Category Archives: USS Saginaw Build

The USS Saginaw project is a scratch build of a schooner-rigged paddlewheel warship. Built in 1859, she was the first ship built at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The plank on solid hull model is based on plans from the US National Archives.

Custom Laser Cut Parts – Part I

After much struggles with trying to make some perfectly circular rings for the paddlewheels on my USS Saginaw model, I’m about to try my last resort, custom laser cutting. So, a few months back, I found a company in Nevada that seemed like they might be reasonably priced, and this week I finally broke down to give them a try.

The company is called Pololu ( and they’re located in Las Vegas, Nevada. They actually specialize in robotics and electronics supplies, but they also offer a custom laser cutting service.

I always assumed that such services would be outrageously expensive, but when their website suggested that you can get started with making custom laser-cut parts for only $25, that was enough to get me interested.

There are various requirements and restrictions regarding their laser cutting service. First, there is the art work. They can create artwork for you if you provide sketches, but for something as exacting as shipmodeling, you’re probably going to have to provide the artwork yourself. Fortunately for me, they take not only AutoCAD files, they also take Adobe Illustrator files. Having some past experience with Illustrator, I’ll be seeing how well I can draw up the parts I might need.

Another requirement is that while they can laser cut all kinds of wood and plastics, in terms of metals, they can only cut stainless steel. I was hoping to cut brass, but I’ll give steel a shot. If I’m attaching the rings to wooden spokes, I might be able to use CA. I’m not sure, but I’m willing to give it a try.

I made the artwork and I decided to try adding some fine holes so that I can run pins through the steel and into the wooden spokes to help hold them firmly. It’s all experimental right now, so we’ll just have to see what happens.


I did send the artwork today and they had a problem and asked me to save the file down to Illustrator CS5 (I’m using Illustrator CC, which is the next version after CS6). An email from the guy at Pololu today confirmed that the file looks good and I should expect a quote in the next day or two.

Nice Steam-Sail Model

gIMG_4101 small

A newly discovered opportunity has gotten me looking at my Kanrin Maru build again (more on that later). So, I was surfing the internet for some information on similar ships and I ran across this amazing model of a Russian, bark-rigged screw steamer that was built around the same time as the Kanrin Maru.

The photos are on a website that hosts a LOT of very nice, very detailed photos of the model. Naturally, I decided to download them all, just in case the site goes away. Hopefully, it will be up and running for a long time to come and these photos will stay available.

The details on the model are truly inspiring and I can only hope to achieve some level of that detail on my Kanrin Maru or my planned USS Saginaw. Anyway, you’ll see what I mean when you check it out. Look for the links to the high resolution photos:

Researching USS Saginaw


My main personal ship modeling project is the U.S.S. Saginaw, a side paddlewheel gunboat launched at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1859, making her the first ship built at Mare Island and the first warship built on the west coast of the United States. She was also the last paddlewheeler to be built prior to the start of the Civil War.

The model is being built at a scale of 1/8″ = 1′ (1:96) using plank on solid hull construction. With the hull lifts made from basswood, the keel from beech, hull planking from holly and the deck planking from boxwood.

This is the first of two planned models of the Saginaw, with this model being a prototype to help me work out the design issues since there are many unknowns regarding the ship and its type. A larger version, probably 3/16″ = 1′ scale (1:64) will follow, either of similar construction of possibly plank-on-bulkhead construction if I end up building it at the larger scale of 1/4″ = 1′ (1:48), which is more of a museum standard scale, but will make it twice as big as the current model.

The hope is that the larger model will have a home, at least on loan, to the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum. Possibly, when the smaller version is done, it will be at the museum until the larger version is done. But, with big delays, I’ve been working on this for about a year now and I don’t know if the museum’s plans may have changed in the meantime. I’m trying to keep the museum’s director, Jim Kern, informed of the progress. So, hopefully, the museum will still be an option.

Saginaw sail plan

This project has required more research than I’ve ever done, even more than what I’d done on the pilot boat Mary Taylor, which I considered to be fairly extensive. To begin with, the plans of the Saginaw were obtained from the U.S. National Archives through a company called Maryland Silver Company, which makes available a number of ship plans from the National Archives.

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 11.56.21 AM

The second most valuable item was finding the book A Civil War Gunboat in Pacific Waters: Life on  Board USS Saginaw, by Hans Konrad Van Tilburg, who led the team which surveyed the wreckage of the ship in the waters of the Kure Atoll – I’ll talk more about this gentleman later as he has been very supportive and helpful and has provided me with a large amount of his original research material. This book brings together pretty much all that is know about the Saginaw into one volume. And, what’s not mentioned I can search for using the book’s extensive bibliography.

Screen Shot 2013-03-14 at 12.00.06 PM

The third item is the book The Last Cruise of the USS Saginaw by George H. Reed, passed assistant paymaster and one of the survivors of the wreck of the Saginaw. This narrative is one of the primary research sources used for Mr. Van Tilburg’s book, but it was important to see the actual text to glean what little details I could.

The fourth item is an article published in the Nautical Research Journal, vol 45, no. 3, titled Nineteenth Century Building Instructions, U.S.S. Saginaw, by J.R. McCleary. This gave an analysis of construction details and included a transcript of a letter from the Navy Department’s Bureau of Construction dated July 10, 1858. The article includes an overview of the Saginaw’s life and of her loss in 1870, and shows some surviving artifacts including the Saginaw’s gig.

There were other information sources, but these were the ones that proved to be the most valuable.

The model itself is progressing, but only slowly right now since most of my time is being spent on a commissioned project. When that’s done, by middle of April or so, I’ll be able to turn my attentions back to the Saginaw.


The hull here is just about 20″ long.