Thursday, July 14, 2011

Making Models

Building a scale model from plans or offsets is a great way to start gathering confidence for a full-size boat building project. Even if only building in paper or cardboard, you get to practice the art of taking a plan and applying it to build materials. It's also a good way to experiment with design, yourself. You can check to see if you can produce a fair looking craft well before you commit the big money to messing up your garage or basement for half a year or more.
finished the wa'apa model. not rigged exactly correct, but i've never seen a proa in person

The only things you really need to get started are the plan set, some stiff paper, a scale ruler, mechanical pencil, scotch tape and maybe a thin dowel to help you trace a fair curve. Other options are some form of instant glue, balsa or bass wood sheets (1/16 or 1/32 thickness is what I usually use, I think), X-Acto knife, tiny clothes pins for clamps, masking tape and a surface you can cut and glue on without ruining your dining room table and risking the wrath of The Mrs.
paper model - south haven dory

A couple of years ago, I started out my boat building hobby as a complete woodworking novice. The eight foot plywood pram dinghy sitting in my garage was the first thing I ever set out to build, beyond some hastily slapped together skateboard ramps back in my high school days. Luckily, through lots of reading, online searches and cutting up bits of paper and modeling wood, I managed to muster up the faith in myself to pull off the first craft and move onto a second, with plans in a folder for a third this coming fall/winter. Also, the first paper model I built told me that I didn't want to build my first design pick, the D4/D5 dinghy and that I wanted to move on to something else.
thinking big, building small

From there I moved on to building models of a couple dory plans, the Gloucester Light Dory and the South Haven Dory.
paper model - gloucester light dory

paper model - south haven dory

Once I'd gained enough confidence with the paper models and had built a small plywood dinghy in the garage, I moved on to building in balsa and bass wood. I still don't bother to finish the models to a high degree, but what I do is a good enough representation that I can glean a lot of info about how the full-size version might go together.

The start of a Gary Dierking Wa'apa Outrigger, shunting proa version, seen completed above. I'm currently building the full-size tacking outrigger version in my garage.
proa/outrigger canoe

An Ozarks Johnboat, built from a description, HERE.
model of an ozarks johnboat

P3 Proa, from these PLANS.
P3 - 3m/10' proa

Roughly my own design, but heavily based off stretching the P3 by a couple feet and making it a tacking rig.
finished "t-rigger" 12' tacking outrigger model

A sharpie that I cobbled together from sketches in Reuel Parker's "The Sharpie Book" and some plans on Duckworks Magazine's website for a sharpie by Howard Chapelle, HERE.
sharpie model

I also made a tiny free-sailing pond yacht and built a working half-scale model of a Marshallese toy outrigger called a RIWUIT. Made in a couple of hours from scraps laying around the garage and workshop.
turning loose the pond yacht  at nathaniel green park

my crappy two-hour riwuit

In a nutshell, model making is fun in it's own right. It helps you learn the processes and build confidence that you might need for building large. It also helps you make better decisions about what you might want in a design, to begin with. Better to sort that out early, instead of getting halfway through a large build and figuring out it's not really what you're looking for in a water craft.


Anonymous said...

This is pretty cool.

I'm an oil painter from just outside Buffalo. I was looking for ideas on how to create some models of dories or skiffs to help with composing them in scenes and stumbled across your blog. Very cool ideas on doing them in paper or tag board!

I like making paintings of scenes from Maine or other coastal areas. I've been keeping a blog documenting my journey.

I'd give anything to live on the coast. but alas, i'm a land lubber!

Take care!

Trevor said...


If you're looking into dories and skiffs, check out the modeling books by Harold "Dynamite" Payson. I actually just got one in the mail today and one of the first things to build in it is a dory.