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Bottled Ship Builder

Experiments in Card/Paper Ship Modeling

John Fox III

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            Work on the card/paper models continued with finishing up the masts and bowsprit/jib boom. The process for making the top and topgallant masts was similar to the work involved with making the lower masts. Various sized rods and tubes were wrapped with brown paper, using a tube or rod of the appropriate size to make the final paper tube a bit larger than necessary. The next steps were to sand the glued paper tubes to the proper size and shape. This work was very tedious as the CA glue applied to the outside of the tubing only saturated the paper for a few layers. As the sanding reached those unglued layers the paper because fuzzy and started to unwrap a bit. At those points an additional application of the CA glue was necessary. I found it necessary in many cases to have to repeat these steps quite a few times to get the tubes to final shape.

            The doublings for each mast overlap were made by making mast tops and trestle cross trees out of 3 or 4 layers of varnish saturated white card stock. I found that using the thinnest card stock worked best for these parts. Holes were drilled and cleared out to shape using an X-acto knife and #11 blade.

            The problems arose when using thicker card stock during the drilling and cutting phases of the work. The inner portions of the thicker card stock were not saturated with the varnish, and would start to separate as I drilled, or cut. This caused the drill bit to just push aside some of the inner card stock, which caused that portion of the part I was working to swell up and become thicker. Even when working with thinner card stock this happened to a lesser extent. What worked for me was to drill a few increasingly larger holes, then add a bit of CA glue into the hole. In this case I started with a #80 drill bit, then a size #76 followed by a #70 sized bit. Once these tiny holes were drilled I added the CA glue This hardened the area around the hole on the inner layers and helped stabilize the part. When larger holes were needed, larger drill bits were used, applying the CA glue to each hole after drilling.

            The same sort of technique was used when cutting and shaping the outside of white parts of the doublings, for much the same reason. Cutting to roughly the correct size and shape for a part, CA glued was applied to the edges, where the individual layers of the card stock were exposed. This work stabilized the part, and kept the layers from separating while further cutting and sanding to final size and shape.

            As with the doubling portion made for the lower masts, the tubes were connected together with pin like extensions of a part, or with card pins made from layers of stock glued together and then sanded round and to fit inside the necessary tubes. The white portions of the upper mast in each doubling was just a white paper tube, made like all the rest.

            The most difficult masts to make were the topgallant masts. In all cases I was simply unable to sand them down to a fine enough shape and size without their collapsing or unwrapping of the brown paper used. A fine pin of solid stock was glued into the tops of the tubes, with a bit sticking out the end. The work was similar to the other masts, sanding and applying glue as necessary. The following photos show the final results, including an exploded view of each portion of the total mast assembly.

            Note: While my purpose was to make an entire model from nothing but glue, paper and card stock, it would have been far easier and much closer to exact scale if I had been working with wood for masts and sheet styrene for top, trestle cross trees and mast caps. It took far longer to work with the paper and card stock, especially when having to use separate colors for the parts to keep from having to use paint.








            Simultaneously to work on the masts for the models was continued work on the second hull. The brown saturated card stock planks were added to finish the lower hull on the side shown in the earlier photo. The other side of the hull was then planked in the exact same manner. After planking was complete, as thin a coat as possible of epoxy was "painted" onto the entire hull surface with a thin, stiff brush. My previous attempts to thin two-part epoxy with rubbing alcohol never worked out right, the glue never cured. Not being thinned made applying a thin coat much more difficult in the end.

            Once the epoxy coating had cured, the entire hull was lightly sanded with 320 grit sandpaper, to even out the coating. As desired, the coating hardened the card stock surface making it far easier to sand and even things out.

            In an effort not use paint on this hull, I decided to use two colors of card stock. I found a moderately copper looking card stock at a local shop, and used black construction paper for the second color. Both stock were saturated with thinned poly varnish and allowed to dry. A wooden jig was then constructed to make it easier to cut 1/16" wide strips from both colored stock. At that size it was a bit out of scale, about 2' wide.

            I found that there is a vast difference between the construction paper and the copper colored card stock at this point. The cut edges of the card stock were white, meaning the color was only applied to the outside surfaces, where as the construction paper was solid black through it's thickness. I did a little research online to look for card stock that might work better, what I found was that there are two types of card stock. The "normal" stock has color only on the surfaces, while the "solid core" card stock had color the same as construction paper. Unfortunately, the solid core stocks were much heavier and thicker, so I decided to use what I had.

            While researching the stock, I did find that there are some copper card stock that looks just like metal copper, but none that were solid core. Another thing I found with my experiment was that the varnish fully saturated the construction paper, but not the card stock. The color on the outside surface of the card stock seems to seal it allowing minimal saturation. This led to the black paper being much stiffer, harder and brittle, but the colored stock being the opposite. The colored paper easily bent to fit against the first planking layer, while the black paper would crack and break if attempting to force it to shape.

            The second hull was now planked, using the white plank line on the first plank layer as a guide to separate the copper lower hull from the black upper hull. The effect of this planking looks quite reasonable from any distance, but close up one can see the white edges of the copper stock in areas of extreme curvature of the hull. There are also a few places where the fit wasn't quite right, and a small portion of overlap of the previous plank installed happened, which left a raised portion of that copper colored plank. There are also a few spots where the planks left very slight gaps, allowing the brown planking beneath to show through.

            In the end, while the second planking definitely is not as good as I wished, it does do a reasonable job of duplicating a ships hull. I will attempt to keep the errors from the first side planking to occur on the second side as I work. Were I to do it again, I might make the hull form a bit smaller, so that the much thicker solid core card stock could be used for the colored planking without compromising the scale. I may attempt to alleviate the problems of the copper colored planking by lightly sanding the copper stock to get rid of raised areas and then use a green colored thinned paint "wash". My thinking is that it would look somewhat realistic, but would compromise my idea of not using paint.

            The following photos show the planking work to date. There are some areas that shine on both planking colors, these are areas where it was necessary to apply some CA glue to the outside of the planking.



Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III


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  • 1 month later...

            The experiments continued with finishing the colored planking on the second hull. The keel, stem and stern posts were added and covered with the copper colored card stock as well. The entire hull was then coated several times with thinned varnish. The following photos show the hull as it stands now.



            The majority of my time has been spent making the yards for the masts. It was found that laminating black construction paper worked out the best for their construction. Using liberal amounts of CA glue to laminate the paper, including soaking the outside of the layered pieces. From that point the laminated parts were treated much as I would making yards out of wood. I first sanded them into a square cross section as thick as the center of the yard, then slightly tapered the pieces on either end. Then sanded the yard into a hexagonal cross section throughout. Finally sanding the yard blank round in cross section. As with most of the other paper/card construction, it was necessary occasionally to apply a bit more CA glue when an unsaturated area was encountered. I also noticed that the laminated construction paper was a bit more brittle than most woods, so care was taken.

            All the upper yards used a simple fitting glued to them in order to attach them to the masts with a bit of fine thread. The crossjack and course yards were attached using a hanging bracket arrangement which was as close as I could get, at the scale and using the material, to what was shown on the plans. I also used two tiny pieces of brass wire in making the brackets, which allow those yards to swing partway around the masts.

            The final pieces to these yard hangers was fake chain, which was made from 8/0 fly tying thread. The fake chain was made by tying double overhand knot in the center of a length of thread around a #80 drill bit, which was fitted shank side down into a length of wood. The drill bit was then pulled up and removed from the thread loop. A length of the same thread was then tied through the loop and extended down the length of the wood, where it was held mildly tightly with a rubber band wrapped around both wood and length of thread. The thread was then pulled away from the reinserted drill bit, to keep the loop directly opposite the bit while tying a second double overhand knot. It was impossible to keep tying these knots exactly opposite each other, so the fake chain looks a bit "squiggly" when just laying there. It does look fairly realistic when pulled tightly.

            The fake chain was tied, with a small piece of thread through the first loop, to a small wire eye bolt. The eye bolt was made by twisting a piece of extremely thin wire around a #80 drill bit, using a forceps to twist until the wire broke. This eye bolt was glued into a hole drilled just below the mast top. The thread chain was then wrapped around the center of the yard, and a second small thread piece was inserted through loops in the chain twice. It took a bit of practice to choose the right loops to pass this thread through so that when a knot was tied into the thread it pulled to chain tightly around the yard center. The knots in the two threads were glued and the excess thread cut and removed. The following photos show the pieces and results of this portion of my experimenting.








Anchors A Weigh!

John Fox III

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Hi John

This looks fantastic.  The yard attachment device is very good and really looks the part with the chain attached. Congratulations. Your experiments are really working out well for you and I look forward to more photos of your work and to seeing the finished article.


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On 5/7/2021 at 11:06 AM, Bernard Kelly said:

Hi John

This looks fantastic.  The yard attachment device is very good and really looks the part with the chain attached. Congratulations. Your experiments are really working out well for you and I look forward to more photos of your work and to seeing the finished article.


Greetings Bernard,

Thanks! The yard bracket stuff was as close as I could make the parts to what was shown on the plans I have. The laminated black construction paper was quite brittle after using CA to glue the layers, which limited how small I could get some of the parts. As above, lots of work did not work out, so wasn't photographed. I am not entirely sure if either of the two hulls will be completely finished, and don't anticipate rigging or detailing the models at this time. It's all an experiment to learn what can be done with the materials, card stock and paper. I may finish the model, but I may just use the experimenting to build a completely different model in future. I basically need to learn to work with the materials and learn for any future modeling work.

Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III

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  • 2 months later...

            My work on experimenting with card/paper model ship building continued with finishing up the second hull, the one with colored card stock second planking. The hull was cut free from the building board by slicing through the bulkheads at the top of the bulwarks. A simpler stand for the hull was made from blue colored card stock. The following photos show the freed second hull in the stand.





            The photos above show that I also added card stock blocking at the extreme bow and locations for the 3 masts. The multiple longitudinal bulkheads definitely define the deck areas much better than the first hull in my opinion.

            Work progressed with cutting down the interior edges of the bulwarks, removing the excess stock that was included in the bulkheads to make the hull more stable during planking. I used several tools that I built, made up from pieces of 1/16" interior diameter brass tubing and pieces cut from a single edged razor blade, with wooden handles made from maple. I used a Dremel moto tool with a cut-off wheel to cut the razor blade pieces of various widths at the cutting end. I shaped the other end into shanks that would fit into the brass tubing, then slid them in and glued them in place. These miniature chisels work nicely, and I've used them on many models in the past.



            The photo above shows how the interior planking of the bulwarks on the first model's hull turned out. I was not happy with these results, the uneven run was the result of not quite having faired the bulkheads properly, and partly due to the miniature clothes pins used to clamp the single piece planking in place. I decided that on the second hull I would experiment in ways to improve these problems.

            I ended up filling in the gaps between bulkheads with card stock before final sanding the bulkhead interior sanding. This definitely helped even things out, and kept the clamping devices from indenting the interior planking pieces. I did the same thing for the stern of the fore castle deck and fore face of the quarter deck as well. The following photos show this work.



            I then proceeded to cut away the tops of the bulkheads above my blocking. I decided that with the double layer of planking, the bulwarks would be thick enough with just a single layer of card stock glued inside.

            The next work was to cut and glue the white interior planking. This was a process of using paper to make templates and then transferring those outlines to the card stock and cutting. These strips and pieces were then glued in place. The results were much better than the first hull at this point. I also drilled the holes for the masts. The following photos show this work.




            Work continued on this second hull with making paper templates of all the decks. These were traced on stained white card stock and stained white paper with planking lines drawn on it. All of these parts were cut out and fitted to the hull, to make sure they fit properly. I then stained more white card stock, traced the deck parts and cut out some waterways for the model. I was not happy with the way these waterways looked, they were a bit too wide and attempting to cut or sand them thinner just didn't work. I decided to remake the waterways by staining a piece of white paper and then gluing them to card stock and cutting them out. These looked much better, but are still probably a bit too wide for this scale. The decks were then glued to the hull. The following photos show this work, the waterways photo shows the first ones made, I simply forgot to photograph the final waterways.





            The most challenging work on this second model hull was my next work. I used black card stock to make the cap rail for the hull, in a single piece. I placed the card stock on the top of the model, held it in place with a stiff piece of thick cardboard pressing tightly enough to follow the entire curve of the top of the bulwarks. I traced the outline of the bulwarks onto the stock and cut it out. I used a small compass to then traced a line 1/16" inside the outer edge of the stock. The difficult part was to cut out this inside edge as carefully as I could. I can say that it took 3 attempts to get past this last step, as noted above with the waterways it is nearly impossible to re-cut or sand this thin card stock if any spots were too wide. I did use a black magic marker on the cap rails edges, as this stock has a white interior.

            The waterways and cap rail were then glued onto the hull. The results are shown in the next photos.




            At this point I believe I will be ending my card stock and paper modeling efforts. I found it very interesting, and in some cases rewarding, to have attempted this work. My personal conclusions would be that I definitely would rather work with wood, it's more stable and easier to "work" than card stock. I was surprised at how well some things worked, such as making up the masts and yards. But during building and fitting to the second hull I have already broken several of the yards. Saturated construction paper is just too brittle in the end, as I related earlier.

            If I were to attempt any more card stock modeling I would most definitely use "solid" card stock, this stock has the color saturated through it's interior and not just on the outside faces like the stock I used. I also would probably not hesitate to use paint, or color printed detailing, on any further modeling of this type.

            I also learned more about bulkhead model work than I had previously known. Making the plans for a bulkhead model from a set of lines plans, using QCAD software, is interesting work, and these card stock models a nice way to test out my methodology.

            As a parting shot, I did make up the chain plates for the model, but being made of saturated construction paper they were so brittle that I did not bother to add them to the hull.

            Thanks for your patience in reading my experimentation in card stock modeling.


Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III


card paper model 077.jpg

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On 7/11/2021 at 2:35 AM, Onni said:

Amazing work John and I imagine very time consuming. Thanks for describing in detail your work on these card hulls.

Greetings Omni,

Thanks for the kind words! It was time consuming, mostly the time was spent experimenting with different methods and materials for each step. Once I figured out what worked best, that made things easier to repeat.

Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III

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22 hours ago, Bernard Kelly said:

Absolutely fascinating John. I have been totally engrossed in your project from the beginning. The time, thought, and effort you have put in is a tribute to your patience and skill. As Onni says ´amazing work´ Thanks for sharing your expertise with us.


Greetings Old Friend,

I am glad you enjoyed the experience! <Grin> I am not sure about "patience", to me that is what is needed when doing something I don't like, modeling is a love so I really don't count hours at all. I am just pleased that others find my efforts interesting enough to follow, and perhaps find some things that might "work" for them, or inspire them to try different things.

Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III

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On 7/12/2021 at 4:24 AM, exwafoo said:

Thanks for sharing John. A lot of work and a good learning experience. It seemed at times as if you were reconstituting wood using the saturated paper, but without its better qualities. Thanks again and stay safe.


Greetings Alan,

It was indeed a learning experience, glad I did it. I guess you are correct, attempting to find ways to make paper do what I am used to wood doing, perhaps not the best approach. I've seen some amazing card stock ship models, must take a slightly different approach to achieve that level.

Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III

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