1. Recommended Tools
- Scalpel or sharp pointed knife, either disposable blades or re-sharpenable.
- Pointed but BLUNT implement for scoring, eg compass point, old biro, blunt knife blade.
- Steel ruler (cork-backed if possible, both 15cm and 30cm are recommended).
- Tweezers for handling small parts (smooth jaws if possible).
- Glue (PVA adhesive – otherwise known as “white glue”)
- Paints, coloured pencils or watercolour markers for touching up cut edges
- Self-healing cutting mat.
Additional or optional items:
- Hole punch in a variety of sizes.
- Toothpicks for applying small amounts of glue.
- Variety of clothes pegs or clamps for clamping parts while they glue.
- Variety of small rods or tubes for rolling cylinders.
- Large craft knife for roughly cutting out parts.
- Sharp scissors with pointed tips.
- Small set squares for checking right angles.
- Sticky tape for holding parts in place while they dry
- Spare card for laminating parts and re-inforcing joins, etc.
2. Basic Techniques
Score any fold lines before cutting out a part. Use a blunt pointed instrument and a ruler to score fold lines. Note some parts are designed to be scored on the reverse – check the symbols used to indicate the score lines. Some people prefer to make a cut through half the thickness of the card with a sharp knife, though this requires some skill to get right.
Cut out parts on a self-healing cutting mat (available from hobby or craft shops), a thick pile of newspaper or cardboard. I strongly recommend a self-healing cutting mat. They are not expensive and will last a long time.
Do not cut out any parts until they are required. Cut out any openings in a part before cutting out the part.
Use a sharp knife or a scalpel for straight cuts and always use a straight edge. A cork-backed steel rule will not mark the model sheets. Small sharp scissors can be used for curved parts. A set of steel french curves are useful for cutting out curved parts.
When cutting into corners, for example a window opening, start with you knife point in the corner and cut outwards. Make two cuts that meet in the middle if necessary.
Watch out for your fingers, craft knives and scalpels are sharp. Children should not be left unsupervised when using scissors or knives.
The sticky area on the back of a Post-ItTM is useful for holding small parts while cutting them out.
Test fit all parts and ensure a good fit before glueing them in place.
Touching Up Cut Edges
The appearance of a model can be greatly enhanced by colouring the cut edges (which would otherwise show as white on the model) the same colour as the printing on the card.
Watercolour paints, coloured pencils, felt-tip pens, watercolour pencils, watercolour paint felt-tip pens or pastels can all be used. Try on a piece of scrap card from the model first. I almost exclusively use watercolour markers – Do NOT use normal felt-tips as they bleed into the card from the edge very badly.
It only seems to be important to get the tone right, the precise colour match is not so important – a set of various grey coloured markers in various tones works for me in most cases.
Glues and Glueing
Three main types of glue can be used:
- Petroleum based glues – UHU All purpose/Alleskleber. These generally dry clear and can be used for all parts. Care is needed as they can string and also be difficult to just get the small amount required on the part.
- PVA (Poly Vinyl Acrylate) based glue – also called White glue, wood glue, school glue – Bostik Resin W, Tacky Glue, Elmers – it is Very good for gluing paper, it’s cheap, it dries nearly matt, it can easily be placed with a toothpick. Thinned with water it can be used to size absorbent card. Do not over-apply these glues or they will buckle card.
- Cyano-acrylate glues – supergue, CA glue, instant glue – available in differing setting times and consistencies, relatively expensive. The thin/fast glues are good for stiffening thin parts like flagpoles as they soak in and leave the part almost plastic-like, but they darken colours.
A completely flat, stiff and adequately sized building board is vital if your model is to be assembled correctly. Gluing the base plate to a stiff, flat surface will mean that the hull does not warp or twist during assembly.
Cardboard, plastic or wood can be used, the only criteria being the building board must be sufficiently thick that it will not warp and it must be long and wide enough for the whole model to fit.
The model should be glued to the building board with a series of small dots around the periphery and a number of small dots beneath any structural members, eg the hull spine. When complete, the model can be separated from the building board by slipping a thin flat knife or razor blade between the model and the building board and working it carefully back and forth.
Some plastics have the added advantage that certain glues will not stick to them permanently. I use a thin (3mm) sheet of plastic sheet of the type sold for glazing or picture framing (acrylic or methyl acrylate plastic) glued to a sheet of MDF (medium density fibreboard) with PVA adhesive. The model is also glued in place on top of the plastic sheet with PVA. This glue holds fast during assembly, but separates cleanly when required without tearing (the model just sort of “pops” off the plastic).
3. Improving Your Models
The cowl on top of ventilators should be gently burnished with a small-ish rounded implement to achieve the true rounded (near hemispherical) shape.
The “glass” in the windows of chart houses, bridges and deck houses can be carefully cut out and replaced with a clear glazing material (Overhead projector transparency sheets seem a good compromise between transparency and stiffness). The interior can be scratch-built if not supplied.
The “glass” in deck skylights may be replaced with small pieces of clear glazing material. Colour the underlying deck black.
Paper gun barrels can be replaced with lengths of plastic or metal tubing (rod for the smaller barrels) – though they look more realistic if slightly tapered towards the muzzle. These can be wrapped in the paper parts or painted to match. Alternatively scanning and printing the parts onto very thin paper makes it much easier to roll them into very small cylinders.
Small scale bollards can be quickly made from plastic rod, painted an appropriate colour or coloured with a permanent marker and cut into short lengths. Glue in place with instant glue.
Flags should be scanned and printed onto VERY thin paper. They should then be cut out, folded and glued double with PVA glue. This glue soaks into the paper and softens it. Before the glue dries, use a pair of tweezers to fold and realistically drape the flag. Glue in place on the flagpole or mast when dry.
Scanning the mast parts and printing out onto thin paper will make rolling up mast parts easier. Paper masts can be replaced with masts made from wood, plastic rod (or tubing) or metal wire. Short lengths of dried grass can also be used, though I have not tried this myself.
Rolling paper masts around a length of wire will provide stiffness and the ability to straighten the mast if needed.
Wooden or plastic masts can be mounted in the chuck of an electric drill and gently sanded to a tapering shape.
Wooden or plastic masts can be easily and quickly coloured black or dark brown by using a permanent marker or paint. For lighter colours, modellers paint must be used.
The appearance of ships boats can be greatly improved by forming the hulls into the correct rounded shape. Use a small rounded implement (I find the “ball” on the end of my craft knife handle is ideal).
Place the boat sides printed side down on a surface with some give (an upside down foam-backed mouse mat seems to work well) and gradually burnish a curve into the part by using a rotating action while gradually increasing the pressure. Try this out on some scrap card first.
Ladders and companionways
Companionways can be replaced with scratch-built alternatives that have “proper” horizontal steps – use the original part as a template. A notched piece of card can act as a template for spacing the treads.
Replace any printed handrails with wire or plastic shaped to fit. Parts should be de-greased, primed, painted and glued in place with CA/instant glue.
Ladders can be replaced with etched metal or laser-cut card parts. THey can also be made from thread tied round a suitable template as for railings (see below). A template for making 1:250 scale ladders is available to download from this site (see under miscellaneous for “Thread Railing and Ladder template).
Fine thread, nylon monofilament or stretched sprue can be use for rigging. Fine nylon monofilament is available from fishing tackle suppliers. It can be coloured black with a permanent marker by unreeling a length, placing the tip of the marker on the thread (on a scrap piece of paper) near the reel, then pulling the thread through the tip of the marker.
If the monofilament does not lie straight, place a length in boiling water briefly then hang up with a weight tied to the end. Cut to length and glue in place with instant glue (also known as superglue, CA or cyanoacrylate). Use a small drop of glue held on the end of a needle or pin – DO NOT try and use the bottle to dispense superglues!
I use “invisible mending thread” for a lot of my rigging – it comes in two thicknesses from my local haberdashery shop and is available in a smoke colour that means I don’t have to colour it.
It is often easier to make any holes for fastening rigging in decks, etc before cutting out and gluing the deck in place. Standing rigging lines are often better glued into the deck before assembly, then tied to the top of the mast at a later stage.
With small models it is possible to pass the thread right through the model. This allows the modeller to tie the thread to the mast, tension the line and then glue the other end to the bottom of the model, out of sight.
Block and tackles
Realistic block and tackle may be made by cutting out small paper disks – one for each side of the blocks – and then sandwiching a number of lengths of thread or monofilament between the halves of the paper “blocks”. Lifeboat davits and other derricks may be replaced with plastic rod or soft wire bent to shape.
Steam-era ships often had awnings (canvas sunshades) on exposed decks and the awning poles and supporting wires were a reasonably conspicuous feature. The poles can be easily made (if not supplied) from stiffened paper, wire or thin plastic rod. They should be rigged with fine thread, nylon monofilament or stretched plastic sprue. Awnings may be made from very thin ivory or cream coloured paper or white paper coloured with watercolour paint (the paper for rolling your own cigarrettes is thin and strong). A couple of photographs of the subject will show where the poles should be mounted (if not already marked on the model) and the shape of the awnings.
4. Ships Railings
A lot of ship models have railings printed as part of the hull sides or supplied separately. These are generally to scale and can be fitted if desired. However, “proper” scale railings can dramatically improve the appearance of a ship model and are not difficult to make and fit.
Railings – option 1
Photo-etched metal railings (available from good hobby suppliers or by mail order) are suitable for use with paper ship models. Cut the railings to length, bend gently into shape, paint an appropriate colour and glue in place.
Railings – option 2
Very detailed railings can be made using lengths of wire for the stanchions (supports) and lengths of thread. Make a hole in the deck for each stanchion – if the positions are marked, otherwise you will need to identify the correct spacing and decide on positions for yourself. Then cut a length of wire for each stanchion (using any supplied paper rails as a template) and glue the wire into the hole in the deck using instant glue (also known as superglue, CA or cyanoacrylate). Use white glue to fix thread between the stanchions and then paint the railings an appropriate colour.
Note that holes for the railings should be made in any unsupported decks such as bridge wings before they are glued in place.
Railings – option 3
Similar to option 2 but paper strips are used as stanchions folded over thread “rails” and glued into place. Use any supplied paper railings as a template.
Railings – option 4
Realistic railings can be made simply from thread stiffened with glue. These can be very easily made by the modeller.
The basic method is to wrap thread round an open framework to form a criss-crossed grid of threads, soak the threads in glue and allow to set, then cut out and fix into place. This method also produces accurate scale ladders.
Full instructions and a template for some standard railing profiles are available from this website (look under the “Miscellaneous” section for “Thread Ladder and Railing Template”).
Railings – option 5
Laser-cut card parts are now available from a number of suppliers. These are similar to photo-etched parts in appearance except the parts have been cut out with a laser. These card parts are easier to work with than photo-etched parts and can be handled and glued in the same manner as the other card parts in a model. Note also that some suppliers now offer custom-laser-cutting services – they can cut any parts specified from a CAD file that you provide.
5. Crew Figures
Small crew figures in a selection of appropriate poses can add life to a model, particularly if it is in some sort of diorama. At 1:250 scale the figures are tiny – just over 7mm high – but commercial figures are available or you can make your own. Don’t overload a model with figures, a few groups and some carefully selected individual figures is usually sufficient.
Option 1 – plastic or metal figures
Architectural model accessory suppliers sell unpainted plastic figures in a variety of scales – mostly in metric scales (1:100, 1:200, 1:250, etc). A web search or your local business directory should find a supplier. Paint appropriately and glue in place.
Model railway accessory suppliers may sell Z-scale (1:220) painted or unpainted figures. While slightly over scale they can be used without looking badly wrong. A web search or your local business directory should find a supplier.
Option 2 – paper/card figures
Paper purists might like to try making their own figures – but you need to be prepared to cut out and glue up to 10 parts per person together to produce credible figures.
A set of paper crew is provided as a free dwonload from this website – look under the “Miscellaneous” section.
6. Photo-etched Metal Parts
Photo-etched metal parts are made of metal and the etching process eats away the unwanted metal without the stress associated with cutting or stamping. This is ideal for model parts and very fine and delicate parts can be produced. They are used to replace very detailed or hard to cut out parts. Other parts can be produced that would not be possible to create with card alone (unless you have demi-god skills and a craft-knife tip two angstroms wide).
The disadvantages are that the parts are expensive, at least doubling the total cost of a model and the model cannot be said to be truly “card”.
Generic parts sets are available – ladders, hand-wheels, anchor chain, railings, etc – as well as complete sets for specific models from some suppliers.
7. Display Bases and Dioramas
A display base can be made from an appropriate piece of wood. Sand and varnish the sides. Cover the top with a suitable piece of green-blue paper, glue your model ship in place and coat the paper with artists gel medium (available from good art supply shops). Build up several layers and try and replicate some waves. White paint sparingly applied can pick out the wake. Practice without gluing the model in place first!
For the really adventurous, add a wharf, some dock-side buildings and accessories, small boats and figures. A wisp of cotton wool from the funnel of a steamer looks convincing – your imagination is the only limit.
To prevent dust settling on your completed model (or during assembly) it is a good idea to invest in a good display case for your models or make one yourself. A simple wooden framework can be glazed with plastic or glass (most glass merchants will cut glass to size for a small charge). An even simpler case can be made by glueing plastic sheet together at the edges.
Small electric light bulbs or LEDs and a battery can be added inside a model to illuminate the (carefully cut-out) windows. Some experimentation may be needed as thin card is fairly translucent and may need lining with foil to prevent a luminous glow from the whole model.