Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Substitute for Building Boats?

There are so many boats I’d love to build… but no place to store them.

So I build models instead. I’ll sometimes modify a design (but NOT the basic hull) or design my own. And if the modifications don’t work, rip them out and try again, enabling me to experiment with different arrangements… at virtually no cost. It's an effective way to learn the problems and issues that will arise if I were to build the full-size version… I get a good sense of what the real boat will look like, much better than photos and plans...And lastly, it satisfies (to some extent) that deep urge to build boats.

What tools do I use?

Tools Used in Model Making

  1. Sharpening stone to keep #14, #15 and #16 sharp
  2. Set of jeweler’s files, handy for fine ‘carving’ (e.g. cleats)
  3. Bunch of disposable nail files, really handy, used frequently
  4. A steel nail file, used to clean glue ‘squish outs’ on joints
  5. Tweezers for picking up really small parts
  6. Drill bit holder and small twist drill
  7. Dividers for creating arcs (e.g. for deck beams) and for stepping off measurements (more on that below)
  8. Protractor for measuring angles
  9. Set of weights ranging from 4 pounds down to 4 ounces, use to hold #24 (steel ruler on edge) for drawing curves, holding components to be glued, etc.
  10. Fine tooth saw for doing ‘cut-offs’ using the ‘bench stop’ (#26)
  11. Sandpaper, mostly used flat on the table and move the object to be sanded
  12. Fine lead (approximately .7mm) mechanical pencil
  13. Wood carving flat blade chisel, used very frequently
  14. Xacto brand knife 
  15. Xacto brand knife (more on these two frequently used knives below)
  16. Small plane, very handy because it can do things that nothing else does as well, such as trimming wood to a line, or tapering rub rails, etc.
  17. Small 30-60 triangle, often paired with the larger triangle for 90 degree lines
  18. Large 30-60 triangle
  19. Tape dispenser. Tape is used to hold parts together while glue dries. (example below)
  20. Wooden spring clothes pins (“One can never have enough clamps”)
  21. Hair clips also used as clamps
  22. Rubber bands also used as clamps
  23. Architect’s scale. The blue tape tab enables me to pick the ruler up each time oriented to the correct scale (usually 8:1, 1.5 inches to the foot)  
  24. A steel rule, marked both Imperial and Metric. It is flexible enough to be bent to beautiful curves (held by the weights, #9). It has a thin cork backing that keeps if from sliding… also used as straight edge for slicing wood with the Xacto knives.
  25. Glue… also use Titebond II and III. The pictured “Elmers” glue and TB II set faster than TB III.
  26. A 6” long ‘bench rest’ glued to the base
  27. Base is a piece of chip board that protects the underlying drafting table.

Not shown:

  • Paints: Home Depot sells half-pint (8 ounces) samples of latex paint in any color
  • Brushes: A set of inexpensive artist brushes
  • Small pair of cutting pliers used to cut brass wire
  • Small pair of beading pliers used to bend the brass wire… the jaws are cylindrical and tapered rather than flat
  • Wax paper to prevent gluing components to the base
  • Paper towels to whip off excess glue from fingers, tools, etc.


  • 1/32 thick (Scaled 1:8 is ¼ inch) 4” x 24” sheets of bass wood, used for hull components
  • 1/8 thick (Scaled 1:8 is 1 inch) 4” x 24” bass wood, used for making bulkheads, etc.
  • Assorted strip wood, although I’ll frequently just cut strips from the sheet wood and laminate them to the required thickness.
  • Brass wire… about 1mm thick… used to make oar locks, pintles, gudgeons, etc.

These are a few techniques I’ve learned that make model-making more accurate.

Convert Metric to Imperial:
Divide millimeters by 25.4 resulting in inches and tenths of an inch.

Converted Metric to Imperial Measurements


These can be used to create arcs, such as deck beams, but also to replicate measurements (verses using a ruler) such as section spacing as in the photo above in which I needed to transfer 300mm intervals (11.8 scale inches) to the sheet bass wood as in the photo below.

Using Dividers to Step Off Accurate Measurements

Cutting 1/32” sheet bass wood:

Use the short blade (#14) Xacto knife by pushing the knife along the line, with the tip of the blade slightly raised (see photo below). Do NOT try to cut through the wood in one pass. If you do, it will likely split. Cut in a direction such that if the wood splits, it will split away from the object you are creating. This means that you may need to cut some of the line (assuming it’s a curved line such as the sheer or chine) in one direction and the rest of the line in the opposite direction.

When cutting the 1/8” bass wood, use the short blade knife (#14) to make the first 3 or 4 passes, then switch to the long blade knife (#15), held vertically, to make the final cuts with just the tip of the blade. Note, it will take about 6 or 8 cuts to get through the 1/8” bass wood. Sharp knives are critical.

Cutting Sheet Bass Wood by Pushing the Knife

Holding components together waiting for glue to hold:

Tape, clothes pins, hair clips and rubber bands can all be used to temporarily hold components together for gluing. In the photo below, the deck was cut about 1/8” over-sized, then tape was added to the deck as shown. A bead of glue was put on top edge of the bulkhead and the topsides. The deck was taped down, and the excess glue was immediately removed with the steel nail file (#4). The result was a tight seal between the deck and the hull after trimming with the plane (#16).

Preparing a Deck to be Glued to the Hull

Building boat models helps me to 'cheaply' experiment with different designs... teaches me techniques that can be used in building real boats... enables me to build designs that really appeal to me, such as Bolger's Japanese Beach Cruiser... enables me to (partially) fulfill my boat building obsession(?) regardless of the weather. And it's fun!

The next post will focus on nutrition for the rower.

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