Scratchbuilding a 1/1200th Scale Model Ship
Steve Richards

Take it from me, scratchbuilding your own model can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. It doesn’t require the skills of a craftsman to produce a reasonably accurate miniature of any ship.Of course one could spend years on one model and produce an absolute masterpiece, but I think most modellers scratchbuild models because they have an interest in the particular ship, there may not be a commercially available model, (If there is it may be very expensive), or, they are drawn to the idea of creating something from scratch.

So where do you begin? I’ve divided the rest of this article into logical groups. (No there aren’t any pictures, but I hope my words can give you a good idea.)  I’ve chosen to write about my experiences with building a waterline 1914 version of the British battlecruiser HMS Lion.

Choosing a Subject
Obviously pick a ship you like. It is important to find some good reference materials i.e. plenty of photos and if possible some good line drawings of both plan and side views. Most modellers have a good assortment of books and magazines. I drew my main references for the Lion from an old "Model Boats" magazine and from "Conways All The Worlds Battleships". You may need to scale the plans to 1/1200 or 1/1250 scale. This can be done via photocopying or as I have done on a couple of occasions, totally re-drawn the plans.

I chose to fashion the hull from a single piece of English lime. It is an easy wood with which to work and one can obtain sharp, clean edges. The anti-torpedo booms were made from fuse wire and the net from a single strand of black cotton. The superstructure and funnels were fabricated from a mixture of wood, paper and plastic card. The masts utilized pins, needles and fuse wire. Wood was used for the turrets, with pins simulating the gun barrels. The secondary guns were made from fuse wire, the boats from wood. I mostly used "super glue", and added color with humbrol matt enamel paints. (Don’t ever use gloss, it is much too shiny at this scale!)  

Other materials were:
Heavy and light grade sandpaper, hobby knife, chisel, fine saw, metal rule, black biro and felt-tipped pen, lead pencil shaving dust for deck wear and tear.

The hull takes the longest to make and it well worth the time to get it done right. Roughly saw the wood to give the desired approximate thickness and overall dimensions.Cut out a paper template of the plan view of the ship and use it to draw an outline onto the wood.

You are now in a position to chisel and sand the wood to get the right dimensions. The Lion’s hull shape is relatively straight forward but one does need to allow for the "step" down from the forecastle to the quarter decks.

Make absolutely certain that the decks are flat and that you have the correct sheer, flare and bow and stern profiles. The ram bows of these ships can be tricky to model, but with a bit of time a patience it can be done! Don’t be afraid to use filler putty to correct errors etc. The whole lot has to be sanded smooth and the paint will hide any glitches!

Once you are happy with the hull, sand it and apply a couple of coats of dark grey on the sides and a suitable colour for the deck. Use a felt tipped pen to create the top part of the boot topping. Anchors, port holes (scuttles), can be inked in with the pen. Hawse pipes, anchor cable running plates, bollards, fairleads and various deck hatches can be represented via grey shapes outlined in black pen.

Cut the fuse wire to size for the booms and glue to the side of the hull, taking particular care with angles and spacing. Glue the cotton for the net to the top of the hull. Paint over any glue spots. Use the pencil lead shaving dust to create deck wear and to tone down the deck cours and blend things in. (Don’t over do it.)

The fore and aft superstructure is made from a combination of wood, plastic card and paper. Obviously owing to the scale, it can be fiddly work but not too difficult. Paint the decks brick red to simulate corticene covering and paint the superstructure vertical surfaces dark grey. Use a pen for the scuttles and hatches.

The funnels are made from solid wood with appropriate paint and pen markings.

The barbettes are fashioned from plastic card and the 4 turrets are made from solid wood. You will need to spend a fair bit of time in getting the first one to look right, but after this you can use it as a template for the other 3 thus making the work easier. Use pins suitably filed to shape for the barrels.

The secondary armament is created from fuse wire and pen to simulate casemates/embrasures. (After gluing these teeny weeny pieces of fuse wire to the model, be very careful with how you handle the model.)

Masts, poles etc are made from pins, needles and fuse wire. I have not bothered to try and fashion cables, wires etc.

Made from solid wood, appropriately painted in schemes that I think look realistic and detailed via the good old pen.

You must have a base upon which to mount the model. The elaborateness of this is up to you. I simply used a piece of masonite that has been painted blue. I reckon simulated sea with waves and white foam looks OK too provided you know your limitations as an artist (!) 

After you have done all of this and tried your best effort, you will be pleased with the result. Its great to see something gradually come together from nothing. I must admit that I value my scratchbuilt models much more that the kits I have built. (Pride of place is a 1/300th HMS Royal Sovereign battleship – but that’s a different story altogether!)

(Editor's Note: Miniature Merchant Ships -A Guide to Waterline Ship Modelling in 1/1200 Scale by John Bowen is a highly worthwhile primer for scratchbuilders of 1/1200 and 1/1250 scale models.)

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