Model Ship Secrets

Tips, tricks and techniques to transform model ship building into a SUPER FUN hobby!

Monday, December 04, 2006

How to scratch build a model ship hull

I have some plans I bought from Floating Drydock a few years ago of the Montana-class battleship and Alaska-class cruiser. I'd really love to scratchbuild these guys in the future, which leads me to my inquiry...

None of the articles in the modeling mags show how people have scratchbuilt their ship hulls. I'm wondering what experiences others have had in doing it, especially what techniques work the best for them.

A lot depends on the scale you're using, and on the intended purpose. The best method for a 1:1200 waterline model is probably carving from the solid; for a large model either bread-and-butter, planked bulkhead, or some combination of the two will probably serve best.
{John O. Kopf}
If you are considering building a hull for display on a fairly large scale check the these references: Scale Ship Modeler, June 1995, Mike Winters had an article on building a cruiser (USS Memphis) using bread and butter method using styrofoam insulation panel instead of wood. I have been working on a liner at 1:192 and found this material easy to work with and am quite satisfied with result. I modified Winters technique, though. Try Scale Ship Modeler March/April 1995 where Jack Melody describes building the battleship USS IOWA (1896 vintage) at 1/200 [he means 1:2400! Ed.}, 1 inch=20 ft. using a hull made partly of solid balsa block below waterline and bulkheads above with balsa sheathing.
{Al Rauber}
Mine is not the approved method, but here's how I always did it.
  1. Take appropriate size chunk of wood.
  2. Using saber saw, band saw, whatever's around, cut out the basic outline of the ship.
  3. Make templates from the hull sections on your plans.
  4. Carve/file/sand the hull until it conforms to the templates. OK, that's a gross oversimplification, but the basic technique is there.

I freely admit that I did not use the bread-and-butter method. The reason is that I worked in relatively small scales, (1:500-1:600) and big-enough wood was readily available.
{David R. Wells}

I seem to recall that the Nov/Dec '94 issue of Model Ship Builder magazine had an article about scratch-building a hull of the type you are referring to. I believe the author was a long-time builder of static-display wooden sailing models (I'm working from memory, here) and he decided to build a model of a more modern ship as a change of pace. Some scratch builders construct their hulls with plastic sheet, but his approach was much like building a sailing ship model, with plywood bulkheads and wooden strip planking. If you can find a current issue of MSB, you can probably back-order that issue for about $6.25 or so.
{Brett Denner}
OK, I'll chime in on this. First and foremost, you're in real good shape with those plans. In looking at the listings in The Floating Drydock's catalog, your Alaska plans will have the hull sections you need for building the hull. As for the Montana, go out and find a copy of Dulin & Garzke's U.S. Battleships (ISBN:1-55750-174-2). In the section on the Montana's you'll find a set ofhull lines for her.

Now the fun (?) part. Hull sections (HS) look like a funny drawing of the hull with one half looking aft and one half looking forward. On each of these halves, there are curves lines that are labeled with either numbers or letters. These lines are frame references, and they'll correspond to marks below the outboard profile (OP) view. These marks show where each of the lines on the HS drawing are located according to the OP.

To build from these, I use the plank on frame method. What you want to do is to set out a keel dimensioned to the length of the bottom of the hull on the OP. It doesn't matter the shape right now. Next, use the HS drawing to make each of the bulkheads shown. Now remember, you're looking at half of it, so duplicate the left (or right) side for each bulkhead. Number each bulkhead as you make them so that you can keep track of them. Next. mark the positions of the bulkheads from the OP on to the keel piece. Attach the bulkheads to the keel at the proper places, and you'll have the frame of the ship.

Once you have the frame, the next thing to do is to start placing planking on the outside of it. Use relatively small pieces to do this, and don't worry about making them fit exactly since you'll eventually sand them smooth. Once all of the planking is in place, sand out the rough parts and joints, and you'll have your scratch hull.

Two words of warning.

  • First, when you're at the point of attaching the bulkheads to the keel, it'll be very delicate. But if you break off one of the bulkheads, just glue it back.
  • Second, make sure that you allow for the width on material you're using. I use .06" plastic for my hulls, so when I measure out a bulkhead, I've got my calculator programmed to automatically subtract .12" from the overall calculation.
Click for larger image.
Since many modern ships have a relatively square cross- section for much of their length, a combination of bread-and-butter for the ends and planked bulkheads for the center work relatively well. ==>

When I've done this, I start with a plank cut to the shape of the lowest waterline. The severely curved ends are build up as bread-and-butter sub-assemblies. The "central" portion of each is rabbeted for the ends of the planks. These ends are fastened to the bottom plank. The intermediate stations are drawn onto plywood, allowing for the thickness of the planking (I don't use a central "backbone", although I have seen others use a "box-beam" here - that's simply a long plywood box that the bulkheads slid onto -- very rigid and torsion-resistant!).

Also allow for a thick strip at the sheer (and, if the curving of the bilge is extensive, I also allow for a block there). The bulkheads are glued to the bottom plank in the appropriate locations, and the shear strip (and bilge blocks, if used) are installed. Planking the remainder is now easy, as the planks will all be relatively straight

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