Monthly Archives: November 2013

Initial Thoughts on Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen

Recently, my kit review of Woody Joe’s Kanrin Maru kit was published in Seaways’ Ships in Scale and I’ve since begun looking at Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen kit. I’ll develop a complete review pretty soon, but I have had a chance to work on the model a bit and I do have some initial thoughts on the Higaki Kaisen kit.


My first impression is that it’s a fascinating looking build of a traditional Japanese ship. There are a lot of laser cut parts and it’s missing the traditional framework we’re used to seeing in ship model kits, but there is a small set of frames that make up temporary building molds that helps hold the hull parts in place during construction.


Building this model is very different than building a traditional ship model. In some ways, it’s a little bit like building a plastic kit in that there are so many pre-fabricated parts. But, the ship’s design is so different from Western ships that it seems like a lot of engineering had to be done to create the kit. This makes it a fun build, but it also means that parts have to be placed very specifically (unlike with most plastic kits which provide alignment pins), and if one part is not aligned properly, it will affect the fitting of other parts later, so it requires a lot of patience and care. This is not a kit that can be rushed.

Looking at the manual in the kit, you can tell right away that this is an involved build – it’s 32 pages long and packed with illustrations. There are so many illustrations that you almost don’t need to know any Japanese to build it. Almost.


The Higaki Kaisen is not like the western style ship Kanrin Maru. A ship modeler who builds the Kanrin Maru pretty much recognized the parts in that kit and has a general idea where things are going to go. If the part is not familiar, the placement in the illustrations are usually enough to clarify things. But, the average ship modeler looking at a part on the traditional Japanese style ship Higaki Kaisen is more likely to have no clue as to what the part is for or how it’s supposed to fit. The illustrations in the instructions help, but there are many places where the builder is told, in Japanese, not to glue certain parts into place. And, if you have no way of reading that text, it’s going to be a problem.

As I see it, the best way to deal with this is to either know someone who can read some Japanese for you, or to look for an English language guide to the kit. So far, I’m not aware of one, so if no one else does it, I may try to put something together. We’ll see.


Even if you can follow all of the instructions, the unusual design of the Higaki Kaisen and the engineering that went into it sometimes requires steps that aren’t all that apparent. For instance, in one step, several beams are added and all of them glued into place except one, which must remain loose until a later time. Also alignment of parts is very critical, so you want to make sure you are extremely careful and look well ahead in the instructions to see what is going to happen later with the part you’re working on. It may actually make sense to jump ahead and fashion some sub-assemblies that are installed later, to make sure that the will fit properly with the parts you’re currently putting into place.

All that said, this is an incredibly interesting model to work on. It’s a lot less predictable than other ship model kits since the vessel is so different. I know my own build won’t be perfect, but with care any mistakes will be fixable, or at least they will be hideable, and its completion is going to be a fun and interesting journey. Ω

18th Century English Longboat by Model Shipways, Part 4 – Final

There is a small amount of metal work required with this kit. Model Shipways provides a plentiful supply of brass wire, steel wire and brass flat strip. For the deadeye stropping mast bands, the instructions call for simple use of CA glue. I chose to silver solder these assemblies since I’ve finally been successful at making good silver solder joints.

DSC01079 DSC01082

Most of the brass, I’ve blackened using a brass blackening solution I purchased from Bluejacket Shipcrafters. This stuff has worked better for me than the more readily available stuff called “Blacken-It”. I then coated the blackened metal with satin polyurethane finish. In some cases, I’ve had to touch this up with a little black paint.

The thole pins are simple wire provided in the kit. In order to create a nice uniform spacing between those pins, I took a piece of brass strip I had on hand and drilled a pair of holes the appropriate separation. I then used this as a guide for drilling the gunwales. I’ve never been very good about making and little jigs like these, but this worked really well.



The spars are pretty easy to make. There is a bowsprit, boom, gaff and mast. The small size makes them quick to shape. The mast is probably the most difficult since the upper portion of the mast steps down in size to a pole topmast. Also, the mast require drilling and cutting to simulate 3 sheaves. One is in the thick part of the mast and the other two are in the pole topmast. This requires a lot of care to keep from snapping the mast. In fact, I managed to snap the mast right at the middle sheave, but repaired it. The repair held, even after adding all the  halliards and stays, and the break cleaned up well and wasn’t noticeable.


For the blocks, I used some swiss pear blocks that I bought from Chuck Passaro’s Syren Ship Model Company. Chuck Passaro, as you may recall, is the designer of this and four other kits for Model Shipways. The blocks are excellent – just about the best you can buy.

I was actually surprised at how much rigging there is on this tiny model and how long it took to do all the rigging. It took some extra care to deal with it since the model is so small and relatively delicate. I ended up using some rigging line I had on hand instead of the stuff provided in the kit, but for no particular reason.

I managed to lose one of the belaying pins in the kit and this was one of the very few things for which Model Expo didn’t include extras. I wrote to their parts department for a couple spares and they sent me a bag of something like 20. However, in the week or so that I was waiting, I found some Amati belaying pins I had that worked fine.

The final step was to sand down the oars which come laser cut from sheet stock. It took a bit of sanding and I actually started by using a knife to whittle down the edges of the oar handles and thin down the ends of the oar blades.

I chose not to add the grappling anchor in the kit because the casting seemed a bit large for the model. Photos of the prototype show an anchor that is considerably smaller and looks good. Anyway, I can always add the anchor back on later if it seems like it’s missing.

I made the base from a sheet of cherry that I cut to size and shaped the edges on my router table. The posts that hold the model up are actually brass tubes with brass rods inside that stop short of the top. I then inserted small brass rods in the keel of the model which would fit into these tubes.



I’m really happy with the way the model turned out. It’s small, but very detailed and I had a lot of fun building it. I learned a few things in the build, and like the final model so much that I even was considering building another. However, a long line of other models are waiting to be built, so another longboat will have to wait. Ω

18th Century English Longboat by Model Shipways, Part 3

Planking this model was the hardest part of the build. The first couple are very straight forward and don’t require any special tapering, and bending them is very straight forward. After that, the planks require some edge bending and with thin basswood, that’s a bit tricky.

The next planks are the garboards, which are the planks next to the keel.


Following the instructions in the kit, I was able to manage tapering and edge bending. That took some soaking and heat, but it worked. These are then bent normally before gluing into place. It all worked pretty well, but the boat almost looked clinker-built since I couldn’t do enough edge bending. Sanding took care of it, but the planks required so much of it that you could see light through them when all was done.


I did have a little trouble with one of the planks at the bow, but it shouldn’t stand out too much once the hull is painted. Note that the planks are edged with a No.2 pencil before gluing into place.

The bulkheads are then cut loose, leaving the frames in place. With the planking done the hull is fairly strong. It still requires some care, but it’s sturdy enough to work with. Frames are sanded way down.


Floor boards and platforms are added and hull painting is started. Note that I followed the kit’s recommendation and stained the hull with a 50/50 mix of Minwax Golden Oak Stain and Natural Stain. For the paint, I used a mix of acrylics. The red interior is a mix using Tamiya acrylic paints – the first time I’d ever used them. I chose a dark red color, which might not be very accurate since contemporary models seemed to use a much brighter shade of red.


Risers are added along with other internal detail. The instructions explain a method for simulating edge molding by simple use of a scribing tool and straightedge. It took a little practice to get the scribed line nice and close to the edge, but I was really happy with the results and impressed with the simple technique.


The frieze design was provided in the kit as color printed paper. These turned out to be oversized for the model, but the models developer, Chuck Passaro, provided the artwork as a pdf file. I printed this onto decal paper and applied those to my model. To get them to fit properly, I still had to re-scale them down by about 3% or so.


More details of this build in a future post.

Following My Woody Joe Kit

Several days ago, I placed my order with Zootoyz for Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen kit. I paid for the order using Paypal, which made the whole transaction very simple and the order with shipping came to about $305 including the express mail shipping. That by itself was about $37. I could have paid for a less expensive shipping method and paid about half that shipping cost, but I’m really anxious to get this kit, so I opted for the faster shipping.

It took a couple days for my order to get processed and shipped, partly due to the time differences, and partly due to an order modification I requested. You see, I originally thought I’d spring for the larger Wasen Sengokubune kit, but I kind of chickened out. That model is a 1:30-scale model of a type of vessel that I thought should be about the same as the Higaki Kaisen, but I’ll go into that more in a future post.

In any case, I was a little concerned that the larger, older kit might actually be less detailed, and I really wanted to learn about how these vessels were built. But, not only that, most of my online search for these kinds of boats kept turning up Higaki Kaisen boats, so that’s what I went for.


A Higaki Kaisen

Anyway, I received an email within 48 hours that my order had shipped and provided a tracking number, so I’ve been visiting the Japanese mail system tracking page to check up on it. Fortunately, the information is coming up in English. Yesterday, the order was in transit somewhere in Japan. But, this morning it looked as if my model kit was in the hands of U.S. Customs, hopefully treating it well. I checked again this evening and the status says “Departure from inward office of exchange”. I’m not sure what that means, but maybe it means it left customs and is back to the U.S.P.S.

So, will it be here tomorrow? Friday? I’m hopeful that I’ll have it by the weekend, but who knows what more rigors the package must go through before it gets to me. Stay tuned!

Update – Thursday, 11/7/13

The knock came on my door this morning and there was the mailman with my package from Zootoyz. Very exciting! Of course, I opened it up immediately, just to give it a quick look. First thing I noticed was the wafting aroma of Japanese Cedar – that wonderful scent! The box is compact, the artwork on it is very nice, and it’s packed with wood and parts. I see four half-sized sheets of plans and very well illustrated book of instructions.

I’ll start a review soon.

The Next Woody Joe Kit Review

In just a couple weeks or so, the next issue of Seaways’ Ships in Scale should be on its way out to subscribers, and with it my first ship model kit review article. The proofs of the article were sent to me last week and I made some corrections and sent them in. The article is an out of the box review of Woody Joe’s Kanrin Maru kit. The article includes much of the material that I posted here on my blog, but also a few interesting tidbits I learned about the Woody Joe company.

The editors seemed pretty happy with the article. Frankly, I think they’re happy any time they get an article that doesn’t require a lot of fixing, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have several peers read over my work for me to screen out most of the problems, both in grammar and in content. Since they seem interested in more kit reviews, I’ve been considering another Woody Joe kit, since there seems to be an interest in their seldom seen kits.

I’ve have three Woody Joe subjects I’ve been interested in, the Charles Royal Yacht, the Edo period boat Higaki-Kaisen and another Edo period boat, the Wasen Sengokubune.


I really like the Charles Yacht as it’s a very attractive model and I think it’s a very intriguing kit designed be a couple members from the Japanese ship model society called The Rope. The kit is at a scale of 1/64, which makes it very scale compatible with a lot of Model Shipways, Caldercraft and Amati’s Victory Line of kits. The decorative nature of the ship is extremely appealing and I can imagine wanting to gold leaf all those decorative fittings. The kit’s builds to a medium to smallish model at 18″ long, but this results in a kit that weighs only about 3 lbs., which helps to keep the cost of the kit and the shipping down. The only drawback I can see with this kit is that it appears it may not be a model of a specific vessel, but rather a type of vessel, and the model is based on examples of these Dutch yachts found in the National Maritime Museum. But, this makes it really no different from Model Expo’s 18th Century English Longboat.


The next subject, the Wasen Sengokubune is an Edo period sailing transport used for coastal trade. Wasen is the term for a Japanese style boat, while Sengokubune refers to the boat’s cargo capacity of 1000 Koku. One koku being about 5 bushels and originally defined as the volume of rice required to feed one person for a year. The kit is at the relatively large scale of 1:30 and measures about 22″ long and just under 20″ high. The larger size of the kit makes it fairly heavy and shipping is a bit expensive, but it’s one of the less expensive kits, so that helps to balance out the overall cost. My only concern with the kit is that at the larger scale, the kit might be a bit light on detail. That may not actually be the case, but I realized that I’m not ready to risk the purchase just to find out.


The last subject, the Higaki-Kaisen is one of the more recent Woody Joe offerings. It’s an Edo period sailing transport used for coastal trade between Osaka and Edo (now Tokyo) by the Higaki guild of Osaka. The word “Kaisen” simply means cargo boat. Woody Joe’s model is at scale of 1:72 and measures just under 16-1/2″ long, so it’s not particularly big. However, the kit features some interior details with their other kits don’t, giving the viewer a better sense of what these boats were really like, and adding what looks like some nice realistic detail.

Of these three kits, the newer ones seem more appealing. I’m guessing they’re better designed, but that really is just a guess. I’ll be finding out more about that in future purchases. For now, my growing interest in traditional Japanese boats and the details of the Higaki Kaisen make that kit the most appealing for now. So, that’s what I decided to spring for. The model was recently ordered from Zootoyz (Zootoyz is an easy to deal with company that takes credit cards as well as Paypal orders and provides good prices and reasonable shipping and communicates in English) and should arrive by Express Mail by the end of next week and I’m eagerly anticipating it, even with all the other projects I need to be working on!  Ω

18th Century English Longboat by Model Shipways, Part 2

Looking back to the beginning of this build, the framing of this kit is pretty easy to put together. The hard part is the planking that comes later. At this stage, however, it’s pretty much a matter of fitting the nicely laser cut frames and keel. The kit use bulkheads which are specially designed so that after planking, the centers of the bulkheads are easily removed, leaving just the portion that act as open frames. These are then sanded thin to match the appearance of real frames.

Some people have opted to upgrade their kits using boxwood from Hobbymill. I remember Chuck Passaro commenting many times in his blogs that making the model with basswood would result in something just as good as boxwood, or something to that effect. I didn’t really buy that at the time, but I have to say, I’m really happy with how things turned out using basswood.

I followed the suggestions in the instructions to stain the wood with a 50/50 mix of Golden Oak and Natural stains using Minwax stains. I also pretreated the wood with Minwax’s Pre-Stain Conditioner.


After carving the rabbet and assembling the keel, I marked the centerlines of all of the frames to assure good alignment when assembled.


Test fitting the frames went very easily and it wasn’t long before I could begin the planking.



As you can see from the pencil and other items in the background, this is not a very big model.

Next step was to add the first planks at the gunwale to hold everything in alignment, then going back to the keel and adding the garboard plank. I’ll post some photos of that next time.