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HMS Sphinx (1775) by Landrotten Highlander - 1:48, first scratch build as per plans Alexander


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Hi All,

 

I have been working on this ship for a few months now.  This is my first scratch build (i.e. not starting from a kit).  The plans were purchased form Alexander in Germany (he has a build log on this site for the same ship).

 

There are a number of personal requirments relating to this build:

1) I want to understand and depict how a ship was build at the time;

2) Where possible/feasible I want to show what life looked like at sea at the time;

3) It has to be at a scale where details can be seen, yet still be small enough to stay in the house (i.e. I do not need to build a massive warehouse to store this - and other - build/builds).

4) Relating to the scale again - this build will be a stepping board to a series of much more complicated builds of ships within the golden age of sail.  I wish to keep the scale the same across all ships, so I can see how the size of a relatively small ship (this 6th rate, or something like the Royal Caroline) relates to something like a 1st rate.  Again, the size of the largest ship will have to fit within my house.

 

I spent a few months looking at as many build logs as possible to gain ideas as to how to tackle my wishes.

 

A) Thinking about scale, I had two preferred sizes: 1:32 (this scale was chosen as there are good quality figurines available that require painting - another hobby of mine) and 1:48 (this scale relates to my earlier interests in moddeling: WWII aircraft).  Any smaller scale and the figures lack the detail I am looking for.

To facilitate making my final choice, I copied the cross section in 1:48 (the scale of the plans) and increased it to fit 1:32 (an increase of 50%).  It was then that I realised that 1:32 would not meet criteria 3 and 4.  So 1:48 it is.

 

B) Thinking about how to depict building method and life on board, I had a number of difficulties to overcome.

 

When looking at other build logs, it struck me that in many cases the frames were futher apart than mentioned in Peter Goodwins literature (the admiralty style shows the lines of the ship, not how it was built at the time).  Furthermore, it appears to me that it is quit difficult to show details of the inside through these narrow gaps - this is a perception of mine, I may be wrong. (So criteria 1 is met, but criteria 2 is not)

 

I have also seen models where the outer hull (planking and frames) on one side of the ship is (mostly) removed to show the inside.  This fits with criteria 2, but how do I incorporate criteria 1 in this method?  Also, these models kept the interior rather bare, which does not conform with the impressions I have when reading literature relating to the cramped conditions that must have existed at the time (e.g. this ship had a crew compliment of 140).

 

Looking closer at these thought I realised that I wanted to have a combination of building a ship and fitting it into a diorama of sorts.

 

So then I decided on the following:

    1) one side of the hull (port side) will be completely planked;

    2) the other side (starboard) will show how the hull was built - all frames, half frames, etc.; but no planks on the outside;

    3) at the starboard side I will cut strategic openings to show specific scenes going on inside the hull;

    4)  the ship will be fully rigged, again showing what may happen at a particular time during the voyage.

Relating to point 3 and 4 - I must make sure that all activities are related to the same point in time.  For instance, It would be silly to show the raising of the anchor (below deck) while at the same time showing the stowing of sails above deck.  Somehow that does not compute - the first depict the beginning of the voyage, while the last in extreme cases the en of the voyage.

 

As this is my first scratch build, it will go slow (learning the ropes while building, so to speak).  This means I have plenty of time to decide what scenes to depict.  I will appreciate any input/ ideas any of you can bring.  The first step is to build the empty hull to a point where decks need to be built.

 

Slainte

Peter

 

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Peter,  I'm so glad to see another person build a Sphinx class post ship.  Those 20 gunners were pretty little vessels and make a great subject for a model.  One doesn't have to look any further than Alex Matvijet's log to see how gorgeous a model it makes.  His build log is awesome and I always get a little excited to see a new post from him.  I have a special interest in his posts as I too am building a Sphinx class ship, the HMS Camilla 1776.  Unlike most other modelers I have chosen to build Camilla bread-and-butter style, where I glue 6 full hull lifts and 3 partial hull lifts of 1" thick yellow poplar together.  I then carve the model with a variety of hand and power tools using 24-1/8" thick Baltic birch plywood templates to shape the hull.  After shaping is complete I will then plank over the hull, inside and out, with Castello boxwood and Swiss pear wood.

 

From your description this seems like a most ambitious project, showing the interior of the hull and activities that would have gone on inside the ship.  Most model builders wouldn't do a framed model, or for that matter even a partially framed model, for their first try at scratch building, but only you know your level of model building competency.  I guess you're a deep water sailor. ;-)  If framing is what you want to show then I might recommend The Fully Framed  Model (TFFM), a four volume set of books by David Antscherl and Greg Herbert, to help you out in building a sixth rate.  Great books!  The Sphinx Class was 108' between perpendiculars and the Swan class was 96',  so they're reasonably close in size and both are sixth rates. 

 

Peter, You have to know I will be following your build very closely, and I wish you the best in this endeavor.

 

Tom

 

 

Edited by wyzwyk
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Hi Tom,

cheers for your encouraging comments.  Also thanks for everybody looking in and hitting the like button.

 

I will be building this ship using beech - I managed to source some relatively locally for a good price.  The lumberyard was able to cut up the wood into thinner boards - mostly 6mm thick - all with a good enough finish and even thickness across all boards.

This is the maximum scale siding of the frames, and all other parts of the ship (bar the keel, which is 7mm) is less than that.

 

As for modelling: as far as I remember I was always changing kits, as there was always something that bothered me about them.  So I finally bit the bullet and decided to start from scratch.  That way, if anything is not to my liking than I have only myself to blame.  I am confident that my practical skills I obtained while training for a career in Engineering will help me greatly as well.

 

And one thing I learned quit early - when making a model, go for something that tickles my (your) fancy - anything less than that and I lose interest very quickly.

I am certain that there are many other (easier) ships I could start as a first scratch model.  I have looked ad the Swan class as well - but the books look a bit too much like a manual to me (personal taste), and I am the type of guy that learns best if he has to find his own way (I tend to be 'why learn things the easy way when a difficult way is possible?).

The Sphinx seems to be the ship that will allow me to do so - apart from which the plans Alex has provided are very detailed. He is now working on the HMS Anson (64 gun third rate).  That one tickles my fancy too, as well as the French 'Fleuron' and the 'L'Ambitieux' as described by J. Boudriot.

 

As far as helping me finding out how ships were built, I base myself on Peter Goodwin's 'Sailing man of War 1650-1850' and Brian Lavery's 'The ship of the Line'.  Up to now I am happy whith the results, as you will find out in the coming weeks when I (slowly) bring all of you up to date with my work so far.

 

Slainte

Peter

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2 observations;


 


 


1) one side of the hull (port side) will be completely planked;


    2) the other side (starboard) will show how the hull was built - all frames, half frames, etc.; but no planks on the outside;


    3) at the starboard side I will cut strategic openings to show specific scenes going on inside the hull;


 


the usual way to represent is the contrary


 


I will be building this ship using beech 


 


here in Canada, beech is a softwood not suitable  for models; no clean edges means it will not take small details


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Hello Peter,

 

Welcome to the darkside (also known as "scratchbuilding") :)    I'm looking forward to seeing your build.   Gaetan does have a good point about beech.  I find that the grain is a bit too pronounced, it's an open grain wood, and it's also very flexible which for framing can cause problems.    The beech available to might be different, though.

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I'm not sure what Gaetan means when he says beech is a softwood.  American beech (Fagus grandifolio), the only beech native to North America, is technically NOT a softwood (gymnosperm), but a hardwood (angiosperm or flowering plant).  It has a specific gravity (density) of .74 which makes it a harder than average angiosperm.  The pores and rays of beech are visible, certainly not inconspicuous.  While the wood dries fairly rapidly it does have a strong tendency to warp, split, and surface check.  Much care is needed in drying the wood as it is subject to large shrinkage.  These characteristics, in my opinion, would not make American beech one of the more ideal woods for model framing.

 

Tom

Edited by wyzwyk
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Tom,

 

technically, beech is a hardwood with a density which can go up to ,74

practically, beech is acting as a softwood for  ship models with a density as low as ,50

 

Wood fibers are not very close as real  exotic hardwood  with a density multiplied by 2.

For a small scale, beech has no crisp edges, if you magnify one edge you would see fiber going every way and not close to the edges

and just for this reason, it is enough to discard it, at least for  north american species.

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2 observations;

 

 

1) one side of the hull (port side) will be completely planked;

    2) the other side (starboard) will show how the hull was built - all frames, half frames, etc.; but no planks on the outside;

    3) at the starboard side I will cut strategic openings to show specific scenes going on inside the hull;

 

the usual way to represent is the contrary

 

I will be building this ship using beech 

 

here in Canada, beech is a softwood not suitable  for models; no clean edges means it will not take small details

 

Hi Gaetan,

can you explain the reason why my choise is not good?  Or is it simply a case of it is different than what others have done before me?

I am asking as I want to understand your comment, rather than copy it without thinking.

Kind regards

Peter

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Regarding my choise of beech as a material I would like to tell you the reasons.

 

1) My local lumberyard had other woods available, such as cherry or pear.  However, all those boards showed signs of spalting (i.e. it had lighter streaks across the board.  And the local hobby shop only had balsa wood - which is much softer than pear.  I have used this wood for modelling concepts of ideas as it was conveninet, but never liked the softness of it.

Getting other woods - say pear - would mean that I would have to order this in specialist shops, and the only ones I could find that had the sizes I needed were 'over the pond and across the water', meaning it was a) more expensive and B) would cost almost as much to get it to me.

The beech wood boards all had a reasonable even colour - and NO spalting.

 

2) I understand that traditionally pear is being used a lot.  But as this is my first scratch build I was thinking it better to start with a wood that is easy to get - and this relatively cheap - as it allows me to make mistakes during the learning a less costly affair.

And I mean this not only in monitary ways.

 

As a Bonsai artist I learned my skills on material that had good potential (usually from the local nursery), and was relatively cheap and readily available at the time.  However, fast forward 10-15 years and I am regretting losing so many good potential Bonsai due to my inexperience.  Now the same type of material is very hard to come by (most nurseries no longer grow trees for the required length of time - and thusthey are a lot more expensive.  It has now gone so far that I have decided to invest a lot of money in starting a specialised nursery growing trees with potential towards Bonsai.  However, as that takes a minimum of 5 years - but more like 15-20 years - I do not expect to make a lot of money out of it.  But perhaps however takes over the nursery in (hopefully a few decades time) will be able to make a decent living out of it.

 

So going back to topic.  I felt that beech would enable me to obtain/refine my skills sufficiently, while learning how to build a ship, so that for my next project I can take on the build without the many questions and insecurities I have at present.  By then I will have obtained a method of working, and acquire the necessary knowledge and tools to bring it to a successful end.

 

Peter

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Peter you can still use beech.  You choose it probably for a $ reason. In fact the main reason you should choose a wood is because of their properties  and mainly because you like it.

 

If I would be at your place, I would consider 2 options: beech or  (cherry or pear)

 

2 reasons should guide you: the price that you are ready to invest 

                                               and the result you want to achieve; cherry or pear will have a better visual effect than beech.

 

I remember in the first forum MSW 1,0, there was a guy who always used basswood and he loved it. The end result are comparable with what you could get with beech. It is exactly the same thing as taking a picture. If you move all the edges will be blurred. If you do not move all the edges will be nice and crisp.

 

If I want to do a figure head in balsa, it will be impossible to get nice and clean edges because the wood grain is too soft. It is the same thing with beech.

At the other end, boxwood will produce  extremely clean edges.

Edited by Gaetan Bordeleau
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Peter, I certainly understand the disappointment you are feeling now that some modelers here in MSW have questioned your decision to go with beech.  You want to justify your choice.  It is not my place, or anyone else's place, to tell you what to do, only to make recommendations based on experience.  For you money comes into the equation, as does availability and the amount of time it takes to ship "across the pond".  Also, you have already started the project by buying and having the wood milled, so this would cause even more reluctance to change.  All of this is understandable, but to my way of thinking model ship building is an art, one where you have to invest a substantial amount of time on a project.  I want that investment to pay off in something that is very pleasing to the eye.  One of the ways that I can maximize my chances of making that happen is to use high quality materials, stuff that is IDEALLY SUITED for what I'm trying to achieve.   Gaeten makes a great point that beech doesn't have a tight enough grain to keep an edge, thus limiting the kind of detail a modeler would be able to impart on their project.  Mark and I have also expressed misgivings about the use of beech.  I really hope other model builders here in MSW, who have built or are building a framed model, weigh in on the question.  Their input might be helpful to you.

 

Tom

Edited by wyzwyk
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Peter,

 

Given that beech in the US may not be the same beech available to you, try it.   Test it and see what it does.  Your tale about the bonsai has a lot to do with shipmodeling.   What's done early can come back and bite you later.   Don't ask how I know this. :)

 

I think there's a lot that is in the "depends" category...  Will the frames be visible? To which you've already determined this one.    How thick will the frames be (both width and depth)?  Will the frames but cut as futtocks and assembled or will they be one-piece? 

 

It still boils down to "you're the captain and it's your ship, build it the way you want it".   I've seen people use basswood for framing with success but there were problems.   You might have to build your frames and then coat them with a mixture of glue and water to stiffen.    Have some fun...  we'll be around to help out and to see a nice ship being made.

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''That one tickles my fancy too, as well as the French 'Fleuron' and the 'L'Ambitieux' as described by J. Boudriot.''

 

Peter,

 

I will give another opinion about your taste for Le Fleuron: I would recommend you not to choose  this model.

Plans were drawn very fast and are not enough detailed. They are also drawn with the presumption that you are already familiar with the french methods and that you already own some books from Boudriot especially the 74 guns even if it is almost 50 years later.

 

The beauty of this forum is that you can save a lot of mistakes if you just ask before to do it. You will be surprise to see how many peoples knows the answer to your interrogations.

 

 

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Peter,

 

     When I re-read my last post I thought " Oh brother, despite my good intentions that came out far too negative."  That wasn't what I wanted to do, just to give you my honest feedback.  I'm a straight shooter and tell it the way I see it; but sadly, tact, subtlety and finesse are not my strong suits. ;-)    Mark is right,  be the captain of your own ship and steer the course you desire.  My place is to be supportive in your endeavors and help when I can.

 

Tom

Edited by wyzwyk
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''That one tickles my fancy too, as well as the French 'Fleuron' and the 'L'Ambitieux' as described by J. Boudriot.''

 

Peter,

 

I will give another opinion about your taste for Le Fleuron: I would recommend you not to choose  this model.

Plans were drawn very fast and are not enough detailed. They are also drawn with the presumption that you are already familiar with the french methods and that you already own some books from Boudriot especially the 74 guns even if it is almost 50 years later.

 

The beauty of this forum is that you can save a lot of mistakes if you just ask before to do it. You will be surprise to see how many peoples knows the answer to your interrogations.

 

 

Hi Gaetan,

thanks for the heads-up.  As I said, the ship takes my fancy, but I am at this time in no condition (experience wise) to take on this project.  This is why I build this ship first.  I know, different country = different building styles.  But the basics of working with wood, and understanding what the different lines in the plans represent is something I will be able to transfer (or so I like to think?)

So when the time comes, I will defenetely bring up the subject well in advance of generating sawdust.

Peter

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Thanks for everybody looking in and commenting.  Each of your comments is welcome - as I said before, this is my first project, and is focussed on the learning curve - working with predominently wood (instead of solely with metals) and understanding both the meaning of the lines in the plans, as well as the thinking of the shipbuilders of the time.

 

I think it is time for some pictures.

First I copied the plans (multiple times) and cut out what I understood were the different parts of the keel, hog, bow, deadwood and rising wood.  These were glued onto a piece of beech board.

 

I tried to pay attention to the grain of the wood, and align each piece as best as I could with this grain.  This because as I understand it is done to obtain the best resistance to deformation while building a vessel - in other words, the tree trunks were specially selected to accomodate the shap into their grain patterns.

post-16692-0-14320800-1452442391_thumb.jpg

 

Each piece was cut out with some extra wood, then sanded to shape.  The first thing I learned was the importance of angles: it is very important that right angles are exatly 90 degrees, not 91 or 89, as this will greatly affect how well the pieces align when glued together.

Here are all the pieces laid out on the plan - nothing has been sanded to its final shape

post-16692-0-12157600-1452442818_thumb.jpg

 

I refer regularly to Peter Goodwin's  The Construction and Fitting of the Sailing Man of War 1650-1850 and Brian Lavery's The Ship of the Line, Volume II: Design, construction and fittings.

As I understand the construction of the stern deadwood, it gradually thickens from thinner than the width of the keel just above the rabbit line, to the thickness required to seat the stern half-frames.

 

As I was unsure exactly where this started and ended, I lofted the various station lines of the entire stern deadwood onto a single piece of paper.  This enabled me to better understand the shape of the wood, and help me in assessing how to tackle that particular challenge.

I decided to cut the appropriate pieces of stern deadwood from beech stock that was nearly twice as thick as my keel section (13mm versus 7mm).

post-16692-0-20626200-1452442997_thumb.jpg post-16692-0-26172700-1452443015_thumb.jpg

The first picture shows the relative thickness of the different pieces making up the deadwood, the last shows all the pieces that I thought neede to be thicker than the keel.  I am aware at this point that most of them are far too thick, but better to have to cut away than to glue back on, I think.

 

Slainte

Peter

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Hi All,

time for a small update.

 

Having started the build-up of the stern deadwood (and while the glue was setting) I focussed my attention to the bow.

There is a complicated scarph joint which I tackled with the following technique:

The joint in question:

post-16692-0-60644400-1453047368_thumb.jpg

post-16692-0-64532700-1453047474_thumb.jpg

 

I used electricians insulating tape to mark where I should remove wood:

post-16692-0-72501500-1453047445_thumb.jpg

post-16692-0-30116300-1453047540_thumb.jpg

 

This is the result:  The depth of the scarph is about half the width of the keel:

post-16692-0-07475700-1453047639_thumb.jpg

post-16692-0-07333400-1453047682_thumb.jpg

 

Even though I was very carefull to align all pieces correctly when marking (and gluing), and cut exactly along the lines I had marked, it transpired that I was off-kilter by a very small amount (but still too much to my liking):

post-16692-0-00715600-1453047873_thumb.jpg

 

Some careful pushing of the wood proved to me that it was possible to obtain the correct angle without breaking the wood.  However, I did not want any stress in the wood to develop (at least not at this early point in the build).  Then I remembered one of the tips from Chuck - he uses and heat gun to bend planks while planking a hull.

 

So I decided to give it a try before remaking the bow.  It turned out to be a success.  The keel is straight, the bow has a much better rake (angle) - at least one I can live with - and has kept that angle for several months now.

Here is a picture of the bow a few weeks after trial using my industrial heat gun (heat reaches 840 degrees Celcius):

post-16692-0-29564500-1453048149_thumb.jpg

 

When using that gun I have to be careful of a number of things: not scorching the wood, trying to avoid scorching any paper underneath - and keeping my fingers from getting burned (it is blooming hot, I can tell ya).

 

That's all folks

slainte

Peter

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