Ship Building 201
by Jim "Delgrieve" Bothwell
Here is the second part of my ship building tutorial. For the first part I started off with a wrecked ship with the thought that it would be easier to make parts of a ship rather than the whole thing. This instruction should build on techniques provided in the first and allow you to build an entire ship. Many of the steps learned in "Ship Building 101" will be repeated so you can apply anything you learned in the previous tutorial.
1/2" thick foamcore sheet
Random scribe balsa sheet
1/4" scribe balsa sheet
Plastic knitting sewing square
3/8" wooden dowel
Step 1: Construction
I've determined that my ship dimensions would be 6" wide for 22" long. This size makes a good sized ship with plenty of room on the decks for fighting. The 1/2" foamcore is used to make the hull of the ship. For my ships I use four 1/2" pieces stacked on one another to give me a ship hull height of 2". The first step for me is to make the four 6' x 22" sections. Once you have them cut, you will need to make a curved taper to represent the bow of the ship I started at a point 7" from the tip and carefully arced to the tip of the bow. The aft is done in a similar fashion except you will need to make it completely rounded. I started 6" from the aft to start making the curve. These curved sections are done to taste. Draw them out several times until you have the shapes to your liking.
TIP—Once you have cut your first piece with Bow and Aft cuts use it as a template for the other pieces so they all have the same angles.
Three of the pieces will represent the main body of the ship, the fourth will be cut to make the fore and aft castles To make the, I measure 7" from the tip of the bow and make a straight perpendicular line and then cut it. I do the same for the aft, except the measurement is 6".
After you have all of your pieces trimmed and fairly equal in measurement, you can use your wood glue between all sections to hold them together. be sure to put some weight on them to hold them together while they dry.
Once the pieces dries you can begin shaping the hull of the ship to give it the curves down to the bottom of the ship. You can leave the top inch alone since it does not really need to curve inwards. The important note is to make sure both sides look fairly even. Once you have the curved sides cut, use a piece of sandpaper (or better yet a sander) to even up the sides. (1A)
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 want, mark it, and use your hobby blade to cut it out. The one in this example is approximately 1-3/4" square. I like to cut all the way thru to the bottom of the ship to give a fairly deep cargo hold. If you do you will need to cut a 1/8" to 1/4" thick pieces of foamcore to add a new bottom to the hold. Don't forget to plank the inside of the hold. It is difficult to keep the balsa flat on this interior hole. You can use the foamcore square you cut to make the hole to hold balsa in place while it dries.
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 you do not do this, it will tend to 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 cargo 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 6" piece of the 3/16" plasticard angle and glue to the deck with superglue. 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—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. 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 "Step 5: Railing" below. Once you have determined the approximate size and cut a plank piece, lay on a coating of woodglue (not too much or you will have to clean it off and its messy) and then attach to the ship. Take a few sewing pins and push them thru the balsa into the foam between planks 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 the planks. The first inch down is easy enough because you are only dealing with one curve toward the bow or aft. The last inch is more difficult because you not only have to deal with the curve of the bow/aft and the curve of 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 piece and attach it to the hull with the wood glue. Continue the process (for both sides) until completed. It may be best to work down a bit on both sides (lay 2 or 3 planks at a time) and give them time to dry. (3A)
Step 4: Masts
For the Deck Masts, I placed right at the end of the aft and forecastle (leaving approximately 1/2"). 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. You can make your masts any height you feel looks right and does not interfere with play. For this tutorial the mast is approximately14" and the cross piece is 6" wide.
TIP—For extra stability you can add a short piece of brass tubing for the mast to fit into. This way you can insert the masts for play and remove them for transport.
TIP—Use your hobby blade to trim (like whittling) the sides of each dowel to give them a more natural look and give the paint something to highlight.
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". 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. Again, you can make this bow mast as long as you want but for this tutorial I made mine approximately 5" long. (4B)
TIP: If you like you can put some sort of fancy design or figure head on the bow piece to give the ship more character.
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 wood glue to affix them in the deck. For railing I've cut a few stripes from the varied balsa sheet that I thought looked best. I cut them to size (allowing a bit of an overlap on the posts), gave them sufficient wear and glued them to the posts. Clothes pins are great for holding them in place until they dry. (5A)
Step 6: Side Paddles
The side paddles are fairly simple. For mine I cut a 5" round piece of 3/4" to 1" pink foam and cut it in half to make two half circles. If you don't want to get (or have) pink foam you can glue 2 pieces of the 1/2" foamcore together to get the 1" thickness and then cut the 4" round section. Once you have your half rounds you adhere pieces of the random width balsa to each side of the paddle and wrap a piece of the 3/16" plasticard strips to the curved portions. Then cut a 2" round piece from plasticard and cut it in half to make two half circles. Once both are dry add some studs/bolts. (6A)
TIP—If you want some detail you can add some gears for machinery.
Step 7: Boiler
This one is a bit difficult to explain as I used a few obscure parts to make this. The main tank of the boiler is from an old space shuttle booster fuel tank and the smoke stack is a child's cheap plastic telescope. You can use your imagination to build this part but remember to add lots of studs/bolts. (7A)
Step 8: 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 on the Angle Iron Step. (8A)
Step 9: Painting
I painted the entire ship black with an inexpensive flat craft paint. Be sure to give it a couple of good coats to get black into all of the crevasses—just don't paint on too thick as to obscure the detail. IMPORTANT—Two things to remember: FIRST- You are working with foamcore and you cannot use a spray as it might melt some of the exposed (albeit they are small) pieces of the foam; SECOND- Be careful when painting the side planking of the ship. If you put too much watered paint on the side planking it might tend to soften the glue. Just something to watch for. Even if the planks become a bit loose you can still add a bit of glue with a ping to re-attach the plank.
Once the black dried, I started adding in grays- adding a bit of white to the black at first and then adding more lighter grays. It may take you a bit of time to get just the shades you want. After getting some subtle grays, I added some brown. One of my favorite colors is called "Fawn" from Folk Art paints. unfortunately I cannot find it around here anymore. I took a sample to one of the local DIY stores and had them make me up a quart which I used on this (and many other projects). I slowly added some off-white to the brown as I kept building up the colors to show the high points.
For the weathering and rust I first used some of the same "Fawn" brown as a base. I then added in a mix of GW Beastial Brown to add a bit of orange.
I also added a bit of Kelly Green to give some moss-like effect.
An there you have it. That's how I made my steamship. I hope this tutorial gives the general idea of how i approached ship building and gives you some tips on how to get started. The main thing is just jump in and give it a try. I learned a lot making this and it has helped me on additional ships I am building.
I hope you enjoyed it!
Jim "Delgrieve" Bothwell