GUIDE FOR THE BEGINNER WOOD MODEL SHIPWRIGHT
By Al Bisasky
PART II: SELECTING YOUR FIRST KIT
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In Part I of this series, I discussed the basic tools recommended for the beginning model shipwright. It was pretty easy to write that piece as it was based on first hand experience with the tools mentioned in the article. However, recommending a “first kit” for the neophyte shipwright is a difficult thing to do. There are just too many variables in the equation: level of skills and abilities, tenacity to finish a project that will require a relatively long period of time, and most of all, patience. I’ll tell you right up front that if you cannot follow plans and instructions, are easily frustrated or you need instant gratification, this is not the hobby for you.
If you consider the amount of work that it will take to complete even a beginner’s level kit, it may seem quite overwhelming. But if you look at the project as a series of smaller projects, it becomes easier to digest. As you complete each step and each phase of the construction, you will gain a real sense of pride and accomplishment. You will learn and improve as you go and things will become easier for you. Complete one mast and the rest of them will become easier to build.
Always keep in mind that you will make mistakes. You must be ready, willing and able to see your mistake and correct it. You will learn from your mistakes. If you are not completely satisfied with a certain piece of work; determine exactly what it is that you don’t like or where things went wrong and then simply do it over. It took me four tries before I finally was able to get the push boat for my Model Shipways WILLIE L. BENNETT to look the way it was supposed to and I was satisfied with my work. On the same kit, the mast must be tapered and then planed to an octagonal shape at the bottom. Three tries and three pieces of dowel later, it’s almost perfect. As my Old Uncle Seamus once said, “Didja ever want somethin’ real bad and when ya’ finally go it, all ya’ could do was stand there and grin at?”
If you just plain don’t want to take a shot at a plank-on-bulkhead model for a first effort, there are still many kits with solid wood hulls available like Model Shipways’ SULTANA. Blue Jacket Ship Crafters another highly regarded maker of model ships also offers solid hull as well as plank-on-bulkhead models.
What To Look For In Your First Kit
I cannot tell you what ship model to start with; I can only make a few recommendations. Ultimately, the decision is yours and yours alone. Do your research carefully and then select a kit that you are interested in. There’s a pretty good selection to choose from. Don’t get too hung up on the labels “Beginner” or “Entry” and “Intermediate” levels. Some intermediate kits are quite suitable for first-timers while some beginner kits can be just as challenging. It depends on the individual model and the manufacturer
Here are some of the factors that will have the greatest impact on you decision
• Instructions: are they extensive or are they lacking? Are they understandable to you?
• Hull: does the hull have relatively easy contours or are there tight radius and compound curves to the planking?
• Materials: Are the wood and other components such as castings, blocks, deadeyes, etc., of good quality?
• Sub-assemblies: are the more difficult to build equipment made from pre-cut wood or will you have to fabricate them (i.e., scratch build)?
• Plans: are the blue prints (yeah, I know that they are all black on white, but they are still generally referred to as blue prints or simply prints) drawn to scale for easy transfer of measurements? Are the drawings, sketches and illustrations easy to read and understand?
I realize that it is impossible to look inside the box if you are going to order your kit on-line. However, if you order a Model Shipways kit from Model Expo, you can return it in original condition within 30 days of purchase if you are not completely satisfied with their product. In addition, if you lose or break a part, they will replace it free of charge. As Old Uncle Seamus would say, “Ya’ can’t beat a deal like that with a futtock stave.”
You can also peruse the kit review articles and practicums on this website that will, at the very least, give you a back-of-the-envelope sketch. SEAWAYS SHIPS IN SCALE bi-monthly magazine offers both reviews and full blown, multi-part articles on the building of many, many kits. It just so happens that as of this writing, SIS is starting a series of articles on the building of Model Shipways ARMED VIRGINIA SLOOP in their current issue. The ARMED VIRGINIA SLOOP is considered to be an entry level kit.
If you can find a beginner or entry level kit that suits your fancy and you think that you can handle one with a bit more work involved, then consider an intermediate kit that has good instructions and prints. Just don’t be too bold for your first effort.
A Word About Scale
Don’t get too hung up on scale or the mind set that the larger the scale, the easier the kit. While things become larger as the scale increases; the greater the detail there is to the model. Small errors on a large scale ship are oft times easier to spot than on a smaller scale model. The most common scale is 1:64; that is 3/16 real inches = 1 scale foot. Other common scales for model ships run from 1:100 up to 1:16.
Entry Level Kits for Beginners
The following kits are recommended by their manufacturers as appropriate for beginners with little or no experience. Each of these kits uses plank-on-frame hull construction. I have included the manufacturers stated dimensions of the completed model: length x height and scale. In each case, these models have very good to excellent plans and instruction manuals.
Model Shipways ARMED VIRGINIA SLOOP (31”x22”, 1:48)
Amati BLUENOSE (19” X 17”, 1:100)
Amati HMS LADY NELSON (21” X 19”, 1:64)
Corel US REVENUE CUTTER RANGER (18” x 15”, 1:50
Corel SCOTLAND (17” X 16”, 1:64)
OcCre PALAMOS FISHING VESSEL (16” x11”, 1:48)
Model Shipways SULTANA – solid hull
Blue Jacket Ship Crafters – several plank-on-frame and solid hull models suitable for the beginner and intermediate modeler.
KITS FOR THE MORE EXPERIENCED MODELER
If you have previous modeling experience and have been successful with building wood kits of other types of models such as model aircraft or model railroading equipment, you should be able to move right up to certain Intermediate level kits. If this is the case, take a look at the kits from Amati, Artesania Latina, Model Shipways, Corel, Euro models, and Caldercraft. Caldercraft kits of Great Britain are not easy to come by in the US. The only two distributors that I have found are Aero Marine Models of Seaford, Delaware and on-line from Northernstarmall. Caldercraft models have been called, “the most model builder friendly ship kits on the market today.” Their plans, instructions, materials and pre-cut parts are arguably superior to any other manufacturer. Expensive, but like anything else, you get what you pay for.
Expect in many cases to pay over $200 for an Intermediate level kit, although some, like Model Shipways BLUENOSE, BENJAMIN LATHAM, PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II, and RATTLESNAKE all come in under the $200.00 mark.
The most important thing is to start with a ship that you like and you feel that you can handle. Every model ship kit, regardless of its level, will have at least a few quirks, hidden secrets, surprises, and little things that will drive you nuts until you apply your gray matter to figure it them out.
As my dear Old Uncle Seamus used to say, “Boy-oh, it’s as easy to build a ship-in-a-bottle as it is to drink the whiskey to empty it. ‘It’s the crawlin’ in and out of the bloody thing that’s the hard part.”
See you next time in Part III when I’ll discuss painting and staining.
Links to brand names:
1 - Amati
2 - Corel
3 - Caldercraft
4 - Artesania Latina
5 - Model Shipways
6 - OcCre
Commercial web sites:
Northern Star Mall
Tall Ships, Inc.
Blue Jacket Ship Crafters
Related Articles and Resources:
Shop Notes / Tips
Modeling Links and Resources
Modeling Book Resources
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