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Swift Virginia Pilot Boat 1805 by Jim in KC - Artesania Latina - 1:50 scale - first wooden ship build

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The Swift is my first wooden boat build, so I’m a newbie.  I appreciate any suggestions, advice or input from you more experienced builders. 


I used to build plastic and wood aircraft models as a kid, but that was more than 50 years ago.  Now that I’m retired, I have really been looking forward to building models again, particularly ship models. I’m hoping I can maintain my enthusiasm through the trials and tribulations ahead.


When I first opened the box I noticed that the false keel was warped.  I know for my reading (the kit directions, “Ship Modeling Simplified,” by Frank Mastini, and various articles in this forum) that it is essential to get the false keel and bulkheads perfectly aligned.  So I posted questions on the Building, Framing and Planking forum about this issue, and got some good advice.

Mtaylor suggested just cutting a new false keel, and both he and michael101 talked about inserting spacers between the bulkheads and clamping them to straighten out the keel. The more I looked at the false keel, the more I realized that the most obvious warps were right on the bulkhead cut lines. See attached pictures. So in the end I ordered some plywood of the same thickness and I have now cut the new false keel. It’s quite straight and I’m quite happy with it. I have begun fitting (but not gluing) the bulkheads.

Obviously I’m just getting started. I really appreciate the availability of these forums because I’m convinced I’m going to need lots of advice.





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I have been building wooden ship models for at least 60 years and I still find times I need lots of advice!


They are right about keeping the keel straight. Be cautioned that even though your new one is straight now, it can still warp while you are working on the bulkheads and such. You have a good building clamp but it holds the keel in only two places - allowing it to bend between the clamps. One thing you might try is getting a piece of aluminum "L" - either 3/8" or 1/2" -  and clamping pieces a bit longer than the keel in the vice on either side of the keel. That will keep it straight along the full length.


After you have installed the bulkheads, spacers between bulkheads, wales and deck the structure will be rigid enough that you can dispense with the "L" pieces.


This might be overkill, but it is cheap insurance!


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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks for the input.  I made a building jig using l clamps, as suggested.  It holds the false keel firmly.  I cut out the bulkheads and fitted them on the false keel, but haven't glued them as yet.  I glued balsa shims in the keel notch on  few and then filed them to make the fit tighter.


I also cut out the false deck.  As to cutting things out, when I built wood aircraft models years ago everything was balsa.  Then I used Xacto knives to cut pieces out and I assumed I would do the same now.  However, I don't know what kind of wood these sheets are but they're much tougher to cut through then balsa.  I ended up using an electric coping saw.  I've read the other Swift building logs, and most people don't indicate how they cut the pieces out.  Grimber indicated he used xacto knives, and now I'm worried that using a coping saw could have been a mistake because of the thickness of the cutting line.  This is probably a really boot question but I would appreciate any feedback.


Looking ahead, it's clear that the fitting the flat deck to the rounded frames will be a challenge.  Different builders have used different techniques.  Grinder used rubber bands, others glued the deck along the top of the frame with CA.  Some suggested soaking the deck ahead of time to get more flexibility.  I'm not sure what I'll do yet, and again I would appreciate suggestions.  Besides, I have yet to glue the support blocks in place between the frames or to glue the bow and stern blocks in place, all of which comes before attaching the deck.





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  • 1 month later...

Sequence of build so far:

1. Cut thin balsa strips and glued them in slots on frames or on the false keel where needed, then filed them so frames (bulkheads) fit tightly and evenly on the false keel.

2. Glued blocks on false keel against frame #2 and #5 per instructions. Looking ahead, these will anchor the masts.

3. Carved bow and stern blocks to provide a platform for planking.  Glued them in place.











4. Glued hold floors in place.

5. I had worried that the deck would not bend over the curved tops of the frames because of the age of this kit.  That turned out to not be an issue, as advised by another member (Thanks!).  I had carefully drawn lines where I thought the deck would cross bulkheads so I could accurately place the attaching pins.  However, when I positioned deck on the frames, I found the lines were a little off on some frames, so I redrew the lines.  Then drilled guide holes through the deck into the top of each frame using a #72 minidrill and fastened the deck to the frames.  This actually went pretty smoothly.  Then applied wood glue on all seams.





1. Work on stern blocks to make them more symmetrical.

2. Glue down stern deck.

3. File frames so planks can lie flush on each frame.

4. Begin hull planking.



Edited by Jim in KC
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  • 5 months later...

===I completed the items listed above, then completed the first hull planking, which turned out OK.  I followed the kit instructions and began at the top and worked down, one or two planks on one side, then one or two on the other side.  That allowed me to apply lessons learned on one side to the other, and also to experiment back and forth with different techniques.  As a result, the planking scheme is different from side to side, but I still ended up with a fairly symmetrical hull.  Since the first planking will not be visible after I complete the second, there's hopefully no harm done.  Here's what I learned:

  • I had read several articles on planking, including "Simple Hull Planking Techniques for Beginners," by DeBakker and Brooker, and a book, "Ship Modeling Simplified" by Mastini.  I should have paid more attention and calculated more precisely. 
  • I should have spent more time on fairing the bulkheads - I corrected potential dents by gluing thin balsa strips on the bulkheads to improve the shape when needed.  That worked but would have been unnecessary with better fairing. 
  • I also think next time I will segment off the hull with monofilament line or batten strips, and work one segment at a time. 
  • I think tapering planks near the bow looks better if you trim from the bottom of the plank.
  • The kit instructions didn't mention anything about the garboard strake.  By the time I got close to the keel, the starboard and port gaps to be filled were quite different.  So I followed the recommendation of DeBakker and Brooker and shaped garboard strakes out of some thin plywood I had on hand.  It should be obvious from the attached pictures that left and right planks near the keel are quite different.  I think that in addition to starting at the top, the garboard strakes should be planned out and laid at the beginning, and included in calculating the necessary tapering. 

When the planking was done it was pretty rough, but I was able to sand it smooth to where it doesn't look bad, at least to my unseasoned eyes.  I did have to do a little filling.







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Edited by Jim in KC
trying to add pictures
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I forgot to mention in my previous entry that before planking, when the model could be held firmly in the jig by the false keel, I built another jig for precisely drilling holes for the masts at a 9 degree cant.  I used a hand-held Dremel-type tool on a flexible shaft.  The jig required a lot of set-up fiddling, but I think it worked well - I'll be able to tell more when I install the masts.  The attached picture was shot after planking, so not exactly as I had it set up, but close enough to convey the idea.


  1. The kit instructions don't say when to attach the keel, so I'm going ahead with that.  I'm using a carving tool to cut a groove along the length of the long keel piece so it will fit over the top of the false keel and I'll get a solid bond.  I'll prepare the bow piece but probably not glue it until I've done the bulwarks.
  2. I then need to make a cradle for the boat to steady it when working on the deck, and using the mast holes, build a jig to hold it upside down for the second hull planking.
  3. Plank the deck.
  4. Install the bulwarks.

IMG_0594 a.jpg

Edited by Jim in KC
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  • 2 years later...

Well it appears that it's been well over two years since I updated my log.  I have been busy with other projects but I haven't lost my enthusiasm for finishing the pilot boat.  In the intervening time I did manage to attach the bulwarks, plank the deck and build the transom.   One weakness of this kit is that there is only a narrow purchase to attach the bulwarks.  See below.  So I built temporary supports for the bulwarks and attached them with pins to the frames below.IMG_0623a.jpg.893b09f510e2db7a93cf052a2725776b.jpgIMG_0633a.jpg.49b13c246f0b39a7ae42e3e9dfc6e61a.jpg


Then I glued the bulwarks and when the glue dried, removed the temporary supports. I then planked the deck. IMG_0639a.jpg.f593b3e37e2e0152b944d85f0140efcd.jpg


Frank Mastrini, in his book on ship modeling, talks about the narrow purchase of the bulwarks and among other things, suggests planking the bulwarks, inside and out.  I am just finishing that.  I need to sand the inner planks down now and fill the spaces.



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  • 10 months later...

Well I'm back after almost another year.  I just finished planking the outside of the bulwarks.  I didn't like the cheap wood that came with the kit - it doesn't show the grain well and looks unnatural, so I'm using some 1/32 X 3/16 cedar planks I purchased, which I also used to plank the inner bulwarks.  I used the techniques described in Chuck Passaro's planking videos to taper and bend the planks - thanks Chuck! 




I think it worked pretty well although I have some finishing sanding to do.  Next I plank the hull.  Again I don't particularly like the veneer strips it came with so I will try using 1/32 X 3/16 cherry planks stained with a black cherry stain.


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Great to see you back with your build log, Jim!  Bulwarks look great!  Excellent wood. 👍



Current Projects:                                                     Completed Projects:                                                                 Waiting for Shipyard Clearance:

Bluenose 1921 1:64 - Model Shipways                   Norwegian Sailing Pram 1:12 - Model Shipways                    Yacht America Schooner 1851 1:64 - Model Shipways

                                                                                      Muscongus Bay Lobster Smack 1:24 - Model Shipways        RMS Titanic 1:300 - OcCre  (Couldn't help myself when it was on sale)

                                                                                      H.M. Schooner Ballahoo 1:64 - Caldercraft                              Santa Maria Caravelle 1:48 - Ships of Pavel Nikitin

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