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Building Small Scale Ships Boats by Jim Lad - Part 1

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Some time ago I advised that I needed to stop work on my ‘Francis Pritt’ in order to build a set of boats for a 1:96 scale model of the four masted barque ‘Herzogin Cecilie’ that a group of us were re-building for the museum.  I was asked at the time whether I could let people know how I built small clinker planked ship’s boats so here, at last, is a bit of a description on how I go about it.  Just to whet your appetite, here are all six boats in various stages of completion.  The piece of wood across the inside of the boat at bottom right is to stop it from trying to close up before the thwarts are fitted.




The first thing is to make a plug to the dimensions of the inside of the boat’s hull, but considerably taller than the boat.  The reason for this will become apparent shortly.  Any sort of wood will do for this, but a soft wood is easier for carving.




You can see from the photo that these plugs have been used before.  The rough line of the gunwale has been marked on the plug plus a guide for positioning the frames.


Now you need to cut some fine pieces of wood for the frames.  Again, the choice is yours, but I’ve found that for most boats at 1:96 some of the very fine scale wood used by model railway enthusiasts works well and is fairly easy to come by in a range of small sizes.  In this case the wood came from America and is, I think, birch.  Cut sufficient lengths for all the frames plus a few spares, ensuring that each frame in long enough to bend around the plug to a position well above the gunwale of the boat.




Steam or boil the frames until they are soft and pliable.  I have an old saucepan I use to boil my timber on the kitchen stove.  This method works well, especially if you are softening a lot of pieces at the same time.  Once pliable, bed the frames over the plug and hold them in place with elastic bands.  The frames don’t have to be in their correct positions at this stage – just roughly arranged along the plug so that they come reasonably close to their final shape.  I find that it’s a good idea to use at least to rubber bands for the job; otherwise as you put the end of a frame under the band the one next to it is liable to pop out.  If you use two bands they can hold alternate frames and make the job easier.




In this case I added an extra rubber band when I’d finished all the bending just to make sure the frames were held tightly against the plug.  Don’t worry too much if some of the frames crack as you’re bending them – that’s why you cut extra.


Now for one of the ‘tricks of the trade’.  We’re going to use quite a bit of glue in making these boats and if any of it happens to seep down between the frames and the plug it will be impossible to remove the completed hull from the plug, so – some people wax plugs to stop glue sticking, but a surer way is to use a bit of Glad Wrap; cling wrap; kitchen film; whatever it’s called where you live, but I mean the clingy plastic film used in the kitchen for covering such things as plates of sandwiches or cakes.




Cut a small piece of this film slightly longer than the boat and just wide enough to go over the plug down to the line of the gunwale.  With the film between the plug and the frames, there’s no way the hull can stick onto the plug!


Now we can starting fitting the frames.  Place the midships frame over the plug; ensure that it’s square and sitting down hard on the plug and glue the top ends of the frame to the plug above the line of the gunwale, at the same time ensuring that your piece of plastic film hasn’t slipped out of place.




You’ll need to clamp the frames in place while the glue sets to ensure that it’s sitting tight against the plug.  As I use fast setting epoxy for this sort of work I simply hold each frame in place with my fingers while the glue sets, but if you use CA, you’ll need to devise another method of clamping.  Keep working fore and aft with the frames until they are all firmly glued in place.  I find that I can hold several frames in place at once while the glue dries.  As you reach the bow and stern, fold the extra length of film around the end of the plug and hold the folds in place with the final frames.  This will ensure that no glue can leak under the film at the ends.


Once all the frames are in place, cut a piece of wood of suitable thickness for the keel, but cut it deeper and longer than needed.  Carefully glue the keel piece in place to the frames along the midships line fore and aft.




I find that there’s no need to rebate the keel, as the garboard strake will be fixed to it with a good line of glue; however the bow and stern posts will need to be rebated to provide a landing for the plank ends.  These rebates should be in a little from the inboard edge of the posts.  Again, cut the bow and stern posts wider than required and make them long enough to reach from the feel to the top of the plug.  A small groove is cut in these from the keel end up to the height of the gunwale and both posts are then glued to the keel and the top of the plug, ensuring that they are hard up against the plug.


In the first of the following photos you can see the pencil marks where I have marked the stem post for the height of the gunwale and the top of the plug.







When the ‘backbone’ of the boat is in place and the glue nicely hardened, planking can commence.




This topic will be concluded in Part 2.




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Sure John, Post this AFTER I just finished making my two small boats. :D But you can bet that I will follow you along on this.


Zipper hydroplane(Miss Mabel ) finished

John Cudahy  Scratch build 1/4" scale Steam Tug

1914 Steam Tug Scratch build from HAMMS plans

1820 Pinky  "Eagle" Scratch build from; American Ships Their Plans and History

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Great topic John, this will be a very handy primer.





If at first you do not suceed, try, and then try again!
Current build: HMCSS Victoria (Scratch)

Next build: HMAS Vampire (3D printed resin, scratch 1:350)

Built:          Battle Station (Scratch) and HM Bark Endeavour 1768 (kit 1:64)

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Can't wait for part 2.


Making the boats for my Royal Louis is something that interrupts my sleep at night.

I just don't want to use the metal ones that came with my kit! Although, on second thought, making them to look as if they are made of wood may pose a different challenge.  B)

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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Thanks John, great tutorial. How you guys did it was a mystery to me. Can't wait for Part 2.

Regards, Keith


gallery_1526_572_501.jpg 2007 (completed): HMS Bounty - Artesania Latina  gallery_1526_579_484.jpg 2013 (completed): Viking Ship Drakkar - Amati  post-1526-0-02110200-1403452426.jpg 2014 (completed): HMS Bounty Launch - Model Shipways

post-1526-0-63099100-1404175751.jpg Current: HMS Royal William - Euromodel

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  • 4 weeks later...

Glueing the ribs/frames to the plug above the sheer-line actually is a good idea ! I used to screw the plug onto a wider piece of wood that had holes drilled along the projection of the sheer-line into which the extra-long ribs were inserted.



panta rhei - Everything is in flux



M-et-M-72.jpg  Banner-AKHS-72.jpg  Banner-AAMM-72.jpg  ImagoOrbis-72.jpg
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