Monthly Archives: January 2014

Ship Plans from the Smithsonian

The other day, I had quite a nice surprise. I got a call from the ship plans office of the Smithsonian. They called to let me know that there was a delay in sending out my plans due to the installation of new digital copying equipment, but that the plans I ordered was going out that day.

Now, that’s customer service – A lot better service than some of the ship model related companies I’ve been dealing with. I’d ordered the plans back in mid-December figuring they would be shut down for the holidays. But, I did notice that it was taking longer than in the past to receive plans, so it was really nice to get the call. Something I’d never expected.

If you’re curious what I ordered, it was a simple one-sheet copy of lines of the USS Fenimore Cooper, a former New York pilot boat that was purchased by the Navy and used in survey work in the Pacific. She was stationed at Mare Island for a time in the 1850s where she was used to ferry supplies from San Francisco, just across the bay. Eventually, she was wrecked on the coast of Japan and her captain, Lt. John M. Brooke, and some of her crew returned to the US aboard the Kanrin Maru.

As for the plans themselves, at one sheet, it was only $10 plus shipping. I’ve been told that with the new equipment installed I would be very pleased with the quality of the plans. I’ll let you know how they look when they show up.

In any case, the Smithsonian is a great source of ship plans.  At the moment, you can only order by mail and can only pay by check or money order, but I was also told that they are trying to get set up to take credit cards. Plans are always shipped rolled up in a tube.

To order, you’ll need to know what they have. They now have 3 catalogs: Ship Plans List/Maritime Collection, the Maritime Collection of Ship Plans (1939-1970), and the Smithsonian Collection of Warship Plans.

For pricing and address, just visit their website below:

Ship Plans | National Museum of American History

Kung Hei Fat Choi

Late last night, a long string of firecrackers reminded me that the Chinese New Year has arrived. It’s the year of the Wood Horse.

What does this mean? Frankly, I don’t know. I’ve read several articles on the Internet and they seem to focus on different things. I guess it’s kind of complicated since there are 12 signs in the Chinese zodiac and how the new year affects you depends on when you were born.

But, one article I read said that for those not born in the year of horse – I was born in the year of the Tiger, by the way… Well, it sounds cool – the year ahead will bring health and prosperity. For those born in the year of the horse, looks like it’s a tough year. I didn’t realize that when your birth sign matches the years it’s actually NOT a good thing. And, I just congratulated my housemate, who was born in the year of the horse. Oh, well…

No matter. Life is what you make it. Here’s to wishing you Peace and Prosperity in the New Year – Kung Hei Fat Choi!

AL’s Independence – Finish Planking

The hardest part of building a ship model can be the planking of the hull. I say “can” be because it really depends on the kind of ship you are modeling and the method you choose for planking.

In this case, the easiest method is to follow the kit’s design. The basic goal is to simply get the hull covered with a nice smooth layer of attractive finish planking without worrying about whether or not it’s accurate to the way ships were actually planked. Using this method, which is generally prescribed in the instructions of most European kits, lay them down starting at the top of the hull and work down towards the keel. The planks will need to be tapered slightly at the ends and may require soaking and a little heat applied using a hair dryer, curling iron or electric plank bending tool.

I have yet to find a book that fully describes this kind of planking of the hull. Frank Mastini’s Ship Modeling Simplified, does the best job I’ve seen, but follows the building of Artesania Latina’s Bluenose II kit, which is a pretty easy hull to plank. He doesn’t talk about planking the apple bowed hulls of 18th century ships, which are much more difficult to plank.

With that said, there is also another way to finish the hull that’s at the other end of the difficulty spectrum, and that is to plank the hull using methods similar to the way the real ships were actually planked. This involves techniques of spiling to get the initial shape of the plank, measuring the hull to determine the width of the plank at various places along its length, cutting it to shape, measuring and re-measuring. heat bending the planks and so on. This can be very time consuming and can result in a model looking just so-so if the planking is not done properly, or it can result in a beautiful hull that’s accurate to actual practices. For most of us, the true results fall somewhere in between.

A good book that illustrates authentic hull planking is Ben Lankford’s How to Build First-Rate Ship Models from Kits, put out by Model Expo, Inc.  It doesn’t spend a lot of time on the subject, but gives a good description and illustrations of the process.

It’s really up to you and the style of model you like to build. If you want to use this latter style, make sure to get some practice in if you can. If you’re accustomed to doing a lot of very fine measurement work and a lot of careful, accurate shaping, then you might be able to tackle this at first try. Otherwise, simple, cheaper models can be very useful for developing your planking skills. Or, you can also carve a simple hull to practice on. You’ll have to decide what’s best for you.

If your model is to be painted, even if just below the waterline, then the method of planking you choose is not so critical and the planking detail is not as so noticeable. If your model is to be copper sheathed below the waterline, then the lower planking work with be completely hidden and that allows you to make all sorts of planking mistakes that no one will ever see. Of course, it opens the door to copper sheathing mistakes, but that’s another matter. In any case, this model should not be coppered as it’s the wrong period for it.

For this model, I’ve decided to attempt a more authentic look, with a continuous run of planking from bow to stern. I expect it will take a few stealers and drop planks, but that’s generally to be expected. It’s been a while since I’ve done a full plank-on-bulkhead model, particularly with all the planking visible. My focus has been on later period ships with coppered hulls and most of those I have been building up as plank-on-solid-hull.

I decided to plank the hull using pear wood. It’s a nice color, bends well and seems to be pretty easy to work with so far. I was convinced after seeing model in the Parsons Collection at the San Mateo Museum. The models were all scratch-built and it looked like the modeler used pear and the color looked really nice.

I bought my supply in the form of rough milled boards that I bought from The Lumberyard. These need to be sanded down to the final dimensions and the edges of the boards are not straight, so they need a little work, but those are all things I can handle now. If I didn’t have a thickness sander and two good table saws, I’d end up buying milled strips and that would be expensive, particularly for pear. If that were the case, I would have just gone with cherry wood, which is readily available from a number of sources. It’s grainier though and tends to splinter when bending if you’re not careful, whereas pear wood has a fine grain and bends easily when wet.

Most of my planking stock is 3/16″ below the wales and I used 1/8″ strips above the wales. For the band between the black strakes, I chose to use wide boxwood strips. The width was determined by the distance between the black strakes. I figured on 2 boxwood strakes because 3 strakes would have made each visually too narrow to my eye. Note that the coloring is a departure from the kit’s coloring. I went back and forth between several coloring configurations and settled on this one which is all pear wood with the light colored stripe of boxwood between the two narrow black strakes. The vertical timbers for the railing and swivel gun supports will probably be black, but I haven’t decided that for sure yet.

To convince myself of the coloring configuration, I did some very crude color mock-ups on the computer. This isn’t the final image, but I don’t think I saved any of the final images as they were only temporary to help me decide on a color scheme. But, you get the idea. Scan 13

The image was just one of the illustrations in the kit plans, which I scanned, cleaned up and did some simple color fill. It doesn’t have to be a work of art – it can be a bit messy and still get the job done. In fact, if you don’t have a paint program or aren’t comfortable with the computer or applications, you can just photocopy and do it the old fashioned way with markers or colored pencils.

Actual planks from the lower black strake up to the bulwarks are simple straight planks. Below, planks are tapered based on the shape of the hull and the area that the plank must cover.



Rather than confusing you with my explanations of how this is done, it’s best for you to just read some good tutorials. The current issue of Ships in Scale magazine that just arrived in my mail yesterday has part 2 of a guide to hull planking written by Bob Hunt, who has his own practicums that you can purchase on his web site for Lauck Street Shipyard.

There is also a pretty complete Primer written by David Antscherl and posted on his Admiralty Models site. It’s a downloadable pdf that you can get from this direct link: A Primer on Planking.


In any case, the final hull planking came out looking pretty good, color-wise. I need to work on my technique on these apple bow hulls, which improved as I went. I think if I were to do it all over again, it would look much nicer, I think. I’ll try to apply that practice to the next model.




Franciscan Hobbies in San Francsico Closing

The age of the local hobby store, at least the mom-and-pop variety, has taken another hit with the announced closing of Franciscan Hobbies in San Francisco.

I personally live in the Bay Area, but outside of San Francisco, and I’ve never shopped at Franciscan Hobbies myself. But, I know for many, this is sad news, and after nearly 70 years in business, the family-owned shop has announced that they will close the doors at the end of January. Here are links to the story and to their announcement on Facebook:

My friends, sadly the era of Franciscan… – FRANCISCAN HOBBIES | Facebook


Hobby shops have been closing down for decades. Growing up, I remember losing three favorite hobby shops and two more as an adult seeing them go out of business, so this is nothing new. It’s a difficult business that requires the owners to tie up a lot of cash in inventory and increasingly having to compete with big stores, the Internet, and changing demographics. For ship modelers, this doesn’t have a tremendous impact since few hobby shops carry ship models, magazines or useful fittings – ship modeling has always been somewhat of a niche hobby. Still, they were places that I remember spending many hours browsing and drooling over, but more so in my younger days.

Today, people can browse and drool over stuff at home on the Internet. Not quite the same feeling as when we were kids, riding our bikes to the hobby shop to pick out a neat model tank or rocket that we’d been saving up for. But, anyway, there are still some hobby dealers around. They just aren’t as common as they once were, and they have to cater to new audiences willing and able to spend money on RC cars and planes and such. But that seems more like a “big kids” toy store than the old fashioned hobby shop.

I’ll have to make a pilgrimage to one of the remaining hobby shops in the area and give them some business and maybe I can help them stay around just a little longer.

Projects for the New Year

Wow, the new year has begun, it’s 2014 and this blog is now a year old. My first blog post was about ship model project priorities for 2013 and it’s time to review. Looking at the 2013 Priorities list we have:

  • San Felipe Rigging Project (commissioned work) – done!
  • USS Saginaw, 1859, 1/8″ scale scratch project (for Vallejo Museum) – on hold
  • Yacht America, 1851, 3/16″ scale scratch project – slow development
  • 18th Century English Longboat, 1/4″ scale Model Shipways kit – done!
  • Kanrin Maru, 1856, 1/75 scale Woody Joe kit – on hold

In addition to what was completed above, there were a few other new items added and a couple more completed ship modeling related events.

  • Mary Taylor article published in Ships in Scale
  • Wrote and saw publication of a review of Woody Joe’s Kanrin Maru kit in Ships in Scale
  • Begun work on a review of Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen kit for Ships in Scale
  • Received 2 new ship model commissions, the Independence and HMS Victory


Now, turning to 2014, the year ahead potentially has a lot in store, HMS Victory and the Independence are longer term projects, and certainly Victory won’t be finished this year. I’m shooting for possibly end of 2015 for that. Independence may be done by the end of the year, but it’s not critical. What does need to be completed this year is the USS Saginaw, but I’ve made some recent breakthroughs, and I’m hoping that will give me back some momentum on the Saginaw.

My next article(s) is going to be on the Higaki Kaisen kit by Woody Joe. I’m planning to do a feature article on the build and possibly a quick kit review before that. Of course that means I’ll need to finish the model, but now that I’m back from the holiday hubbub, I’ve been able to get productive again and am past the half-way mark now. I’d like to get the feature article done by this Spring, but I’ll be happy if it’s done by Summer.

So, to sum up, here’s my ship modeling priority list for 2014:

  • Complete the Higaki Kaisen kit.
  • Write an article on building the Higaki Kaisen kit for Ships in Scale
  • Finish the 1/8″ scale USS Saginaw model
  • Finish the Colonial Schooner Independence
  • Finish the Yacht America
  • Get the hull done on HMS Victory

It’s a pretty full plate, but it’s just a plan. I’ll be lucky if I get half of these done. And, you never know what else may come along or how life decides to alter your plans. There are so many great projects to take on, but I think I’d have to live another 100 years to get to them all.

Here’s to wishing that we all have a healthy and happy 2014, and that we get all the ship modeling time we need!