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Ship Modeling Simplified: Tips and Techniques for Model Construction from Kits [NOOK Book]


In Ship Modeling Simplified, master model builder Frank Mastini puts to paper the methods he's developed over 30 years at the workbench to help novices take their first steps in an exciting pastime. You don't need the deftness of a surgeon or the vocabulary of an old salt to build a model. What you need is an understanding coach. Mastini leads readers from the mysteries of choosing a kit and setting up a workshop through deciphering complicated instructions and on to painting, decorating, and displaying finished ...

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Ship Modeling Simplified: Tips and Techniques for Model Construction from Kits

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In Ship Modeling Simplified, master model builder Frank Mastini puts to paper the methods he's developed over 30 years at the workbench to help novices take their first steps in an exciting pastime. You don't need the deftness of a surgeon or the vocabulary of an old salt to build a model. What you need is an understanding coach. Mastini leads readers from the mysteries of choosing a kit and setting up a workshop through deciphering complicated instructions and on to painting, decorating, and displaying finished models--with patience and clarity, not condescension. He reveals dozens of shortcuts: How to plank a hull "egg-shell tight"; how to build and rig complicated mast assmeblies without profanity; how to create sails that look like sails. . . . And along the way he points out things that beginners usually do wrong--beforehand, not after they've taken hammers to their projects.

Ship Modeling Simplified even includes an Italian-English dictionary of nautical terms, the key to assembling the many high-quality Italian kits on the American market.

Model building is fun, and not nearly as difficult as some experts would have you believe. Here is everything you'll ever need to get started in a hobby that will last a lifetime.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071818582
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education
  • Publication date: 3/22/1990
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 707,996
  • File size: 16 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Frank Mastini acquired a lifelong curiosity about the sea and its historic sailing vessels as a younster in Italy. A graduate of the Italian Naval Academy, Mastini honed his seamanship skills aboard the 270-foot, square-rigged training vessel, Amerigo Vespucci.

He began his professional model building career in 1961, developing a clientele of collectors for whom he still builds on commission. Mastini recently finished a scratch-built model of the Mary and John, a ship that carried a group of Pilgrims from England to Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1630. He is the author of a series of articles for Ships in Scale magazine and is in frequent demand as a coach for beginning modelers.

When not on the telephone discussing modeling problems, Mastini can be found at his Hartsdale, New York, workbench, enjoying retirement.

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Read an Excerpt

Ship Modeling SIMPLIFIED

Tips and Techniques for Model Construction from Kits

By Frank Mastini

The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 1990 International Marine
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-07-155867-9



PART I Setting Up Shop

Selecting a kit

Take a look at the models on display at your local hobby shop. Manufacturers worldwide have produced a huge variety of kits, and that's a good sign. You'll have no shortage of new projects to take on as you gain experience. But where do you start?

An enthusiastic beginner looking for his first model is confronted with a fascinating, but very confusing, array of choices. Although all kits provide certain basic materials, there are significant differences in type and quality. Here are some things to keep in mind when making a selection.

Making your choice

Choose a model that catches your eye, but heed the limits facing a first-timer. Your decision will have a lot to do with the mood you are in and the pleasure you get from thinking about how the finished model will look. Realistically, though, as when choosing a new car, you should consider several factors before making the final decision. How much money do you want to spend? How much experience do you have? What kind of display space will be available for the finished model? What kind of ship attracts you? Are the kits that interest you of good quality? How much time can you spend at the workbench?

Sound too involved? Well, it's not if you're sensible. Think "simple" for your first effort. Though you're looking for a challenge, you're not looking for intense frustration.

Your Ability

I have known many novices to buy kits of the magnitude of the Sovereign of the Seas, San Felipe, or Amerigo Vespucci — ships with multiple decks, intricate ornamentation, and complicated rigging plans. They bought them, but they never finished them. What I saw instead was frustration, failure, and dejection — and, of course, the abandonment of what could have been a happy and successful pastime.

Choose a fairly small, simple, attractive but complete model, one that has a bit of everything found in ships. Look for a model with one deck, one or two masts and simple rigging. A good example would be a Baltimore Clipper from around the time of the War of 1812, or a fishing schooner such as Bluenose II. Such a vessel will introduce the first-timer to the art of building the hull (especially the plank-on-bulkhead type). You'll plank decks and build deck fixtures (gratings, pumps, binnacles, fife rails and pin rails, winches, capstans, ladders). If you choose a Baltimore Clipper you'll learn how to cut gunports and how to assemble and rig guns in place. You'll move on to building and rigging simple spars and masts. Such a model, in other words, will be sufficiently complex to teach you many basic skills, but not so much so that you never receive the satisfaction of successfully completing it.

Some good kits that are simple enough for beginners include Lynx, Gladis, and Dallas by Pan Art; Bluenose II, Harvey, and Mare Nostrum by Artesania Latina; Flying Fish by Corel; America by Mamoli; and Dandy II by Dikar.

The Cost

It's always a good idea to shop around before actually purchasing a kit: There's a wide range of prices out there reflecting quality, size, and production costs. Prices vary from manufacturer to manufacturer for the same ship. For instance, four or five manufacturers offer kits of the Constitution at four or five different prices. Throw in the vast differences among hobby retailers and you can see the need for comparison shopping.

My advice for a modeler looking for his first project: Don't spend more than $150.

When you get to the hobby shop, bring with you all these considerations as well as your checkbook or charge card. Leave some of your enthusiasm at home where it will be waiting for you when you arrive with your purchase. A cool, knowledgeable shopper who knows what he wants is the most likely to get it.


Kits come in a number of scales — a way of comparing the size of the model with the size of the real ship. Scale will become more important as you refine your modeling skills. For now it's not something to worry a great deal about. Stick to the types of models I've recommended and go with whatever scale the manufacturer has decided to use.

Still, it's important to understand what scale is. Scale is expressed as a ratio: maybe 1/50 or 1:25 or 1/96. What does that mean?

Say we're talking about a model in which 1/4 inch represents one foot on the full-size ship. The scale might be called a 1/4-inch scale or, more likely, a 1:48 scale (1 foot — that's 12 inches — divided by 1/4 inch equals 48); they're both the same. In 1:48 scale the 143-foot Bluenose II would be 35 1/2 inches long.

But there are other scales — and the matter is complicated further by European kits, which use ratios expressed in metric dimensions. Let's save ourselves some headaches and compare three common scales.

• A 1:96 scale is similar to a 1/8-inch American scale: one foot on the full- size ship is represented by 1/8 inch or about 3 mm. (A three-foot-high bulwark on the full-size ship would be 3/8 inch or 9 mm on your model.)

• A 1:75 metric scale is similar though not equivalent to a 3/16-inch American scale: one foot on the full-size ship is represented by 3/16 inch or 4.5 mm. (A three-foot high bulwark on the full-size ship would be 9/16 inch or 13.5 mm on your model.)

• A 1:48 scale is equivalent to a 1/4-inch American scale: one foot on the full- size ship is represented by 1/4 inch or about 6 mm. (A three-foot-high bulwark on the full-size ship would be 3/4 inch or 18 mm on your model.)

Don't think in abstract terms; apply the scales to real-life situations and your experience will be painless.

Metric vs. inches. This brings up another mildly troublesome problem. When you're working with a European kit do you try to convert everything to inches? If you want to make extra work for yourself go ahead. If you've purchased a European kit, think metric; if you have an American kit, think inches and feet.

Sometimes you will need to convert a measurement from inches to metric or vice versa — and that takes time. I have a way around that problem, a little gadget I call my universal ruler. Go to an art supply store and find two rulers, one in inches and the other in metric — preferably one with a righthand scale and one with a lefthand scale.

If you can't find a righthand ruler, cover the numbers on one ruler with masking tape and re-write them from right to left. With the metric and inch scales facing each other, glue the two rulers to a wooden base. Instant conversion.

What to look for in a model

You don't have to be an expert to choose a good kit. All you have to do is look at the quality of the contents thoroughly. You have a right to do so, and if you can't look inside the box, don't buy the kit.

That, of course, can lead to problems if you're buying from a catalog. The best way to avoid unpleasant surprises is sticking to manufacturers and suppliers whose reputations are solid. Ordering kits from some manufacturers virtually guarantees you'll get what you want. Some mail order suppliers will replace broken or missing parts. Call before ordering and find out what the supplier's policy is. On the other hand, some hobby shops will have nothing to do with you after your purchase. Ask around, and be circumspect.

The Plans

The plans include all the drawings you need to assemble the model. The degree of precision and the quality of the drawings generally will spell victory or defeat for a beginner. To take full advantage of any set of plans, however, you should be familiar with overall construction principles, including the anatomy of rigging, or you'll be lost. In fact, I'd strongly suggest reading through this entire book to get an idea of what kinds of things to look for before you commit yourself to a selection.

Generally, you'll find that every manufacturer uses its own system, with different geometrical or three-dimensional drawings. Some include black and white pictures of the different parts or stages of construction; some use coded letters with legends to describe parts and rigging lines. The best ones use an exploded view of the model and mark different parts with numbers that guide you to detailed drawings of that particular piece or setting.


If the instructions accompanying the plans are not explicit you could be in trouble before you start. Check the instructions to see how clearly they are written. On some kits, the step-by-step methods are actually out of sequence. Some of the plans carry instructions written in a foreign language (Italian, for the most part), and because the terms are nautical and technical, you can't translate them with a standard dictionary. (You'll find a translation of those terms from Italian to English beginning on page 115.) Some methods lead to confusion because they will contrast unnecessarily with the methods used in other kits.

The Hull

Disregarding plastic, there are three types of hulls found in model kits: solid hulls; plank-on-frame (or plank-on-bulkhead); or precut plywood on frames. You'll learn the distinction between frames and bulkheads in Part II.

The solid hull can provide an easy step for beginners, because it needs only minor shaping and sanding to finish. Solid hulls are machine shaped, which often creates bulwarks — the parapets around the outside of the deck — that are much too thick. To correct this you must reduce the bulwarks with a chisel, rasp, or sandpaper. This is quite a challenge for beginners because you stand a good chance of splitting the wood and ruining the job. Let me put it this way: If you build a model with a solid hull you miss all the experience and fun of planking. The same thing applies to precut plywood. Plank-on-frame gives the builder a feeling for how a real ship was built. The other two hull types don't.

Wooden Parts

Kits are supposed to supply all the wooden parts you need to complete your model. In truth, unfortunately, you'll find it hard to finish your model with what you find in the box. Some parts will be badly cut and cannot be used; some are distorted, some are too short. A careful shopper will check this out before he forks over his money. Some stores will let you check, others won't. As with catalogs, find out what a store's policy is on replacing parts. The first thing you should do when you get home is get out the kit's checklist and make sure every strip of wood is there and in good shape.

Here's an example: Most kits supply the dowels needed to build your spars. The problem is figuring out how to cut the correct pieces from a certain dowel length. Most of the time you'll end up with pieces that are too short and can't be used for all the parts needed. But you can always buy extra dowels.

Often, scribed decks are supplied with kits. They may be nice looking but are far from authentic. If measured in scale, some of the planks would be hundreds of feet long. You can always scribe more plank ends, but the best thing to do in this case is to plank the deck yourself, as I'll explain later.

Some precut decks are made of plywood that's much too thin to stand up on its own. When nailed and glued to the frame it sags and buckles atrociously. I'll show you ways to correct this problem.

Take great care in removing precut parts from their sheets. These parts are precut on one side only; if you attempt to remove them without first cutting through them with a knife, they will break up or tear along their edges.

The Fittings

Fittings — such as blocks, railing stanchions, gun carriages, gun barrels, doors, chains, cleats, pumps, and gratings — are an essential element to the beauty of a model. Some kits have metal fittings, some have plastic, some wood. Look inside the box before you buy, for the quality of the fittings should help guide your selection and may even decide the issue.

Brass fittings are by far the most attractive and easiest to work with. Fittings made from britannia, a silver-white alloy similar to pewter, can be quite handsome.

Consider also the amount of finish work these fittings will require. Some fittings will have to be cleaned of casting excesses. Some will have to be re-drilled because the holes in them are almost nonexistent. The precut pieces needed to make the gratings are sometimes roughly cut, and can be quite a challenge to clean out. You can check such things without opening the plastic box or bag in which the fittings are stored.

The Boats

Lifeboats, whale boats, service boats — most kits include them. They may be metal, plastic, precarved wood, or precut plank on frame. Here again every type has its merits or faults; the important criterion is quality.

The precast boats can be quite authentic-looking and handsome. Although undeniably beautiful, the precut plank-on-frame boats can pose quite a challenge for the builder; they are to me, however, the most authentic and the most satisfying. A built-up whale boat is a pretty thing to see, though it also represents hours of challenging work. It doesn't matter if you fail; you can always try again or buy a precarved one.

If the boats are not supplied with the kit, always make or buy the right ones for the model you are building. How? Go to a library and check any number of historical references. Try, for example, The History of American Sailing Ships, or The American Fishing Schooners by Howard I. Chapelle.

Boats should be equipped with oars, harpoons, and other such accessories as appropriate. You can buy oars from hobby shops or catalogs, or you can make them yourself — and that is definitely the most fun. Some kits will show ways of doing it.

Rigging Lines

It's distressing to have to say that 90 percent of the kits on the market today fall short in supplying acceptable rigging lines and cables. Most include rigging of the wrong size or color.

Some kits supply white string so thick your finished model will look like a Christmas tree. Only a very few kits provide acceptable rigging line. Check to see what comes with the one you're thinking of buying. The best type is three-strand twisted linen. Black is the most useful color for standing rigging; you'll need other colors — gray, beige (cream), and brown — for other jobs aboard your model. Twisted cotton line is also available. It is practically impossible to find rigging line correct for models of 1/8-inch (1/96) scale or smaller, but with a little persistence you can come pretty close. You can find rigging line as small as 0.10 mm in diameter.

Building a workplace

Tools: Valuable Assets

Tools are a craftsman's best friend: The quality of your tools will determine the quality of your finished product. Tools improve your ability, save time and effort, and preserve your attitude. There is nothing more frustrating than working with the wrong tools or with tools that are in bad condition.

I've broken down the tools you'll need into three categories: basic, intermediate, and expert. In addition, I've developed some tools and laborsaving arrangements you can make yourself.

Basic tools. The following hand tools are essential to build any model. Building without them would be like trying to build a house without a saw. A set of the following essential tools will probably run you about $100. Shop around; the best place to buy this type of equipment is a hobby shop, where you have a chance to see first-hand what you're buying. Here's what you'll need:

• Pliers: Longnose (needlenose), roundtip, sidecutter, and flattip; pliers should be no more than 5 inches long and should have plastic-covered handles for a better grip.

• Hammers: One small carpenter type and one ball peen.

• Saws: A razor-type X-Acto with handle, and miter box (aluminum type, if possible); a good coping saw with a fine-tooth blade; a hole-cutting X-Acto blade with handle. Some stores sell combinations of these tools in sets; the X- Acto saw handles are interchangeable.

• Chisels: A small set of carving chisels; X-Acto type chisel blade with handle.

• Knives: A set of X-Acto knives; surgeon's scalpel with #11 blade.

• Files: A set of small files, including a medium bastard, a fine round, a fine flat, and a fine half-round.

• Drills: Pin-vise type hand drill; one set of drill bits from #60 to #80; one set of drill bits from 1/32 inch to 1/4 inch.

• Electric plank bender: A must for perfection and ease in plank bending, plank installation, and other uses. (It will cost around $25; if you don't want to spend the money yet, an electric hair-curling iron will work, but not nearly as well.)

• Rasps: One flat and one half-round carpenter's rasp.

• Needle threaders: One package.

• Tweezers.

• Rulers: Yardstick; 12-inch plastic and steel rulers and metric equivalents.

• Squares: One small and one large plastic.

• Compass: Regular classroom type.

• Awl: No thicker than 1/16 inch.

• Clamps: One dozen alligator-type clips; one package of clip-type clothespins; a set of three different sizes (one-, two-, and three-inch) of steel clamps.

Excerpted from Ship Modeling SIMPLIFIED by Frank Mastini. Copyright © 1990 by International Marine. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, 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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Table of Contents


Part I: Setting Up Shop

Selecting a Kit

Making Your Choice

What to Look for in A Model

Building a Workplace

Part II: Building the Hull

Sequence for Building the Hull

Assembling Bulkhead-on-Keel Hulls


Planking the Hull and Deck

Planking the Hull--The First Layer

Handling Items on Deck

Setting the Hull on the Display Base

Part III: Masting and Rigging

Getting Started

Masting and Rigging Sequence

Building Masts

Rigging the Spars

Stepping the Masts and Bowsprit

Rigging it All to the Hull

Part IV: Finishing Her Up

Boats, Anchors, Paint, and Flags

Italian-English Dictionary

Useful Terms

Suggested Reading List

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