How to Build a Scale Model of a Steel-Hull Ship

Written by paul bragulla
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How to Build a Scale Model of a Steel-Hull Ship
Modern cargo ships generally have steel hulls. (Tanker und Segler image by Silke Wolff from

Since the development of the Bessemer Process for mass-producing steel, it has increasingly become the indispensable material of the industrial world. One of the most common large-scale applications of steel has been for the construction of ships. Progressing from wood, to wood-iron composites, to all-iron and then finally to steel, ship hulls have gone through many phases of design and composition. Modern ships, whether oil-tankers, passenger-liners or warships, almost universally have all-steel hulls. Plastic models are available for such ships and are generally somewhat easier to build than models of sailing ships, due primarily to the lack of masts, rigging and sails.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Steel-hull ship model
  • Model paint
  • Model glue
  • Hobby knife
  • Hobby clamp or vice
  • Emery board
  • Masking tape
  • Tweezers (optional)

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  1. 1

    Cover your working area with newspaper to avoid causing damage to it, either from drips of paint and glue or from slips of your hobby knife.

  2. 2

    Open the box your model came in and remove the contents. Set the included instruction manual aside and examine the plastic trees to which most parts are attached. Spread these out on the working surface so that you can see all the parts and, using the instruction manual, ensure they are all present.

  3. 3

    Paint the smaller parts, such as propellers, deck-fittings and small superstructure sections, without removing them from the trees. Use the instructions to determine which colours to paint each part. Allow the paint to dry completely before moving on.

  4. 4

    Remove the larger parts, like hull and superstructure segments, from the trees. Use the hobby knife to cut through the thin plastic connecting the parts to the trees, being careful not to slip and damage the part (or yourself) with the razor-sharp blade. Once the part is free, use the emery board to file down the remaining stub of plastic until the surface of the part is flush. Paint the larger parts in the scheme shown by the instructions. If the hull is to be painted red below the waterline, use a line of masking tape to make the edge between paint colours neat.

  5. 5

    Use glue to join the parts together in the order depicted in the instruction manual, and the small vice or clamp to hold them in place while the glue dries. For a model of a steel-hull ship, this will involve joining the hull segments together to make up the hull; combining superstructure parts like the bridge, stacks and (for a warship) gun turrets into superstructure sections that can be glued to the hull; and then gluing the fittings (anchors, piping, anti-aircraft tubs) to these sections. For the final assembly process, join the superstructure to the hull and touch up the paint. Remove smaller parts in the order you need them using the same process you used for the larger parts, touching up the paint and gently filing down any excess glue as needed.

Tips and warnings

  • There is usually a phone number printed on the side of the model box that you can call to obtain duplicates of any missing or damaged parts.
  • Use a pair of tweezers to make handling smaller parts easier.
  • Use model glue only in a well-ventilated area; the fumes can be dangerous. Avoid resting any freshly glued parts on the newspaper.
  • Don't try to use a hair dryer or other such device to speed up the drying of glue or paint. Doing so can cause the parts to warp or melt.

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