A (not much) progress report

Unfortunately, as I had expected, real life has rather put a break on the progress I was making with my ‘How to …’ blog entry. It is the end of the month … and this meant that I had to pay a visit to my wife’s bank to pay a cheque in for her. After doing some shopping I joined the queue at the bank paying-in counter at 10.30am … and got to the cashier position at 11.15am. In that time the cashier (there was only one on duty!) dealt with six customers, none of whom had something simple or straight forward that needed to be done.

For example, one women had had her wallet stolen, in which were all her debit and credit cards as well as her Driving Licence; she had been told to go to the bank to apply for replacements for the cancelled cards … but the bank would not process her request as she did not have any form of identity to prove she was who she said she was. The cashier had to try to deal with this without any help from any other members of staff, all of whom seemed to be sitting at their desks behind the glass partition not seeing the increasing numbers of customers waiting impatiently to be dealt with.

Coming home I got stuck in a minor traffic jam caused by a set of temporary traffic lights that had stopped working properly. They were supposed to control the traffic contra flow around some extensive roadworks, but somehow they had ended up directing both streams of traffic through at the same time, which meant that no one ended up going anywhere. The crew doing the roadworks seemed totally unaware that there was a problem … and the final straw was the arrival on the scene of an emergency ambulance trying to get through the chaos with its ‘blues and twos’ on!

I finally managed to get home just in time to have some lunch, and feeling like my morning had been totally wasted. I hope that this afternoon will be a bit more productive.

Going off at a tangent

How often have I been happily working on a wargames project when suddenly I go off at a tangent?

The answer is very simple. Too many times … and last night was one of them!

There I was, building the hull for my latest model ship, when the idea sprang into my head that I could build model ships that I could use to fight naval battles using David Crook’s version of MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (MOBAS) and that would look ‘right’ alongside my 15mm-scale* wargames figures. This thought then seemed to preoccupy me for the rest of the evening … and part of the night … until, in that stage just before one drifts off into sleep, I realised what I wanted the models to look like … the battleship playing-piece from MONOPOLY!

My family used to own a very old MONOPOLY set, and it had a small metal battleship as one of the playing-pieces. As I child I wondered whether, if one were rich enough, one could buy enough MONOPOLY sets to field a small fleet of ships to fight battles with. (Ah! The innocence of youth!) This morning I trawled through the Internet and found a picture of one of those old battleship playing-pieces … and it is exactly the sort of design I am looking to recreate.

It is not a perfect scale model of a battleship. It is a cartoon … but it has the ‘look’ I want to achieve. The problem is that I am a good way through making a model ship to illustrate a ‘How to …’ blog entry … so what should I do?

Again, the answer is simple. Do both … and that is what I am going to try to do over the next couple of days … real life permitting!

* I know that there is not such ‘scale’ as 15mm. It refers to the notional height of the figure, but it is my ‘shorthand’ for that scale of wargames figure (1:100th-scale), and it is an expression that most wargamers understand even if it is not correct.

Another progress report

I have been quite busy again today working on my next ‘How to …’ blog entry. This one explains how I build the larger model ships that I use with my figure games.

The process of making the models, taking photographs, and describing what I have done at each stage of the construction of the model takes a lot longer than I expected. I had hoped to have finished it today, but it looks more than likely that it will take until tomorrow or possibly even Wednesday.

In the meantime I have been working on one or two ideas for model ships that might work with both 15mm figures and David Crook’s version of MEMOIR OF BATTLE AT SEA (MOBAS). I think that it is not an insuperable problem, but that it might require a bit of ingenuity on my part.

How to build a model Steam River/Coastal Gunboat and model Steam River/Coastal Passenger Ship from scratch

The method I use to build a small model ship with a low freeboard involves building the hull from laminated layers of Plasticard and the then fixing a suitable superstructure to the hull.

1. Making the hull from laminated layers of Plasticard
The first stage is to cut a piece of Plasticard to the size required.

In this instance I wanted the hull to fit into a Hexon II hex, so it is cut to be 4.0″/10.0cm x 2.0″/5.0cm from 0.080″/2.0mm thick Plasticard.

The next stage is to trim the oblong of Plasticard into the shape of the ship’s outline. This outline is marked on the oblong in pencil and then the sections of unwanted Plasticard are carefully cut off.

N.B. I use a Stanley knife/box cutter with a sharp blade to do the cutting, and it is done on a special non-slip rubber modelling mat. A ruler with a non-slip surface is used to cut any straight edges. I strongly recommend that anyone following this method use similar tools at all times when cutting the Plasticard as it will make the whole process much safer and more accurate.

The basic outline is then sanded so that any edges are rounded off.

A second oblong of Plasticard is then cut out. This should be slightly larger than the original oblong as this will make the laminating process easier.

The original ship outline is then glued to the second oblong, and the two are weighted down in order to ensure that the fit is airtight and any surplus glue is squashed out.

N.B. I use liquid cement to glue the two pieces of Plasticard together. This does produce fumes when it is being used and can irritate the nose and throat if the gluing is not done in a well ventilated room. It is absolutely vital that any safety instructions are followed and obeyed.

Because I want the bond between the two pieces of Plasticard to be as strong as possible, I usually leave them under the weights for five to six hours at least (overnight is even better). I then carefully cut around the existing hull shape with my modelling knife, using the edge of the shape to guide my knife. I do not try to cut through the Plasticard at one go (it is far too thick to do that with accuracy), but run the knife slowly around the shape anything up to twenty times, doing a short section at a time. This takes some time to do, but by allowing the weight of the knife to do the work rather than using too much pressure to get the job done quickly, it is possible to do the whole task accurately. This is one of the reasons why I use a Stanley knife/box cutter with a sharp blade to do the cutting and not a modelling scalpel, which has no weight to it and which requires additional hand pressure to make the cut.

Once this is completed I have a thin hull shape that is made from two laminated thicknesses of Plasticard. In this case it is 0.160″/4.0mm thick. Because I want the hull to be somewhat thicker, I repeat the process of cutting out another oblong of Plasticard, gluing the hull shape to it, leaving it under weights for the glue to take affect, and carefully cutting around the shape.

I then end up with a hull shape that is 0.240″/6.0mm thick.

I could continue adding additional layers of Plasticard to make the hull even thicker, but in this case I think that it is thick enough for the model I am making.

The hull shape is then sanded so that any edges are rounded off. I also use a method that is akin to planing to remove excess Plasticard. The blade of the knife is held so that it is almost vertical to the side of the hull shape, and then it is gently scraped along the edge. This takes off a very thin shaving of Plasticard. This method does require practise, and must be done carefully so that the user does not cut oneself, hence the advice to gently rather than vigorously scrape.

2. Making the superstructure
This is by far the easiest part of the modelling process, although care is still required. As the superstructure is made from a series of different-sized boxes, the most important thing (other than using the tools safely!) is to ensure that the corners of the boxes are square when they are assembled.

In this instance the superstructure is made from two ‘boxes’, one large (the main part of the superstructure) and one small (the ship’s bridge. I try to make the boxes in the following manner.

Cut strips of Plasticard (in this instance it is cut from 0.060″/1.5mm Plasticard) that are long enough to form the ‘walls’ of the box. Drill or cut any openings that are required. In this case a number of portholes were drilled into the Plasticard using a simple hand drill from a very cheap set of screwdrivers.

Glue the corners of one long side and one short side of the box together carefully. I use liquid cement that is brushed on to the join (see safety warning above) and the joint is supported whist the glue dries to ensure that the joint is square. I then repeat the process for the other long and short side. The glue takes seconds to dry, but I let it cure for thirty minutes before gluing the two pieces together to form the ‘walls’ of the box.

The ‘lid’ of the box can then be cut and glued in place and gently weighed down whilst the glue cures.

In this instance the ‘lid’ (which will form the upper deck of the ship) has been cut so that it overlaps the sides of the box so that when it is glued to the deck it gives the appearance of a covered way around the deck.

The same method is used to build the ship’s bridge.

The main part of the superstructure is then glued to the deck …

… and once the glue is dry the bridge is glued to the main part of the superstructure.

All the model now requires is a funnel, and this is cut from a length of Plasticard tubing and glued in place.

The basic ship model is now complete, and it can be embellished with additional bits and pieces to taste before being painted.

3. Embellishments and additions
Because these models are to be used in wargames, any embellishments and additions to the models must be robust enough to stand the sort of handling they will get. Things that can be added without too much difficulty are doors and hatches. These are made from suitably-sized pieces of thin Plasticard (e.g. 0.040″/1.0mm thick Plasticard).

One of the most obvious embellishments that can be added are one or two cowl ventilators. These were often seen on steam ships, and allowed fresh air to be drawn below decks.

Whilst these are not an essential embellishment for a model, they add period ‘feel’. I had several suitable cowl ventilators in my ‘spares’ box and decided to use some of them.

Winches (such as those used for hauling up anchors) can also be added to the foredeck of model ships. Again, whilst these are not essential, they can add a little aesthetic detail which should not impeded the use of the model in a wargame.

4. Building a River/Coastal Gunboat
The method outlined above can be used to build a River/Coastal Gunboat. These were sometimes converted from River/Coastal Steam Passenger Ships, in which case all that would be needed would be to add a gun or two to the model. Some were built from scratch, and these tended to have smaller superstructures that were optimised to give the ship’s armament the best arcs-of-fire possible.

The model that I have built represents a specially built River/Coastal Gunboat. It was constructed using the same procedures as outlined above and a scratch-built gun was added to the open deck area. The bridge does not have conventional windows. It has a slit through which the ship would be conned. River/Coastal Gunboats often operated close to shore and their bridges had to be protected from small arms fire.

The breakwater fitted just in front of the gun was made from one of the mudguards from an Airfix German Armoured Car kit. I found it my ‘spares’ box and thought that it would improve the ‘look’ of the Gunboat, especially as many of them were fitted with an armoured redoubt or splinter protection around their armament to protect the gun crew.

Progress report

Today I have been concentrating my efforts on writing a blog entry that explains how I build some of my ship models using Plasticard. I have been writing the blog entry in the gaps in the building process (i.e. whilst the glue has been drying) and I have taken quite a few photographs to illustrate it. I still have quite a bit more to do, but I hope that the blog entry will be ready to be published at some point tomorrow.

Back from paradise … and sat at my modelling table!

We finally finished emptying all the cupboards, draws, display cabinets and sundry other storage places in my father-in-law’s bungalow this afternoon … and what has not been kept as mementos has either gone to the recycling centre or to a local charity shop.

We finally got home just after dark, and after a bit of a rest (and a much needed Diet Coke) I began the process of building a couple of model ships using one of the two methods I usually use. I am photographing each stage of the process and intend to use them as the basis of a ‘How to …’ blog entry.

The method I am using involves laminating Plasticard to create solid hulls, and I use this method when I want to make models where the freeboard (i.e. the distance above the waterline) is quite small. As the two models I am making are going to be a River/Coastal Gunboat and a River/Coastal Passenger Steamer, this method was the obvious choice.

The following photograph is a picture of a model River Gunboat I made using a laminated Plasticard hull. Whilst it is not the prettiest model in the world (and not one of my best efforts) it does show what can be achieved using bits and pieces from the spares box.

(Some time ago I needed a model River Gunboat for a game … and did not have one … so I made this one very quickly from what I had in my spares box. The laminated hull had been made for another project that came to nothing, the gun was left over from an Airfix StuG III conversion, the bridge was from a model tug whose hull had been converted into a 20mm-scale Flatiron Gunboat, and the funnel came from an Airfix ‘Great Western‘. It took me less than half an hour to put the pieces together, and it was painted an on the tabletop within an hour. Bearing in mind how quickly it was built, I think that we can forgive its somewhat odd and unique ‘look’!)

The other method I use comes into its own when I want to build a model ship with a higher freeboard (e.g. like the models featured in my recent blog entry) and this second method is completely different from the first. In this case the hull of the model is basically a box with curved sides, and I use the inherent flexibility of the Plasticard to form the curves, although I sometimes resort to using simple formers and boiling water to help make them. This is possible because Plasticard is a thermoplastic that can be formed into a shape using heat, and if it is kept in that shape until the plastic cools, its does not revert to its original shape.

Another day in paradise …

Most of my day can be summed up in the following little ditty (which can be sung to the chorus of ‘Off To Dublin In The Green’).

And we’re off to Herne Bay in the car, in the car
Where the house clear just has to be done
Where no cars are flash and there’s not much cash
For the O-APs waiting for the sun.

Note: O-APs are Old Age Pensioners, who seem to make up a large proportion of the population of this Kent seaside town.

Perhaps I might get some modelling done when I get back. Who knows?