Ship model

Prisoner-of-war model at the Rosenborg Slot
in Copenhagen

A ship model is a model of a ship. Ship models are known as far back as ancient Egypt, where they were used in burials; in modern times they are used in the ship design process, while the modelling of historic ships is a well-regarded if somewhat demanding hobby.

Model shipwrights may create models known as "primitives", which are crude three-dimensional models that represent a type of vessel or even a specific ship. Model shipwrights may also create more detailed models that range in detail all the way up to museum quality. Most ship models have traditionally been built of wood. Today many amateur kits are available for ship models made mostly or totally out of plastic. A small number of model ships are constructed out of sheet metal.

Some of the oldest ship models found have been those of early craft such as Galleys, Galleons, and possibly Carracks, dating from the 12th through the 15th centuries and found occasionally mounted in churches, where they were used to bless the ships and those who sailed in them. Other rare and often very crudely built models of that time period have found their way into collections at various museums around the world.

Despite the fact that some fine artists painted and sculpted masterpieces of architecture and the human and animal form, it seems that no truly representative drawings of ships seems to have survived from this period. Most surviving pictures or engravings are apparently greatly out of scale, although like maps of that period, they were greatly decorated with drawings of real and imagined sea monsters, leaving the nautical historian very little to work with.

Through the earlier centuries, and even into the 18th century, virtually all small craft and many of the larger ships were built without any formal plans being drawn. Shipwrights were apprenticed to their craft at an early age and the art was passed down from father to son. Ship models were being built by designers of large ships primarily to show their prospective customers how the full size ship would appear, and also to introduce advanced building techniques. Few shipping merchants could read a construction draft, and still fewer individuals were sufficiently advanced in the art of drafting or the mathematics necessary to that art. Add to that the fairly primitive method of paper making, with its acidic product tending to discolor and disintegrate, and you will understand why so few ship’s plans survived outside of the Royal Shipyard in England, which to this day is a major source of information on ships of the earlier centuries.

Ship models often referred to as ‘Admiralty’ or ‘Shipyard’ models were built either before or during construction of many 18th and 19th century warships. Although many of these models did not illustrate the actual construction timbering or framing, they did illustrate the form of the hull and usually had great detail of the deck furnishings, masts, spars, and general configuration. Some of these grand models were decorated with carvings of great beauty and were evidently constructed by teams of artisans. The labor they represent would have taken an individual many years to complete, providing you could ever find a competent ship modeler who was also capable of such fine carving. They served to educate the non-seafaring types who were involved in the financing or some other aspect of the ship, to avoid construction errors that might have evolved as the ship itself took form, and more importantly, to demonstrate what a thing of beauty the real ship would be.

During the several wars between France and England, seamen who were taken prisoner were confined, sometimes for many years, and in their boredom, sought relief by building ship models from scraps of wood and bone. This evolved into an art form and the models were sold to the public, which responded by supplying the prisoners with ivory so that the models would be all the more decorative. Rigging was made of human hair, horsehair, silk, or whatever other fine material could be obtained. For the most part, the models had carved wooden hulls covered with thin veneers of bone or ivory, and other parts of the model such as masts and spars were also carved from bone and ivory. To this day they remain highly sought after, valuable collectibles.

Ship modeling got off to a rather slow start in the U.S. Many of the older models from the turn of the century, 1900 on, were models built by seamen who whiled away their off-duty hours whittling models of ships they were serving on. Few home craftsmen of the time attempted ship models because of lack of information other than an occasional sketch or photogravure in the local paper. In the mid 1920’s, ship model kits were introduced to the public and cast lead parts such as anchors, deadeyes, and rigging blocks became available. Magazines carried advertisements for these items, and the home craftsmen of the U.S. began to respond.

The big modeling boost came early in the 1930’s when Popular Science Magazine began to publish a series of articles and plans of famous ships by E. Armitage McCann. This was the true beginning of ship modeling as a popular hobby. It was also the beginning of nautical research as we know it today, an attempt by model craftsman to upgrade their work by researching newly available documents to determine the historical correctness of the models they were building.

Today there exist national and international sources of ship’s plans, information as to dimensions, construction techniques, types of wood and other materials to use in the building of models... and types of wood and materials to stay away from. There are numerous books devoted to modeling, periodicals, and museum collections of models of every type known to man. Ship model clubs are found in many cities around the world.

Ship modeling is a solitary hobby, and some modelers across the country who quietly enjoy their modeling in that solitude are quite unaware that a brotherhood of model builders exist, some totally unaware of such things as ship model publications or firms that sell plans, kits, and supplies. Although the term “solitary” sounds rather negative, it has been my experience that the joy of creating these miniatures frees up the mind to solve business problems, to experience time to think and to extract some answers to the sea of words that we are bombarded with daily. It is a rewarding hobby.

Notable collections include the Norwegian Seafaring Museum (Norsk Sjřfartsmuseum) in Oslo and the Museu Marítim in Barcelona, which has a full-scale (1 meter = 1 meter) model of a galley.

Table of contents
1 Model shipwright guilds
2 Basic types of contruction
3 Scale conversion factors

Model shipwright guilds

People who work on building model ships often join together to form guilds; these guilds are intended to allow more experienced members the opportunity to pass on their knowledge to new members; to allow members of all levels of expertise to exchange new ideas, as well as serving as social function.

The USS Constitution Model Shipwright Guild, Boston, MA. This club meets on the first Tuesday of every month in Building number 5 at the Charlestown Navy Yard, just one hundred feet away from Old Ironsides.

The Nautical Research Guild website states that "The Nautical Research Guild is an international organization of ship modelers, maritime artists, nautical archeologists and historians who are dedicated to enhancing the art and experience of ship modeling."

Guilds for those interested in buildin odel ships are found across the world.

Basic types of contruction

There are five basic types of construction used in building a wooden ship model hull:

  • Solid wood hull sawn and carved from a single block of wood.

  • Gluing together two thinner blocks of wood so that a block is formed with the seam vertical, so that the seam will show running down that surface of the block which is to be the deck. No advantage is gained by having the seam show along the sides of the hull.

  • Cutting four or five thinner slabs of wood to be glued later into a laminated block. In this case, the slabs will be oriented so that they sit one on top of the other and the reason for this will be forthcoming in the explanation of this technique.

  • Plank on bulkhead, a technique in which a series of shaped bulkheads are placed along the keel to form a shaped stage which will be covered with planks to form the hull of the model.

  • Plank on frame In this technique, the model is built just as the full size wooden ship is constructed. The keel is laid down in a manner which keeps it straight and true.. The sternpost and stem are erected, deadwood and strengthening pieces inserted, and a series of shaped frames are built and erected along the keel to form the internal framework of the model. The planks are then applied over the frame to form the external covering.

Scale conversion factors

Instead of using plans made specifically for models, many model shipwrights use the actual blueprints for the original vessel. One can take drawings for the original ship to a blueprint service and have them blown up, or reduced to bring them to the new scale. For instance, if the drawings are in 1/4" scale and you intend to build in 3/16”, tell the service to reduce them 25%. You can use the conversion table below to determine the percentage of change. You can easily work directly from the original drawings however, by changing scale each time you make a measurement.

Table of Scale Conversion Factors
from to 1/8 to 3/16to 1/4
1/16 2.0 3.0 4.0
1/12 1.5 2.25 3.0
3/32 1.33 2.0 2.67
1/8 1.0 1.5 2.0
5/32 0.8 1.2 1.6
3/16 0.67 1.0 1.33
1.5 0.625 0.94 1.25
7/32 0.57 0.86 1.14
1/4 0.5 0.75 1.0

The equation for converting a measurement in one scale to that of another scale is:

    D2  =  D1 x F where
    D1  =  Dimension in the “from-scale”
    D2  =  Dimension in the “to-scale”
    F   =  Conversion factor between scales

Example: A yardarm is 6” long in 3/16” scale. Find its length in 1/8” scale.

    F   =  .67 (from table)

D2 = 6” X .67 = 4.02 = 4”

It is easier to make measurements in the metric system and them multiply them by the scale conversion factor. Scales are expressed in fractional inches, but fractions themselves are harder to work with than metric measurements. For example, a hatch measures 1” wide on the draft. You are building in 3/16” scale. Measuring the hatch in metric, you measure 25 mm. T he conversion factor for 1/4” to 3/16”, according to the conversion table is .75. So 25mm x .75 = 18.75 mm, or about 19 mm. That is the hatch size in 3/16” scale.

Conversion is a fairly simple task once you start measuring in metric and converting according to the scale.

There is a simple conversion factor that allows you to determine the approximate size of a model by taking the actual measurements of the full-size ship and arriving at a scale factor. It is a rough way of deciding whether you want to build a model that is about two feet long, three feet long, or four feet long.

Here is a ship model conversion example using a real ship, the Hancock. This is a frigate appearing in Chappelle’s "History of American Sailing Ships". In this example we want to estimate its size as a model. We find that the length is given at 136’ 7”, which rounds off to 137 feet. To convert feet (of the actual ship) to the number of inches long that the model will be, use the following factors:

1/8” scale Feet divided by 8

3/16 scale Feet divided by 5.33

1/4” scale Feet divided by 4

To find the principal dimensions (length, height, and width) of a (square rigged) model in 1/8” scale, then: 1. Find scaled length by dividing 137 by 8 = 17.125”

2. Find 50% of 17.125 and add it to 17.125 (8.56 + 17.125 = 25.685, about 25.5)

3. Typically, the height of this model will be its length less 10% or about 23.1/2”

4. Typically, the beam of this model will be its length divided by 4, or about 6 1/2”

Although this technique allows you to judge the approximate length of a proposed model from its true footage, only square riggers will fit the approximate height and beam by the above factors. To approximate these dimensions on other craft, scale the drawings from which you found the length and arrive at her mast heights and beam.

Data extracted from "Building Model Ships From Scratch" by Kent Porter

See also: Hobby -- Ship -- Naval ship -- Sailing

External Links

copyright © 2004