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Planking Clarification

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Hey all, 


I've been working on a Model Shipways "Rattlesnake" for about a year now. I got it for Christmas of 2017, took about 6 months off when my baby was born, and have since restarted. This is my first model ship. I'm to the planking stage. I have constructed a steam box and have chosen to take that route. I'm still dialing in the steam times for my planks, but i'm a little confused. 


Say i steam the plank for 20 minutes to get good pliability, The next step is to bend the plank to my desired shape. I have an old Plank bending iron that was my grandfathers. It's got a curved head and a roller on a spring attached to it. i believe that's to heat the plank back up and make it hold it's shape. However, i opted to use the curve of the bulkheads to get my shape. 


I've seen people use pins to hold the plans in place while they dry. that was a pain in the butt. I had to drill pin holes in the plank/bulkhead to insert the pins, then the glue dried and my pins were glued in place. i had to use pliers to remove them. 


Is my process out of order? What am i doing wrong? 


I see there are a few tutorials up above, but none reflect the stage of holding the plank on the boat. thanks in advance.


Pictures are below. 











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Hi - firstly if you haven’t read the planking for beginners in the articles database it’s a great place to start. It really will answer most of your questions. Personally I don’t use pins to hold planks I much prefer to use clamps but that’s my choice and others will use their own methods. I haven’t made the Rattlesnake but looking at the pictures the frames are quite spaced apart. This will make planking harder to get the correct shape especially if it’s single planked. Can you fill between the frames with some balsa to get the Hull shape before planking?  If you can it will make the job much easier. Now as you have decided to steam your planks, you will make them flexible but at the same time the moisture content will increase. This expands the wood so you need to clamp/pin/hold your planks in place and then let the plank dry out. Once this has occurred you can then glue it in place. If you don’t then usually the glue doesn’t bond very well and also the plank shrinks a bit. This will then give you gaps. By the sound of things you have an electric aeropiccola bender which is a great bit of kit so why not try heating and bending your planks with that first? Have a good read through the data base and good luck with your build 👍. Effective planking is all about the planning of the entire job before one plank is even laid. 

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part of the areopiccola is broken the roller isn't attached. i need to give it some love. I gave it a go when i first got it from my grandfather and had a heck of a time using it. there are no instructions with it any more. Do i need to heat the planks or just heat them dry and bend? the one i tested didn't bend very well and broke instead. 


I've printed the planking tutorials and i'll start reading them tonight. i realize a lot of this will be trial and error and i'll end up doing what i like best. I guess i like the concept of the steaming method, it's just the shaping and holding to the hull that i was hung up on. 

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Great get reading they are fantastic sources of information.  They will explain about lining the hull, tapering planks, fairing the frames and working out planking widths and runs. As you progress it will all make sense and make your planking so much easier for you. And it will look great too. Don’t get too hung up on how to heat the wood for bending. All methods work as they all involve heat and it’s a case of finding what works best for you. I like to use a hot air gun whereas others like to drop planks straight into a boiling kettle. It all works no problem. As for clamping there are many options such as the micro mark clamps to name but one. I’m sure others will be along soon to give you a few pointers.  

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Hi Pond,

A few years ago I too started on the Rattlesnake kit from Model Shipways (due to its size I wouldn't recommend it for beginners - parts are SMALL and FRAGILE and easily break during construction). To this day I still didn' manage to finish it - a few sails remain to be hunged. As you'll see in the attached photos, I also slightly bashed the kit, using my own wood (mostly cherry), etc...


As you'll find out, there are many ways to succesfully plank the hull, every modeler has his favourite one. In the kit you have excellent plans and step-by-step instructions by Ben Lankford - stick to them and you should be fine.

Most important thing is to properly spill (shape) the planks before mounting them. Once you've attached your wales according to the plans, divide each bulkwark with battens into a few symmetrical 'belts' - eliptoid areas from bow to stern and gradually fill them up with spilled planks. Checking symmetry on both sides is crucial.  Start your planking from up (wale) towards down (keel) or opposite, whichever way you prefer. Shape (spill) a PAIR of planks (each plank for one side of your bullwark), wet them for a few minutes in lukewarm water and hot shape them with your plank bending iron, first outside of your model, frequently checking the curvature against the skeleton of your hull.

I think that your steaming box is, in your case, an overkill (they were used in full size practices, but your planks are scaled down, so much smaller and thinner than the full size boards, that it s quite easy to shape them when they are just wet. The soldering (plank bending ) iron will dry them almost perfectly during the bending process, and if you glue them and pin them both to the bulkheads, one on each side, they won't warp your hull. Especially if you keep the hull in the mounting board. Also by doing so, you'll ensure that your planking is perfectly symmetrical on both sides.

Repeat the above for each succesfull pair of planks, until you'll fill each belt.


The way I shape the planks, is, I place a wet plank on a wooden surface (e.g. wooden painting stick from Home Depot, or such), keep it by its end with one hand. With the second hand I hold my hot iron (not too hot or you'll burn your plank) and gently place its head on the surface of the plank, rubbing it to and fro. At the same time, with the first hand I gradually raise one end of my plank, giving it a desired curvature and frequently check it against the hull. Giving it some desired twist and edge-bending is also possible. When the curvature of my plank is perfectly laying (or almost perfectly) on the bulkheads, I attach it to the hull with glue and a few pins (placed every other bulkhead or so), gently tapping ordinary seamstress' pins with a tiny hammer, into the plank and the bulkhead, untill it grabs. You don't want to hammer in the entire pin - you might damage, split the plank and/or bulkhead. Perhaps three or four gentle taps will suffice...


Once the entire elliptical belt is filled, remove the batten and procede to the next belt. And so on...

After the entire hull is planked, I sand it with a medium grade sandpaper and/or scrape it with a sharp edge of a broken glass or sharp edge of a metal scraper - this will remove 'fuzziness' on the wooden surface left after sanding it.


Good luck!



PS: I developed this technique many years ago, closely following advice from a German modeler, Gebhard Kammerlander. Some time ago there was a detailed article on this topic in the, now defunct, magazine "Ships in Scale". But to this day, as far as I know, there is also a video instruction by Gebhard himself on You Tube, on how he does it. Worth checking...





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Thanks, Thomas. The Instruction is much appreciated. I'm going to give a few of these methods a go. My grandfather completed something like 40 ships with that areopecola bender. It doesn't have a temperature control on it. 


I'll be out there tonight giving a few of these some attempts. The fact is that this is my first ship so i'm not expecting perfection. I'm expecting experience and mistakes. And i'm okay with that. 


I should probably start a build log. 

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Expect bleeding :)


The best way to think about planking is that there are a number of bulkhead stations you have to plank, the profiles of which are different from each other, and therefore the line following the profile of each bulkhead from deck to keel is different for each station. In short, you have a different width to plank at each bulkhead, so your planks must be the right width at each station for one plank to manage all. In cases where one plank can't manage the stretch or compression (planks should never be tapered to less than half their width), you either use drop planks (where you end a plank early) or stealer planks (where you add a short plank segment). 


If you need drop planks or stealers, look up how they were done first, practice varied among the builder nations.


Other than tapering, the three other factors you need to control are 1) face bend, the basic bend required for the plank to say curve around the bow, 2) edge-curve, you can either edge bend your planks or spile them, and 3) twist. Both in the bow and the stern you'll have planks that will fit much more easily if twisted with steam/heat first. If you can accurately bend/spile/twist planks to hold the form you need, then your planking will go pretty smoothly.

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I use a steam cleaner and a form. The form is made by tracing the deck shape onto a piece of 3/4 ply and cutting it out. I then attach the forward end of several planks to the form using a spring clamp, hit it with steam and bend it holding it in place with additional clamps. I then steam the whole thing again. All in all the steaming process takes under a minute. You can either dry it with a hair dryer, heat gun or do what I do and just let it dry naturally. Easy peasy.





Jim Rogers


Damn the Torpedoes , Full speed ahead.   Adm David Farragut.

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Good tips guys. I also realized Grampa left me a copy of this. So  i've been reading up. much more to do. But yeah, i'm starting to feel a bit less intimidated. I need to get some battons on and get the other port side wale in place. than I think i can begin in earnest. 




For the record. My grandfather passed last April at 94. i'll post pictures of his boats I have in my possession later. i also use a bunch of his tools constantly. Many of which, my mother bought for him as presents as he was learning to build in his 30's. 

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If you want a dissenting opinion, I found much of current planking methods complicated and tricky, more so than I felt it needed to be, so I came up with my own simplified method. The only requirement is a very sharp knife and the ability to cut following drawn lines with said knife.


Short version is that I'd do all the bending/twisting required for each plank, but only vaguely taper them, just enough so I wouldn't be cutting away too much waste with my knife. I then fit the plank and once set, I used narrow vinyl pinstriping tape to lay out a fair line from the plank's widest to narrowest point, and used a .3mm mechanical pencil (that I sharpened to an extremely fine point with 800 grit sandpaper) to mark a clear but very fine and therefore accurate line along the tape. Remove the tape, cut away the waste with a knife, making sure to keep the knife exactly 90 degrees to the hull surface. I then used a piece of spring steel about .012"x.5"x6", covered on one side with PSA sandpaper to finish off that cut, again making sure to stay exactly 90 degrees to the surface.


By doing that, the perfect 90 degree edge of the factory-sawn next plank already fits, no adjustment necessary- just vaguely taper it on the side you'll trim away and do the required bends and glue it on.


Also, both for fit and wood movement reasons, I did not put any glue on the edges of my planks. I found it went quickly once I started doing it that way, and the fit was good enough that I have a hard time figuring out how many planks are there.


Edited by vossiewulf
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That Aeropiccola electric plank bender is a real collectors' item, among model ship builders, at least. No longer made and much sought after. While I have not used it in this fashion as yet, I am told that it can be used to bend and fasten planks a frame or bulkhead at a time. First, the plank is spiled and shaped to the exact space it needs to cover. (Follow the instructions in the "how to plank" articles.) This is essential. You have to cut out a plank from flat stock that will cover a curved surface. (Much as a world globe or a basketball is made up of flat pieces that form as sphere.) There's no point in trying to plank with strips that aren't properly shaped. The shaped plank is fastened at the end with the greatest initial curve, generally the bow. This is done with glue and wooden or metal pegs. Wood glue is placed on the next frame or bulkhead down the plank and the bending iron is run over the plank as gentle pressure if applied until the bend is formed. (Don't force it or you risk breaking the plank.) When the bend is formed, the bending iron is applied to the plank at its junction with the frame or bulkhead. The heat from the iron will cause the water in the glue to evaporate and the glue to harden fairly quickly, fastening the plank. The process is repeated until the full length of the plank is bent and glued. The end of the plank is fastened with pegs as was the beginning of it. Some also go back down the plank and fasten with wooden pegs (trunnels or "tree nails") at each frame, as in full-sized construction.


This comment comes with the caveat that I've never done this before, but it sounded like a good idea when I heard it. I'm not sure where that was, though. :D  I expect it will take a bit of experimenting to determine how long it takes for the iron to heat the glue enough to get it to set and hold.  If it works, let us know.


I suggest that you first practice bending and fastening planking on a small mock-up before attacking your model itself. A few bulkhead shapes is all you need. That should give you the hang of it.  All of the advice given so far is good. There are many ways to skin a cat, and a model hull.

Edited by Bob Cleek
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If you haven't done so, have a look at the two pinned posts here:   https://modelshipworld.com/index.php?/forum/14-building-framing-planking-and-plating-a-ships-hull-and-deck/


There's also a simplified planking here that's worth a look:  http://modelshipworldforum.com/ship-model-framing-and-planking-articles.php     There is a lot of good information in the database besides planking, btw.

"The shipwright is slow, but the wood is patient." - me

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Thanks Mark. I printed them yesterday and started reading though. I planned to do some work last night and the evening got away from me. I'll check it out today and post a few pictures of what i come up with. 


I have a ton of extra wood I received from my Grampa. I'll do some practice with different methods on that wood. Wish me luck. i'll post pictures. 



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