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Best finish for wood ships

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I am at the point in my build of the HMS Beagle that I need to start thinking about finishing the wooden planked hull.  I am looking for suggestions on the best products, finish and application technique to do this so the wood is shown to best effect, yet it is easy to maintain after completion (i.e. doesn't attract dust, etc.).

  • Product - Tung oil, shellac, spar varnish or other
  • Finish - matte, satin, semi-gloss or high gloss
  • Application - brush, spray, cloth or other


Also, I understand that is hard to glue the detail work to the deck or hull after it has been finished, but it would also seem to be hard to finish the deck or hull with all the detail work on it.  Comments?



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Hi - I'm sure there are many different finishes that work well. On my most recent model I got a little obsessed about getting the finish just right, because it was a major part of the type of boat I was building (a mahogany runabout). I followed the advice from the genius builder/owner at legend model boats and used helmsman spar varnish in satin for the final finish. About 4 coats with 400 sandpaper between coats, and then a final buffing. I was pleased with the result and will probably use again. Not sure anything repels dust though!



Tim Moore

Perfect is the enemy of good

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My bias

1st - prime with 50% diluted super blonde shellac.  Most anything is compatible over it.

Pre 20th C sail, - matte

For your glue 1st or finish first - consider protecting the bond area foot print with high quality painters tape, cut JUSST shy of its full outline, and finish, remove tape, glue.

I am giving Sutherland Welles polymerized Tung oil a close look.

Otherwise, several 100% shellac - rag app  or pure Tung oil - rag app.

Renaissance Wax as a final.

About the only way to protect against dust - a case.

Pay attention to ventilation of the case, having it be an oven would not be good.

NRG member 45 years



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

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

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


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

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


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There is no 'best' - it depends on what kind of look you try to achieve.


Unpainted wood on working sailing ships was either treated with Stockholm tar or linesee oil, or some concoction that contains either or, or both of these. The surface will have a light sheen or be matt, depending on age and exposure of the treatment.


From the late 19th century on yachts (and some high-grade passenger ships) would have unpainted wood varnished. Surfaces would range from satin to high gloss. The varnish would form an appreciable layer on top of the wood, unlike the Stockholm tar or lineseed oil that would soak in.


Many models prefer (it also seem to be a sort of convention for 'historical' models) an 'artisanal' look to their models, highlighting their woodworking etc. skills, rather than representing the actual look of the ship. For this any kind of surface treatment that is used in fine joinery can be used.


For the latter kind, my preferred method is to apply nitrocellulose-based wood-filler and rub this down with very fine (0000) steel-wool. This give a satin finish that deepens the wood colour without forming an appreciable layer on it. For small parts or carvings, one may prefer (diluted) shellac without filler, so that it doesn't clog up the details. Be sure to blow off any slivers of the steel-wool or otherwise you may get rust stains some time later.





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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