Category Archives: My General Blog

My Projects Update

While I’ve been working on the Japanese shrine model this past week, I’ve hit a minor snag. What I thought was an adhesive backing on some wood veneer turns out to be simply a lining to keep the thin wood from falling apart. I can’t tell what it is, if it’s a shiny, slick kind of paper, or if it’s plastic. I sent a question about it to my contact at Woody Joe and, in the meantime, I’m testing out how well wood glue adheres to it on some scrap material. One way or the other, I should know tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’m finishing up the rigging and final details on the Colonial Schooner Independence model. Mostly, I’m dealing with rope coils now. So, it was quite fortuitous that the latest newsletter from the Midwest Model Shipwrights of Chicago, The Forecastle Report, had a nice article on making rope coils by Bob Filipowski.

I’m also trying to push forward with a rigging project for a friend, and of course there is the HMS Victory model I’ve been working on for the past few years.

On top of all that, I managed to land a very good, short term repair job project for the Bear Creek Visitor Center at Pt. Reyes Station, which is part of the Pt. Reyes National Seashore, just north of San Francisco.

The project is to do some basic repair work to a large and rather unusual model of the Gold Hind built by the late Raymond Akers back in the 1950s. The model is a cutaway that has been designed to display up close against a wall. As such, the model is uniquely made so that the width of the ship has been scaled down. It is designed to be only viewed directly from the side.

Raymond Akers’ Golden Hind model.

I’ll be driving up there in about a week to do some preliminary work. The bulk of the work has to be done on-site at the end of the month, and I’ll be spending a couple days there to get it all done. It’s a nice short-term project that involves mostly small rigging repair and a little cleaning. It’s an honor to be able to work on Mr. Akers’ model, and it will be nice to be doing some work for the National Park Service. It’s especially nice that it’s a pretty self-contained project that won’t last beyond this month.

In the meantime, I’ve been missing doing research, which is really my favorite task in ship modeling. I’m just a researcher at heart. So, I’ve been digging up my Japanese boat resources and doing translations and such, trying to figure out what a good model subject will be. It’s difficult to decide since there is some information available about a lot of different kinds of boats, but not a lot on any one in particular.

The exception are boats that are the subject of Douglas Brooks’ work. The thing about those, is that they are fairly simple boat designs, but have some very fine details. So, I can build small versions of those, but they end up a bit too simple to look at. I could build them in a large scale, like 1/10, but then the details are about nail positions, tenons, mortises, etc., and I’m not very good at those things. I’m better at the larger details, like planks, beams, decking, and other structural details.

Two subjects I’m considering now an Amibune, which is a subject that Douglas Brooks had been studying, so I have access to measurements and some photos. The other is to model the Senzanmaru, which is a Kujirabune, a type of fast whale boat. I can make a generic Kujirabune, but it would be interesting to model the Senzanmaru itself and to paint it like the actual boat.

The Senzanmaru (千山丸) at Tokushima Castle Museum.

I’ve been studying the design of this boat through a book and drawings I purchased from a museum shop in Toba, Japan. Some of the small details I’m still not sure I understand. I could do a smaller scale model, which would overlook some of those details, but I’m tempted to do something large enough, maybe as large as 1/10 scale, that would allow me to try to make an impressive looking model, complete with colorful painting and banners.

For the next couple weeks, at least, I’ll probably continue to gather info on the Senzanmaru and Kujirabune and Amibune, until I find I have enough to do a reasonable build.

In the meantime, I got my Japanese boat models back from the last display in Japantown and have some minor repair work to do. I also have my Kamakura period Umibune back now and can continue working on it. I did managed to finish some important detail on the roof of the main deckhouse, but there are a number of other details I’ll be adding. I’ll write more about that on my wasen modeler site.

Finally, I never sent my article in to Ships in Scale on the building of the paper model of the HMS Alert. I’ll give it another read-through, but last time, I thought I should write a section on paper modeling in general. We’ll see how it feels when I re-read it. If it feels okay, I’ll just go ahead and mail it in, and maybe it will show up in the magazine by the end of the year or early next year. Ω


Changes to this Site

My apologies to those who follow this blog site or make periodic visits. You’re probably wondering why everything is so screwey. Things keep moving, titles keep changing, menus are all different or missing…

Well, I decided that it’s time to do some reorganizing and Spring cleaning. Part of this was prompted by the need to add a new menu so that I could separate any non-ship model related work, like the Shinmei-zukuri shrine kit I recently started to build. Plus, there are 3 other non-ship model kits in the closet and one completed castle I wrote about a couple years ago.

Also, I discovered that there have been some problems with this site, again brought to light when I started that shrine model kit. For some reason, it was showing up in my ship modeling news, even though I specifically have it categorized as a non-ship model. There are other issues that I’m starting to butt up against with this WordPress site. Though I have to say that this system has really made it relatively easy to manage a website like this.

Obviously, I still have some studying to do to better understand all the functions, but I’m very happy with it. I’ve been using the free version too, but I think that’s going to have to change so I can get some help from the WordPress staff on some issues. They helped me on another site I work on and they were a great help. As a bonus, the occasional unrelated ads that you see here should also disappear.

In any case, please bear with me as I do some reorganizing here. If you want to provide any feedback on the site and its organization, please feel free. Let me know what you think. Just use the comments feature on any page to send your thoughts. They won’t appear on the site, but I’ll get them.

Thank you!

New Japanese Models Distraction

This week was like Christmas here, as a shipment of Japanese wooden model kits arrived from Zootoyz, my recommended Japanese online hobby dealer. Four model kits came, and none of them are ship model kits. I decided I needed some nice gift ideas, so I found a number of Woody Joe kits that I can build and present as gifts to my Japanese music teacher, and my family and friends.

I have a lot of ship modeling projects to work on, so I don’t expect to spend a lot of time working on these right away. But, half of these are very simple mini-architectural kits that Woody Joe lists as taking about 8 hours to complete. Perfect for a small weekend distraction!

Teahouse Mini-Architecture Kit

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Friday the 13th of January – A Late Christmas Day

Not meaning to be blasphemous here! Just that Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day for some, but has traditionally been a good day for me. In fact, I got three new goodies in the mail that day, all ship modeling related, of course!

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Finishing Up the Year

My Japan trip and the NRG conference have together taken about 2 months of my time this year, what with the events themselves, plus all the planning, re-planning, and preparations. So, with the trip and the conference behind me, it’s now time to look at where I’m at on everything.

Higaki Kaisen Article

The first thing I needed to get back to is my article on building Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen kit that I’m working on for Seaways’ Ships in Scale. I just went through and made a set of additions and corrections that I’ve been working on. And today, I’ve finished working out what photos I’m including and my recommended placement within the article. I don’t know where they’ll actually appear – that’s up to the editors. But, I can make suggestions.

I still have to write my captions for them, but that’s about it. Then, I’ll make one last set of formatting corrections – I’m told that foreign words should be italicized. I’ve been reluctant to do that because when you’re writing about a model of a Japanese ship manufactured by a Japanese model manufacturer, that’s an awful lot of italicized words. To me, it’s a bit distracting. We’ll see what happens when I get to that final stage.

One thing I didn’t do this time around is to add a bunch of phonetic pronunciation the way I did with past articles. It seemed too much this time. But, after talking with people at the NRG Conference and hearing some people struggle with pronunciation, maybe I’ll include some of the words phonetically spelled out in table form.

HMS Alert Article

My next writing project really should be a write up on building the paper model kit of the cutter HMS Alert. I was reminded of the potential interest in this at the NRG Conference. One very experienced ship modeler that I have a lot of respect for had enthusiastically pointed out my model to others. He has expressed an interest in building the model himself, which is the best complement on my model that I can think of.

The Nautical Research Journal also just included an article on the building of a Dutch ship from paper, and I know that was because of the editor’s interest in the subject.

I’m not sure if I’ll target an article for the Journal or for Ships in Scale yet. If I do something simple, it would be nice to have another article in the Journal. But, seeing as how I’d really like to see more people building these wonderful kits from Poland, I have an interest in Ships in Scales larger circulation.

Hacchoro Build Article

The final article in my list is one on building variants of Woody Joe’s Hacchoro kit. Having visited the two replica Hacchoro in Japan last month, I have a strong incentive to do this. It will be a bit more involved than the Alert article though, as I haven’t built a variant yet. However, I did purchase another Hacchoro kit to use, and maybe I will purchase a second one.

I will have to build them and take lots of photos if I’m going to write about them. But, the kit is very easy to build, and the modifications I’d make should be pretty straight forward.

I may not actually do anything on this until after the first of the year. Certainly, I won’t start on it until after I complete my HMS Alert article.

HMS Victory Commission

Of course, while all this is going on, I need to put most of my effort into working on the HMS Victory. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably seen this brought up from time to time. I’m now at the stage where I’m trying to finish up the planking using boxwood that I milled from a large board I purchased a couple years ago.

The gun ports gave me a run for my money. But, I finished those months ago and have been planking ever since. I’ve now planked around the upper and middle gun decks and hope to finish planking around the lower gun deck this weekend. Then, once I get down to the waterline, it will be smooth sailing, as the hull will be coppered below.

I’m really looking forward to getting the planking done, so I can finish the stern galleries. Then, once I get the headrails done and the bottom coppered, I can mount the hull, at least temporarily, and focus on the upper works, get the guns mounted on the upper gun deck and get the forecastle deck in place. Lots of work yet!


My side project when there’s time is to work on the Urayasu Bekabune and get a scratch model built. It’s a very simple boat, but building one from scratch is a whole new experience for me. I took my work in progress to the NRG conference, where I showed people what I’m doing with it. But, it would be nice to be able to add that to one of my Japanese boat models displays in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Last week, I was in Berkeley and stopped in at the Japanese tool store Hida Tools. I’ve been wanting to expand my selection of small carving chisels and bought three of them. I can only afford the cheapest ones, which are actually pretty nice and just under $8 each.

Japanese Boat Models Display

Speaking of which, the next scheduled display runs from November 1 through November 30. Because I have so much going on right now, I will probably only include the same models as last time. I might not even include the Japanese boat workshop, since I took the boat out of it to work on. I wanted to make some new folding stands so I can increase the number of models displayed and also be able to carry everything in my car in one trip. But, we’ll have to see how that goes as the display starts in just over 2 weeks.

I’d planned to print up some announcement cards like I did last time. But, being so close after the NRG Conference and all, I think I’ll scrap that idea and just get the display up. Maybe next time, I’ll get more elaborate with the set up and the announcements.

So, that’s it for now. Stay tuned to find out what changes and what I end up working on instead! Ω

Speaking at the 2016 NRG Conference

Having been involved in Ship Modeling for more than 20 years, I’ve been a big admirer of the Nautical Research Guild and the work of its impressive membership. There have been so many great modelers involved in the Guild, I feel honored to be speaking together in a combined talk with boatbuilder Douglas Brooks at the opening talk of this year’s conference in San Diego. Douglas Brooks will be reprising his talk at last year’s conference on Japanese Wooden Boatbuilding, while I’ll be adding the element of modeling them.


Douglas Brooks speaking at the 2015 NRG Conference in Mystic, CT.

Granted, my portion of the talk will the shorter segment. In the 15 minutes or so that I’ll have, I’ll only be able to scratch the surface of the subject, mostly talking about resources available to those who are interested in building a traditional Japanese boat. Pretty much, just enough to give folks a nudge toward attempting one.

The other part of my participation at the conference came as something of a surprise as I was told just last month that I was scheduled to do one of the round table sessions. These are 20-minute sessions that takes place simultaneously with 4 other sessions. People attend the session of their choice, and after 20 minutes, people then switch to another table. So, basically, I have a 20-minute demo, repeated a total of 4 times (with one 20-minute break).

Having no idea what I was expected to do, I’d considered a couple possibilities. The first thing that actually came to mind that I thought would work out, was to demo some of the details of paper modeling. Having completed only 1 paper model made it seem a bit odd, but I don’t think anyone else has done it, and I actually did have some interesting techniques to show.

But, talking with Kurt Van Dahm, the NRG Chairman, and others, it seemed that the idea was to give me more time to talk about modeling Japanese boats. So, I’ll be talking a mix of building Japanese kits and building from scratch. It seems a bit odd to me, as talking about kits seems a bit like a sales pitch. The only thing preventing it from being a complete conflict of interest, seeing as how I’ve done some work for Ages of Sail, is that Ages of Sail doesn’t currently carry any of the kits I’ll be talking about. And, my most highly recommended kit, the Tosa Wasen, will only be available direct from the manufacturer.

Bekabune model gifted to me from the Urayasu Museum.

Bekabune model given to me by the curator of the Urayasu Museum.

In any case, I’ll bring my in-progress Urayasu Bekabune models and a small supply of Japanese woods for people to sample themselves, giving them a chance to sand, cut and bend them. Show a couple in-progress kits, talk about how to read the Japanese language plans, etc. A 20-minute discussion should go by pretty quick, then repeat it three more times.

I really hope it won’t end up being the lamest NRG round table discussion in history, and people will find it interesting and useful. Wish me luck!

Japanese Boats Display in Japantown (v 4.0)

Last week, I spent an entire afternoon in San Francisco setting up my latest display of models of Japanese traditional boats in the Japan Center Mall in San Francisco. This is the largest display I’ve done, which is now up to 5 models. It’s probably about as large as it will get as I can’t imagine that I can possibly cram any more into my car. And, given that I live about an hour’s drive outside the city (or two hours in bad traffic), I’m not likely going to be making two trips to set it up. But, the size is actually pretty good now.

Since I’m doing some fundraising to go to Japan this Fall to do some more first-hand research on Japanese watercraft (don’t forget to check out my gofundme page), I’m taking the opportunity to really get some attention for this display. As with those people involved in the fine arts, I’ve made up an announcement card that I’m having printed up that I will be sending to various friends and people that  I think will be interested in it and possibly interested in helping me out (as well as those who have already done so). In addition, I’ve made a simple email announcement photo that I’ve been sending to people.

Announcement Emailer L plus

My email announcement card

If you’re already familiar with the last couple displays, you will see two new models added, a simple Japanese traditional boat shop display and the Tosa wasen model. Both are a nice, big 1/10 scale, so the details are better for a window display like this.


The 1/10-scale Tosa Wasen is the newest boat model added to the display.


This is my simple model of an Urayasu boat workshop, showing some of the aspects of traditional Japanese boatbuilding. Under construction is a Bekabune, a seaweed gathering boat that was once used on Tokyo Bay. The model still needs a few additions – a work in progress.


The Hacchoro and the Urayasu boat workshop with their scale boatmen silhouettes. The Hacchoro is one of the boats I will be focussing my attention on while researching in Japan this Fall.

You may notice in that display window photos that I’ve created little silhouette boatmen to provide scale reference for each model. This was a last minute effort, though I’ve been thinking about it for months. I finally sat down and scoured the Internet and found photos of boatmen dressed in traditional outfits on someone’s blog photos. I took the best one and did some Photoshop work to turn him into a silhouette, which I scaled to the needed sizes, printed them, and mounted them on cardboard.

There are, of course, things to do differently next time, which I’ve already noted. The boat workshop display should probably be on some kind of a riser, like the other models, there is enough room to put up another large, hanging photo board, and there’s room for at least one more model, using the tall stand I introduced in this display. I suppose I could consider staggering them a little too.

That tall stand, by the way, is actually a better stand for me to use because it’s simple two boards hinged together. This makes them foldable and they take up a lot less space in my car. I’m seriously thinking about replacing the box pedestals on the other models with short folding stands, which would allow me to carry more stuff in my car. And, actually, if I build models without sails, I might be able to fit one or two more in that car. Of course, that means building more models and I’m pretty far behind on other projects as it is. We’ll see… Ω


Speaking at the Northern California Japanese Sword Club

On Sunday, June 19th, I was at the monthly meeting of the Northern California Japanese Sword Club as a guest speaker, talking about Japanese boats, their construction and history. Their meetings take place at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, which is located in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Now, I’m not a particularly comfortable speaker, but it’s something I’d like to be better at doing, and this seemed like a really good opportunity. Now, I’m no expert on the topic of Japanese boats, and even less so on their history. But, the subject is one that I’m very interested in, and have been spending a lot of time actively studying  this past year, so I wasn’t totally unprepared for it.

The speaking engagement came about as a direct result of my Japanese boat models displays that I set up in the window of the Union Bank Community Room in the Japan Center Mall. Their member who organizes the themes for each meeting saw the display and thought the club members would enjoy a talk on the subject.

In all honesty, I was a bit worried about what I could talk about that a group of sword collectors would want to hear about. My knowledge of Japanese history is limited, particularly about the early use of boats by warring armies or about the warships of the Sengoku period. But, I agreed to do it, with assurances from Tom that the group would enjoy the talk regardless.

I ended up delaying my participation for a bit to brush up on my Japanese history and did some intensive study on the development of Japanese boats. Most of the available material was in Japanese, so it took a bit of an effort. But, I managed a basic level of competency in the subject.

In the end, the talk went swimmingly, and I really had a great time talking to the club about Japanese boats. I started off by talking about the four models I brought and then using that to lead into how boats developed over time, how they were constructed, talked about how they were used in battle and about purpose-built war vessels.

It helped that I was really familiar with the meeting place, having met there on many occasions with my shamisen teach, who also happened to be in the room next door giving lessons, which we could hear during the meeting.

But, most importantly, the members of this group were some of the nicest people I’ve met. They were a very receptive, very appreciative, and a very supportive group. I couldn’t have asked for a better audience!

I can’t imagine how the next talk I give could go any better than this one, but at least I’m better prepared for it now. Ω

Tenso, Another Way to Order Products from Japan

There are a lot of Japanese products that are hard to obtain in the U.S. or elsewhere. Sometimes, you can find these items listed on Ebay or Amazon, but often you’re being charged a premium by sellers who figure that you aren’t willing or don’t know of other ways to obtain the goods.

In some cases, there may be international sellers with sites in English or whatever language you need. But, here’s an alternative service that lets you buy from Japan, even if the seller doesn’t ship overseas. The service is and it’s primarily a shipping agent that provides you with a Japanese address. Anything shipped to that address will be forwarded to you for the cost of shipping, plus a small fee. There is no charge to set up the account. You are only charged when you use it. This is also a great way to save money if you order from multiple sellers, as Tenso can hold your shipment for you for up to 30 days, and then send all your purchases at one time.

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 9.37.14 PM

I set up an account for myself, but haven’t had a chance to use it yet. I had ordered something on, the Japanese Amazon site, and the seller didn’t ship internationally. At the time, I asked a friend in Japan to forward the item to me. But, I don’t want to burden him with future purchases, so I’ll try using Tenso in the future.

New Shopping Service Too

Recently, Tenso teamed up with a service called This provides access to some large online sellers including Amazon Japan, an online store called Rakuten, Yahoo! Japan auctions, and more. So now, you can sign onto your Tenso account and shop these sites in English (I haven’t explored availability of other languages) and purchases will be sent right to Tenso to forward to you. This means that you have direct and easy access to tons of Japanese products that you would otherwise have to read Japanese to be able to order.

There is little or no fee charged by, but for a small fee, they can provide optional insurance and/or inspection service to make sure the item from the seller is in good condition before Tenso ships it to you. Probably not a bad idea and not very expensive for the extra service.

Those of you looking for Woody Joe kits or products from other Japanese manufacturers, this is a safe and easy way to shop, and you’ll be free from Ebay and price gougers. Note that (Amazon Japan) is about as bad as when it comes to price gougers, so be mindful of retail pricing. But, prices on Rakuten look pretty normal though.

Trying it Out

I thought I’d give the service a shot and I shopped on Rakuten for some inexpensive music books that I could use (I play Japanese shamisen). I wasn’t specifically looking for these. I just browsed using the categories provided on the website until I found something I could use.

The purchase was pretty easy. I noticed for these particular items there was a small Buyee fee until I added a few items, at which point, the fee dropped to zero. I don’t recall the exact circumstances, and I only bought about $30 worth of product, so I clearly didn’t have to deal with a large minimum purchase or large fees.

A couple days after the purchase, I received notification that the items arrived at the service and were ready to ship. I didn’t try adding multiple purchases and everything went through the Buyee interface and not my Tenso account interface, though I’m led to believe the services work together somehow.

I gave the go-ahead to ship the items using an express service called EMS, though you have an option to ship by other options including surface mail. In this case, the items were small, so there was little advantage in choosing slower surface shipping.

In a few short days, my order arrived in great condition!


EMS is delivered by USPS and requires a signature – something I’m accustomed to whenever I order anything from Japan. I’m often not home when a delivery attempt is made and I usually just drive to the post office the next morning to get my stuff.

One thing I will comment about shipping via EMS. I’m amazed at how simply packages can be wrapped and arrive with no damage whatsoever. I ordered the Tosa Wasen kit from Japan, which comes in a fairly long and flat box. The only protection it had was that it was in one layer of bubblewrap and it was perfectly intact – not bent, crushed, or dented. Even the US Postal Service seems to take extra care with EMS shipments, though I may just luck out being so close to the International point of entry.

I’d love to hear what others have experience with EMS shipping.

In any case, the Tenso/Buyee experience was very good. I hope reading this makes it easier for you to purchase something you want from Japan. Ω