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  • Writer's pictureMike at SBS

Scratchbuild Shipwright Tools

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

After posting my tutorial on building my 1:1500 scale ships, I got a request to quickly go over the tools that I use for my ship building project. Thinking about it, I really should have thought to include it in the tutorial, but there's enough here to get the conversation started!

So here's the list...

First up is the cutting mat. While essential for any modelling project, especially for cutting, I also found it helpful to have a flat surface to check that the hull bottoms are nice and flat. You can pick up one that suits your working space at any hobby or sewing shop.

These are my cutting tools. As I mentioned in the tutorial, its really important to keep a sharp blade on your cutting tools so that you don't tear the balsa as you work with it. Hobby knives are essential for cutting out shapes, while razor blades are ideal for cutting long straight lines or chopping off lengths of balsa sticks or plastic rod. Finally, having a sharp pair of scissors is essential for clipping rigging, etc. The ones I have pictured above are a spare pair that I got from a doctor. It's curved at the end so you can really get a precise cut.

Tweezers are a must-have in this project! They are particularly essential for holding and gluing in guns to turrets, placing secondary batteries, and other small details. 

Since balsa tends to suck up superglue into its pores, small things sometimes end up getting glued to the tweezers as I hold them in place. So I modified a small pin and put a glass bead on the end to help with grip. I can use this to help separate the piece and the tweezers. This little poking device is also super handy for locating holes for funnels, marking out where decks should go and more, so it was well worth the 5 seconds I took to make it!

I also have a pair of pliers and wire cutters to handle the wire elements of the ships, namely the masts.

I use files to bore out holes for the funnels as well as to smooth out the ends of cut wire and other tasks that require a bit more bite than sand paper.

Sanding is a way of life in this project! Ive made a few sanding blocks. The big one is double sided with 240 grit on one side for initial sanding and 800 grit on the other for finishing. It's good to have a big surface like this so that you can get long sanding motions. This helps keep the surface even, smooth, and flat.

I use the larger steel ruler to cut strips of balsa and the smaller one for measurement taking. Not much else to say about that! 

Adhesives! I use the gluestick for sticking the printed plan onto the balsa sheets, the super glue is for gluing pretty much everything together. I include the PVA for any other odd jobs that need sticking. Finally, when working with super glue I always use a base to decant a bit of glue on. Using tweezers I can dip the surface I want to glue into the puddle, or alternatively I can use the little pin thing I mentioned a few photos back to locally add a small amount of glue.

Pencils are ideal for marking out where pieces need to be located. I use a variety of technical pens for adding detail to the ships that I don't actually model in 3D, such as portholes, anchors, etc.

I have an old toothbrush and a makeup brush to help remove sawdust from models. It gets everywhere and makes it hard to glue things to things, so make sure that you give the model a good sweep before adding details like guns, etc. 

I use a lot of small bags to keep different wood dowels. I've used calipers to measure the diameters and put the number on the bag. I can then take measurements off the plans for the funnels and grab the right dowel. I also keep spare guns because I tend to mass cut a batch of guns with some spare as they tend to go missing.

I made a jig to help mass produce guns of the same length. Using some matchsticks, I glued down some T-shapes and marked what each one was measured for, which can be anything from the guns to funnels, destroyer bridges, and more. For big projects like these, this sort of thing will save you time and make the things you make with them look consistent. 

One last tip before I let you go: You can actually measure up to three things on each of these T's. In this case two lengths of 6" guns from the left and right and M-class destroyer funnels from the bottom. Just make sure you label them so that when you come back to use the jig you can remember which one to use!

Alright, that's my 1:1500 toolbox! Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions, comments, or your own custom made tools for similar projects, let me know in the comments below!

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