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Hey everyone, 


Quick question about milling my own planks. I have some different species of wood that I would like to mill into planks, but I'm unsure of which face to cut them from. I have already searched and I feel as though I've gotten some conflicting information.  For example and explanation going forward, I have wood that is 2" x 4", so the 2" side has very straight grain and is the edge and the 4" side is more wavy in its grain pattern and is the face. I would like to end up with 1/8" x 1/16" planks. Some people say to cut the boards that will be ripped into planks from face grain and that the boards should be the thickness that the finished planks are wide. So this would mean cutting 1/8" thick boards (oversized to be finished to 1/8" thick) that would be 4" wide. Then I would cut 1/16" planks from that board resulting in having the 1/8" side being edge grain with straight, but more pronounced, grain. I have also seen advice to cut the 1/8" thick boards from the edge of the original stock, which would result in 1/8" x 2" wide boards that would get ripped into planks with the 1/8" side being face grain of the original stock which shows less defined, but wavy, grain. Lastly, I have seen the suggestion that you should cut 1/16" thick boards from the face grain of the original stock and rip the planks to the 1/8" width which would result, again, in face grain on the 1/8" side. 


What type of grain should I be looking to get on the larger dimension (1/8") of the finished planks? Should this be the straight and more obvious edge grain, or the harder to see, but kinda wavy face grain? Any help would be appreciated here. Thank you in advance for your help! 



Best Regards, 



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The answer, somewhat, depends on the species.  If there is a marked difference between the early and late wood, then I would make edge grain planks, especially if they are to be bent.   My reasoning is that if cut flat grain, assuming that the grain is not exactly parallel to the plank, the bending stiffness will vary along the length of the plank, resulting in kinks and flat spots in the hull, which will be very frustrating if the frames or bulkhead are far apart.  There is also more chance of the plank splitting or "blowing out" as it is bent.    I believe this in one of the reasons why woods with very fine grain or, as I call it, grain-less, are best for modelling.  


My other argument for edge grain is there is less shrinkage in the direction 90 degrees to the grain, so there is less shrinkage in the width of edge grain planks.  As a result, there is less chance the gaps between planks will open up if the hull dries out.


There is an argument for rift sawn boards (see woodenboat.com - Quartersawn discussion) in that it has most of the stability of edge grain, but is less likely to split if fasteners are used.  However, this should only be a consideration when working at larger scales (1:48) where the planks are wide enough and it is possible to realistically reproduce plank fastening.  


My last comment:  as a test take two slices off your 2x4 - one for edge grain and one for flat - and see which you like for you application.  You don't need to commit the whole piece yet, and you'll eventually find a use for the "other" piece, so it won't be wasted.

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I obsess about the same thing.  Best I can come up with is choose a species with low contrast grain to begin with.

It is easier for me to just slice my framing stock from 8x4 -the edge grain becoming the face of the frame.  The sided face is a continuous curve anyway and you takes your chances on how that looks.  For the ends where I need 4 inch stock, I have to flip 90 degrees and I get a plain sawn face - can't help that.

For planking,  either is equally easy to get, so I look at the surfaces and pick the one I like better.  Hard Maple is tricky  - the same plank can go from plain to flame as it is cut farther in.


What I find to be more distracting is a species of wood with open grain - my imagination sees those pores as being large enough to break a crewman's ankle if it were enlarged from model scale to full size.

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Thank you both for the replies! To clarify, I am currently working at 1/48 scale, but plan on doing 1/64 going forward. The species in question are Swiss pear and Castello boxwood, the boxwood is what I was looking at primarily when I asked the question, but I'll probably use Swiss pear below the waterline and boxwood above it, with ebony for the wales. I plan on using Holly for the decks, but I don't think it matters much for the ebony or Holly, only the pear and boxwood. 

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You did as well as can be had for your species choices.  I doubt it will be a practical difference which ever is your choice.


I intend to use Holly dyed black where you will use Ebony. 

I think the old holeystoned white descriptions of decking was poetic license to describe the difference from a deck stained by bare feet covered in tar.

Sanding does not change the native color of decking wood.  Sun bleaching tends to be grey or silver, not white.

I have Holly that is yellow and grey (Blue Mold) and may stand for Pine, or Oak decking, but I think - suspect - that white Holly is more of a modeler's convention than a representation of what was real.

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You are asking a question about milling wood. I'm perhaps going to "go against the grain" of some of the above posts, but it is a lot more important to mill your wood with the proper grain direction for reasons other than what the grain looks like.


The appearance of the grain or "figuring" of the wood used in a model should, at most all scales, be nonexistent unless for some stylistic reason it is desired, such as in a bright-finished half-hull model. This means that the model's wood must be either of a species with very muted grain or figuring or painted. Most woods used also should be relatively hard, so the fruitwoods and certain tight-grained hardwoods ("hardwood" having nothing to do with the hardness of the wood, of course) like boxwood and eqivalents (e.g. Castello,) holly, cherry, hard maple, and the like are preferred.


Contrary to reports above, a holystoned deck (washed with salt water) will appear nearly as new wood, since the holystoning is indeed equivalent to sanding. Merchantmen may have let their decks go to weathered gray when nobody was looking, but a naval vessel kept "shipshape and Bristol-fashion" would always have freshly holystoned decks which would be of natural color. That color would quite light, as they were also bleached by the effect of salt water swabbing. Holly and maple are good options for modeling deck planking because they are light enough to permit slight staining to reach an accurate color. (Light wood can be stained darker, but dark wood cannot be stained lighter, of course.) Decks were frequently planked with "Oregon pine," i.e. Douglas fir, and similar species, and so would appear in a model the color of Doug fir, but due to scale, the grain of the planking would not be discernible. (Teak was not favored for decks on men of war in the Age of Sail because it splinters terribly when struck by shot and the splinters cause the resulting wounds to fester quickly.)


The grain orientation of every piece of wood that goes into a real wooden vessel is specifically chosen for the purpose the piece will serve. Wood is stronger in its vertical grain direction than the horizontal or face grain direction, as anybody who's ever played baseball knows. Hit the ball with the grain facing in the wrong direction and the bat breaks. So, too, in real life shipbuilding as well as in modeling, the wood should have its grain running so that it presents its strongest side to the greatest stresses.


Additionally, in wooden ship construction, the grain direction is important because wood shrinks and swells with moisture most between the annular rings.  Quartersawn or "vertical grain" wood, that with the grain running in the direction pictured below, is used for carvel planking and decking because when the closely fitted planks swell with moisture in the water, they will become wider and their edges will press against each other, creating, with the caulking driven between them, a watertight seal. This grain orientation, like that of the baseball bat, is also the direction providing the greatest resistance to localized impacts, such as those created by the naval ordinance of the time.


The photo directly below shows a good plank which will swell properly and not break easily when bent into the curve of the hull. A face-sawn piece of wood would not serve as well for a plank because it won't swell properly and may break outright or split face run-out and lift a large sliver. This is a problem it seems a lot of modelers encounter when building with scale planking sawn with the wrong grain orientation for use as planking. (This same principle applies to wood strips chosen for uses as battens. Grain orientation can affect both the durability, flexibility, and fairness of a batten's curve. It also applies to steam-bent frames, which must be bent with the correct orientation to avoid breaking the frame when bending it.)


Correspondingly, face-sawn wood will hold fasteners better, in general. It also is less likely to split when fastened at the butts. That problem is easily avoided, however, by not placing fastenings too close to the end of the plank and always drilling a properly sized hole for the fastener.


So, it's important not only to pick modeling wood for its appearance, but also for its strength (fine grain,) and for its grain orientation all at the same time. However, picking the grain orientation for reasons of appearance is 1) irrelevant if the wood is to be painted, and 2) if it is to be left bright to depict wood and the grain is visible, that feature will certainly never be to scale. The grain is never accurately visible at scale size. This assumes, of course, that the intent is to represent a vessel as it appears in real life. If you are varnishing the hull because you aren't interested in what the vessel actually looked like in real life, that's a matter of artistic license and you can do what you will. That said, if one wishes their model to best be able to hold together over time and not bust itself apart with changes in humidity, as well as be strong where it should be, grain orientation (but not appearance) remains as important in the model as it is in real life wooden ship construction.


In summary, what the wood looks like in terms of its appearance in the model is one thing, but the direction of the grain, a function of how it is sawn, is more important for a lot of reasons other than appearance.


See: http://www.hardwooddistributors.org/blog/postings/what-is-the-difference-between-quarter-sawn-rift-sawn-and-plain-sawn-lumber/









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  • 2 weeks later...

This has nothing to do with ship modeling but everything to do with grain direction. I was visiting a state museum that used to be a post office thaat was built around 1900. The floor now in an entertainment area but used to be the main sorting floor was made of end grain pieces of clear fir measuring 2"x4" and 2 1/2 " long. These were held together by wires laid in grooves  and in lengths of about 8 feet. The resulting strips were then laid on compacted sand and a floor varnish applied to the top. Still in good shape after close to a hundred years..

Edited by reklein
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Thanks everyone for the informative posts!


Bill, that is interesting, I have never seen end grain flooring, but I absolutely love my home made end grain cutting board I made with scrap cutoffs!  Very durable in that configuration, but like you said, I don't think end grain would be suitable for planking the hull haha.

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  • 3 weeks later...

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