Model Boat Building Tips

Updated February 21, 2017

Building a model boat is a hobby that can take years to master. Depending on the complexity of the ship and the level of detail work, a single model can take tens of hours to complete, but the results can be a realistic-looking model of display-level quality. For the hobbyist looking to produce that level of quality, there are a few tips on carving and planking your model that can help move you along the route to shipbuilding mastery.

Carving Tips

In the quest for detailed model ships, your choice of carving tools has a large impact on the result you'll achieve. The choice is a personal one, and can range from power tools to micro chisels to knife blades. Whichever you decide to go with, the best results require the best tools available to you. For power tools, go with a wide array of bits and carving burrs. The more specialised the tool, the better your likely result. The same can be said with micro chisels, with a wide variety yielding best results. For knives, a good choice is carbon steel surgical knife blades, which also come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

As you get more detailed with smaller pieces, they'll become more fragile to work with. To prevent your model pieces from breaking while doing this detail work, you should back the piece by attaching it temporarily to a block of wood or a piece of metal using low-adhesive two-sided tape.

When carving wooden pieces for your model ship always carve lightly, detailing the wood one layer at a time. This is especially important when using micro chisels or surgical blades as too much pressure can easily cause the cut to get away from you and ruin a piece. Light cuts also allow you to cut against the grain of the wood as easily as cutting with the grain.

Planking Tips

For ships representing the wooden age of sailing, planking your ship is a way to add realism to your model by using actual wooden planks for the ship's hull, instead of solid wood sheets or plastic parts painted or moulded to appear as wooden planks. It's a method of building your model that more accurately represents the way the actual ships themselves are built.

Because of the shape of most ships, planking isn't a simple process. A ship's side curves, with the greater girth being towards the centre. Because of this, your planks should be designed so that they are wider at the centre than at the ends. In order to get the plank size just right, measure various points of your ship, beginning from the widest point and working to the endpoints. Then measure the size of the planks you'll be using, and determine how wide each plank should be to cover the distance from deck to keel rabbit (lowest point). Taper the planks accordingly.

When applying the planks, begin from the deck line working downward and from the keel rabbit, upward. The final plank should be shaped according to need in order to fill the space between the two plank groups.


The best tool in your shipbuilding inventory is good research. There's a wealth of information available on every ship type, and even specific ships. Plans and techniques are readily available, and online and offline modeler clubs abound with members able to offer tips and encouragement in your project. The key to building a realistic model is to find out as much about the real item as possible.

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About the Author

Larry Simmons is a freelance writer and expert in the fusion of computer technology and business. He has a B.S. in economics, an M.S. in information systems, an M.S. in communications technology, as well as significant work towards an M.B.A. in finance. He's published several hundred articles with Demand Studios.