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How to Build a Model Sailing Ship at Virtually No Cost

Updated on May 29, 2017
GoldenRod LM profile image

John is a retired math teacher who is involved in many activities. He writes, builds model ships, gardens, reads, and prospects for gold.

Build a Boat

A French galleon replica circa 16th century
A French galleon replica circa 16th century | Source

How to, How Much, and What For

Model ships tend to be pretty pricey at the retail level. If you are on a budget and are keen to spend time on detail, construction of a model brings great satisfaction. My inspiration for saving money has led me to build my own model sailing ships for center pieces and to adorn my mantel or shelves. The materials I use are very common and easily acquired. Use the steps below as an anchor buoy. Once the basic boat is built, let your imagination run wild.

First Things First

We will be using tacky glue for this project; my favorite is Lydia's Tacky glue. I like it because you can glue a piece together and work on another area of the project due to the glue's stickiness. I buy Lydia's at Walmart for less than $2. If you are a crafter, you probably already have some. The glue is cheap, and it dries strong. White glue, carpenter's glue, and guerrilla glue probably would work, but I prefer tacky. A hot glue gun is very useful on connections that are wider than you would like. More on this later.

We will also use acrylic craft paint and spray paint. I prefer spray paint for the hull and ceramic paint for the rest of the ship. It is easy to use - may I recommend Color Place spray paint and Apple Barrel or Patio Paint acrylic craft paint? There are a number of brands, and they all are pretty much the same. My recommendations are based on price. I would think you could use water base house paint also, though it might take a bit longer to dry. If you are a crafter, you probably already have acrylics.

The strips at the bottom of the photo will be glued to the partitions to form the structure of the hull.
The strips at the bottom of the photo will be glued to the partitions to form the structure of the hull. | Source

Step-by-Step Steps

Find some paint sticks, the kind you get when you buy paint at a paint store. I have them hanging around from many projects, so that is not a problem. However, if you go to a home improvement store and simply ask for a paint stick or two, the folks waiting on you will probably give you some. I shop at Walmart, and the paint department is very helpful.

Make about 3 strips from the stick about 1/4" wide. These will be glued to make the partitions of the ship. Cut them 9" long and set them aside. You will need at least 6.

"Arghhhh!," said the pirate, "Shiver me paint sticks!"

Build Bulkheads and Ribs

The partitions of a ship wedged between pieces of flagstone. The lumber or timbers for the sides of the hull are to the left.
The partitions of a ship wedged between pieces of flagstone. The lumber or timbers for the sides of the hull are to the left. | Source

"Shiver Me Timbers!"

1/4" sticks glued to the partitions.
1/4" sticks glued to the partitions. | Source

Partitions, Mateys!

Cut partitions out of corrugated cardboard (stiff) for the ship's hull. You can see the shape of the partitions (bulkheads) in the photos. Here are the dimensions:

Top of Partition - 3"

Bottom of Partition - 3/4"

Height of Partition at the "Center" - 3 1/4"

Make the partition a pleasing shape similar to the photo. You do not have to be perfect - this way of building a ship is very forgiving. Close is fine.

I used a couple pieces of flagstone to hold the partitions in place. You can make 4 or 5 partitions, whatever number you want to assure some stiffness. This ship used 4 partitions. The partitions were glued to a piece of paint stick about 1/4" wide and 9" long. Again, close is good.

How could the pirate acquire the ship so cheaply? Because it was on sail.

Glue the cut strips to the partitions. Here is the beauty of the tacky glue. You can lean the partitions against something and glue the sticks, as they will stay in position with the tacky glue. I simply space them equally down the partitions, but a bit below the top where the deck will be. See the photo.

What are the only notes a pirate can sing? High C's.

Wood Deck Mold

The mold above contains the oven-bake clay. It bakes at 230 degrees for 30 minutes. Check the instructions because there are different brands.
The mold above contains the oven-bake clay. It bakes at 230 degrees for 30 minutes. Check the instructions because there are different brands. | Source

All Decked Out

Baked-clay deck attached to hull. Two brands I have used are EberhardFaber FIMO and Bake Shop Oven-Bake Clay
Baked-clay deck attached to hull. Two brands I have used are EberhardFaber FIMO and Bake Shop Oven-Bake Clay | Source

The next step is to build the deck. I have used oven-bake clay for sturdiness, but you can also use a corrugated cardboard, as long as the material is stiff. Put the oven-bake in the mold and flatten it out. If you use a rolling pin first, the deck will be smooth. I tried to score planks on the deck. See the photo.

Cook the material in the mold at 230 degrees for 30 minutes. Let it cool. Pry the bake-clay out with a knife. Gently push the knife between the mold and material, and gently rotate the knife back and forth to loosen it. I made this mold for a 1/2" dowel for masts on an earlier ship, but the end spot for masts had too small a space between the edge of the mold and the mast. It cracked. So I simply approached the edge and left that part open. On this model I will be using 5/16" dowel, so later I will modify the hole somewhat.

Why 5/16" dowel? Well, because they are free. On Veteran's Day and other holidays, organizations leave small American flags at the graves of veterans. These flags are left for days, and after awhile they fall to the ground in the wind. At a later date, I go to the cemetery and pick these up. I take the flags from the dowel and burn them properly according to protocol.

"Let's dine out tonight, mateys. It's either Jolly Roger or Long John Silver's."

The next thing to do is to glue the deck in place. See the photo above.

Knead the Bake Clay Well

Oven-bake clay still on the mold. I used clay scraps left over from other projects.
Oven-bake clay still on the mold. I used clay scraps left over from other projects. | Source

Reporting steps in order, now make the bow using the molds in the photos above and below. The bake-clay should be about 1/4" thick. Draw lines on your mold to reflect the shape of the bow for the hull you have made. I use a permanent marker - I also use the same mold and change the defining lines for the bow depending on how the hull is to be shaped. None of the parts are perfect. But as you go on, you will see that imperfections in the seams where large parts meet can be overcome by scabbing on carefully cut pieces of simple white typewriting paper, or any paper thin and pliable. Look at the bow mold photo and note that you probably will be making the mold from scraps and making sure it meets at about a 90 degree angle.

What's a pirate's favorite food? Arrrrrrtichokes!

Wooden Bow Mold

One view of the bow mold. I used wood for this also. The dark lines are to mark where the edges of the bow should be. Something like this can be used for multiple bows.
One view of the bow mold. I used wood for this also. The dark lines are to mark where the edges of the bow should be. Something like this can be used for multiple bows. | Source
Bottom view of the bow mold. I used scraps of wood and joined them to make the mold. Irregularities on the inside of the bow don't matter.
Bottom view of the bow mold. I used scraps of wood and joined them to make the mold. Irregularities on the inside of the bow don't matter. | Source

Put a Little Skin in the Game

At this time, your hull is ready to be papered. Gluing the paper to the hull gives the hull a finished look. You cut the paper (any thin, pliable paper, the shape of the skeleton it will fit to) and use the tacky glue for attachment. Let it dry.Once dry, coat the paper with tacky glue to make it stiff. The glue may also shrink the paper skin a bit so less of the structure beneath is visible. It is simple.

Why couldn't the young pirate see the R-rated movie? There wasn't any parrot-al guidance.

Keel Over!

Dimensions of the keel and the papered hull.
Dimensions of the keel and the papered hull. | Source

Man the Gun Ports!

The model with all of the main features. The sails are yet to be built, but you can spray paint the model now, probably black or brown. Your sails will be painted white. Stand is made from bake clay, too. I use this stand for a model build.
The model with all of the main features. The sails are yet to be built, but you can spray paint the model now, probably black or brown. Your sails will be painted white. Stand is made from bake clay, too. I use this stand for a model build. | Source

Notice from the photo of the bow above and the photo of the skin of the hull, other parts have also been added. It is just a matter of cutting these out of cardboard or 1/4" plywood. The dimensions are on the keel, and the rudder is 1 1/2" high and 1" wide at the bottom. These dimensions can be varied, but large variations will probably make the ship look nothing like scale.

A seam at the ship's forecastle required an addition of cardboard to cover the gap. A seam at the poop deck required a paper patch. These things can be handled easily as you go along with your construction. You will also see that the aft captain's cabin will have been built up with cardboard by the end of the build. It is said that paint covers a myriad of sins. Spray painting the whole ship brown or black before adding detail will do the same.

Earlier, I referred to the mast holes in the deck being too large. In the photo above you can see some small rectangular pieces of wood that had holes drilled to accept the dowel. These were then hot glued to the deck. You can use your hard molds over and over.

Who is the pirate's favorite actress? Diane Cannon.

Hull Mold

Side view of hull mold. Made from threshold material I used on a laminate floor. Scraps are inexpensive at Home Depot. The pieces were tied to a piece of 2"X 4" no more than 9" long.
Side view of hull mold. Made from threshold material I used on a laminate floor. Scraps are inexpensive at Home Depot. The pieces were tied to a piece of 2"X 4" no more than 9" long. | Source

Included are some photos of a mold I made for the hull when attempting to make it out of bake-clay. The Portuguese galleon replica below has such a hull.

After painting the ship, you can add color detail with acrylic paint. You can add battle streamers from the masts, crow's nests for the lookouts, flags, anchors, cabin windows, rigging, a wheelhouse, sail insignia, chains, rope ladders, canons, port holes, life boats, and much more.

What's a pirate's favorite basketball move? The Hook

Top view of the hull mold. Strips of oven-bake clay can be run along the sides. They will lie on the partitions. The oven bake sometimes breaks if you have a continuous side of the hull. I put strips on it with spaces so they can be pried off easily.
Top view of the hull mold. Strips of oven-bake clay can be run along the sides. They will lie on the partitions. The oven bake sometimes breaks if you have a continuous side of the hull. I put strips on it with spaces so they can be pried off easily. | Source

And Finally the Sails!

The sails are easily made from a plastic bourbon bottle. I mark the shape of each sail on the bottle with a permanent marking pen and then cut them out with a knife or tin snips. File off the edges to make them smooth (or trim with an Exacto Knife) and glue them to the yard. I make the boom/yards/spar out of 3/16" dowel and attach them at the foot of the sail. You can also use Shish Kabob sticks that are very inexpensive.

The mid mast is 8 1/4", the aft mast is 7 1/2", and the bow mast is 7", or there about.

You can get rid of the label bits by soaking the sails in a bowl of detergent water. I find that after putting on 2 or 3 coats of white acrylic paint, you don't notice the bits of label, but whatever you want is cool.

Attach the sails to a piece of string a bit longer than the chosen mast. Put a pin in the string at the top of the mast to hold the sails vertically. Then, hot glue the sails at the bottom to the mast. I then go back and gently pull the top of the sail out and put a dab of hot glue there, also.

See the photos below.

Sail Constructions

Sails cut from a plastic bourbon bottle. This is the middle mast. Dimensions: Top Sail and Yard, 3 /1/2", 3" -- Middle: 4", 3 1/2" -- Bottom 5 1/4", 4 3/4"
Sails cut from a plastic bourbon bottle. This is the middle mast. Dimensions: Top Sail and Yard, 3 /1/2", 3" -- Middle: 4", 3 1/2" -- Bottom 5 1/4", 4 3/4" | Source
Caution: paint the sails before mounting on the mast. After cutting out the sails, use a piece of common household string or crochette yarn. Cut a piece the size of the mast and glue the top and bottom of the sails to it spacing them carefully.
Caution: paint the sails before mounting on the mast. After cutting out the sails, use a piece of common household string or crochette yarn. Cut a piece the size of the mast and glue the top and bottom of the sails to it spacing them carefully. | Source
Note: This is an example of the sail connection. Paint the sails first. Hot glue works well for attaching sails to the mast.
Note: This is an example of the sail connection. Paint the sails first. Hot glue works well for attaching sails to the mast. | Source
The hot glue allows you time to adjust the sail in place - but not a lot of time.
The hot glue allows you time to adjust the sail in place - but not a lot of time. | Source

Avast!!

A homemade pirate ship. Avast ye lubbers!
A homemade pirate ship. Avast ye lubbers! | Source

Arghhh, She's Finished

An example of a finished replica. Model 15th century Portuguese galleon
An example of a finished replica. Model 15th century Portuguese galleon | Source

Man the Canon, Mateys!

Canon made of oven-bake clay
Canon made of oven-bake clay | Source

Ahoy, Set the Anchors!

You can make anchors from bake-clay, also. For the application above, I coated the anchor with some glitter glue. The other anchor is a necklace charm.
You can make anchors from bake-clay, also. For the application above, I coated the anchor with some glitter glue. The other anchor is a necklace charm. | Source

© 2016 John R Wilsdon

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    • GoldenRod LM profile image
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      John R Wilsdon 21 months ago from Superior, Arizona USA

      Thank you for the kind comment. I know how many people are trying to save money on expense. So many things can be used to build. Thanks again.

    • craftybegonia profile image

      craftybegonia 21 months ago from Southwestern, United States

      Very nice job! I like the clever solutions to the problem of expensive materials. It takes a knowledge of woodworking, but it will be worth it for anyone who has the knowledge and the tools.