A while ago, I was directed by a fellow ship modeler to some information on parts that someone had designed for enhancing the Mantua/Panart 1:78-scale HMS Victory kit. The parts were made available through an online 3D printing service.
This new technology is making customized parts creation possible on demand. The specific part I found and became interested in is the Victory’s ship’s wheel. Most Italian kits still include an old bulky wooden wheel, which is grossly out of scale, detracting from what may be an otherwise nice model. Ship’s wheels are particularly an issue because of the complexity of making them look correct.
The new plastic parts printed using 3D technology vs. the wooden part included with the kit
3D printing requires the part be designed using a CAD program, a computer skill that is something a bit beyond that of most ship modelers. However, there are a few tech-minded ship modelers that like to engineer parts on a computer. These completed designs can be printed directly to a 3D printer, but they’re still a bit too expensive for most users. So, the designs are instead uploaded to a 3D printing service. They produce the part for a fee. Some services also allow the designer to make the designs available to others through the service’s website. This is how I found this particular ship’s wheel.
This particular service is called Shapeways and the part, along with others, is easily found on their site. The HMS Victory’s ship’s wheel can be found here. The cost with shipping was under $15 for a pair of wheels, and the parts took just over a week to arrive. The part itself is plastic, as are most 3D printed parts. Metal printing is available, but the output is rough and not ideal for something as small scale and detailed as ship modeling. Parts that need fine details need to be made from plastic and that’s what the ship’s wheel is made of.
I’m satisfied with the results, though the rim actually seems to be grooved and doesn’t have a flat face like the real Victory’s wheel. I’m not sure why that is, because the 3D rendered images show a flat facing on the rim. It’s a pretty tiny detail and should be filled easily enough. As for the fact that it’s plastic, my client has indicated a desire to avoid plastics, sticking with metal and wood, but I think I can get him to make an exception on the wheel due to the nice scale details.
If you want to learn CAD, there is a bit of a learning curve, but many community colleges offer reasonably priced courses. It also requires the software, which can be pricey. For the rest of us, there is hope and other pre-designed parts are available. The same designer of the wheel also made a set of stern and side gallery decorations as well as sets of rigols that fit above the gun ports. In the future, many more after-market parts will become available and eventually the quality will be good enough to get good metal parts as well.