Choosing a Wooden Model Ship Kit

When choosing a wooden model ship kit there are a number of factors that need to be considered. Your overall decision on these factors will influence your selection of a particular wooden ship model kit to build.

Does the Wooden Model Ship Appeal to you?

The wooden model boat you may be thinking of building has to appeal to you. It has to interest you in some way, historically or otherwise. Choosing a model ship that doesn’t motivate and generate your interest will probably not get finished. The photo of the completed model on the kit box will usually be your first impression you will have of the ship model. It will be a good guide of whether or not you are drawn to the model ship kit.

Establish your aims for building the model ship kit

Consider why you want to build the wooden model ship kit. Be clear about whether you are building a representative model ship  for decoration in your office or home or looking for an historically accurate ship model. Being clear about your aims will maintain your motivation to complete the model ship kit.

Assess your capabilities

Be honest about your capabilities. A wooden model ship kit is not like a plastic kit where parts simply fit together with pre-moulded locating points and glued together. A wooden model ship kit has many parts that have to be made by the modeler from the stock of timber supplied or be shaped and fitted together.

If you are starting out be realistic in your selection of a model ship. Some model ship kits give an indication of the skill level required. The retailer should be able to give some indication of the level of difficulty. A good indicator of the degree of difficulty can be assessed by looking at the shape of the hull and in particular the shape of the bow or front of the hull.

Planking the hull of a model with a bluff bow such as that of the HM Bark Endeavour, will be a challenge for a beginner. A model ship that has a sharper bow such as a clipper ship will allow the new modeler to achieve a good result and learn the techniques of hull planking.

Consider the scale and finished size of the model ship

This factor is important from two perspectives. Firstly, while you are building the model ship you will need an area that will allow you to easily work on the ship model and manoeuvre it around especially when working on the rigging. A bench size of approximately twice the length of the ship model will allow sufficient space to work on the model and have room for your tools and other equipment.

The second aspect of this factor is the space required to display the model ship when it is finished. Before making the decision on a particular model note its overall length, width and height and consider where it will be displayed. Also think about if you will have the model in a display case as this will take a little more room as well.

The scale of a model boat will influence the amount of detail that is provided on the model. The larger the scale the greater amount of detail that can be provided on the model. The scale of a model ship is not related to the level of difficulty of building the model. With a larger scale model it can be easier to work on as you can get your hands into those confined areas. A large scale model though will require the modeler to pay more attention to the details of the model. 

Quality of model ship parts, accessories, fitting & timbers 

The quality of the parts, accessories, fittings and timbers supplied in the wooden model ship kit is a significant factor to be considered when making the choice for a kit.

Most wooden parts such as blocks, belaying pins, barrels, capstans, deadeyes, pumps and winches are from standard stock items and should be well made, clean and crisp. The holes in blocks and deadeyes should be pre-drilled and clear.

If the ship model kit has a photo-etched brass sheet it should be presented flat and protected to avoid damage. Check any figurehead or decoration castings in the kit to ensure there is no excessive flash from the moulding process.

Ship model Rigging cords should come in two colours—a fawn or natural colour for running rigging and black or dark brown for standing rigging. Rigging cords should be devoid of excessive fuzz and be wound in coils. Rigging cord wound on to cards may have kinks left in them. These kinks can be readily removed by washing the cord and allowing to dry by hanging with a weight attached.

The quality of the timbers and dowels supplied in the model ship kit is very important. Straight fine grained timber is required. Warped or twisted timber is not suitable and should be replaced.

The consistency of the colour of the timbers is also important especially if the particular timber is to have a natural timber finish and not to be painted.

The ship model kit will have various sizes of plywood sheets with pre-cut parts. The pre-cutting is achieved by a laser cutting process which leaves a burn mark on the cut edge of the plywood. This burn mark is easily removed where necessary. The laser cutting process allows for very accurate and detailed parts to be cut.

All the materials found in a kit are subject to manufacturing tolerances. Most of the sizes quoted are “nominal”. Timber and dowel sizes may vary marginally, plywood thickness may vary depending upon its material. These minor variations have to be weighed against the higher cost of manufacturing materials with closer tolerances.

Instructions & Plans

A good set of written instructions and plans is most important especially for the modeler starting out. The written instructions will tell you what to do and when to do it—they don’t necessarily tell you how to do it. This is left to books or instructional videos on model ship building.

For the foreign model ship kits the written instructions are multi-lingual. Instructions are usually presented in Italian, Spanish, German, French and English.

A numbered parts list should be part of the written instructions and relate to any plans and drawings.

The set of plans and drawings supplied in the model ship kit should be clear and reflect the building sequence of the model. A good set of plans will have perspective and/or exploded views of the more complex parts. Rigging plans should show the type & size of rigging cord to be used and the start and finish points for the cord. A belaying plan is also required showing where the relevant riggings cords are terminated.


Obviously the price of the model ship kit is a significant factor to be consider. This factor is assessed after weighing up all the other factors and a judgement made as to the kit’s overall quality and its value for money. This is a judgement only the modeler can make after considering and balancing all the other factors.


After weighing up all these factors, trust your gut feeling and you’ll be happy with your choice—this will be your judgement.

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