Planking Tips For Building a Model Ship

Planking a model ship can present a particular challenge to the modeler. Through this DVD set the Master Modeler shares many of his tips and techniques to assist and guide the modeler to make the hull planking as straight forward as possible.

Our DVD on Hull Planking on a Model Ship (How to Build a Model Ship) is a great help for novice modelers, and the Author has been very kind to publish on YouTube a 30 minutes long sequence about planking. 
View the full range of Model Ship Building DVDs

Our DVD Practicums on model ship building provide comprehensive demonstration & narration by master modelers in an actual workshop setting. Countless ship modeling tips and techniques are shown as a model is built that will be transferable to the building of other models.

Most beginners to model Ship Building have some concerns regarding planking, however, provided that some serious thought is given to the subject so that the principles are clearly understood, then it should not prove overly difficult.

Unfortunately, most kit manufacturers tend to skim over the subject in their instructions, assuming that the modeller is already experienced or has read a book on the subject.

For those who fall into neither category we have produced this leaflet, however, please bear in mind the following points:

  1. This leaflet describes only one approach to planking – different modellers develop their own techniques and there are other ways of doing it but we consider that the methods described here are a good starting point for the first-time modeller.
  1. This is a general guide only and is to be used in conjunction with the instructions supplied with your individual kit. In particular, it must be emphasised that any measurements or part or part numbers used  are purely for the purpose of illustrative example and must not be confused with part numbers or measurements for a particular kit
  1. In most kits, the placement of the first plank can be quite critical to the final outcome. This is especially so when the first plank delineates the positions of the below-deck gun ports. Follow the kit maker’s instructions carefully in this regard.
  1. Highly recommended are the instructional  DVDs available from Modeller’s Shipyard on Hull Planking.  Hull planking technique 1 is for Bluff Bowed vessels and Hull planking technique 2 is for Sharp Bowed vessels. For further details call our office or visit our website.  
  1. The book ―Authentic Planking for Ship Models‖ by Tyler is recommended. Useful information will also be found in ―Ship Modelling Simplified‖ by Mastini and other How-to-do-it books.
  1. When we talk about “a plank” or “the plank” or “the Planks” we are normally dealing with a pair of planks – one on each side. Please remember the planks are always fitted in pairs, one on each side – fix and forget for 24 hours. Also, remember that old tradesman’s motto ―measure twice and cut once‖.
  1. There are four basic steps to a successful planking job:-
  2. a)   Hull Preparation.
  3. b)   Plank Tapering.
  4. c)   Plank Bending.
  5. d)   Plank Fixing.

We will deal with these in order and then finish with a few suggestions on deck planking.


Using a file, fine rasp or coarse sandpaper on a wooden block, or a combination of all of these, bevel the edges of the frames so that the planks will come in contact with the full thickness of each frame – not just a sharp leading or trailing edge. While the ―midship‖ frames will require a little adjustment, those toward the bow and stern will require more. A piece of broomstick with sandpaper glued to it will make it easier to shape those frames with a hollow curve.

Planking Tips For Building a Model Ship 1

Use a plank and lay it over the frames in various positions to check the bevel (i.e. the plank should touch the full face of each frame as it is bent around them). If you do have a hollow spot on one (or more) frame(s) it can be built up using slivers of timber

The whole process of levelling and checking is known as ―fairing‖ and is extremely important to ensure that when planked, the hull is free of bumps and hollows. Please take your time and resist the temptation to start planking before the hull is satisfactorily ―faired‖.

Check again. It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the fairing process described above is the single most important step in building a model ship of which you’ll be proud.


If you spend a few minutes with a tape measure or a piece of string and a ruler you’ll soon see why it is necessary to taper the planks to a narrower width at either one or both ends. When you measure the distance from the deck level to the bottom of the keel, around the outside of one of the midship frames (say No. 5 or 6 or 7), and then compare that measurement with the distance from the deck level to the bottom of the keel on a forward frame such say (No. 2 or No. 3), there will be an obvious difference.  

In purely theoretical terms, if the measurement at frame No 3 is (say) 80mm and at frame No 5 it is (say) 120mm then each plank needs to be narrowed down to 2/3 (80/120) of its full width at frame No 3. By doing this all planks will arrive at the Keel together.

For our purposes, we always assume that the middle (―midship‖) frames are the largest and it is at this part of the model that planks are at their full width. Towards the bow, they will require ―tapering‖ or narrowing by an amount depending on the particular ship.

In general terms, a bluff-bowed ship such as the ―Endeavour‖ will require less tapering than a sharp bowed vessel such as the ―Flying Fish‖.  

It is probable that some tapering will be required as planks go towards the stern but it is also quite possible that the distance, deck to the bottom of the keel, will be greater at the position of the last couple of frames than it is at ―midships‖

Where this is the case we will be inserting short triangular planks known as ―Stealers or Wedges‖ to cover the extra distance.

That’s the theory – now for the practical side of it!!

Planking Tips For Building a Model Ship 2

Ascertain from the plans and/or the kit maker’s instructions, the position of the first plank(s). In ―real‖ shipbuilding it was usual to start planking at the keel and work upwards, however, in model ship building we usually start the first plank in one of three positions:

  1.  With a ship which has a ―flush‖ or straight upper deck, such as ―Bounty‖, ―Port Jackson‖ or  ―Astrolabe‖ then the first plank is laid with its upper edge level with the deck surface. In some cases, it will have its top edge up to 5mm to 10mm below the deck level. Where this is done it is to facilitate the construction of Bulwarks at a later stage but in any case, it will be parallel to the line of the deck.
  1.  In the case of those models in which the ―upper‖ or ―weather‖ deck is in either two or three distinct  sections, at differing levels, then the first plank is commonly run along the line of the ―middle‖ or ―main‖  deck then follows its natural course both ―fore‖ and ―aft‖. Quite a few of the models shown in our catalogue fall into this category.   
  1.  Many of the models which feature below deck open gunports require that the first plank follows the line of the gunports and it will run immediately above or below a row of gunports.

When you have identified the position of the first plank, glue it into position using a PVA glue and without any tapering. Make sure that both planks (left and right or ―port‖ and ―starboard‖) follow the same line and are a mirror image of each other.

Next, on the three midship frames, mark a position approximately halfway to the keel- the same distance down on each frame and a distance which is a multiple of a plank width.

Planking Tips For Building a Model Ship 3

For example – if the planks are (say) 5mm wide then the distance down the edge of each frame to your pencil mark should be (say) 55mm or 60mm or 65mm etc., but the same distance on each.

The second pair of planks should now be temporarily attached, using planking screws, at the positions you have marked on the midship frames – but without glue.

Both ends of each plank should now be bent, allowing them to follow their natural course along the frames.

Again using planking screws, temporarily attach them to the rest of the frames making fine adjustments if necessary to ensure that each is a mirror image of the other. Checking the corresponding measurements (port and starboard) on the first and last frames should show up any errors.

There are now four planks in place, two on each side, and these will probably be the only ones which do not require any tapering or shaping.

Each side of the hull now has two ―bands‖ to be planked – an upper and a lower.

Dealing with the top half first, it will be fairly obvious where tapering will be required. Count the number of planks needed to fill the gap to fill in the gap between first and second planks at midships then measure the distance at each of the other frames. These distances divided by the number of planks gives you the width of each plank at each frame.

Once these widths are pencilled onto the plank the cutting of the taper can be carried out. Use a steel-edged ruler and a hobby knife or ―Maxi Cutter‖ and cut with and not against the grain. Make several light strokes to set the course followed by a heavier one to make the cut. Alternatively, use a Mini Plane to plane the plank to the marked line.

Use a Cutting Mat or plywood board to protect the surface you are using to cut the planks.

It is usual to carry out tapering on the lower edge of each plank and it may sometimes, (although not usually), be necessary to carry out some bevelling on the upper edge of some planks.

Bevelling is required in the case of fairly thick planking and/or sharply curved frames as in the attached sketch which has been exaggerated for clarity.

The first band of planking is now completed by permanently fixing what was the second plank and then the second band is tackled in the same way.

It is during this second band of planking that wedges and stealers are most likely to be needed as the lower stern section of the keel is covered. Planks should be allowed to largely follow their natural coarse with the gaps being filled in later but bearing in mind that the aim is for the final couple of planks to run nicely parallel to the bottom of the keel.

Planking Tips For Building a Model Ship 4


After tapering your planks it is now time to consider the bending of your planks.  

The bending of the planks on models with a ―sharp‖ or ―sleek‖ bow is not normally a problem — models such as the Flying Fish or Cutty Sark fall into this category. However, planking models with a ―bluff‖ or ―rounded‖ bow can be a challenge—models such as Endeavour and Bounty fall into this category.

There are a few Plank Benders available ranging from Hand Held ―crimp‖ types, a set of rollers to bend the planks or an ―electric‖ plank bender.

The simplest one is the Hand Held—Light Duty plank bender which is very effective. By lightly crimping the plank a very effective curve is produced. By making the crimps closer together a more rounded curve is produced. The Heavy Duty version acts the same way but can be used to bend light metal.

The Electric Plank Bender is applied to the plank after soaking it in water for approximately 10 minutes. Applying the heated head of the plank bender to the wet timber and using a preshaped curved timber jig steam is produced which allows the plank to follow the curve of the jig. Very effective.  

Each of these tools is presented in the Tools section of our catalogue.

In the case of difficult bends using thicker walnut or mahogany timber, it is sometimes helpful to make up a jig to hold the bend overnight before attempting to fit the plank into the model.


Holding planks in place while the glue dries can be quite tricky. While they can be brass nailed, this is usually fairly unsatisfactory. Often the nails supplied in kits are not brass but brass coated, there are nowhere near enough supplied to nail all the planks and to be quite frank, nailed planks often look terrible.

Rubber bands, dressmaking pins, ―G‖ Clamps and spring clips all have their uses but the vast majority of our model builders use our Planking Screw Clamps and love them. You can make do with 12 but 24 are better and most modellers who start with 12 order another packet.

Planking Tips For Building a Model Ship 5


Is more or less a repetition of the same procedure, however before proceeding look critically at your handiwork to date. Don’t just look at it – feel it !! As a panel beater would, run your fingers over the hull and identify high and low spots. Spend time with sandpaper on the high spots and use wood filler such as ―Wattyl Wood Stop Putty‖ on the low spots. This is your opportunity to correct any shortcomings in the work so far.

As you have a complete surface on which to lay the 2nd planking and not just the frames, you will almost certainly find that the second planking is easier than the first. Proceed with care, taking the time to read and if necessary re-read the manufacturer’s instructions.


Mark a centre line down the deck and plank from this line to the sides (―Bulwarks‖). Ideally, the planks should be cut into 100mm lengths with the joint staggered so that they are in line only every 3 or 4 planks. An alternative to laying short lengths of planking is to lay full lengths and score the joints with a knife later.

The effect of black ―Caulking‖ between planks can be achieved in a number of ways, the most popular being: – 1. Mark one edge of each deck plank with either a black pencil or ―Texta colour‖. If this method is used, it is important to run a trial with a few planks on a scrap of plywood to ensure that the clear  ―Polyurethane‖ Varnish which you will be using to finish the deck with does not dissolve the black col our when it is later applied. 2. The plywood can be painted black before the deck planks are applied and a slight gap left between them. 3. Leave a slight gap which is later filled with heavy black sewing thread which is first pulled through rigging wax.

Regardless of the method used for caulking, it is also worth considering whether to ―Nail‖ the deck. This is done by marking (with a sharp point) indentations which are then touched with Indian ink.

Once again, it is best to experiment first using a piece of scrap plywood and some scrap decking material before using it on the model.


From the information provided you will be aware that when the tapering of planks take place no plank should be reduced to less than half its width.

Sometimes this is not sufficiently drastic and you will still be approaching the bottom of the hull at the bow end before reaching the keel midships.

The diagrams below show how the problem can be solved by reducing three plank widths to two. Conversely, perhaps at the stern when planks need to be spread out, you can turn one plank into two.

The diagrams show the ideal pattern for cutting the ends of the planks, but, at a pinch, simply reducing two planks to half width at the first or second frame then continuing with a single plank, which is itself then reduced to half width right at the bow, and with merely a square butt joint between the first pair and the forward addition will do the job.

Some study of the diagrams will give you the idea. The diagrams below are not of your ship or any particular model.

Planking Tips For Building a Model Ship 6

Key Takeaways

Planking Tips For Building a Model Ship 6

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