Category Archives: Shop Notes

UV Light to Spot Glue Smears

Here’s something that I’ve found really useful that was posted on ModelShipWorld recently by a ship modeler that goes by the screen name “bridgman”. But, as he pointed out, the original tip was published in the May/April 2022 edition of Fine Woodworking magazine.

Turns out that you can easily spot smudges of wood glue, such as Titebond, by using an inexpensive UV flashlight. I happened to get a little UV penlight flashlight in a UV cure glue set I bought off of Amazon earlier in the year for around $20, so I tried it out on Titebond and Elmer’s yellow carpenter’s glue, and it works, sure enough!

As an illustration, I looked one of my Japanese boat models. Now, there is a suspicious spot on the side of the hull, visible in normal light. It’s actually not that noticeable. But what if I went to apply a wood finish? If there’s glue there at that spot, it’s going to block any finish from penetrating into the wood.

Now, under UV light, the glue shows up very clearly. But, also notice where I placed the red arrow, that there’s another small spot that I didn’t notice before, and is pretty much invisible in normal lighting.

So, it turns out this little UV flashlight that just uses a pair of AAA batteries is going to get a lot more use than curing glue. It even has an adjustable focus beam.

I can’t say I won’t have any more glue spots on my model. But, at least I have a fighting chance to get rid of them all now! Ω

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

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Improving Basic Details – Wayward Blocks

This is really more for beginning ship modelers. Experienced ship modelers, and probably most beginners too already understand the way a standard rigging block works. It’s basically just a wooden block with a pulley, or sheave, inside a slot. There are different sizes and types, and there are single, double, and triple blocks, and just about ever wooden ship model needs at least some number of blocks.

Standard Amati single-sheave walnut blocks

There is one mistake I occasionally see regarding blocks. To me, it’s such an obvious error that it detracts from the entire build. But, the thing is, after a modeler completes so much work on the hull, deck details, masts, and all, I really don’t want to point out the error. So, I figured it might be best to just mention it here.

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Preventing Glue Spills

Last week, I got fed up with knocking over little bottles of CA glue and finally tried to do something about it.

I’ve been using these small 1/2 oz. bottles of BSI brand cyanoacrylate glue (i.e. super glue), and I’ve found that they are very easy to knock over. It wouldn’t be so bad, except that I find the vapor inside the bottles seem to be very sensitive to heat, and expand easily when warmed. If left open, the resulting pressure increase manages to push the glue out and into a puddle on the workbench.

One thing I started to do was to keep the glues in the base of a small compartmentalized parts box. This works, but you have to keep the parts box nearby at all times when using the glue.

Recently, I left a bottle out on the bench and didn’t realize that I’d knocked it over. When I noticed it, it was too late and there was a hard puddle of thick CA glue on the bench top. So, I thought I’d try something different. I cut some small rectangles of some acrylic I had on hand and used some 3M double-sided tape to stick them onto the bottoms of the glue bottles.

You can see in the above photo that I can tip by the bottle a ways now without it knocking over. Of course, if I do manage to knock it over, the bottle will be tipped down at an angle, so that might empty the bottle completely. Still, I’m willing to risk that, as any glue spills are bad and I’m hoping this will help in eliminating them.

If you have any better ideas, please let me know. Ω


Scale Conversion Chart Updated

Because I’ve been studying small Japanese watercraft, and Japanese boat builders often model their work in 1/10 or 1/15-scale, I’ve decided to update my conversion chart to include these. I included 1/30-scale just because I was looking at a drawing at that scale yesterday and needed to convert it anyway, so I added the scale to my list. Also, realizing that there are kits in 1/100-scale, I added it too, though I already have 1/98, which is awfully close. But, I figure ship modelers pretty well want exact measurements…

Copy Scale Chart (rev. D) 

I’ve had to narrow down the columns just a tad, so the chart is getting a little tighter. However, the font sizes haven’t changed and it will still fit on one sheet of standard letter-sized paper.

Please distribute as needed. All that I ask is that you leave the annotations on it, including the creator’s name (me!). This file is also updated in the SHOP NOTES submenu under RESOURCES. Ω


Simple Planking Clamp from Binder Clips

Binder clips are those handly, spring-steel clips used to hold many pages of paper tightly together. They come in different sizes and for many years I have found them extremely useful as strong clamps.


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Tired of X-Acto Knives? Try a Scalpel

I’ve seen scalpels recommended by ship modelers before, but never really thought to try one until recently. Yes, a scalpel – that scary knife used by surgeons that want to cut you open. It was recommended to me in particular when dealing with paper modeling because scalpel blades are thinner than X-Acto type blades.


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3-D Printed Ship’s Wheel for HMS Victory

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.

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.

Cannons and Carriages – Added Details

In my last post, I wrote about the cannons and carriages I purchased from The Lumberyard for use on the Colonial Schooner Independence. Since then, I’ve assembled a whole new set of carriages and added a number of details in the process. Specifically, I’ve added the carriage bolts, trunnion locks, ringbolts, eye bolts, and various other bolts, added quoins (the blocks used to hold the cannon in proper elevation, and axle pins.

The job isn’t perfect, but it was my first attempt at detailing gun carriages, and for this model, I think they’ll work out rather well.



All the additions were hand made with the exception of the handle for the quoin block, which is simply a small belaying pin – BlueJacket part number 119. I left it bright brass figuring that it will tarnish soon enough, turning a yellowish-brown.

The trunnion locks were made from brass strip, but everything else was made from steel wire or steel pins. The ringbolts were made from 24 gauge black annealed steel wire.

If you recall a few posts back, I discovered a product called Stainless Steel Black from a company called Caswell. Well, this stuff worked great on all the metal parts shown here, though I used BlueJacket’s Pewter Black metal toner for the cannon barrel, though I did then coat it with Caswell’s sealer that came with my stainless steel blackening product.

The axles were a bit tricky to drill out for the pins, but it just took some care and the using up of one of the spare carriages.

A few months back, on the recommendation of a fellow ship modeler (a VERY good one) I bought one of those cheap mini drill presses that showed up en masse on the Internet about a year ago – the green ones with the variable speed dial and imported from China that retail for under $70. Works very well, I must say, and I used this with a #73 drill to make the holes in the axles.


Anyway, it took quite a number of hours to do all the work on the cannons. It kind of surprised me at how long it took to do the work, but it shouldn’t. Lots of steps, but they came out looking pretty nice – Even more so when they’re on the deck of the ship.