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Greek Bireme by ObviousNewbie - FINISHED - Amati - 1/35 - A lot of Firsts

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Well, what was I thinking... After finishing Frigate Diana (Build log), I turned my eye on one of my favorite ships since first heading about it in school: the Bireme. Amati's kit was available in the store, and after sitting on the shelf for a good ten months while Di was being built, the day was there to open the box:




If I had to make an unboxing video of this kit, the whole thing would be over in about 20 seconds. Surprisingly little in there, especially instructions-wise, with 2 single sided sheets strewn with several drawings. I read in other reviews and logs that Amati instructions are top notch, so either I'm getting it wrong or this is the one exception to the rule...




The sail is obviously unfinished, and some ornaments are in the plastic box, including a very rudimentary rendition of a ram.  Bit disappointed really, excepted more.


But on we went, forging on with confidence. At least I had 2 builds under my belt so I should have an inkling of how to build without a safety net. Cut out the bulkheads and the false keel for dryfitting:




None was a snug fit, so had to devise some special clamps to hold the bulkheads true in all axes:




Had to do some corrections as well because some bulkheads were not high enough, some filing on others, but in the end it got sorted out. Missing the Occre fits though.


I'm using Moreplovac's excellent build log to have at least an idea of what's coming my way. While studying it, thought it might be a good idea to handle the interior of the ship first, so I started working on the seats for the rowing crew. With the help of a little jig, the seats were all cut to the same size and attached to the bulkheads. This was also my first confrontation with the walnut strips in this kit, which seem to be made out of concrete 🙂


Installed, it looks like this:




After this, used some walnut dye to darken the space beneath the seats, nd started on the  extensive task of hiding the burn marks on the top of the bulkheads and the central columns, as these could not be removed by sanding.



now working on the bow and Stern balsa pieces, getting them in shape, as well as starting to fair the bulkheads for planking. Well, at least I don't have too many masts to worry about 🙂


Take care & stay safe!


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Hi all, thnx for checking in. Work continues on the Bireme, which I decided to name Ephialtes (catchy, and also the Greek word for nightmare 🙂 ).


As mentioned in the titel of this thread, there ara again a lot of firsts for me in this build:


- Fist Amati kit

- First experience with "summary" instructions

- First single planking kit

- First experience with balsa wood


After some general cleanup and making sure whatever still needed fitting would indeed fit, experimented with balsa for the stern:




Tricky work, but very easy wood to manipulate. filing like crazy got some kind of shape in there, still need to figure out how to do the vertical planking.


After this I got a bit sick and tired of filing off balsa, decided to start planking the flanks where the oars will be mounted to give me an idea if my methods I learned during pay previous builds would work on a single-planked ship.




Went better than expected, frankly, so forged on, covering more of the surface and taking care of some deck details:






Still a long way to go, and verrrry carefully, but that seems to pay off.


After finishing these areas, it over to the bow. Still a but uncertain how to tackle this, as my original balsa fillers did not leave space for the thickness of the walnut planks, so need to reorganise and make new ones. and then the wales need to be tackled.


Stay safe!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi all,


Thanks for checking in. Progress is slow on Ephialtes, but she's slowly coming together. Continued on planking, trying to get the stern in the correct bend. I bought an electric plank bender, which was a bit of a stretch, as I set out over a year ago telling myself I would not use any electric tools. When soaking the walnut in hot water, I found out however that it's surprisingly flexible. I put the strips in place, clamped them and then let dry overnight.




Seemed to hold so I slowly moved forward. Found out I needed more balsa on both bow and stern in order for the strips to sit, so got to cutting an (lots of) filling and sanding:




Meanwhile, I dyed the interior of the stern in walnut and added more balsa:




Also added some 0,5mm walnut strip to the inner walls to cover up the plywood. Good thing the shop I'm buying my supplies has ample walnut strips in stock. And this is where we are today:




Most of the planking done, just trying to decide how to tackle the wales. Instructions are very unclear, in one spot they tell you to add the wales on top of standard wood strips, in another the tell you to put down the wales first and then plank around them. Decided to add the wales last, as that will allow them to cover the edges of the planking strips. Still trying to make up my mind on whether to use walnut and then add the lime wales, or just go straight to the lime.


Also I have a question: in order to laterally bend the wales to fit onto the stern, I saw in some logs other shipwrights using a plank with drilled holes and pegs. Any idea where I can find measurements for this so I can make this?


Thnx for your help!

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If you're referring to what I think you are, there are no standard measurements, as the idea is to make a jig that matches the curve your hull needs. So you'd need to either trace the curve of the hull or take if off plans (if your kit has them), then use that trace as a template to make your own jig. It doesn't have to be exact, the idea is just to get most of the curve set in the wood before it goes on the model.


So, for example, you could hold a piece of paper against the hull where the plank needs to be, then use a pencil to make a rubbing following the approximate curve needed, then use that to drill a series of holes for pegs that would hold a plank in that curve. Does that make sense? Or am I misunderstanding you?

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  • 1 month later...

Hi all, thnx for checking in. It's been a while, progress has been slow on Ephialtes, but I reached a major milestone: lower hull planking is finished!




I added the wales after a long time pondering the best way to proceed, and planked upwards from there. Be gentle, it's my first time on a single planker 🙂


After that, I looked at the stern, checking the build and my balsa pieces. Found out that there was a bulge by putting a 0,5mm strip on the curve:




Another time pondering as this is all new to me, in the end I attacked the bulge with a P60 pad and straightened it out. Tried to laterally bend the planks to follow the curve but gave up after a couple of failed tries. Also, as there's an indentation on the top of the stern, I couldn't make diagonal planking work, so decided to plank horizontally:




End result seems OKish, now on to the starboard side. After that, covering the top of the stern, for which I got some 0,5mm walnut. It seems I bought more extra wood for this ship than all my others combined, already decided that this will probably be my last Amati model (pity though, they have some nice models, been eyeing HMS Pegasus for a while).


Also started on the oars, prototyping and testing, so far 4 oars have been completed, only 40 more to go 🙂


Next up: finalising the starboard side of the stern, then the top, then on to the deck planking and then the bow!


Stay healthy and safe!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Why your last Amati model?


I have never built one of their kits, but I bought a set of their Victory Models line of plans (HMS Revenge) and they were very nice, and the instruction booklet that came with it was very complete.


Their Pegasus is one of their Victory Models line so I’d bet it is a very nice kit.  Plus, I think those were designed by Chris Watton and his stuff is superb.

Edited by GrandpaPhil
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Indeed, that was my initial take, from what I read on Pegasus and Fly I was quite confident buying this kit,  but the instructions are close to non-existant. I did some more research and the plans for other models seem to be of a much better quality, so at the moment it’s either Bluenose or Pegasus. Wood quality is excellent though, no complaints about that. Just wondering what happens to builders buying this as their first model…


I’ve been eyeing Chris Watton’s work for a while, and it’s really top notch indeed. As soon as I have the budget available, and the Admiral finds me some space, I will certainly give them a try. 

On the plus side, I learned an enormous amount, from handling walnut to analysing building steps before diving in.

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Hi all, thnx for checking in. It's been busy at the shipyard, after the last update we got to finish the starboard side of the stern, and planked the top. I used tape to ascertain the middle of the stern and cut accordingly:IMG_8547.thumb.jpeg.15dcbb777b64329bb978d9bd093d8a39.jpeg


And this was the result:




Enjoyed the view, quite happy with this (picture taken before sanding). After that, started working on the top deck. I wanted to use full strips to emphasise the length of the ship, as well as no caulking (not sure the Greeks knew about that). So Ephialtes is going to be more of an idealised version of a bireme than an accurate reconstruction.


After some in-situ plank clamping:




After that, my favourite: drilling holes in my ship! More than usual, as the holes for the oars came next, very carefully though (0,8mm drill, then working up to 2mm via 1,2 and 1,6mm)




Started on the mast as well, using my plane to get it into shape. Works a lot better than just sandpaper 🙂




After looking at finished builds, got a bit frisky and decided to try something new: lateral plank bending. Fortunately the woord was compliant after half an hour in warm water:



And while that is drying, experimenting with the deck furnishings, which are next:




Take care and stay safe!


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Looks beautiful. I think it's safe to say the Greeks knew about caulking, there's evidence of Bronze-age caulking even in the backwaters of Britain (using things like moss and wool if I remember correctly). Maybe not the Age of Sail kind, but there're lots of ways to do it, and you pretty much can't build a planked craft without it.

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The ancient Greek method of construction used a large number of tenons set into mortices in the edges of the planks to join them together

Drawing of a wooden ship with annotations of hull elements.


(from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenician_joints )


I doubt that that would have left enough room for caulking.


The Byzantines certainly caulked their ships - there are several references to it in contemporary records (there was even an Emperor named Michael the Caulker, because that's what he'd been before the Empress adopted him) but that was many centuries later and ship construction techniques had changed enormously.



Edited by Louie da fly
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18 hours ago, Louie da fly said:

I doubt that that would have left enough room for caulking.

However, please note that Homer repeatedly refers to Greek ships as 'black-bellied', 'black benched', or simply having a 'black hull'. Clearly, Homeric ships are from an older age than the 480 B.C. quoted for this model, but perhaps the black color was an allusion to pitch being used to coat the bottoms of ships for water-tightness (there are discussions on this subject on the web with quoted references). At the same time, when Homer describes the method followed by Ulysses in building his ship to flee from Calypso, he basically describes the technique presented above by you in your intervention "... He bored all the pieces and fit them one to another, and then with pegs and lacings he joined it together ...".

Hence, perhaps, the method of 'tenons and mortices' and the use of pitch (tar) to make the ship watertight could coexist at the same time.

Best regards,


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Oh, I quite agree. In fact a lack of caulking would make a pitch coating much more necessary. The representations of ancient Greek vessels are usually on red/black pottery, so colours are probably not reliable, but Byzantine ships (which are much more up my alley) are almost always shown black, as are many Western European mediaeval ships.



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Thanks for the feedback and the support everyone, much appreciated!  Meanwhile, work on the deck continued with installing the hatches:




Used Moreplovac's build log as inspiration, but took a bit of a different direction, hatches are now recessed (I liked the depth effect) and drilled holes as handles instead of installing them on top.




Sanded everything down and gave it a coat of clear matt varnish. I will coat the entire ship again with a second coat after the bow is finished.


The bow... I've been postponing this part of the build for weeks, pondering on how to approach this. In the end, I took GrandpaPhil's signature as the motivator: "The hardest part is deciding to try", took a deep breath and started sculpting the balsa:




Wish me luck 🙂 

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On 6/14/2021 at 8:11 AM, ObviousNewbie said:

Work continues on the Bireme, which I decided to name Ephialtes (catchy, and also the Greek word for nightmare 🙂 ).

I just read over your build log and you are doing a great job on this interesting, ancient galley and your name for her is hilarious! 


Most of us have struggled with inadequate instructions and it can be frustrating but you are certainly overcoming the difficulties very well. If you do decide to build a Vanguard model, you'll be amazed at how good the instructions are. They are like night and day compared to the instructions from many model companies. I think Chris Watton has set the new standard for excellent instructions. Good luck on the rest of your build! 

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3 hours ago, ObviousNewbie said:

The bow... I've been postponing this part of the build for weeks, pondering on how to approach this. In the end, I took GrandpaPhil's signature as the motivator: "The hardest part is deciding to try", took a deep breath and started sculpting the balsa

I could not agree more, many times starting a job is the hardest part and waiting for the right moment could mean waiting for ever. In addition, if you make a mistake, probably you can remove the offended balsa block and replace it with a new one, By the way, what is the part you find most difficult, perhaps the poor definition of how the finished object should look like?

Keep up the good work,


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Thanks again for all your support and feedback 🙂


@BobG I've been going through the instructions which are available on the Vanguard Models site, and indeed, they're top notch, even picked up some pointers for my current build.  Love to order one of Chris' models, just to experience the premium feel. Saving up, hopefully I will be able to place my order soon.


@Danstream Indeed, there's very few illustrations on how the finished model should look, other than the box art and three copied black and white pictures. I guess that's also in the nature of the model partly, as there are no plans or pictures to reference back to. Nevertheless, a simple numbering of parts and some consistent description should be the bare minimum. The Bireme kit seems to be an exception, as other Amati kits provide better documentation, as far as I can tell. 

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Hi all, thnx for the support. Big news: the bow is finalised:








Some sanding and restoring the black paint, and then we're done. Started with the difficult plank at the bottom (involving a 90° twist), working my way up a bit because I wanted the flow from horizontal to vertical as sooth as possible. Then started from the top and worked my way down.


Question: does anyone have any experience with putting slide-on decals on wood?  Reason I'm asking: the Eye. I'm lousy at freehand drawing or painting, and I don't want to mess up the face of the ship, so to speak.  So I designed the eye based on footage I found from Omympias, the trireme replica built some time ago:




I'm quite sure I need to varnish before applying the decal, just wondering if that's the right way forward and if there's anyone else who attempted to work with this material.


Meanwhile, working on the finer details, mast and yard are done, rudder supports are on and the captain's chair is getting along nicely:




The shipyard will be on annual holiday as of next week for the next two weeks, stay healthy and safe 🙂


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All my experience with decals comes from plastic, but I suspect the principles will translate.


The surface doesn't need to be perfectly even but it does need to be very smooth for a decal to stick. If you don't it will either peel off or have air bubbles which make it look like a piece of plastic (the goal is to make it look painted on). I would recommend the following steps if you want to attach the decal:

  1. Sand the surface down so it is as even as possible
  2. Sand it smooth with a fine grit sandpaper
  3. Trim your decal as close as you can get it. If you are using white decal paper this is extra important as you need to go right up to the lines. If you are using clear decal paper then you can paint in the white after you have applied the decal (unless you are planning on painting that whole area white).
  4. If you are planning on painting the are, now is the time to paint it whatever colour you want.
  5. Apply a layer of gloss varnish over the area you are planning on adding the decal two. Make sure that you do several thin layers. Allow this to fully dry.
  6. Fold some paper towel on a small plate and saturate it with water, place your decal face up on this.
  7. Apply some micro set (or equivalent) to the area you are going to apply the decal.
  8. Use a paintbrush to slide the decal into place (this is a very delicate process, especially with big decals such as this), this will be easier the flatter the surface you have for it.
  9. Gently manipulate it and pat it down with the paintbrush trying to smooth out any bubbles, then leave it to fully dry.
  10. Take some micro sol or equivalent and with a paintbrush gently paint it on from the center outwards, using it to conform the decal to any imperfections on the surface and to smooth out any ridges or air bubbles. You can also use a pin to pop any air bubbles that don't want to move and then smooth them down with micro sol.
  11. Once the decal is fully dry, apply matt varnish from a can or airbrush over the entire area until the edges disappear.

Hope this helps, any questions feel free to reach out.

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