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Building Model Ships - A Fanciful Hobby

Apr 4, 2008
A workmanlike finish with varnish means your ship model will be extremely well presented and durable. In the case of old-time ship models the bulk of the materials employed are wood, paper, card and plaster, with only a few metallic parts; and of the woodwork, the most important is the hull.

Supposing this to be plank built, it will need only very carefully sandpapering with old well-worn but clean fine paper, followed by a dusting, and then by one coat of clear crystal varnish. This should be allowed to dry hard and then be carefully but lightly rubbed down with sandpaper, dusted, and given a second and rather more generous coat of varnish.

This treatment leaves the wood in its natural colors, but if a deeper and richer effect with a very high gloss is desired it will be necessary to employ a high grade carriage varnish and to give two or three coats, each allowed to dry hard, prior to rubbing down with fine sandpaper, or preferably with pumice powder.

To rub down a varnished surface with pumice powder, put some of the powder in a linen bag, an old handkerchief folded into four answering very well. Draw the corners upwards and tie them together with string, leaving a flat part at the bottom of the bag which can be used as the rubbing surface. Dip the pad in water and rub lightly and briskly over the surface of the dry varnish, using a circular motion.

Keep the varnish and the pad moistened with water to prevent the varnish lifting or pulling up, as it would do if the surface became hot by friction. Endeavour to produce a perfectly smooth even surface, marble-like in appearance and texture. Similar measures can be employed when rubbing down for French polish, or to impart a fine surface on paintwork.

The final coat of varnish is generally left plain, but can be rubbed down in this way and polished afterwards with linseed oil and a trace of beeswax dissolved in turpentine, and rubbed on as if French polishing.

The foregoing is an excellent finish for mahogany or other woods used for deck houses and the like, and for the masts and spars. Usually on small model work it is unnecessary to give a preliminary coating of size or filling, but this may be occasionally needed.

Varnishes ought to be applied with a medium soft brush, and flowed on or applied rather thickly; it is difficult to describe how much varnish to use, but it must be sufficient to flow together after the brush has passed, thus obliterating the brush marks, but it must not be too generous or it will run down into miniature rivulets and never dry flat and uniform in appearance. Try to apply a coat absolutely uniform in thickness, use a proper "varnish brush," the best quality varnish, and success will surely follow if the work is guided by commonsense.

A good deal of the paintwork has to be done on the model at various stages of its completion.

Back scenes on scenic models are generally done with ordinary water colors or poster colors. Plaster waves or other parts are generally painted with oil colors, or with poster colors if the plaster surfaces are previously gone over with a light coat of crystal varnish or a thin coat of clear shellac varnish, either of which closes the pores and stop the "suction," thus enabling a uniform surface of color to be attained.
When varnishing and painting are completed, your ship will give much pleasure to you and all who view her.
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