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.





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