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Question: Essential Books for a Ship Modeler's Library?

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I'm going to spend some money on reference books so I'm curious which books MSW members consider to be essential for a ship modeler's library (other than MSW itself).


I have:

 The Ship and Sailing Ships by Bjorn Landstrom

 The Age of Fighting Sail by C. S. Forester

 a book about building ships in bottles I bought 35 years ago

 an old Neophyte Ship Modeler's Jackstay


I'm waiting for delivery of Ship Models in Miniature and Shipbuilding in Miniature by Donald McNarry.


I'm going to buy The History of the American Sailing Navy: The Ships and Their Development and The Search for Speed Under Sail by Howard Chapelle, and possibly his History of American Sailing Ships. I recall seeing an article about one of these Chapelle books that discussed different editions stating that one edition was better than the others (Here on MSW?) but I can't find it or remember which book was discussed. Any help with that? (I guess that now makes two questions.)


Thank you in advance for your suggestions.

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It pretty much depends on where a modelers interests lie as to which books would be considered "essential". My own interests are in workboats, fishermen and whalers, and exploration vessels rather than naval vessels, and my modeling interests lie in building boats to a large scale and miniature ships, as well as small dioramas. So books in my library that I consider essential are:


Shipbuilding in Miniature by Donald McNarry

Ships in Miniature by Lloyd McCaffery

Waterline Dioramas by Justin Camarata

Period Ship Modelmaking by Philip Reed

Miniature Sailing Ship Construction by Robert Wilson

To Build a Whaleboat by Erik Ronnberg, Jr.

American Small Sailing Craft by Howard Chapelle

Sailing Ship Rigs and Rigging by Harold Underhill

Bluenose II by L. B. Jensen

HMS Beagle, Survey Ship Extraordinary by Karl Heinz Marquart

Down to the Sea: the Fishing Schooners of Gloucester by Joseph Garland

How to Build Dioramas by Sheperd Paine


There are many more that I find useful, but these are the books that I wouldn't want to be without, as far as my interests go.

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Thank you, Mark, for your response.

I can see that I need to refine my question somewhat. I think I can do that by pointing out the two books from your list that caught my eye: Period Ship Modelmaking (Reed) and Sailing Ship Rigs and Rigging (Underhill). Both of these, based on their titles, appear to address voids in my library and in my ship modeling education.


Edited by molasses
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Your list is a bit generic so far. If you are building from kits The Period Ship Handbook series by Keith Julier is excellent. If you're scratch building The Fully Framed Model series by David Antscherl and Greg Herbert  or Ships of the American revolution and Their Models by Harold Hahn are essential. For general reference of that period Arming and Fitting by Brian Lavery and Englishman of War by Peter Goodwin are essential. Chuck Passaro's practicums and building manuals are terrific for the middle.

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Depending upon the era in question, you may want to look into Karl Heinz Marquardt, Eighteenth-century Rigs & Rigging which is probably the most comprehensive on rigging (merchant or naval) during the 1700's. 


For general model building, the "classic" works by Charles Davis are still of use -

  • The building of a wooden ship;
  • The Ship Model Builder's Assistant;
  • American Sailing Ships - their Plans and History;
  • The Built-up Ship Model; and
  • Ship Models and How to Build Them


Edited by trippwj
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As was said before, depends on the type of ship and era in which you are interested as well as your budget.  You can spend a couple thousand dollars very easily on a small library. 


For schooners you cannot leave out Chappelle's book on American schooners.


For 1800 plus/minus British war ships, David Steel's Elements of Naval Architecture is a really important, albeit, expensive book to be included.  For mid 18th century the Shipbuilder's Repository is a great reference to include, but again an expensive addition.


For British warships Lee's Masting and Rigging English Ships of War and Lavery's Arming and Fitting 1600-1815 are gold mines of information if you want accuracy and detail.


Sorry but have to throw in a little plug  as  I don't know any other any other ship modeler's site that has several members who have had books and plans published.  Chuck's work has been mentioned above and I know that Gerard Delacroix checks in now and then and is well known for his monographs.  There are also several books that give a ton of "how to" information on 18th/19th century British warships, The Fully Framed Model series as mentioned above, Naiad, and Euryalus.

For ship's boats, hard to beat W.E. May's book The Boats of Men of War.  Lots of birthday ideas!



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After finding MSW I quickly learned about Chuck's work (and Greg's) and now follow everything they post as well as those of several others. Chuck's Winchelsea has been an eye-opener for planking a hull for me. He definitely has a knack for clearly explaining methods for accomplishing complex tasks, unlike some people I've known who couldn't explain how to open a jar of model paint without omitting a key, but elementary, step or making it overly complicated. 


After googling most of the titles suggested I've added several to my wish list. Nearly fell off my chair when I saw the price for a used copy of Steel's Elements... at over $1000 plus shipping.


As the result of searching titles I found and downloaded pdf files for The Sea Gunner's Vade Mecum (Simmons) and an article, "Carronades" by Spencer C. Tucker, published in Nautical Research Journal (Mar. 1997). I discovered that books in the public domain listed on Google Books that aren't available on the English language website as electronic downloads are frequently available on their other language sites.


I received the two McNarry books mentioned above yesterday and can't put them down. Together they were less than $65 total, including shipping, and are used library discards but they are still in good shape. Ship Models in Miniature covers 65 of his models with descriptions and photos, many in color. He mentions his research in each description and lists NMM, Chapelle and Chapman most frequently. Shipbuilding in Miniature is a practicum of building in miniature which is useful for my present build and my interest in ships in bottles but can also be applied to details for larger models. For example, he discusses plating a hull with .001 inch copper plates, .080 inch x .020 inch (50' = 1" scale), more thoroughly and historically accurate than I've seen covered on MSW with much larger plates at a larger scale. He references The Cutty Sark: The Ship and the Model by C. N. Longridge (available in two volumes or as a combined volume).

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Thank you all for your suggestions. I ordered used copies of the following:


The Construction and Fitting of the English Man of War: 1650-1850 by Peter Goodwin   [$74.50]


The History of the American Sailing Navy: The Ships and their Development (1998 edition) by Howard Chapelle   [$9.92]


The Search for Speed Under Sail, 1700-1855 by Howard Chapelle   [$22.00]


Architectura Navalis Mercatoria by Fredrik Chapman   [$9.66]


The Young Sea Officer's Sheet Anchor: Or a Key to the Leading of Rigging and Practical Seamanship by Darcy Lever   [$5.36]


The Ship Model Builder's Assistant by Charles Davis   [$3.72]


American Sailing Ships: Their Plans and History by Charles Davis   [$2.50]


Used books are a terrific bargain. For example, new copies of Construction sell for $210 up to $499.50. For two of the books I'm paying more for the postage than I am for the book.


As a result of finding these bargains I'm still open to more suggestions and I'm sure others reading this topic will find them as useful as I am.





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I've looked at Juliers' Period Ship Handbooks. I will definitely get the one that covers a kit I'm buying.


For example, I'm seriously considering Caldercraft/Jotika's Cruizer and when I do buy it I'll order the appropriate Handbook, but at present I'm researching several of the other 105 Cruizer-class brig-sloops I could build from that kit with minor mods. I'm inclined towards building one of the six that were captured or sunk by US ship-sloops during the War of 1812, perhaps HMS Epervier which was captured by USS Peacock and subsequently became USS Epervier.

Edited by molasses
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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi mates,


I'm a bookaholic so have  most of the books mentioned in this forum. The best general overall building book I have is Model Shipbuilding from Stem to Stern by Milton Roth ISBN-13: 978-0-8306-2844-5......$20USD from amazon.com. The book contains 288 pages of great stuff and many illustrations. If I had to get rid of all my books but one, I would be happy with Roth's "how to" book.



Hopeful aka David

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4 hours ago, tasmanian said:

talking about books I just try to renew my subscription at the magazine  and I cannot do it . Why ? cellular # requested ! I don't have a cellular so congratulations you know how to loose a clien

We ask for a phone number - not a cell phone number - but what is important is your email address.  When we get Journals returned with a bad address (caused by postal errors) we need to be able to contact you.  Without a phone number or an email address it doesn't make sense to try to contact you by letter with an address that has been deemed bad by the post office.  So we wind up waiting for a disgruntled member to ask where their Journal is - now that we have contact we can deal with the problem. 

We do need the email section filled out.



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12 hours ago, kurtvd19 said:

...When we get Journals returned with a bad address (caused by postal errors) we need to be able to contact you.  Without a phone number or an email address it doesn't make sense to try to contact you by letter with an address that has been deemed bad by the post office. 



In the US, the Post Office is not responsible for assigning addresses - that is done by the local authority having jurisdiction over 9-1-1 addressing (sometimes city/town, sometime county).  These lists from the municipality are then provided to the USPS and our delivery route addressing is updated.  Some of the most common errors we encounter:


1.  People continue to use old addresses rather than update to new addresses (example: using RR1 Box xxx when the town has implemented street addressing such as 123 Rugged Road)

2.  Folks put in a change of address - after 12 months mail is returned to the sender with the new address listed.  After 18 months mail is returned as Unable to Forward.  Periodical rate mail, a copy of the cover is returned to the mailer postage due with the new address label included.

3.  Folks forget to include apartment/unit/lot number.  Our carriers are good, but they don's know everyone in a 200 unit apartment building/mobile home park.  Those might get sent back as Insufficient Address.

4.  PO Boxes get closed - either intentionally or for non-payment.  11 days after the payment is due mail gets returned as Moved Left No Address. 


We try our darnedest to get mail to the right person at the right address, but without the recipients assistance we can only do so much. 


Note that this only applies to the USPS - in other nations your results may vary!

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You can always call the office and provide your card number to Mary.  585-968-8111.


2 hours ago, trippwj said:


We try our darnedest to get mail to the right person at the right address, but without the recipients assistance we can only do so much. 


The problems you describe do happen - a lot.  We had to add a notice to the last page of the Journal because of this problem.


What confuses me is why we get a Journal returned with "NO SUCH ADDRESS" stamped on the cover (they discard the Journal and make us pay $0.61 to get the cover back) from a member who's been with us for years and we call or email the member who says that's his address and he's still there.  We send another Journal and all is well. 


The other thing is the USPS system that has to verify addresses (used by the bulk mail center) rejects 6 to 8 every time we print the Journals.  We check with the member and the address is accurate but the "system" rejects it - this happens with most colleges for some reason - and we have to mail these from the office.  We send they by periodic rate from Westmont, w/o a problem, but we are not automated here.  Nobody I have checked with at the PO can tell me what's wrong with the addresses.  We now mail almost 50 from the office due to this issue and they all get delivered but the automated system will not accept them.


And you are correct that you do your best - the horror stories of foreign mail delivery make our system look very good in comparison.  We find it almost impossible for our members in the Philippines to get their copies.




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Getting back to your original question: I'm going to spend some money on reference books so I'm curious which books MSW members consider to be essential for a ship modeler's library (other than MSW itself).


    I have a few other publications in my collection not mentioned previously that I would recommend.  The first one shown below is a very good guide on scratch building a clipper ship that I have used many of his techniques when I built my 1/6” scale Wanderer. 


    This paper pamphlet I have shown above is of a 1928 Popular Mechanics magazine by James Tate who was the Technical editor of the magazine.  It has a set of plans and instructions on scratch building an 1/8” scale model of the clipper ship.  It is no longer in print, however if you Google the title it brings up the site early plans for making a model – sobco. There you will find access to a reprint of the booklet at the bottom of the page, and just above that are clearer copies of the actual blueprints.  The model is shown as a bread and butter style solid hull.  One reason that I liked it so much was that he used nothing more than a few hand tools that I had at the time.  So if you don’t have much in the way of tools, a handsome ship model is still within your grasp.


    This next one titled Ship Modeling Simplified by Frank Mastini is a wealth of tips and techniques for building plank on bulkhead model kits.


    Then I have Ship Modeling Techniques by Portia Takakjian.  She describes the construction of three different models with three different techniques for the hulls.  The royal yacht Fubbs is done plank on frame.  The Hudson River sloop Victorine is done with a solid block of wood.  The last ship is the research vessel Vema which used the lift method.  While the hulls vary, she goes into making many of the details commonly found on many different vessels.


    One of the hardcover books that I have read and reread several time is William Fredrick’s (1874) Scale Journey: A Scratch Builder’s Evolutionary Development by Antonio Mendez C.  He was a master of taking discarded tools and converting them to other homemade tools and gadgets.  His shop alone was a very innovative design.  The book describes his construction on an R/C model of this ship.


    This last hardcover book is Men, Ships, and the Sea, a National Geographic publication by Capt. Alan Villiers.  While this one doesn’t go much into modeling, I have found much inspiration in its pages to renew my interest in ships whenever it begins to wane.  It covers the whole gamut of ships from the earliest vessels of tied together logs through the early wooden sailing ships, steel dreadnoughts of war, to the leisure craft of today.


    For people interested in specific ships I have these last two entries.  The Pride of Baltimore The story of the Baltimore Clippers by Thomas Gilmore shown below gives a lot of the history and construction details of both ships I and II.


   Old Ironsides The Rise, Decline And Resurrection Of The USS Constitution by Thomas C. Gillmer is a publication that came out to celebrate her 200th anniversary.  Here again, this shows many of the details as she was originally and all of the various revisions and repairs through the years.  Anyone interested in building a model of this popular ship will find much of interest here.


    One more suggestion I would offer is to order the flash drives of Model Ship Builder and Ships in Scale that are available through MSW and the Model Research Guild, as there is a wealth of invaluable information in them.


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Hmm... essentials Dave asks.   Good question.  I think it depends on where you are in the hobby.  My go-to books are various monographs and then some reference books which are listed below.


The Art of Ship Modeling by Bernard Frolich

Historic Ship Models by zu Mondfeld (note: basic information for refreshing the mind... this book does have errors)

The Swan Class Series by David Antscherl


Once you feel ready to step beyond the "basic" books, and into the world scratch building (the "darkside" as it's called) your selection of books becomes more specific by either type or country or both.  

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You really can't ever have too many books! 


I really don't think there is an "essential" book for modelers. There have been many published over the years, many, if not most, repeating information written in their predecessors' books. Some are better than others, of course, but none are "essential." Reading any or all of them will provide a "tip" here and a "trick" there, none "essential," but together all helpful. A lot depends on the type of modeling you want to do. There's no point in buying a bunch of books on masting and rigging sailing ships if you want to build modern warship models.


If you are like most and want to do sailing ships, I'd say  you could probably do well picking up any of the better "how-to's" written in the last twenty years and you'd probably have the "basics." Then I'd suggest one haunt the used bookstores and online for good-condition used books at bargain prices.... The Anatomy of Nelson's Ships by Longridge (which has a lot of methods and techniques information in it,) anything by Charles Davis, anything by Howard I. Chapelle, and anything by Harold Underhill. Pick up copies or paperback reprints of Darcy Lever on seamanship and rigging, The Art of  Rigging by Biddlecomb, Masting and Rigging in the Days of the Spritsail Topmast (? this from memory.) Once you had most of those, you'd have a basic collection of the "classics." 

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