Ship Building 101
by Jim "Delgrieve" Bothwell
I wanted to start this tutorial with the caveat that I am not a model ship builder and as a matter of fact this was my first attempt at building one. Actually, like a lot of my terrain pieces, I jumped in and started building without a detailed plan. The fist ship I completed looked nice but I learned even more when doing a few "wrecked" pieces. I thought I would do an initial tutorial on making a wreck and a progressive one making a complete ship for a future tutorial.
1/2" thick foamcore sheet
Random scribe balsa sheet
1/4" scribe balsa sheet
Craft sticks or match sticks
3/16" plasticard angle strip
Plastic knitting sewing square
3/8" wooden dowel
Step 1: Construction
For my ships I came up with a size of 6" wide for 22" long (For shipwrecks the pieces are somewhat smaller since part of the ship is underwater). First you mark a couple of 6" x 13" sections. You will deed to make a curved arc on both sides of the ship to represent the bow. It may take a few times to get the curve that you like the best. Once you have it to your liking then use your hobby blade to cut them. Be sure to make several cuts so that you do not "tear" the foam. Use this cut piece as your template for the additional pieces. TIP: Foam tends to dull blades quickly. Be sire to change them often.
The ship shown is approx 13" long. Its length provides a good angle since it is net so steep that figures would want to tip over. The forecastle (the raised front part of the ship is 7" long to the bow.
The bow of the ship is 2" high tapering dow to middle to form a sort of ramp effect so you will need four 1/2" pieces stacked on one another. I would suggest cutting the underside of the tapered pieces before gluing them together since it would be too thick to use your hobby blade. After you have trimmed the pieces together. Be sure to put some weight on them to hold them together while they dry.
Once it dries you can begin shaping the hull of the ship to give it the curves down to the bottom of the ship. Not a lot to offer here except trim a bit at a time until you have the desired shape. You can leave the top inch alone since it doesn't really need the curve inwards. The only important note is to make sure both sides look fairly even. Here is a picture of a full ship showing the shaped bow. (1A)
At this point you may want to sand the bottom of the ship to make it more even or flat. I usually take my piece out to come concrete (driveway) and use it to sand—it works surprisingly well.
You might like to add a cargo hold to your ship in case you want to put some sort of treasure in it for players to battle over. Determine what size you would like, mark it, and use your hobby blade to cut it out. The one in this example is approximately 1-3/4" square.
Step 2: Decking
this is a fairly simple part of the project. Basically you just need to cut out a few pieces of the varied width balsa and glue to the deck. IMPORTANT: Be sure to lay something flat and heavy on the balsa decking while it dries. If not, it will warp badly. After it dries you can carefully trim the excess from the sides of the deck as well as from the hole for the hold.
TIP: To give the impression of a hand built ship, use your hobby blade to trim down some of the "planks" at a 45 degree angle so it doesn't look too uniform. (2A)
Also make some perpendicular cuts every so often to make the deck look like it is made of individual planks.
You will also need to lay some planking on the 1/2" step as well as the inside of the cargo hold if you have one. You can also add the angle iron to the step at this point. Just trim a piece of the 3/16' plasticard angle and glue to the deck. Then use the hole/leather punch to make some studs and add to the top of the angle piece. (2B)
Step 3: Side Planking
This is probably the most difficult part of the build. The main reason for the difficulty is trying to bend a piece of planking into two directions at the same time is hard to explain but once you start you will understand. Let me take a moment here to point out that I cut the 1/4" scribe balsa sheet into 1/4" sections. Weird, I know, but after trying several other pre-cut balsa strips l liked the thickness of the sheets best. Now back to our regularly schedules tutorial...To start your planking you take a strip along the top edge of one side of the ship and align it with the decking you've laid down. Leave 1" to 1-1/2" extra on the end toward the aft of the ship for a detail piece—See railing below. Once you have determined the approximate size ad cut a plank piece, lay o a coating of wood glue (not too much or you will have to clean it off and its messy) ad then attach to the ship. Take a few sewing pins and push them thru the balsa into the foam to hold the plank in place until it dries. You are ready for the next plank. You can put a couple of pins in the foam between planks to give you a fairly even spacing of planks. The first couple of inches down are easy enough because you are only dealing with one curve toward the bow. The last couple of inches are more difficult because you not only have to deal with the curve of the bow but the curve down to the bottom of the hull. You will need to carefully mark each piece for a more specific fit. Once you have make the marks, cut the pieces and attach to the hull. Continue the process (for both sides) until completed. It may be best to work dow a bit on both sides (lay 3 or 4 planks at a time) and give them time to dry.
TIP: If you want to add any sort of damage to your wreck, cut a hole in the foamcore and affix damaged planking as you see appropriate. (3A)
Step 4: Masts
For the Deck Mast I placed right at the end of the forecastle. I used the dowel as a template and marked around it for the hole I would be cutting. Once marked, use you hobby blade to cut thru the balsa and foamcore. I cut the depth of the hole approximately 1" to give it stability. (4A)
For the Bow Mast you will need to mark and carefully trim the planking. As with the Deck mast cut down into the foam core approximately 1". Related to the Bow Mast, I cut out a small piece of 1/8" foamcore to make a transition piece from the Bow to the Mast. It may take a few cuts to get the right shape but once you get one that fits and is to your liking you can glue it to the mast and bow. (4B)
TIP: If you like you can put some sort of fancy design on the figure head on the bow piece to give the ship more character.
Break off the dowel to represent damage from a storm. Use a saw to cut it to a desired length. To get the rough/natural look use wire cutters to cut and rip pieces out. Then use your hobby blade to finish the effect. I like trim (like whittling) the sides of each dowel to give the a more natural look and give the paint something to highlight.
Once you have the dowels to your liking put some woodglue in the holes and push them in.
TIP: Don't use too much glue as it will "squish" out and make a mess.
To finish off the masts, wrap portions of the dowel for the bow and the mast in your string. Use a drop of superglue on the end of the string on it (use your hobby blade to hold it down while it dries so you don't get your fingers stuck). Then begin wrapping the string around the dowel 5 or 6 times placing a drop of glue every so often (not too much). Finish the piece by placing another drop of glue on the string, cutting it, and gluing it to the mast.
Step 5: Railing
For the railing I've used a small square craft stick—actually a wooden matchstick will do. Like the dowel, you will need to trace out the pattern of the stick on the deck approximately 1-1/4" apart. I have the posts sticking approximately 5/8" above the deck. Once you have the holes cut use a small drip of glue to fix tem in the deck. For railing I've cut a few stripes from the varied balsa sheet that I thought looked best. I cut them in random sizes, give them sufficient wear and glue them to the posts. Clothes pins are great for holding them in place until they dry.
You can also finish the tapered plank effect with a craft stick on the area from the forecastle to the main deck. (2B)
Step 6: Cargo Hold Cover
For the Cargo Hold Cover I used a plastic sewing/knitting panel cut to fit the cargo hold. I then cut a square out of plasticard with a hold to represent the frame and then finished it up with some bolts/studs like I made in Step 2B. I cut out some random shapes in the panel to represent damage.
TIP: Be sure to leave the cover free so you can place a treasure or some other object on it.
Step 7: Basing
For the basing. I glued the ship to a shaped piece of 1/8" hard board. As always I trim the board to give it an easy transition to the table top as possible. Once affixed to the board I glued chunks of foam to make larger hills and spackle to smooth the out. I give the whole thing (not the ship) a coating of gravel basing using white glue to hole it down. Let it dry and paint. (7A)
Step 8: Painting
I will talk in more detail about painting in the follow-on tutorial but basically the ship is a base of black with gradually lighter coats of gray to give it some depth. I also used some different brows ad grays for the weathering.
I hope this tutorial gives the general idea of how I approached ship building and gives you some tips on how to get started.
Jim "Delgrieve" Bothwell