Tutorial: Scratch Building A Model

Patrick Hreachmack

One of the most common questions Bay Area Yards (BAY) is asked is, "Just how do you guys build the masters for your models?" BAY offers the following explanation of one methodology of many you can use to build your own models.

Choosing Your Construction Media:
Some people prefer to build in wood. The problem with wood is that you cannot achieve the detail possible in plastic. Secondly, if you are building the model for reproduction, the grain of the wood will be picked up by almost any molding RTV and transferred to the castings. The best model companies may use wood for the interior of a large model, but plastic is what is exposed to the surface. Likewise, any blemishes you may leave in the plastic, including fingerprints from traces of glue, will also be transferred to the castings. So the order of the day is use plastic and be very careful to clean up any blemishes, including glue prints.

Some modelers are very adept as using clay materials such as Sculpey Clay. This is great for landscape features but is too bulky to use for ship models. So, back to a few words about plastic. There is a great supply of plastic shapes available at your local hobby shop. Look for displays of Evergreen or Plastrastruct styrene plastic shapes. The assortment is perfect for construction of many projects including model railroad and model ship construction. Look closely at any BAY model and examine the construction.

Building Techniques:
Fine line scribed plastic is used for the decks. I prefer to use the type with the narrowest scribed lines, Evergreen #2025, which is scribed lines .025 inches apart. The BAY model scale is 1:600 or 50 feet to the inch. If you do the math, this gives 40 lines or planks per inch which translates to deck planks that are 15" wide. Deck planks on real ships were less width than this, but the impression of a nice deck is what you are looking for.

Another technique I often use is to layer the hull using different colors of plastic. This gives a multicolored layered cake effect that makes depth and contour control much easier. This is especially important when you are forming the lines of the bow and stern.

Smoke stacks can be made from various size aluminum tubing which is also available at your local hobby shop.

When you are researching your ship model, obtain as many accurate drawings or photos of your project as possible. Study the ship carefully. Analyze the ship and think of the model kits you built in the past. Each kit was formed of simple shapes and pieces. That is the approach you will use to build your own vessels. Planning is very important to your success.

Only a couple of years ago, neither George Kettler nor Frank Whitaker had ever built their own vessels. Now you'll find models mastered by both listed on the BAY web site. Don't expect your first efforts to be award winners. However, with practice and planning, you can accomplish great models. Don't be afraid to try a piece several times, until you are satisfied with the results. Repetition is what makes the difference. Perhaps one of these days, you too can join the cadre of BAY's master builders.

Tools are nothing fancy. Check out the photos of several of our construction yards. Larry Enoch works on an old desk in a rebuilt garage. Frank uses a coffee table in his living room. My workbench is a 30 x 30-inch piece of plywood screwed to the top of an old kitchen cabinet. Tools include X-Acto knives and saws, Krazy Glue, clamps, sandpaper and sanding blocks, model drills, Dremel Tools, a set of small files of various shapes, dental picks from flea markets, and other similar tools.

Construction of the ram USS Vindicator



Basic hull and superstructure: Note the lines drawn in pencil on the deck. After the hull blank is layered up to the correct thickness and the deck laid on top, the outline of the hull is roughed out. This is then carefully sanded to the correct final shape. The superstructure is built up the same way but note the deck is not yet in place.
Hull & superstructure: I like to cut pieces of thin plastic to sheath the superstructure. Before gluing the external sheath into place, the windows, gun ports, and doorways are carefully cut into the sheathing. This is then cemented into place. Note in the photo that you can clearly see the ports cut into the model. This is also the stage at which I carefully drilled holes inserted plastic rod into the holes to model the artillery.
Stern view: Note the cut ports in the cabin stern section and the future doors to each side.
Sidewheel housing: The two pieces set to each side are the future sidewheel housings after layered up but before trimming and sanding to shape. The deck has been laid on top of the superstructure and the pilothouse constructed. To form the pilothouse I used a square piece of plastic rod trimmed to length and sheathed in thin plastic.
Starboard view: Up forward, the future location of the stacks has been carefully measured and pilot holes drilled vertically into the model. The engine room skylight and vent piece has been added. The window frames are Evergreen HO gauge 2 x 2 strips. Look closely at the bow and you can see the iron sheath installed which constitutes the ram of Vindicator.
Stacks: In this view, the two stacks are clearly shown. Note the wider tube used for the top of the stacks and the second tube inserted into the base of the stacks. This allows the smaller drilled holes for the stacks. Also note the detail now added to the shaped paddlewheel housings.
Near completion: Clearly shown are the now completed lower paddlewheel housings complete with the tapered side decks installed and shaped. Also shown are the upper paddlewheel housings. These were formed by cementing scribed plastic around a wood dowel. The dowel is then cut to the correct thickness, cut to the correct semicircle shape, and more scribed plastic added to the sides. The 100 pdr muzzle loading rifle (MLR) was formed by placing a piece of brass rod into my Dremel tool and using filers to shape while rotating at low speed. Also note the HO gauge 2 x 2 used on the after deck to form the gun rotation ring on the aft deck.
Our final photo shows some of the parts placed into position on and around the model to give you an ideal of how the boat looked and how your model will appear.

BAY is pleased to provide this description so you can understand how much work goes into each of BAY's models. We are trying to add as much detail as we can. Our master builders are constantly improving our building techniques. I hope you appreciate our work.

The ram USS Vindicator is one of the latest releases in BAY's selections. Purchase yours soon and add her to your fleet.