed against the hull
to check on dimensions. <David Loseke>
***If you're transferring the pattern to thim aircraft plywood,
make a Xerox, lay it face down on the wood and wipe the back
with gasoline or another serious thinner in a rag. (Don't
smoke while you're doing this.) The right amount of soaking
and pressure will transfer the Xerox powder to the wood. <Burl
***don't use gasoline for anything except motor fuel. A
friend of my sons was burned to death while cleaning dirt bike
parts in a can of gasoline. The spark that ignited the vapor
was over 20 feet away.
A safer method is to heat transfer it. Place the paper on the
wood, with the toner against the wood and iron it with a normal
clothes iron, set to a high temp. Hold the iron on for a few
seconds, then peel the paper off.
Sometimes this will cause the wood to develop a curve - if you
heat only one side of it, so also iron the back side of the
wood and it will flatten out.
There are special toners made to transfer eaisly, but the
standard stuff of a copy machine or laser printer works fine.
***Actually, ball-point pen works well too...put your drawing
ink-side down onto the wood and iron the ink into it.
<John O. Kopf>
12. I'm a little mystified by the process of cutting the bevel(s)
on a bulkhead or frame of a wooden ship model?
A: Good plans will have three views -- the "plan" (top view),
profile (side), and "section" (slices through the hull
perpendicular to the other two).
From the section view, trace the horizontal and vertical lines
that correspond to the water- and "buttock" lines.
On the plan and profile views, draw a pair of lines that
correspond to the front and back edge of the bulkhead or frame.
Using dividers, transfer each intersection between the drawn
lines and the water lines and buttock lines to the drawing;
fair these up with a smooth curve. You'll now have a single
drawing of the bulkhead showing BOTH the front and back edges.
Glue this to the wood, and saw to the outside line. Now bevel
from the back (*outside*) to the front at the *inner* line --
the bevels are now complete, and it can be put into place.
<John O. Kopf>
***Yes, several methods are available.. First, obtain a copy
of Underhill's book "Plank on Frame Models", volume 1.
Second, get / buy / make about a dozen 'battens' approximately
10% or even 15% longer than the hull oength. Take the first
batten (actually a pair) tack one end to the stem and the other
to the stern, "wherever it fits", providing the midships
section was parallel to your datum line. Take note of the
difference in contact with the 'frame' (actually bulkhead).
Now divide the spaces and insert additional battens. In a very
short time, you will see a pattern developing - the side of the
frame closest to the maximum hull dimension will show maximum
contact with the batten, and there will be a gap fore or aft.
At this point you have a couple of choices: shave down the high
spots on the bulkheads or build up the low spots. (Either will
be a compromise!) What you are shooting for is a batten (or
fairing strip, or whatever you choose to call it) making *solid
contact* along the 'face' of each bulkhead the entire length of
the vessel. In any case, with the exception of the 'dead flat'
(read more about lofting if the term is unknown), the edge
surfaces of the bulkheads should never be parallel to the
longitudinal axis of the vessel (unless you are building a coal
or garbage barge). Repeating myself, but Underhill's book
provides probably the most lucid description ever written for
modellers on how to cope with the thickness of frames/bulkheads.
13. How do you drill the mast holes in a solid-hull ship model?
A: There are several ways you can try.
For the mast holes, you could jig up the hull so it's
perpendicular side-wise and inclined to the mast angle, and
drill the holes using drill-press (assuming you have access to
A second possibility is to recognize that a drill will tend to
follow a smaller hole, and a small hole is easier to drill and
align -- make one template with short "legs" that will sit on
the deck and has a center-line drawn on it; make a second
"triangle" for the angle between the mast and the deck (NOT the
base). Use these to drill the "Pilot hole" for the mast, and
then drill it out to size using successively larger drills.
A third possibility recognizes that the real ship did not have a
"tight" hole for the mast to go through - they made the hole
over-size and then used wedges between the sides of the hole and
the mast to move the mast into position. You can do the same
thing by drilling a small hole and making a "stub peg" on the
bottom of the mast, and then enlarging the upper portion of the
hole so that the mast is a "rattling" fit to it. The peg will
then locate the bottom of the mast, and wedges can be used to
bring the mast - at the deck level - to the correct position.
The "mast coat" will hide these. The bowsprite is a different
problem. Much depends on whether the bowsprite heel is "buried"
in the hull, or rests on the deck. If the latter, simply drill
a small hole and enlarge it with a rat-tail file. If the
former, you might want to consider either drilling a series of
increasingly larger holes as in method 2 for the mast, or making
the final hole undersize, and then trimming the heel of the
bowsprit to fit.
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