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As a newbie to ship modeling I have some questions that I need some help with.


Do I use primer prior to painting a wooden model? What are the advantages or are there none?


I hear using varnish as a finish on most of the threads. My hardware store tells me that varnish is not used anymore and polyurethane replaced it. What are the advantages of using varnish instead of polyurethane?

Why is a  "satin" finish preferable compared to "glossy"?


I really need some advice to give my models a professional look


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I use matt varnish on bare wood and matt paint on coloured areas. I can recommend the Admiralty range of paints & varnishes from Caldercraft/ JoTiKa

 Avoid using varnish over paint as it can leave a "Milky" bloom on the surface, I learned the hard way & had to re paint most of my model recently! Also I would avoid a satin or gloss finish as it tends to look toy like in my opinion. All the best & welcome to this great site "Sygreen", Geoff

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I use polyurethane matt and satin but dilute 50/50 with low odour turps. On small areas I brush it on but on larger areas such as decks, I apply with a single action airbrush. I find this gives a smoother more even finish that an aerosol can. Because the poly is thinned, I usually apply at least 4 coats. It tends to dry a lot quicker than 100% poly. I agree with Geoff, Admiralty paints are excellent both for brush and thinned in an airbrush.

Edited by hornet



Current Build: - OcCre Shackleton’s Endurance. 


Completed Ship Builds:

                                     Caldercraft - HM Bark Endeavour. (in Gallery)

                                    Caldercraft  - HMAV Bounty (in Gallery)

                                     Caldercraft - HM Brig Supply (In Gallery)

                                     Aeropiccola - Golden Hind

                                                        - Constitution

                                     Clipper Seawitch (maker unknown - too long ago to remember!)

                                     Corel - Victory

                                     Modeller's Shipyard - A Schooner of Port Jackson - In Gallery

                                                                      - Brig `Perseverance' - In Gallery

                                                                      - Cutter `Mermaid'- In Gallery

                                                                      - Sirius Longboat (bashed) - In Gallery

                                                                      - Sloop Norfolk - In Gallery

                                      Completed Cannon:   - French 18th Century Naval Cannon

                                                                      - Napoleonic 12 pound field piece

                                                                      - English 18th Century Carronade

                                       Non Ship Builds - Sopwith Camel - Artesania Latina

                                                                   - Fokker DR1 - Artesania Latina


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Primer is to seal the wood and provide a smoother surface for follow on paint or "varnish". 

Shellac (thinned to 50% if using a product already in solution) is the classic primer.

Tung oil diluted to 50% (1:1) by mineral spirits is another type of primer. Tung followed by primer strength shellac is another choice.

Classic vanish is boiled Linseed oil heated to dissolve in shellac - not really a DIY product.

Sand and Sealer is a product that is primarily intended for use on open grain/open pore wood like Oak, Hickory, Walnut.  It tends to be thick in consistency and will leave a layer that might be out of scale (too thick).

The reason that a mat finish (egg shell) is preferred is one of scale effect.  Most of us produce models that are between 1:50 and 1:100 of the actual vessels.  An actual vessel with a high gloss finish would appear as having a mat finish if viewed clearly from a distance where it was  seen as 1-2% of its actual size.

To use polyurethane on your model is a matter of whether you are prejudiced against using plastic on your model.

NRG member 50 years




HMS Ajax 1767 - 74-gun 3rd rate - 1:192 POF exploration - works but too intense -no margin for error

HMS Centurion 1732 - 60-gun 4th rate - POF Navall Timber framing

HMS Beagle 1831 refiit  10-gun brig with a small mizzen - POF Navall (ish) Timber framing

The U.S. Ex. Ex. 1838-1842
Flying Fish 1838  pilot schooner - POF framed - ready for stern timbers
Porpose II  1836  brigantine/brig - POF framed - ready for hawse and stern timbers
Vincennes  1825  Sloop-of-War  - POF timbers assembled, need shaping
Peacock  1828  Sloop-of -War  - POF timbers ready for assembly
Sea Gull  1838  pilot schooner - POF timbers ready for assembly
Relief  1835 packet hull USN ship - POF timbers ready for assembly


Portsmouth  1843  Sloop-of-War  - POF timbers ready for assembly
Le Commerce de Marseilles  1788   118 cannons - POF framed

La Renommee 1744 Frigate - POF framed - ready for hawse and stern timbers


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Please please please avoid shiny finish on old ships. In my opinion, that is the quickest and easiest way to ruin a model. Bright or shiny finishes should be used only on modern yachts, racing boats or the like. You get the idea.

For old ships a matte or satin (eggshell finish) is much preferable.

There aren't but two options: do it FAST, or do it RIGHT.


Current Project Build Log: Soleil Royal in 1/72. Kit by Artesania Latina.

Last finished projectsRoyal Ship Vasa 1628; French Vessel Royal Louis 1780. 1/90 Scale by Mamoli. 120 Cannons


Future projects already in my stash: Panart: San Felipe 1/75; OcCre: Santísima Trinidad 1/90;

Wish List: 1/64 Amati Victory, HMS Enterprise in 1/48 by CAF models.


So much to build, so little time!



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