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How to Build Egyptian Boat Models: Patterns and Instructions for Three Royal Vessels

How to Build Egyptian Boat Models: Patterns and Instructions for Three Royal Vessels

by Jack Sintich

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The ancient Egyptians were avid model makers. Many of their miniature masterpieces were replicas of boats, lovingly handcrafted from the finest woods and often decorated with rich materials such as ivory. Amazing examples of Egyptian maritime art and technology, many of these models remain intact today, displayed and admired in museums and private collections


The ancient Egyptians were avid model makers. Many of their miniature masterpieces were replicas of boats, lovingly handcrafted from the finest woods and often decorated with rich materials such as ivory. Amazing examples of Egyptian maritime art and technology, many of these models remain intact today, displayed and admired in museums and private collections centuries after they were masterfully crafted.
Concise, authoritative, and easy to follow, this unique guide shows modern shipwrights how to build three ancient Egyptian boat models following the same expert techniques used by craftsmen thousands of years ago. A beginner's skill level is all that's needed to expertly construct the royal sailing ships of King Khufu (ruled ca. 2551–2528 B.C.), Queen Hatshepsut (ruled ca. 1479–1458 B.C.) and the great Ramses II (ruled ca. 1279–1213 B.C.). Learn how to select the proper wood and gather the appropriate tools and materials. Follow simple guidelines for every aspect of construction, from hull to sails to rowing oars—even building the display stand. Replicate the paints and colors used for the original Egyptian models. And discover ancient free-hand painting techniques, including how to create authentic hieroglyphic symbols to decorate your project. A profusion of detailed patterns and diagrams—plus photographs of each finished model—accompany the text, guiding crafters step-by-step to shipbuilding success.

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Dover Publications
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Dover Maritime
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How to Build Egyptian Boat Models

Patterns and Instructions for Three Royal Vessels

By Jack Sintich

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Jack Sintich
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-16343-7



King Khufu, who reigned from approximately 2551 to 2528 B.C., was a 4th Dynasty pharaoh who was best known for building the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. He organized the construction of the pyramid, but not much else is known about Khufu's life due to the fact his tomb was robbed soon after his death. No remains of his mummy have ever been found, only the empty sarcophagus that lies in the center of the king's chamber inside the pyramid. Khufu's Great Pyramid is the only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World standing to this day. All that remains of this once powerful pharaoh is a nine-millimeter ivory statuette of him that was discovered at Abydos, Egypt. He is considered by many historians to be one of the great pharaohs of Egypt.

During Khufu's time there were many types of boats traveling along the Nile River. The most common boats were made from lightweight papyrus reeds. They were used for personal transport, light commerce, fishing, hunting, and, of course, warfare.

Larger boats like a pharaoh's sailing boat were made from native acacia wood and imported cedar from what is now the country of Lebanon. Cedar was very important to the Egyptians as a boat building material. Khufu's royal boat was built of relatively short blocks of timber that were braced and secured with strong rope made of halfa grass, wooden dowels, and copper staples. In addition, the boat might have had a large square sail made of thick coarse canvas gloriously painted with Khufu's likeness standing with the God Osiris, or perhaps the Goddess Mut. King Khufu probably used his boat for important state and religious functions and also excursions on the Nile with his wives, concubines, and children.


(1) Take a 7¾" x 11 ¾" sheet of light colored papyrus or a sheet of beige parchment paper and, using an X-ACTO knife, carefully cut out a 5 5/8" x 4 3/8" piece from the blank sheet. The sail's 5 3/8" side will be the length; the sail's 4 3/8" side will be the width. It is recommended that you cut out an extra piece to use as a practice piece for the painting of the sail.

(2) Place the 5 5/8" x 4%" sheet squarely over the outline guide on page 11. Use a #2 pencil to gently trace the image onto the sail material. The image may appear light now, but once it is placed under a good light source the lines will be easily seen for the final tracing before the actual painting of the sail.

(3) Once the outline has been traced, gently retrace the pharaoh's image using a medium brown, extra-fine point, felt-tip pen so all the lines and hieroglyphs will stand out for the painting phase. If mistakes are made here in this process, use the spare sail material to start over again.

(4) Place the outlined papyrus or parchment paper on a clean sheet of unlined paper or on a clean cutting mat. Secure the edges of the sail material with thin strips of masking tape so the sail will not move during the painting and drying phase.

(5) Refer to the painting instructions on page 11 and the color photograph of the completed sail located on the inside front cover as a guide for what colors to use in the painting.

The paints are water-based acrylic and can be easily removed with water. For best results use small bristle camel's hair brushes: very fine, fine, 1/8", and ¼".

Begin by painting the outlines carefully with short, steady strokes using the 1/8" brush with just a small amount of paint each time. Use a paper towel to clean off any excess paint from the brush. Once the outlines are painted, allow them to dry thoroughly before using the very fine and fine brushes to paint the small details like the facial features and costumes.

Once you are satisfied that all the details on the pharaoh's portrait and the hieroglyphic writing are complete, allow the paint to dry for two hours before applying a light coat of clear water-based satin varnish to both sides of the sail. The varnish will protect the paint and sail material from being damaged while handling and mounting the sail to the model's yardarm and mast.

The sail is now ready for mounting. Place the sail to the side for now while the next phase of construction begins.


Refer to the patterns on pages 23 and 25, and the drawings on pages 19, 20, and 21 before starting this portion of the project. Begin by making the hull, then continue with the main deck, bi-pole mast, yardarm, and finally the throne platform—in that order.

All of the patterns are labeled for you on pages 23 and 25. Trace the patterns onto whatever wood you want: balsa, mahogany, walnut, etc. The wood should be a 3/16" thick sheet. Carefully use an X-ACTO knife to cut the patterns out. The hull is made sandwich style. (See the drawing on page 19 as a guide.) Starting with the left side of the boat's keel (using white carpenter's glue): glue number 1 to the boat's keel at the top. Next, glue number 2 to number 1, then glue number 3 to number 2, then, finally, glue number 4 to number 3. Use the curved deck as a reference when joining the sections together. The right side of the hull is built in the same manner as the left side: number 5 is glued to the boat's keel. Next, glue number 6 to number 5, then glue number 7 to number 6, then, finally, glue number 8 to number 7. Next, glue the main deck to the top of the hull. Secure them together with plastic modeling clamps. Allow these pieces to dry thoroughly. The hull is now ready for light sanding. Use a sheet of extra-fine sandpaper to gently smooth the hull's sharp edges ONLY. The hull should have a layered, or a stepped appearance. The pharaoh's boat hull should not have a smooth look.

The mast is a bi-pole, the style that was common 2,500 years before Christ. Made of red cedar, it was very strong in order to support the heavy coarse linen sail. The model's mast is made of two pieces of 1/8" square wood strips that are slightly tapered at the top. The bi-pole mast is 5 ½" long and is supported by three, 1/16" thick strips. See the scale drawing of the mast on page 21 for the correct size and placement of these structural crossbeams. The bi-pole mast footing base is made from 1/16" thick balsa wood measuring 9/16" long x 3/8" wide. The top piece for the footing measures ¼" x ¼" x ¼". Glue the pieces together in a stack. Refer to the drawing on page 20 for the correct placement of the mast-footing base on the main deck. The yardarm is made of a single piece of 1/16" wood dowel. Follow the scale drawing on page 21 to make this piece.

The pharaoh's throne platform can be made from balsa, walnut, or basswood. The measurements are: 5/16" x 1 ½" x 1 1/8". Use a piece of extra-fine sandpaper to remove any rough edges after cutting. Once this has been done, go to page 21 and cut out and color the four hieroglyphic strips. The four strips are to be glued to each side of the platform, or you can make and color your own hieroglyphic markings. Page 23 shows exactly where to glue the completed throne platform to the main deck. There is also a period floor design for the throne platform on page 21 (this is optional). Once all of these parts have been made, set them aside for assembly later.


It is best to use a 1/16" thick sheet of balsa wood, because balsa can be easily curved when wet and it can hold that curve once it is dry. The canopy on page 19 shows that it has a slight fore and aft curve. This matches the boat's curve and will allow for easy mounting later to the deck. Trace the canopy's outline (see page 23) onto the balsa wood and carefully use an X-ACTO knife to cut it out. Use extra-fine sandpaper to lightly smooth the edges for a uniform appearance. Cut out and color the period painting of Goddess Mut on page 20 and glue it to the top of the canopy using a light film of white carpenter's glue (optional). Make five canopy support posts from 0.012" round brass rods. Each post will be 1 ¼" long.

The four steering oars are to be mounted onto the boat's stern with steering oar supports. (See page 23 for this pattern.) You will need to drill two 1/16" holes in each support where indicated. The blades are made from 1/16" thick balsa wood and each oar shaft is made of 0.008" round brass rods that are 1 3/8" long.

The eight rowing oars are attached to the main deck with eyelets. To make the eyelets carefully bend a 0.006" round brass rod into a small loop using needle-nose pliers. Make sure the loop is wide enough to hold each oar in place. The oar supports should be ¾" long. To install the oar supports, use a medium-size sewing needle to make the holes 1/8" deep into the deck. Follow the scale drawing on page 20 for placement. To attach the oar supports to the deck, place a small drop of instant adhesive to the straight side of the eyelet and insert it into the hole. Hold it in place until it bonds. Repeat this until you have attached all of the oar supports to the deck. The blades are made from 1/32" thick balsa wood and each oar shaft is made of 0.005" round brass rods that are 2¼" long. See page 20 for the shape of the blades. Apply a small drop of instant adhesive to the edge of the oar blade and carefully place the shaft onto the blade and hold until secure. Repeat this process until you have joined all of the oar blades to the oar shafts.

A scale drawing of the model's display stand and a copy of a 2500 B.C. pottery shard unique to the period of King Khufu can be found on page 22. Here you will see the shape of the ¼" high wood stand, as well as the shape and appearance of the ancient pottery shard image. This special piece will be mounted on the stand later. You will need to drill a %" hole into the stand where indicated. The base's mounting post that supports the completed model is a 0.016" round brass rod that is 2" long.


The large Nile River boats during the time of King Khufu were mainly built of durable red cedar from the land that is now Lebanon. The natural color of these boats would have appeared a light brown or a slightly reddish brown depending on the age and dryness of the cedar before construction. The ancient Egyptians also used cedar to make the boat's mast, the yards for the sail, and the canopy. Therefore, these important pieces would also have the same color appearance as the hull.

The next step is the staining and hand painting of the previously constructed model parts, prior to their addition to the model's hull. If balsa wood was used to construct the model, then staining the hull and other wood parts will be necessary to achieve the correct color tone. First, apply a coat of clear wood sealer to all wood parts, including the hull, to get a uniform application of the wood stain when it is applied later. When the sealer is dry, use a light reddish brown stain on the hull and all other pre-finished wood parts. When the stain is dry, wipe off any excess stain with a clean paper towel before continuing.

If the model was constructed using a naturally dark wood such as mahogany, walnut, or pecan, then sealing and staining is not necessary as these woods already come very close to the correct color tone.

The painting of the four steering oars and eight rowing oars are next. Paint the shafts of the oars medium red. The four steering oar blades and the eight rowing oar blades are painted tan. See pages 19 and 20 for blade decoration ideas. (NOTE: These decorations are optional.) Once all the model parts have been painted or stained set them aside. The model's display stand is the next item for construction.

On page 22 you will find a full-scale pattern for the model's display stand. You may also create your own design for the base if you choose. Using your imagination to create new ideas is what makes scratch building models such a great and interesting lifetime hobby. If you choose to use the book's pattern, it is best to use a hardwood such as walnut or pear. This is because these woods have a beautiful color tone when sanded lightly and sealed with a quality satin varnish. See page 22 for the placement of the brass support to properly balance the completed model.


Now that you have built all the parts for the model the next step is gluing them to the hull. Use white carpenter's glue for securing wood to wood and use instant adhesive to bond wood to metal or metal to metal. Using the diagrams as a guide (pages 19 and 20), glue the following parts to the hull in this order. Allow all parts to dry before continuing to the next piece.

BI-POLE MAST: Refer to page 20 for the location of the bi-pole mast footing on the main deck. Glue the footing into place, using white carpenter's glue, and let dry. Then place a drop of glue on both pieces of the mast's bottom and mount the mast onto the footing. Hold it steady for a moment until the glue bonds.

THRONE PLATFORM: Spread a thin film of white carpenter's glue on the platform's underside and secure it to the main deck and let it dry. See page 23 for the location of the throne platform on the main deck.

BRASS CANOPY SUPPORT POSTS: Drill five 1/32" holes, 1/8" deep into the main deck as shown on page 19. Apply a small drop of instant adhesive on each post bottom and insert the posts into the holes.

SUPPORTS FOR THE EIGHT ROWING OARS: The drawing on page 20 shows the location of the supports. Drill eight 1/64" holes, 1/8" deep into the main deck. Then place a small drop of instant adhesive over each hole and insert the oar support eyelets into place.

PLACING EIGHT ROWING OARS INTO THE SUPPORTS: Insert the eight oars into the eyelet supports. Using instant adhesive, glue each oar to its support ensuring the oar is bonded well before continuing on. All eight oars should line up together when you have completed this section.

FOUR STEERING OARS: See the drawing on page 19 for the positioning of these oars. Insert the oars into the previously drilled holes in the supports and secure each oar with a small drop of instant adhesive. Hold each oar steady until the glue holds.

CANOPY: Apply a drop of instant adhesive to the top of each support post and then lay the canopy piece directly on the posts. Make sure the canopy is straight and square on the posts. Press the canopy down gently against the posts for a few moments until the glue holds.

YARDARM: Refer to page 21 for the exact location of the yardarm on the mast and then attach it to the mast with white carpenter's glue. Make sure that it is centered on the mast and you use enough glue so it bonds tight.

ROYAL SAIL: Apply a thin bead of white carpenter's glue along the leading edge of the yardarm. Then carefully place the top edge of the sail against the yardarm. Allow one hour to dry before continuing.

MOUNTING THE MODEL TO THE DISPLAY STAND: Place the bottom of the hull squarely over the base's support rod and gently press the model down with enough pressure to cause a dent to appear in the hull's bottom. Use a 1/6" drill to make one hole ¼" deep in the hull's bottom where the dent appears. Place a drop of instant adhesive in the hole and insert the support rod into the hole. Make sure the model is level and hold it secure until the glue firmly holds. Glue the pottery shard image to a 1/8" thick piece of balsa wood and attach to the display stand (optional).

SECURING THE ROPE RIGGING: Cut two pieces of white cotton string 3" long. Apply a drop of white carpenter's glue to the end of the string and place it against a top corner of the sail and allow it to dry thoroughly. Do this for both top corners of the sail. The other ends are then attached to the model by wrapping them around the left and right canopy posts and securing them with instant adhesive. Cut off any excess string.

Congratulations! Your model is now built and ready to display.


Excerpted from How to Build Egyptian Boat Models by Jack Sintich. Copyright © 2007 Jack Sintich. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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