Tag Archives: Ship Model

AL’s Independence – Swivel Guns

It occurred to me that I haven’t been posting enough about my own traditional western-style model ships what with my Japanese boat models and now the Japanese shrine build. Also, as I’d been in something of a slump due to project overload, I thought it might help me move forward by writing some more project updates.

Though I’ve written plenty about the cannons on my model, I don’t think I’ve said anything about the swivel guns. Clearly, I’ve replaced everything else from the original kit, and the swivel guns are no exception. I’ve being going back and forth on the scale of this model, and for the person I’m building this for, I don’t think the exact scale really matters. For the swivel guns, I ended up going with the 1/48-scale turned brass swivel guns sold by Syren Ship Model Company.

AL kit barrels in brass. Lumberyard replacements in pewter.

Continue reading

AL’s Independence – Completing the Rigging

I’ve been working on this model for a long time now, and recently, I’ve been trying to focus on finishing her up. I don’t have too much to say about the model at this stage, except that it’s a lot easier to follow someone else’s rigging plan than trying to work it out from scratch, or even modifying someone else’s plan.

Colonial Schooner Independence nearly complete. Apologies for the ad hoc backdrop that needs ironing.

Continue reading

USS Susquehanna, 1847 by Gilbert McArdle

I heard some rumor about this book a while back, but had forgotten about it at some point. I had no idea it was already in print until I started looking up details about Seawatch Books recent released of the revised Swan IV book and supplement. Stumbled upon this one totally by accident and I’m really excited because this is a subject that I have been considering for quite some time. It’s also related to some other subjects I’ve been interested in.


Susquehanna was one of the ships of the Perry Expedition to Japan and China in 1853-54. She was a side-paddlewheel ship termed a Steam Frigate and was built at the same time (though in different location) as the side-paddlwheeler Powhatan, which was also part of the Perry Expedition. The Susquehanna and the Powhatan are sometimes referred to as sister ships, but the Susquehanna is the slightly smaller of the two.

My real interest is in the Powhatan, but the Susquehanna should be close enough to teach me a few things about the construction of these ships. The book is $70 plus shipping from Seawatch Books. I’ve ordered mine and look forward to reading through Gib McArdle’s work.


The Last of the Big RC Tall Ship Model Kits

Just this morning, someone mentioned something about a large ship model kit that was being produced in California. But, it wasn’t just large, it was huge – An 8′ long R/C model of HMS Surprise (Patrick O’Brien fans take note). So, I did some poking around on the Internet and found the company.

S.5.lengthWLThe company is called Steel, Chapman & Hutchinson Ltd, and it appears that they produce what they refer to as complete kits that include everything needed to build and sail them including servos and fittings and a launching cart. You just need a 4 channel transmitter and receiver. These are very large 1:24-scale (1/2″ = 1) models of sailing ships. They have three different models, the HMS Surprise, a Cruiser-class Brig, and the American privateer Prince de Neufchâtel. When rigged, the smallest of these is about 7′ long and 6′ high, and prices start at $2,875 plus shipping.

Now the bad news…

Now that I’ve discovered these kits, I read further through the company’s website, and it turns out that they’re stopping production. I don’t know the details. As of their last website update, which was in the Summer 2014, they had 7 HMS Surprise kits and 4 each of the HMS Cruiser and Prince de Neufchâtels. I’ll be contacting them shortly to find out what’s left. Not that I can buy one before they sell out, but just to know.



Of course, this may just provide some of us with enough inspiration to build a monster sailing model from scratch…

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: http://www.modelships.de/Strelok/Russian-screw-clipper-Strelok.htm

Higaki Kaisen model completed

After a few marathon ship modeling sessions over the past week or two the Higaki Kaisen model is done. Well, more or less. I got through the last of the construction steps, but still have a little cleanup left to do and tying off of some odds and ends.




Today, I finished the task of the name banner that flies at the stern. This a traditional style Japanese banner called a “nobori”. This one consists of a flag pole with a cross pole at the top. The banner has loops of cloth along one edge and across the top that fit the poles. The includes cloth for making the banner, but you’re supposed to write the ship’s name on it. Since I can’t write kanji, I resorted to printing the name onto paper using my computer.

For this ship, I chose to use the name Kakehashi (kah-keh-ha-shi), which is means bridge or connection. In this case, the model is something of a bridge between my interest in ship modeling and my interest in my Japanese heritage. Actually, the full name of the ship is the Kakehashi Maru – Maru is a suffix that is used for ship names.




This is definitely not the kind of model that gets easier as one gets near the end. Rigging the sail was quite a challenge with 38 lines tied to it’s edges. What you might call the sheets consist of 13 ropes tied to the foot of the sail with the other ends tied to a heavy rope that runs between the bulwarks railing. I had quite a time adjusting these lines to get the sail shaped the way I wanted. In the end, after I got the lines all about equally tensioned, I realized I wasn’t all that happy with the shape the sail had taken on. But, with so many ropes and knots, I just adjusted the sail as best I could. The next day, I looked at the model with fresh perspective and was much happier with the sail.




One of the last things on the model is the adding of the copper capping. Copper caps cover the end up many of the beams. At the stern, small copper strips simulate the nail covers. So much copper is added at the stern, that this section appears quite ornate. I ended up using contact cement to fix these into place. It’s a little messy, but seems to clean up fairly easily. Also, used properly, you have a little time to adjust the pieces after they are laid into place. But, be careful of the brand you use. Read the directions as some are specifically not to be used with copper.




Other finishing touches included the anchors, the stay on the mast and all its details.









There are still a couple things that I may yet add to this model. Often, ladders have been used on the main decks of the replica bezaisen to climb up on the main cabin roof deck without having to go inside the cabin, and the same for the forward deck house or Kappa (cop-pah). Also, these ships traditionally carried a small boat called a Tenma-Bune (ten-mah-boo-ney) which was used for going to and from shore or other ships. I’d like to scratch build one and add it to my Higaki Kaisen model, but we’ll have to see if my understanding of the construction of these Japanese wasen is up to the task.



This has been a very different, very interesting, and extremely fun build. Woody Joe kits might seem a little pricey in the US, particularly for the small size of this model in particular. But, in the end, I think it’s been a great value. I’ve learned something about traditional Japanese ships and the model has been a great challenge.

If you’re interested in the kit, there are a couple things you may find of interest. One is that there are a lot more Amazon sellers listing this kit, though they are almost all in Japan. But, I no longer see the price gouging attempts on Ebay and Amazon that I once did. My personal recommended seller does not have an Amazon store, but is, of course Zootoyz. And if you do buy from Morikawa-san, please tell him I sent you.

But, another interesting turn of events is an importer that is reportedly bringing several Woody Joe kits to market in the US, primarily through Amazon, but with instructions he’s had translated into English. I don’t know what they’ll end up charging for the kits, but it will probably be more than what you would pay for the kits directly from Japan. Of course, with the kits from Japan, you’ll have to deal with Japanese language instructions. But, as I mentioned before, the instructions are very well illustrated. For the Higaki Kaisen, there is of course this blog, but also my plan is to write up a multi-part article for Ships in Scale magazine that should take the guess work out of the Japanese language instructions.

So, stay tuned, Higaki Kaisen fans. There should be more to come!

AL’s Independence – Hull Details


It was nice to get the channels done. This was much easier and a nice change from having to bend a lot of wood. Nothing too special to note here. I pretty well went with the dimensions shown on the plans, except that in my experience with previous AL kits, the deadeye lanyard often would run against the caprail. So, I made the channels just about 1/16″ wider, which I think actually look pretty good on the model.


I notched the channels for the deadeye strops, which I’ll probably need to widen later. Once the deadeyes are in place, I’ll then add the outer molding to the edge, locking the strops into place. To reinforce the channels, I used a #76 drill and cut some stainless steel straight pins and fit them in, drilling corresponding holes in the hull. These are extremely strong, but have a little flexibility, so I can trust the channels not to pop loose.


I also decided to go ahead and install the catheads. For this, I cut some boxwood to 3/16″ square cross section and made new ones instead of using the ones in the kit. Unlike the ones in the kit, which stick out of the deck and go over the top of the bulwarks, I decided to make mine more like those shown on Harold Hahn’s plans of the Halifax, which lay flat on the deck, but are tapered on the bottom edge so that they pass through the bulwarks and come out with a bit of upward tilt. Of course, before I installed them, I drilled the sheave holes. I considered drilling them out completely and installing actual sheaves, but I decided to keep it simple here.

The underside of the catheads were drilled out as was the deck. An 1/8″ long piece of wood was inserted into the deck which the catheads fit over. This gives the glue something to bight onto to hold them better and keep them from easily popping loose.


Note that you can see I’ve been working a bit on the spars too. The lower masts are cut to length and I install them temporarily at times to get a better feel for the model. The bowsprit, is also temporarily installed, but cut to length and the base is shaped to fit into the opening in the deck and to rest nicely against an interior bulkhead.

I’m using simple birch dowels for the spars instead of the kit wood. This allows me to mess something up without having to worry about having mismatched materials or having to try to get replacements from the manufacturer or distributors. The color of the bowsprit is from Dark Maple Wood Dye that I’ve been experimenting with.

AL’s Independence – New Transom, Part 2

Finishing up the transom work for now…

Once dry, the pear wood strip I shaped for the transom held its shape mostly, but I had to do a lot of cutting and shaping to fit the other curve, the curvature across the face of the transom, and by the time I was into that, the piece had started to lose some of the bending I had done. I ended up cutting into three separate pieces: A top piece and two side pieces. I attached the top piece first and then it was a bit easier to add the side pieces after. It was all still a bit of a struggle to deal with all the curves and trying to clamp the wood into place while the glue dried.


The other addition was a pair of knees I made and installed against the transom. I don’t remember if there is a particular term for these. They just are what they are…


Unlike the rest of the bulwarks, since the inner side planking of the transom kind of continues around to the sides of the hull, I had used pear wood. The rest of the bulwarks inner planking is cherry, which is redder. I didn’t really want the knees to contrast greatly with the transom, so I ended up making them from pear also. The color difference between pear and cherry is less noticeable once the wood is sealed, but here it’s still raw wood and looks pretty different from cherry. I don’t think it will be okay in the end.

AL’s Independence – A New Transom

Probably the one feature I like the least about this kit is the all-in-one cast metal transom. It’s certainly an easy way to deal with the transom and there is absolutely nothing wrong with building the kit using it if you want a decorative style model, which the AL kits are best for. But, in my case, this kit wasn’t my choice and I prefer a more authentic look, so I’m forced to scratch build the transom.

A lot of kits and plans really dress up this feature, but for a basic merchantman, I can’t help but think they the are sometimes overdone. Harold Hahn’s reconstruction of the colonial schooner Hannah has a very simple transom and so do most reconstructions of the schooner Sultana. I’m planning to keep the transom relatively plain, though I have added gallery windows similar to those on the cast metal transom. I’ve also added a few moldings and such, but I probably won’t go so far as adding carvings – I think I have enough work cut out for me on this feature.


I started by drawing up a design on a piece of 1/32″ plywood saving the wooden backing piece included in the kit, just using it as a pattern. The most time consuming part so far has been the construction of the gallery windows. I just drew up a basic design and cut out openings in the plywood piece I cut. I then planked the piece, using a single wide piece of pear wood for the band across the window area. I will later add some boxwood decoration of some kind, which will form some contrast to the pear.

Bordering the pear wood sheet, I added boxwood moldings above and below. The molding shape was formed by using a scraper that I made from an old single-edged razor blade.

Cutting the scraper was a LOT easier than I thought it would be. I’ve read about making these, but never actually tried it. In my case, I simply took a Dremel tool with a cut-off wheel and ground a  sort of a “B” shape into the edge of the razor blade and that’s all it took. Works beautifully and so easy to make. I’ll write up something more about this later.

For the window frames, I decided to use some very thin strips of white holly and built them right into the transom. This doesn’t allow me to add “glass,” but I’ve seen windows done without glass before and they looked fine, so I did the same with mine.

A added an edging piece along the bottom and started working on a cap around the top and sides. I experimented with different ways of making/bending the cap and finally settled on using a former made from scrap wood. Using the metal transom piece from the kit, I traced the shape on the block of wood, sanded it to shape and glued it to a base.


After that had dried, a piece of pear wood I prepared was soaked and carefully bent around the former and clamped in place to let dry. Later, I removed the wood and it had a nice bend that fit my transom.

More later…

Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen – More of a Challenge

The last time I wrote about my experiences with Woody Joe’s Higaki Kaisen kit, I described the issue of interpreting the Japanese instructions. The main issue there being that some steps in the instructions tell you not to glue certain parts together, and if you’re not aware of them, you’ll run into a few problems.

Well, I can tell you now that there is much more challenge beyond just watching for those key steps. I’m over 80% complete with this model and it’s been weeks since I’ve had to worry about not gluing certain pieces together. Instead, the main challenge of the ship model is cutting and aligning strip woods and laser-cut parts in the construction of the upper works of the ship.

Things slowed down quite a bit as the main effort has been with the final alignment of parts. All those earlier steps where parts were put into place now come to the test – How good a job was done on alignment of the parts in those early steps? Now parts are put into place and the you find out if they fit correctly.

Alignment Issues

In my case, there are some places where I found that parts were not quite where they should have been. In most of those cases, there was nothing terrible that stood out. However, I did end up with a gap when fitting a particular laser-cut piece into place in step 60 (out of 90). This step involved the completion of the upper works at the stern or what might be termed the poop.

Because I didn’t have everything in perfect alignment in an earlier step, I ended up with a slight gap later. This might not have been that noticeable, but I thought it best to fix the issue. There’s nothing that says you have to use the laser cut parts in the kit, so I simply took some of the scrap wood and fashioned a replacement.


An unsightly gap.


Alignment of the replacement piece.


The completed stern.


The completed stern and deck.

Not Quite According to Instructions

Another place where alignment issues came up was with the inner and outer upper walls, or bulwarks. In many ways the walls are somewhat “free floating” and don’t depend on each other too much, particularly around the main cabin. However in a later step, step 69, your supposed to fit 3mm wide stripwood pieces between them.

In my case, the separation between the walls was close enough to 3mm to work in one spot, but  the other spot where a stripwood piece was to fit, the separation was closer to 4mm. Fortunately, this didn’t affect anything significant, and I was able to use a 4mm wide strip instead.

DSC02232Different width stripwoods to make up for alignment issue.

Overall, I’d say that Just about two-thirds of the way through this kit, it kind of changes from being an assemblage of pre-cut parts, like a plastic kit, to the kinds of work you might normally expect in a wooden ship model kit. There’s a lot of cutting of stripwoods and a lot of time is spent doing a final fitting of railings, trim, etc.

Cabin Roof Configuration

Steps 64 through 67 involve the construction of the main cabin roof or quarter deck. While I cut and fit the beams into place, I decided to hold off on gluing them in or planking until I figure out how I want to display the model. The instructions show an example of how to show off the interior detail, but I’m still thinking about it.


Cabin roof beams fitted, but not glued in yet.

Painting the Hull

Before continuing, I decided it was time to paint the lower hull. This is not a step described in the kit, but bezaisen seem to have been painted black in a very particular way that doesn’t exactly follow a waterline. I used available drawings and photos of replica ships as my guide.

DSC02244This photo was taken after I completed the outer hull wall and details.

The last thing I’ll mention here is that adding the outer hull walls or bulwarks was extremely satisfying as this is when the ship pretty much looks like a bezaisen. The lattice work of the Higaki Kaisen is very thin and delicate because of the laser etching on the surface. It had to be trimmed very slightly to fit, and took a lot of care to keep from ruining it, requiring a very sharp blade. I used just a light touch of wood glue on the back to make it just tacky enough to hold it.

I’m just about 80% done with the model – getting close! Ω