How to Build a Model Container Ship

Written by john reinhart
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How to Build a Model Container Ship
Container ships are like seagoing freight yards. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Container ships are fascinating vessels. Ugly by traditional standards, their beauty lies in their ability to safely transport incredibly large numbers of containers from one continent to another. Modelling these seagoing freight yards is a challenge on its own. Building a scale model large enough to detail each container would result in a ship a dozen feet long. This model will instead focus on the overall appearance of the ship, including a deck load of containers stacked double high. This will be a waterline model -- the underwater portion of the hull is omitted to simplify construction.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Reference photos or plan
  • Wood block, 1x3x18 inches (HxWxL)
  • 2 square dowels, 1/4x1/4x12 inches
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood glue
  • Small saw
  • Hobby knife
  • Acrylic paints

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  1. 1

    Draw the outline of the ship's hull directly onto the wooden block. Don't draw the superstructure (the ship's bridge structure) onto the block as we'll add that later.

    The overhead view goes on the 3-inch plane of the block, with the bow (the front end of the ship) just touching one end of the block and the stern (the ship's rear) ending exactly at the end of the block.

    Draw the ship's profile on the one inch dimension along the length of the block.

    Finish this step by drawing the bow's on view of the ship (the view looking at her from the front) on the 1x3 front end and the stern on view (looking at her from in back) on the other end.

  2. 2

    Use the saw to carve the hull's initial shape. Be careful when cutting under the stern -- depending upon the ship, the stern can extend a long way out over the ship's waterline.

  3. 3

    Finely shape the hull with the sandpaper and hobby knife. Smooth the hull into its final contours.

  4. 4

    Cut three pieces of ¼" square dowel, two at 2-1/2 inches in length and one at three inches.

    Place glue on either side of the three inch piece and stack the three pieces together so that the longer length is in the centre.

    Glue this assembly to the centre of the hull at the location of the ship's superstructure -- use your references to determine the exact location. This assembly should be placed athwartships (side to side rather than lengthwise with the hull).

  5. 5

    Cut the remaining ¼" square dowels into 1 inch lengths to represent the containers themselves.

    Paint each of the containers individually. Use a variety of colours. Allow to dry before installing on the ship.

  6. 6

    Paint the ship any colour you choose. While the hull and superstructure are often the same colour, the hull may feature a stripe of a different colour in any of several locations. Check your reference pictures to place it accurately.

    Finish the hull painting with a black stripe, roughly 1/8" wide, along the lower edge of the hull at the waterline, to represent the boot topping.

    Let the hull dry before installing the containers.

  7. 7

    Glue the containers onto the deck lengthwise. Place them in rows running athwartships first, starting closest to the superstructure. Continue placing them on the deck before stacking them up. Build two complete layers of containers, so that the upper section of the superstructure rises clearly above them.

Tips and warnings

  • Super-detail the superstructure by adding bridge windows with black paint.
  • Although lettering would be impossible to replicate in this scale and even harder to read, you can simulate lettering by painting thin lines in the appropriate colour on the containers.

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