AL’s Independence – Masts and Spars

Progress has been slow on the Independence, as I just have too many diversions. But, it continues and I’ve completed work on shaping and basic detailing of the spars last month.

Now, if I were building this model from scratch, I would be working from a set of plans that I trust. Were this the Halifax, for instance, I’d probably be building this from Harold Hahn plans. I would be taking measurements off those plans and trying to stick to rules of proportions for shaping the spars. Since this is based on an Artesania Latina kit, and the size and proportions of the objects on the plans are questionable, I struggle a bit, then end up shaping things by eye. That is, I’ll try to start with spars that look right to me and then shape they so that they look right. I don’t really measure here except to keep them symmetrical or to just verify the exact shape I’m seeing.

As with everything in this kit, I didn’t use the provided dowels. Instead, I have some pear wood on hand for those spars that will be died black, and I have some beech wood for those that will remain natural in finish. It doesn’t have to be this way, but I decided that the main boom will be the only spar with natural finish for its full length. The yards and gaffs will all be dyed black the same as the other black wood on this model, using Fiebing’s black leather dye.


I don’t know if I’ll necessarily build a model this way in the future as pear wood is a bit “bendy” and it doesn’t seem quite as stable as I’d like. But, rigged, I think it will be fine on this model. Certainly, the beech wood is stiff and strong, so I don’t see any issues there.

In all cases, I started with square stock wood, usually that way because I just cut it from sheets I have on hand. I try to use a small plane to take the square cross section down to octagonal and beyond. But then I chuck the piece into the end of an electric drill and use 100 or 150 grit sandpaper to sand it round. I’ll add an appropriate taper by eyeballing it, switching to maybe 220 grit sand paper to finish the sanding.

For the masts, I ran into an issue with my paint-free plan. The dye works well on pear wood, but not so well on other wood. Also, It was important for the dye not to bleed, so I tried a new approach. I made the area of the mast doublings out of pear wood, with the natural sections of the mast in beech wood. I drilled out the beech wood dowel using a center drill bit on my lathe and then turned a piece of beech wood down so that it had a peg to fit into the hole. In the process of putting them together, I’d ruined of the first of the mast dowels. So, I redid them with a piece of reinforcing brass rod inserted for strength.




I made the decision a while back to rig this schooner with both fore and aft square topsails instead of just the fore topsail as provided in the kit. That topsail is also quite broad and I’m using Hahn’s Halifax drawings to get a better looking topsail size, which are noticeably narrow and look much nicer, I think.

For detailing the boom and gaffs, I added the jaws at the throats and I simulated iron bolts using stainless steel pins blackened with Caswell’s Stainless Steel Blackener, which I’ve found works really well on real stainless steel and it worked great on these pins. For the iron bands with wrap and secure the jaws to the spar, I went the old fashion method and cut some very thin strips of black construction paper and glued it in place with some Elmer’s white glue. Worked beautifully without the need for brass soldering.

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In order to maintain some progress momentum, I also started adding blocks to the mast tops. For this, I went back and forth a bit as to what brand of blocks to use, but ended up settling on Swiss Pear blocks from Syren Ship Model Company. These are really beautiful blocks and they looked even nicer after I treated them with some Watco Danish wood oil. I used Natural, which just brought out the nice color of the pear wood.


The one thing that I’m not entirely happy with regarding Syren’s blocks are that the sizes go from 1/8″ to 3/32″ with nothing in between. This might not seem like an issue, but I find that there’s a pretty big visual difference between these two sizes. These two are roughly 3mm and 4mm. Now, blocks from Warner Woods West come in 3mm, 3.5mm and 4mm, which really provides a nice gradual transition in sizes, but not Syren. I’ve mentioned this to the owner, Chuck Passaro, who is also an incredibly talented ship modeler, but he claims that there hasn’t been any demand and there are plenty of other products that needed his attention.

For this reason, I actually upped some of the the block sizes I used in order to avoid what I felt was a visual discrepancy, relying more on 4mm blocks where I would have otherwise used 3.5mm blocks.


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