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Finally saved up enough to order my fourth kit! After three reasonably successful builds of beginner kits by Artesania Latina, I'm stepping up to an advanced beginner kit from Sergal (a brand made by Mantua Models). The kit seems to be sold under both its Italian and English titles, respectively, Sciabecco francese and French Xebec. While xebecs were used by other countries' navies earlier, the French didn't adopt them until relatively late in the reign of Louis XV, in the 1750s and 1760s. The French navy continued to use them through the Napoleonic wars, though they were mostly phased out at that point. (Apparently some worked coast guard duty into the 1840s.)


Here's the traditional unboxing photo. Four bundles of 500mm planks and dowels, three sheets of laser-cut parts, a sheet of pennants, lots of hardware, the assembly instructions booklet, and some rather generously sized schematics. Although the assembly instructions are pretty limited, they also include a section on planking the hull that is very detailed and well illustrated. I don't have much perspective, but the wood doesn't seem to be of the same quality as the Artesania Latina kits that I did. That might be just the perception of an amateur talking, or maybe it's just that the wood was less well sanded at the factory. The 5mm plywood is definitely sturdy though! The biggest concern for me so far is that the keel, false deck, and decks have curves to them. Right now, I have the keel and false deck resting under damp paper towels and some heavy weights. Hopefully they'll be straighter tomorrow.




Today I began dry fitting the keel and bulwarks. I've learned a lot from my prior kits and so am doing better this time. The bulwarks fit well to the keel, straight out of the box. I sanded the laser char off one of them, but then it fit so loosely that it rocked back and forth in its slot on the keel. Now I'm only sanding off the char as needed to improve how the false deck and decks fit. Although the bulwarks fit well, the slots weren't deep enough. The photo shows bulwarks #5–10. You'll note that #9 and 10 (the two furthest away) are sticking up above the keel by about 2 or 3mm, which is about how high they all sat. When I took the photo, I noticed that #6 and 7 were still up a bit too high, too, so I gave them a bit more love.  




At this point, the bulwarks that support the false deck (#3–10) are fitted. The false deck slides into its space well, except that its slight curve prevents it from resting flat. Next step is to dry fit the main deck (which needs some filing in order to fit onto the bulwarks) and then to work on the foredeck and the bulwarks (#1–3) that support it.

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Hi Bob and Adam, thanks for the interest! My skills are getting better, but I still feel like a beginner in a lot of ways. Thanks in advance for any tips you might find helpful to share!


The keel and false deck straightened up somewhat since last night. They're at least straight enough that they line up well when everything's assembled. The camera angle in the overhead shot added a curve that isn't really there.


I spent some time tonight dry fitting the decks. I was surprised that they came pre-lined...not sure if that's common? The instructions indicate that the deck will be planked, so I guess they're just there for reference.


All three decks had some significant issues with inaccurate cuts. On the main deck, 8 of the 14 slots were not cut deeply enough in toward the middle and 2 of them were cut too deeply; the lines came in handy here, since they made it much easier to measure the cuts that I needed to make. The fore- and aftdecks, on the other hand, had slots that were either too far forward or too far backward. In the overhead picture, you'll note that the original slots for bulwark #3 were too far forward; in the aftdeck the slots for bulwark #8 were too far back and those for #9 too far forward. The slots for bulwarks #9 and 10 were cut a little too deeply, too, so there's a little bit of play right now. Other than that, everything's fitting snuggly, but not tightly.







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11 hours ago, HakeZou said:

All three decks had some significant issues with inaccurate cuts.

You've done a nice job of correcting these deck problems.


Unfortunately, errors in the kit supplied materials are all too common especially with the kits from some of the long established model ship companies. Errors instructions and plans are also commonplace. It's too bad that these companies do not correct or upgrade their kits after these errors have become widely known for a very long time. It's great to see, however, that some of the newer model kit companies like Syren and Vanguard are setting new standards for excellence in kits currently.

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Thanks for the compliment, Bob! Last night, I was admiring your work on the Pen Duick, which looks fantastic!


I thought I was all set to glue the bulwarks into place, when I happened to look at the aftdeck from a different angle. I have some serious sanding left to do back there! The photo is looking at the aftdeck and bulwarks #8–12. Right now, there's solid contact only on bulwarks #9 and #12 and some contact on #8. But the deck is floating a couple millimeters above bulwarks #10 and 11! I think that everything is seated deeply enough into the slots on the keel, so I just need to shape the tops. 




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I've made a little more progress this weekend. After much sanding and adjusting, I finally got out the glue bottle. The bulwarks are now firmly attached, as is the main deck. The main deck needed eight shims of various thickness (.5–2mm) in order to be securely attached to the bulwarks. The next two challenges were dealing with the longerons/stern piece and working out a sequence for proceeding.


First, the longerons and stern piece. Even in the diagrams, the longerons don't look like they are attached to flat surfaces—but sanding down those surfaces that far would cause alignment problems with the aftdeck. So, I've done it more or less like the diagrams. It was really tricky to figure out the alignment, though. The pieces are basically L-shaped, with the 90º angle hooking over bulwark #11. They then extend backward over bulwark #12 and the stern piece attaches to the end. (A note for others who might build this kit: it's only apparent in one of the diagrams, but the bottom corners of the stern piece need to be cut off to fit the ends of the longerons. This also helps immensely with alignment.) I ended up using a couple rubber bands to keep them in place while the glue dries. The short planks will ultimately be added to extend the bulwarks vertically, to be a base for side planking. Until the longerons are set, though, they're just stuck in there to help with alignment. Alignment of the longerons was really tricky, since they really like to shift around laterally, and every photo I took made that alignment look worse than it actually is...I never found the right camera angle, I guess. Here's a shot that doesn't look too bad.




Notice how the sternpiece is really floating out there? It's lined up with the angle at which the ends of the longerons are cut. Until the side planking goes in, there isn't much support for it, but without it being there, there's no way to line up the longerons!


Second, the sequence for proceeding. At this point, the sequence issue also came up in the Italian build logs that I read. The assembly instructions call for bulwarks/longerons, decks, hull/side planking, then deck planking. However, the fore- and aft-decks cover up significant portions of the main deck, making the deck planking problematic. So, I'm going to do the middle 15 deck planks and all of the planks between bulwarks #8 and 9, then I'll attach the other two decks and get started on the hull planking. To wrap up for tonight, a couple shots of where things stand (with an unfortunate overhead camera angle that makes it look more crooked than it actually is!). The ship is already pretty long compared to my previous kits—17 inches/43cm—but is really starting to take on the xebec shape.




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Plugged away at the xebec again this evening. Nothing much to show off, but I've finished the initial planking of the main deck (the middle 15 planks and those in the space between bulwarks #8 and 9). I was about to glue on the foredeck, when I realized I should first check the fit of the foremast. That mast sits at an angle and runs through both the foredeck and the maindeck. Once the foredeck is attached, there will no longer be any access to the hole in the maindeck, so that hole needs to be addressed first. In order to do that, I need to fabricate the bottom part of the foremast (which means sanding down the dowel and lining the bottom with walnut planks). 


Seems straightforward enough, right? Well, one thing led to another and now I'm feeling really intimidated. I knew this kit was a step up from my previous three—those were all beginner kits and this is advertised as advanced beginner. Before I started, I read through the steps and looked through the diagrams...but now I'm starting to realize just how big of a step up this ship will be, with lots of parts for me to fabricate. For some of those steps, I will need to pick up some new tools (though just today I inherited a bunch of tools from my father-in-law, so maybe that box will have what I need?). In addition to the fact that I'll be fabricating a lot of parts, I'm concerned that there are no measurements for 67 pieces of wood in those parts, so no way to budget any of the materials except for the ø4, ø5, and ø6 dowels and 2x6 limewood. I know those measurements will become more clear as things start to come together, but I hope I don't run out of materials since my stash of leftover wood from the previous kits is pretty limited! 


To calm myself and face the feeling of intimidation, I've now gone through the drawings very carefully and built a spreadsheet listing all the parts. I've also color-coded the diagrams, so it's easier to see what materials are needed in each step. Probably should have done this sooner, I suppose, but I had been planning to build the spreadsheet once I'd finished the hull and began turning my attention to the various features on the exterior and the deck.


For those who might do this kit: be aware that the parts list is not organized by the parts, but rather by material. That list indicates the material and dimensions (for example, three 500mm ø4 dowels, sixty 1x3x500mm planks of limewood, etc.). The uses and dimensions for those materials are mostly indicated in the plans, but not the assembly instructions. While the parts list and assembly instructions are multilingual, the diagrams are only in Italian. Since this is completely different than my previous kits, I have no idea how common this approach is.

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Feeling a little more settled with this project now. Still intimidated by how much fabrication there will be later on, but I'm keeping focused on going one step at a time. I've now attached the fore- and aftdecks. These shots show some of the reasons that considering sequencing is so important in this kit. In the overhead shot, the fore- and aftdecks both overlap the main deck by a significant amount. The next photo is a lower-angle shot that looks at the main deck planking that extends for a bit more than 2 inches under the foredeck. The third photo is a low-angle shot looking toward the stern. There, the main deck planking extends about an inch or so under the aftdeck, though much of that (10 planks worth) is between the walls formed by bulwarks #8 and 9. The remaining deck planks will be added once I've planked the hull and trimmed the posts off of the bulwarks. Forgive the sawdust...I took these photos at a time when I couldn't run the shop vac to clean up!





I've also been sanding down the bulwarks in preparation for planking the hull. The lines feel very smooth! In the second photo, the two wedges closest to the front come with the kit. I've actually turned them 90º from what is indicated in the directions. This way, a little more of the stempost shows, as seems to be the case in many photos I've seen of xebec models. With sanding, everything flows smoothly from the stempost, over those wedges, to the first couple of bulwarks. I added the wedges between bulwarks #1 and 2—the gap between them is 5mm, so I just cut a couple of pieces of the 5mm plywood sheet from which the bulwarks were cut. Given the amount of rounding on the prow, I thought is was necessary to have just a bit more surface area for attaching the planks. In person, the apparent gap in the portside wedge is not as worrisome as it might look here. There's plenty of surface area to work with.



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Lots of excellent and fast progress, HakeZou!


On 9/4/2020 at 8:24 AM, HakeZou said:

Thanks for the compliment, Bob! Last night, I was admiring your work on the Pen Duick, which looks fantastic!

Thanks very much and thanks for taking a look. I've stumbled along at times but I am determined to finish this build.

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I've started planking the hull, which I find to be one of those hurry-up-and-wait kind of processes. I soak two planks at a time in hot water, then clip them into place. Once they've dried fully, I glue them into place. And once that's dried, repeat. I end up doing one plank on each side per day. So, there are now three on each side! That process has gone just okay. Since this is my first ship with a double-planked hull, I tried using nails to keep the first plank in place, as I've seen many others do. My technique for that is...not great. After breaking two planks I gave up on that and went back to just clipping them into place. Right now the planks I have in are looking okay, and they generally get better as you go further astern. There are some gaps that I thought I had managed to avoid, and when I took this close-up photo of the starboard bow, I noticed that the boards weren't laying as uniformly flat as I thought they were. Thank goodness for sanding and wood filler, I guess! 




Since the hull planking is such a slow process, I've started looking ahead to see what I can do about with all of the pieces that I'll need to fabricate. I've started with several items that I'm doing for the first time and I think they're turning out okay. I'll have plenty more opportunities to practice those with this ship! First up is the rudder well and its cover. The last couple inches of the parapet are a significant puzzle to me right now. Since the base of the rudder well cover is a pre-cut piece, I'm working outward from that. The cover is planked with deck planks (.5x3 limewood), then a lip is added on three sides with the same planks. I'm trying to follow the paint scheme for the French navy in the era of Louis XV (when xebecs were first introduced to that navy), so fixtures like this are all going to be painted in red ochre. On top of the cover are two guides for the sternsprit. In the photo its sitting on the frame of the rudder well; I cut those three pieces out of 2x8 limewood the sanded them, so they are lined up under the cover while the glue dries. Once that's set, I can start to measure out the frame for this section, in preparation for adding grating in one part and dowels in the other. From here on out, the pictures are extreme close-ups at the limit of what my phone can do...apologies for the poor quality of them. This is the largest piece in this set of photos and its only about 21x25mm. I'll have to track down my daughter's iPhone telephoto lens at some point, so I can get some better shots as work progresses. 




In addition to the sternmost part of the parapet, both hatch covers are made of grating. None of my previous kits had any of that, so this shot of the aft hatch cover is my first effort. I sanded the 45º angles in the corners of the frame to match the plans; this was also different than my previous kits and required a great deal of patience to get everything to fit. Overall, could definitely be better. Once the glue dries, I'm hoping that sanding will help even things out more. Then some red ochre paint.




All of my previous kits were fishing boats, so this also represents my first time building cannon. Before cutting out gun ports, I wanted to make sure I had one cannon built to use as a guide. The carriage consists of three pre-cut pieces that fit together like a glove. The cannons arrive in brass...a couple with tarnish that will need to be cleaned up. The axle is also pre-cut, though it's really snug as it slides through the pre-drilled hole in the cannon. That much goes together pretty easily. The brackets and pins? Uff da. It's a similar challenge to putting nails in the brackets on a rudder...but with much less surface area to catch dropped pins. Since my smallest drill bit is 1mm and the sides of the carriage are also about 1mm, I decided to drive in pilot holes with pins. After gluing the bracket in place over the pilot holes, I used a toothpick to dab in a small drop of glue. I cut the head off of a pin with as little of the post as possible, then used the tip of my Exacto knife to maneuver each pinhead into its pilot hole. Of course, I painted before assembly: red ochre for the carriage, bulwark gun red for the barrel, and iron black for the cannon. For a first attempt, I'm pretty pleased. Only eleven more to go!



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Even though the first planking won't be visible in the finished model, it is a great opportunity to learn planking skills so that you feel more confident and are able to do a better job on your second planking. The following post by gbarlow is excellent and well worth the time to read it carefully:




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On 9/12/2020 at 1:18 PM, BobG said:

Even though the first planking won't be visible in the finished model, it is a great opportunity to learn planking skills so that you feel more confident and are able to do a better job on your second planking. The following post by gbarlow is excellent and well worth the time to read it carefully:

Thanks for sharing that, Bob, and thanks to glbarlow for the beautifully illustrated guide!


I think the bow is the key spot where I need some more practice. After that first plank, the others have gone on better, though there's a bit of an unintended clinkering effect that will have to be smoothed out and a slight imbalance that I'll be paying attention to as soon as I reach the ones that are tapered. Although I definitely need to keep building my skills, I can definitely see improvement compared to my first ship, the Bon Retour, which had a single-planked hull and which needed a lot of help from woodfiller to smooth out the hull. However, once I get past the curves of the bow, everything's looking good to me.





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Slow and steady progress on the hull over the past week and a half, but tonight I glued in the last two planks of the first layer. I've done a bit of sanding, but have a ways to go to smooth everything out. I'm mostly satisfied with the work I've done, though I would hardly call it perfect. The bow still has a bit of a clinker effect that I'm hoping I can sand down. The stern hasn't been sanded or cleaned up at all yet, so it still looks a bit raggedy where I trimmed the planks. The planks between the maximum curve and keel amidships have some gaps that I've filled with PVA glue and sawdust (not clearly visible in the photos).


I also built a slip for the boat to sit in while I work on it. The kit provides a 6x6x500 piece of limewood for just this purpose. After cutting it in half, I attached the two pieces to a random piece of 3/4"x2" that I had sitting around from another project. 


Next steps: I've trimmed the tops of the bulwark frames from the main deck and so need to finish planking it. Then I'll plank the sides of the parapet and add deck planking to the fore- and aft-decks. 


Photos are a full shot from the starboard side, then three details of stern, midship, and bow. Finally, two shots from straight ahead and straight behind.



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Finished planking the main deck tonight. As I mentioned above, this was done in two stages, since significant portions of the main deck are inaccessible once the fore- and aftdecks are installed. Because of that, I'd taken care of the middle part, the easy part since everything ran straight from bulwark #1 to bulwark #9. The edges, however, posed more of a challenge due to the overhang of the fore- and aftdecks and the curvature on the sides. Using a technique I picked up while working on the Bon Retour, I used a paper stencil to get the fit as tight as I could. (For reference, see Invictaag's Bon Retour build log on BrexitModeller; I planked the Bon Retour's deck before installing the bulwarks, so this my first time using this technique.) The photos don't capture all of the steps, but they should give you a good idea.


First, I used the plywood sheet to trace the open section of the main deck. I used a little bit of painter's tape to keep the plywood from sliding around. In order to get the straight vertical lines, I measured at each bulwark the gap between the sides and the planks that I'd already laid; then I just used a ruler to connect the dots. After cutting out the stencil, I checked it against the deck to make sure everything was still lined up well. (I didn't start taking photos until I was sure this was going to work, so the first stencil is already cut out in these two photos).


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Next, I trimmed four planks to a size that would generously accommodate the curve. After securing the planks to each other and the stencil using painter's tape, I trimmed off the excess. Then I laid the whole block in to check the fit, fine-tuning the trimming as necessary. The first photo here is stencil side up before trimming the excess; the second has the planks up after trimming (but before fine-tuning...that curve in the second photo isn't smooth yet!).


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And two shots at the end, one overhead and one close-up of the port side (the side that looks better...). There's still sanding to do once the glue dries, but I'm pleased with how the deck is looking so far!


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Almost a week since I last posted! It's been a busy one, though I've managed to squeeze in some work on the xebec. The first big task from last week was to lay down the first layer of planks on the parapet's exterior. There's still some trimming to do on the front ends of those, but since they follow a staircase, I'm going to wait on that until I have a better idea of how the staircase fits. However, the ship's true profile is really starting to emerge! Next step on that front will be to map out and cut the gunports. (Note: I had an issue of poor construction with my slip, so I need to remake that.)


A note for others who might make this kit: The diagrams indicate that you should attach the transom when you affix the bulwarks and longerons. I did, though a bit of guesswork was involved. However, with only minimal points of contact, it fell off. This is why you will notice it in my post from September 6, but then it disappeared until this post. Based on my experience, I recommend using the stern to align the longerons when you attach those, but not to worry about gluing it at that point. Instead, glue it into place at this stage, when you can rely on the side planks for extra support and for positioning it at the correct angle.




Most of my work in the last week has been devoted to the three decks, which are all in slightly different stages. There are two coats of stain on the main deck, though I need to sand that down and try to get it more even. (The camera angles may introduce some curvature, but the lighting also make the stain look better than it actually is.) I've opted for an oak stain to contrast with the walnut that will line the bulwarks and hull. The foredeck has been planked and sanded (though the photo revealed one spot that needs to be filed down a bit better); I'll be staining that later this week. This evening I finished planking the aftdeck; plenty of trimming/filing and sanding to do there once the glue dries.



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  • 5 weeks later...

This time a month has passed since my last update! But what a month, highlighted by purchasing and moving in to our new house! I still have a lot of boxes to unpack in my office space, but I did get to the point last night of being able to pull out some of my tools and do some work on the xebec. So, a quick update on what I've done over the last few weeks:

  • I cleaned up the fore- and aft-decks, then stained them.
  • I lined the façade of the parapet and the interior of the bulwarks with walnut planks. Some really fussy work there! I ended up making paper stencils of the two sides of the façade, then trimmed the planks to match and maneuvered them into place. The interior lining of bulwarks needed a significant amount of careful trimming to follow the curve of the main deck and to fit around the fore- and aft-decks. The slope of the aft-deck is also different than the slope of the planks in the lining, so it was a bit of work to get those to fit snugly.
  • I started laying the second layer of planks on the hull. This didn't go as smoothly as it probably should have...I ended up applying three to each side and then removing them. The second attempt has gone much better. While I realize that I should have finished the whole hull first, there were a few things that I wanted to make sure were done before everything went into boxes for the move. So, I've also done the outer layer of the parapet and cut out the gunports. (Gunports haven't been filed yet, so they look a little funky.)
  • Last night, I cleaned up the tops of the bulwarks and cut the angles between the different levels of the bulwarks. Note the difference in profile from the photos in the last post to this one—a much sharper look! I also began cleaning up the interior planking on the stern transom; still some work to do on that, though it's starting to take shape.

Next step is to sand down the excess planking around the stern transom and the longerons. Then, once a few more boxes are unpacked, I'll be able to resume work on the hull. 


The photos are an overhead shot on my worktable, then front and side shots on the shelf where it will ultimately be displayed. Then, just for fun, a shot of the top shelves of my bookcases, where my completed ship models are awaiting this one! 




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