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Continental Navy Frigate ALFRED by Schooner - Bluejacket Shipcrafters - scale 1/8"


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I'm going to be building a model of the Continental Navy Frigate ALFRED using Bluejacket's solid hull kit.

 

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The ALFRED was one of the first ships commissioned into the Continental Navy in 1775. Converted from a new merchant ship she was John Paul Jones' first ship.

 

I picked this kit because I've never done a 3-masted ship model before, and as much as I would love to build a clipper ship I simply don't have room for it, or to be more precise, as far as my wife is concerned there is not enough room in our house for both me and a large cased sailing ship model. Bluejacket's ALFRED meets my needs perfectly because the completed model is only about 18 inches long and 13 inches high but is fully detailed and it will fit on one of my bookcase shelves.

 

I need to point out that this kit is NOT a good choice for a first build. BlueJacket uses a 1-9 scale to rate the complexity of their kits and this one gets a solid "9". Before choosing this kit you should have experience working with a solid hull kit and also with sailing ship rigging - this one has as much as a clipper ship kit but on a hull that is only about 1/3 as long so the rigging it will be an adventure. If you think you might like this one I encourage to call BlueJacket and talk to them - they are very helpful and can assist you in your decision.

 

My next post will show the kit's contents.

 

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Kit Contents

 

Upon opening the box the first thing that jumps out is the hull. It looks to be about 90-95% pre-carved which is great because hull-shaping is my least fun part of a build. The hull is carved down to the gun deck which leaves the option of leaving some planking off on the main deck to give a view of the gunlock - not sure yet if I will take that option. The hull can be planked or just painted - I'll try to plank it although it has been at least 10 years since I've planked a model - at least this one is small.

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There is a ton of strip wood, dowel and scribed decking. When I inventoried the kit I took the time to bundle together the various sizes of strip wood and label them - worth your while since some of them are very close is size and are very difficult to tell apart by eye.

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There is a nice PE fret which, thank God, includes a stern piece with all of the cabin window included - trying to build square windows that line up properly is beyond my talents.

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There is a lot of britannia metal fittings to include guns, deck furniture, blocks, deadeyes, cleats and lots of other stuff.

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A package of cordage and netting is included.

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The 57 page instruction book is full of photos and diagrams, and it includes tips on HOW to do things, including a good discussion on how to shape the hull. This is something not always found in advanced kits.  Bluejacket rates this kit as "Advanced", 9 of 9 on their skill level rating, requiring "prior experience with more complex kits." This kit would not be a good first model for anyone, but if you have several kits under your belt, particularly involving planking and complex rigging then you could probably handle this one even if you have not tried a solid hull kit before but it would be best to call Bluejacket and talk to them about it.

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There are 2 sheets of plans including a rigging plan.

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Last but not least there is a set of flags and the quarterdeck cloths.

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I'm looking forward to this build log. I believe it's the first Alfred on the forum, which is surprising because it's such a handsome model and interesting subject. It's on my shortlist for my next kit, but I'm a bit worried about tackling a solid hull. I'll be watching your progress with great interest.

David

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David - Glad to have you following along. I may need your advice when it comes to planking. That is an impressive list of completed models, I'm sure a solid hull build would be easy for you.

 

Kevin - that is an incredible build of your St Nectan trawler! If I were crazy enough to try something at that scale I would have to go for something 8-10 ft long so I could sleep in it after my wife threw it, and me, out of house.

 

I finished up the preliminary stuff that has to be done prior to making sawdust. The half hull lines have been cut out and pasted to cardboard, as have templates to shape the bow and stern and an overall template from the side view on the plans. There are some discrepancies between the bow/stern templates and the overall template, enough that to get them to fit at their specified station lines I would have to remove a lot of wood in some areas and add it in others. I decided to go with the overall plan and just use the bow & stern templates to guide shaping but not length on the model.

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The station lines, waterline,  and caprail locations have been marked on the hull, as has the centerline (always more guesswork than technique for me but It looks OK).

 

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I'm going to have to build up the stern area with Bondo in order to get the proper shape and then it will be time to break out the electric sander and get to work.

 

Note from further along in the build: As you shape the hull DO NOT sand the top of the bulwarks - after thinning my bulwarks I did a lot of measuring for the placement of the gunports and found that the height of the bulwarks, with the exception of the last 2-3 inches back aft, is spot on for their final height above the gun deck so my advice is to leave the tops alone at this point.  

 

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Looks like a good start, Tim.

It sounds like you're planning to plank the hull. I don't think you'll have too much trouble with that. On a "plank on bulkhead" model, I think the hard part is getting the hull faired correctly. Although I've never done one, I imagine on a solid hull model, getting the hull shape correct will also be the hard part. I also guess that planking a well shaped solid hull will be easier than planking a POB model. (Although a little harder to remove a plank, should that need arise.)

 

If you look at Nic's Red Jacket build, you'll see that he uses quite a bit of filler when shaping the hull, so that's clearly part of the process.

 

Does the kit come with wood to use as planking, or are you going to get some extra to do that.

 

David

 

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It does come with planking, albeit a bit on the small size (.02 X 3/32) because of the scale and yes I would like to plank it, ideally the whole hull, including the inside of the bulwarks, but if that is too ambitious I'll just do the wales on up.

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The initial shaping of the hull is coming along pretty well, a small hull like this one is much easier to shape than a 2 or 3-footer.

 

The are my go-to tools for this stage of the work. The mouse sander works well on most of the hull surface, the flap sanding wheel works well around the stern post, and the half-round  file is needed to handle the stern knuckle and transom area.

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For those places where I get carried away this stuff works wonders as a filler. It comes from auto parts stores. It does not need to be mixed with a hardener, it dries quickly adheres well to the wood and sands easily. The only thing to keep in mind is that if you need to make it more than about 1/16" thick it is better to put on multiple layers -letting the previous ones dry. It needs air to dry and harden well.

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The bow and stern are at their final shapes:

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The overall length is in accordance with the plans:

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And the shaping of the hull is coming along at the individual stations (more work to though).

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  • 1 month later...

Final hull shaping

 

Progress has been pretty slow for the last couple of weeks, mainly because it has been so hot around here that the only time I can go outside to do some sanding is right after sunrise - the same time I need to take care of outside chores. So over the last month I’ve only been able to put in maybe 3-4 hours of sanding time but that has been enough to get the hull in rough shape. This photo illustrates a problem I have been having with this type of hull. Up until now all of my solid hull builds have been steel-hull ships whose shapes are pretty simple - a little flair near the bow and some rounding around the stern. On a 18th century ship like this one they had a fair amount of tumblehome along the upper hull - something I’ve not had to think about before so it took me a while to figure out that the half-hull templates may not fit perfectly until after I sand some tumblehome along the bulwarks which I’m not ready to do at this point so I just have to trust it will work out a little further down the road:

 

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One problem I had is that the shape of the transom is a little short of what it should be:

 

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I added some planking material to lengthen it a bit and also to sharpen the demarcation line between the transom and the counter:

 

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Once I trimmed up the new wood it is a better fit.

 

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How the surface of the new wood looks doesn’t really matter since almost all of it will be removed shortly (the area between the pencil marks), leaving the aft end of the hull looking like the bed of a pickup truck with the gate removed:

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Next steps will be to remove the big plus of wood from the transom area and then add the sternpost, stem and keel.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sternpost, Stem & Keel

 

The sternpost is pretty easy to cut out of stock using a template copied from the plans. It’s important to ensure there is a tight fit to the rabbet and then pinned after glueing for added strength.

 

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The stem is also cut out of 1/8” sheet wood using a template. Attention needs to be paid to the direction of the grain in the wood so the piece can be as strong as possible. The scarp joint for it’s mating with the keel has been cut, as has the gammon hole. Next steps for the stem are drill out the holes fore the pins, taper it’s forward edge and then round it, glue it in place and use the holes to drill into the hull itself for the pins and then add some small stuff at the top.

 

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Keel Installation and Building Board

 

The keel, stem and sternpost are all glued and pinned in place now and the hull faired into them.

 

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Although I have just started this build I have learned from bad experience that I need to figure out how the finished model will be mounted and take care of any drilling and blasting now rather than wait till the end and try to mess around the keel of a finished model. That said, I ordered the pedestal set for this kit from Bluejacket. The instructions caution to be careful when drilling the holes for the mounting screws into the keel because “they are almost as wide as the keel” Actually the threads on the screws are 1/8” wide, as is the keel so there is no way to screw them in without damaging the keel. Fortunately, the slots on the pedestals are 3/16” wide so I was able to glue 1/32” sheet wood on each side of the keel where the pedestals will go to provide additional thickness for drilling the screw hole - it also works out well because now the pedestal fit very snug to the keel so the model will be that much more better supported. All the station marks have been added to the hull as have the locations for the waterline and wales on the stem and sternpost.

 

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The next step is to build the building board. The kit instructions provide all the info you need. The only modification was that I made 4 supports rather than just 2 that the instructions called for - with only a coping saw and a Dremel sander the more elaborate supports the instructions called for were just too complicated for me. The supports are not a perfect fit but with the felt liners they provide plenty of support to the hull.

 

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I have a few small things to add to the stem area and then it will be time to trim down the bulwarks - should be a real treat.

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More Hull Work

 

The directions call for fabricating the rudder at this point, not sure why but I did it anyway. It is just 1/8” stock cut to a trace, forward end round, aft end tapered and the “planks” imparted by running a hobby knife along the pencil lines and then doing it once more with the back side of the blade tip to leave lines that should hopefully show up after it is primed and painted. The gudgeons (or pintles, I can never keep them straight) are britannia metal.

 

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The instructions also call for adding the stem extension, small knee and test fitting the head grating at this point. This was a real head scratcher because the directions were referring to having the grating contact parts that will not be added for a long while yet. I think it was just a case of getting carried away with the copy and paste function while assembling the instruction book.

 

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Before I could mark out the bulwarks for thinning I had to remove some excess material from the aft ends so that the bulwark shear line is straight. The material to be removed is shown by the cross-hatched pencil marks.

 

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I had to think a while about how to lay out the bulwarks for thinning. The aft 3/4 have noticeable tumble home (i.e. they curve inward) but up where the bow starts to curve they are vertical. By marking the centerline of the existing bulwarks all around the hull then laying out parallel lines on each side to show the final 3/32” width I was able to mark where the inboard and outboard lines began to curve and marked that as the end point for the tumble home. Where the outboard line touches the current outboard edge of the bulwark will be the point where the 3/32 width will be measured from the outside of the existing bulwark all the way around the bow and material in that area will only be removed from the inboard side.

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Thinning the bulwarks

 

This is the step that I have been dreading, I’ve never had to do it before on any of my builds and I’m not very good with chisels so the thought of having to reduce the bulwarks by about 80% to only 3/32” thickness almost kept me from buying this kit.

 

The instructions go thru the same process for thinning that I have seen on build logs using a hobby knife, small saw, chisels, files and sanding blocks but it also mentions that a rotary tool can be used so that was they way I decided to go and it turned out to be much easier and less time consuming than I could have hoped for.

 

The bulwarks start out at about 3/8” thick. They need to come down to 3/32”, at least at the top, and the bottoms can be 5/32 but 3/32 is more accurate. They also have to slope inboard as they go up (tumblehome) but since the ALFRED started out as a merchant ship the instructions said she would not have had as much tumblehome as a purpose built warship.

 

I figured out that the best way to handle the tumblehome was to sand the curve shape into the outboard side of the bulwarks, then as long as I maintained the same thickness from top to bottom the inside of the bulwarks would have the same inward slant or curve.

 

I marked the transition point where the bulwarks go from slanting to vertical where the curve of the bow begins - that would be the forward limit for shaping the outside of the bulwarks. I also marked the location the wales - that would be the lower limit. Using a hand held vibrating sander it was quick and easy to bring the thickness down to the outboard line on the top of the bulwarks (see the last photo of the previous post) then to impart a curve from the top to the lower limit line. By looking at the hull frequently I was able to remove any flat spots and keep everything fair. This is how things looked after the outside was done; (not sure why the sternpost looks crooked in the following photos - when I saw them I thought "Oh no, how could I have missed THAT!!!) but when I checked the model the sternpost is straight and plumb. Guess my photo skills are worse than I thought)

 

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This is what I used to handle the inside of the bulwarks:

 

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The rotary sanding drum took care of most of the work. The calipers are essential for this job. I started out to bring the bulwarks down to 6/32 along their entire length, checking frequently with the calipers. After that is was just a matter of setting the calipers at 5/32, and repeating each 1/32 until everything was 3/32 thick. Its important go sloooow and use a light touch keeping an eye on the orientation of the sanding drum to the wood. Be ready to deal with a LOT of sawdust. When finished it's surprising how thin 3/32 is, so thin that they are translucent when held up to light!

 

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The only remaining job, and one that took about as long as everything else combined was the rotary drum left a “shelf” along the deck about 1-2mm high were the bulwark has been removed. The cutters shown above were used along with sanding sticks and a sanding block, and even a curved chisel to make the corner  between the bulwarks and deck sharper. I may have to do a little more in that area when it comes time to fit the scribed decking.

 

I plan to plank the inside of the bulwarks (ceiling) and the outside wiich will bring their thickness up to 4/32, thin enough that the cannon barrels should extend far enough out of the gun ports to look realistic.

 

Next step will be making the location of the gun ports and cutting them out.

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Just having started work on Atlantic's hull, I appreciate your detailed build log.  As being relatively inexperienced at the level the Atlantic kit requires, your CNS Alfred build log answers a lot of questions that have been coming to mind as I read the instruction book. The Admiral isn't going to like it but I'm going to need more tools. keep up the informative log Schooner. It's a big help to us newbies.

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Laying out the gun ports

 

I’ve been spending a LOT of time measuring, marking, comparing, erasing, remeasuring, etc, etc, etc as I’ve tried to figure out where the gun ports are supposed to go. It’s no surprise to anyone on this site that one of the great things about working with wood is that there are few unrecoverable errors but getting the gun ports wrong on a model of this size might be one of them so that is why I have been doing all the ruminating.

 

In the process of figuring out where the gun ports go I also dry-fitted the PE transom and figured out I would need to raise the after part of the bulwarks a little so I added a 1/8” strip and then sanded it down to match the sheer of the quarterdeck.  Later on I’ll probably have to take off most of what remains.

 

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The instruction call for laying out the gun ports using the station lines and the waterline. I did a little of the former and ignored the latter. I finally figured out that the key reference for the gun ports is the height/location of the gun deck at each port location. If the port is too high or too low it would be a real mess trying to fix it so the cannons will protrude properly.

 

Since all the station lines are probably a little off because of the difficulty bringing a line from the keel to the bulwarks I decided to just pick an amidship station line and then mark the fore and aft lines for each gun port from it, that way only the error of one station line is included rather than the compound errors of using all the lines. The only exception was for the forward most port on each side - the plan's side view can't account for the curve of the bow so I measured their location from the stem using the overhead plan.

 

To lay out the upper and lower limits for each port I used a trick from the instructions;

  • I put together the carriage and barrel for one of the cannons, glued it to a small piece of the decking that will cover the gun deck and then pushed the barrel up against the inside of the bulwark at the port’s approximate location (note for anyone building this kit - the instruction book and parts list both refer to 1/16" scribed decking, my kit has 1/32", which is fine with me since it will be easier to work with.)
  • I made a pencil mark and then transferred that mark to the exterior of the bulwark and drilled a small hole.
  • If the hole matched the interior pencil mark I knew I had the line for the center of the port, if not a made a correction and drilled another hole until I got it right. Then all I had to do was measure from the port’s center mark up and down to get the port’s vertical dimensions marked.

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Once everything was marked and checked against the plans again I was ready to start cutting them out (or to put it more accurately drill and file them out). It is a little slow going, I can only do one port in a sitting or I’ll get careless. 3 down, 17 to go.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Finishing up the gun ports

 

After filing 3 or 4 a day I finally finished all 20 gun ports.

 

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I used my test cannon to confirm that the gun barrels were centered in the ports, they were - almost. There was still a small “shelf” of wood right at the base of the ports that I could not see or even feel with my finger but when I pushed the cannon right up to the bulwark it would rise on almost all the ports so I had to speed a fair amount of time using what amounts to a milling cutter on the Dremel slowly going over that area until the guns are all centered.

 

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The next steps will be getting the hull ready for planking.

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Planking preps

 

There were a couple of things I needed to take care of before starting the planking.

I deepened the rabbets on the stem and sternpost so they will hold the plank ends. Using the gun ports as references I marked the location for the top of the wales and the height of the bulwarks to match the plans. For the hull I received, the bow area was right on, the waist needed to come down a little, 1/4” or less, and the aft most 2” needed to come up just a little - something I had already added and then ended up removing most of it.

 

The final item was something I have not done before. The instructions call for coating the hull with thin CA glue and then lightly sanding it to give a smooth surface for the planking that will also resist soaking up most of the planking glue. Since this is the first time I will try planking a solid hull it made sense to me so I did it.

 

 

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Next up will be attaching the wales and then planking the bulwarks.

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Start of hull planking

 

The first thing I put on were the wales. The instructions call for 2 strakes but per the plans the wales are 1/4 inch high and the material provided is 1/4 inch so at some point the wood strip provided must have changed from 1/8” to 1/4”. I checked my spare parts bin and found some 1/8” of the right thickness and I went with that since it is much easier to edge-bend 1/8 than 1/4. As it worked out, I did not need to heat or soak the wale strips to get them around the bow.

 

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Next up I did the counter earlier than the instructions call for because I think it will  be easier to get a neat intersection between the hull and counter planking this way.

 

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I’ve started to plank the outer bulwarks, following the instruction’s suggestion to just plank over the gun ports in order to keep the planking seams aligned. I’ll cut out the ports again when I’m done (and do it a 3rd time after planking the inside of the bulwarks.)

 

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Bulwark planking

 

The planking from the wales up to the top of the bulwarks is completed. This section was very easy to plank and without the need to figure out butt locations each strake went on as a single plank.

 

Since I will be handling the hull a lot while planking the rest it I decided to hold off on reopening the gun ports - less chance of getting a plank end snagged on my clothes.

 

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Next up I’m going to try to make a template for the garboard strake and then put those in place.

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  • 2 weeks later...

More Hull Planking

 

Planking is coming along better than I thought it would since this is only my 2nd planking job and the last one was about 15 years ago.

 

The instructions call for making the Garboard planks from a template but that implies having some thing to copy, which there is not. I found some mahogany strips in my stash that are wider than the kit planks and just a little thicker so they will be noticeable even though they will be painted. I read up on various build logs an shaped them as best as possible.

 

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I noticed on Chuck Passaro’s group build for the Winchelsea that ships of this period frequently had a drop plank at the head of both strakes below the wales so I made a couple out of the same strip material as the garboards, fitted them and then sanded them down so they are the same thickness as the rest of the planking.

 

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I expected to have to taper the planks near the bow and add stealers near the stern but this hull shape is a little surprising. I’m going to have to taper both the bow and stern areas - I guess it is because being built as a merchant ship the ALFRED has a much deeper and broader “belly” since cargo capacity was more important than speed like it would be for a frigate.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Exterior hull planking done

 

You can get away without planking this hull at all but I thought it would be good practice for me since I have the MS kit of the SYREN on the shelf and that kit calls for some good planking skills.

 

While this kit is not a good choice for someone’s first build I do think it would be a good choice for a first planking job for the following reasons:

 

  • The hull will be completely painted so after priming and several coats of paint pretty much all of the plank seams and butts will be invisible - so will any learner’s mistakes - like mine
  • Planking a solid hull is easier than a POB hull since you have plenty of glueing surface, don’t have to worry about fairing the bulkheads and you can terminate a plank anywhere you want
  • The small size of the hull and the long lengths of supplied planking strips mean that you don’t have to cut most of the planks - they can run end to end
  • The supplied planking is 2mm wide and .02” thick so it is very pliable, which allows you to get away with easy edge bending, no soaking or heating to bend it and no spilling to avoid twisting. One drawback to it is that it allows you to get away with things that thicker planks would not so the planking “experience” you get from this kit is not all that it could be. That said I was able to add some drop planks, stealers and practice tapering. 

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Next on my to do list is to reopen the gun ports and then plank the interior of the bulwarks (ceiling)

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