How to Build Wooden Ship Models

Written by andrew dewitt
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There are certain hobbies that have an undeniable amount of charm to them. These hobbies are generally the kinds that create entire little worlds. Homemade dollhouses, model-train villages and model wooden ships seem to transport us to another time. Creating your own model wooden ship requires an enormous amount of patience. However, with practice you can create an extremely satisfying project that you will proudly display for years. You can choose a ship form any time period and pick your favourite historical era.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Balsa wood panels
  • Scroll saw
  • Sand paper
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Bucket of water
  • White cloth
  • Scissors
  • Wood glue
  • Acrylic paint
  • Acrylic sealer

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  1. 1

    Research and design the plan for your model ship. If you are recreating a classic battle ship, make a large photocopy of the ship from multiple viewpoints. Draw the design for the ship from different views. Draw the profile view, top-down view, back view and front view. Be sure to mark out the exact measurements on the design.

    How to Build Wooden Ship Models
  2. 2

    Create the supports for the hull by cutting out a balsa wood slat using a scroll saw. Make sure that the slat is the same size and shape as the profile of the ship. Cut out circular supports that will serve as the frame of the ship's hull. These supports should be smaller for the front and back ends of the ship and larger for the middle of the ship. Cut a vertical line down the centre of each support so that you can slide these onto the profile slat.

    How to Build Wooden Ship Models
    Slide the supports onto the mainframe.
  3. 3

    Soak strips of balsa wood in water until they are flexible enough to bend without snapping. Glue each strip of balsa wood over the sides and top of the hull frame. This will create a realistic wood-plank effect on the boat. Let the glue dry and apply a second layer of balsa wood planks across the ship.

    How to Build Wooden Ship Models
    Wet strips of balsa can be made into wooden planks on the ship.
  4. 4

    Sand the body of the ship to make it as smooth as possible. Glue wooden dowel rods to the top of the ship to create the masts. Add a dowel rod to the front of the ship to create the bowsprit. Glue small horizontal dowel rods to the top of each mast to create a "T" shape.

    How to Build Wooden Ship Models
    Sand the entire ship.
  5. 5

    Paint the ship using acrylic model paints. Seal the paint with acrylic sealer. Let this dry and add the cloth sails, using small rectangles of cloth. You can add the rigging with small strings attached to the sails and the deck. Use reference photos to map out exactly where the rigging needs to go as this can be extremely complicated.

    How to Build Wooden Ship Models
    When everything is dry you can paint details.

Tips and warnings

  • Have several reference photos around to act as inspiration.
  • Be sure to always wear goggles when sanding or cutting wood.

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