Improving Basic Details – Getting the Gratings Right

Gratings are common a feature seen on old ships, as they can be used in place of hatch covers to allow ventilation below decks. They’re also be useful for standing on to keep out of pooling water and to maintain one’s footing on a wet deck. On a model, they are a feature can stand out as an indicator of the builder’s attention to detail, or the quality of a kit, for good or bad. Now, there are a few ways to make your own from scratch, which is what I do, but you don’t have to go that far to simply improve the look of the gratings on your model. Here are a couple simple things you can do to improve their appearance on your kit-built model.

Grating on my model of the Colonial Schooner Independence

Amati Swedish Gunboat Grating

Grating on my Amati Swedish Gunboat.

Gratings are generally included in ship model kits in the form of interlocking comb-like strips. I have to admit that when I built my first plank-on-bulkhead ship model kit, I was excited to build my first gratings. Somehow, there was a weird satisfaction in assembling these pieces.

For the longest time, I didn’t pay any attention to the way I built gratings, as long as everything was nice and square, and the pieces didn’t look bad, they looked cool on the model. But, over time, I discovered that there are a few aspect to the construction of real gratings that affected how I wanted them to appear on my model.

Battens and Ledges

First off, let me take a moment to explain the construction of real gratings. Real gratings aren’t made up of interlocking strips, as they are in most model kits. Instead, they are made up of battens and ledges. Battens are simply strips of wood. Ledges are strips of wood, across which the battens are nailed, perpendicular to the ledges. Wooden blocks are nailed to the ledges to maintain the regular spacing between the battens. This gives the ledges a “toothed” look, just like the modeler’s gratings strips.

Real gratings: ledges at the top, battens below. Note my drawing of the ledges is simplified for expedience.


Fitting to the Coamings

The first thing I discovered about gratings on real ships is that they were generally custom made to fit the hatch they were built for. If you look at the first photo above, you’ll see how perfectly the grating fits the hatch coaming. For most wooden-hulled ships, that’s how they should look.

Left, gratings as cut to fit a coaming. Right, coming built to fit the grating.

Some people may not like this, but just about the only way to get a perfect fit like that, is to build the coamings to fit the hatch, not the other way around. Now, this means that if you are trying to build a replica of a particular ship, your hatches aren’t going to different from the real thing. But to me, the improvement in appearance more than makes up for the slight variation in the hatch size.

I’ve see many kits that tell you to do this, but some do not. If the kit your building doesn’t tell you to make the grating first, then consider it. Not only will the model look better, but it takes less work to build this way.

Direction Makes a Difference

Some time ago, I spoke with a shipwright who was working on the historic lumber schooner C.A. Thayer at Hyde Street Pier in San Francisco. He verified that the preferred way to build a grating was to lay down the ledges, so that they ran perpendicular to the centerline of the ship. He didn’t mention any specific rule, just that it was the way shipwrights liked to make the gratings.

What this means, though, is that when you look at a grating, you should see that some of the pieces form unbroken parallel lines. The “proper” way for these to run is fore and aft, parallel with the keel of the ship. These are the lines of the battens.

Correct orientation.

Incorrect orientation.

The orientation of gratings is particularly important when the gratings are curved with the deck camber. It is far easier to make a bunch of ledges with uniformly curved crowns than it is to make them all different sizes and to try to bend all the battens to fit. Perhaps this is why the standard developed for the orientation of the hatch cover gratings in the first place.

Summing Up

Admittedly, these are all small details, especially for models that are of smaller scales. Also, there are other aspects of gratings that I didn’t discuss here, such as the size of the holes. But, I wanted to keep this article simple – aimed at getting the most out of the parts included in a kit.

However, I will add that if you’re building a model in 3/16″=1′ scale (1:64), or something close, you might considering the grating kits from Syren Ship Model Company. These are actually built from battens and ledges, like the real ones. But, more importantly, they are perfectly sized for this scale, and they are beautiful.

In the future, I’ll see about writing up something on building gratings from scratch, which is what I always do, and pretty much the only way you can get properly sized gratings for any other scale. Ω


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