What Glues & Paints Do I Need For A Model Ship?


There are a wide range of glues, paints & finishes on the market specifically designed for a particular purpose in model ship building.



The glues commonly used in the building of a wooden model ship include the following: 1.1 PVA Glue PVA glue is sometimes referred to as “carpenters glue”. It is readily available from hardware stores and some hobby shops. The glue is good for woodworking, is white in colour and dries clear and reasonably quickly. When using apply the glue to one surface. Any residue or spill should be removed with a damp cloth before the glue has time to set. Removing any residue or spill is particularly important where the area is to be varnished or stained later as any residue left will leave a mark that can be seen through the finish.

The glue is ideal for fixing the bulkheads to the keel on the model and for fixing the first layer of planking to the bulkheads. It provides a very strong bond. Also used for gluing the deck planking to the false deck of the model. PVA glue can be diluted with water and used for sealing rigging knots.

When applying the glue to the surfaces to be joined do not apply it using the nozzle of the bottle. Use a glue syringe or a brush to coat the surfaces to be glued.

Contact Glue

As the name implies, contact glues give an almost instant bond between the two surfaces. The glue is a gel and is brushed onto both surfaces that are to be joined. Once the glue is touch dry you can join both surfaces together. Extreme care needs to be taken to align the two surfaces as the bond is made instantly and is very strong. If a mistake is made removal will cause damage to the timber. Always dry fit the parts to be glued before applying the glue.

Contact glue is ideal for gluing the second layer of planking over the first layer of planking. The second layer of planking is usually a veneer decorative timber such as walnut or mahogany and is fixed in place very effectively using contact glue.

Be conscious of the vapours given off by this glue as it may cause breathing problems. Always ensure there is adequate ventilation when you are using contact glue. When finished always ensure the lid is firmly fitted and the container stored away from the exploring hands of little children.

Cyanoacrylate (Super) Glue

Cyanoacrylate (cyano) or Super glue is extremely quick drying—the glue sets in a matter of seconds depending upon the ambient temperature. It is packaged in a small tube of plastic bottle. Only very small amounts are required to be applied. This type of glue can be used to join metal to metal or metal to wood. Do not use cyano glue to fix the planking to the hull. Also, do not use this glue to seal a rigging knot as it can make the cord hard and brittle.

 Again do not apply the glue directly to the job using the nozzle. Use the point of a scaple blade to apply the glue to the location required. The gel form of this glue is ideal for fixing copper plates to the hull of a model.

Great care must be exercised when using cyano glue so as not to get any in your eye. Be familiar with the safety instructions on the container label. Again always ensure there is adequate ventilation when using the glue. When finished always ensure the lid is firmly fitted and the tube or bottle is stored away from the exploring hands of little children.

Two-Part Epoxy Glues

These glues consist of two parts—a resin and a hardener— that are in separate tubes and are mixed together in equal quantities. The glue dries in approximately 5 minutes depending upon the ambient temperature. These glues are ideal for fixing metal to metal or metal to wood. Use a spatula of matchstick to mix the resin and hardener on a glass block or scrap piece of wood. The glue will dry very hard and clear. Scrape off any excess while the glue is still in its plastic phase before it hardens.

Paints & Finishes

Finishes include paints, stains and varnishes. There are many on the market available from any good hobby shop or hardware store. Before reviewing paints and varnishes we need to consider wood fillers, glasspaper and brushes. When using stains or varnishes always apply first to a scrap piece of timber to assess its colour.

Wood Fillers

Wood fillers are used to fill in any gaps between timbers. It is particularly useful when completing the first layer of hull planking. Wood filler comes in a variety of timber colours to suit the particular type of timber being used. It is a soft putty-like material and once exposed to the air it will dry to form a hard surface. It is then suitable to be sanded. Apply small amounts either with a spatula or fingers to fill in any gaps or cracks in the timber surface and allow it to dry. As wood filler is water-based cleaning-up and washing hands after use is easy.


Sand or glasspaper is used to prepare the timber before applying any finish. A fine grade glasspaper is used between coats. Having coarse, medium and fine grade glasspaper on-hand is a must to adequately prepare timbers.


A range of brushes is required for model making from broad flat brushes to fine pointed brushes. Always clean the brushes thoroughly after use following the cleaning instructions provided on the paint, stain or varnish used. A good quality brush will last many years with good care.


There are a wide range of oil based enamel or water based acrylic paints available on the market for model ship building. Some modellers prefer not to paint their model ship relying instead on the natural textures and shades of the timbers used for the model. A timber stain is sometimes used to enhance their work.

The issue of the historically correct colours used for a period wooden model ship is often discussed particularly in relation to the correct hue for red, dark blue and yellow ochre. The shade of paints used on the original ships changed over time due to weathering and the development of paint making. Consequently, it is again a matter of personal preference as to the shade of colour selected.

Varnish & Stains

Timber that is stained or not painted needs to be sealed and protected with a good quality polyurethane matt or satin varnish. Some modellers prefer the low sheen of a satin finish. Other modellers consider it more historically accurate to use a matt finish. It is a personal choice whether to use matt or satin. When using a polyurethane varnish more than one coat is required to provide a good finish. When each coat is dry rub the surface with a fine grade glasspaper. This will make the timber grain more pronounced.

Shellac can also be used to protect and seal bare timber. It is similar to varnish in its finished appearance. Shellac crystals can be purchased at a good hardware or paint store. The crystals are placed in a container and dissolved in methylated spirits. The drying time between coats is shorter. When applied to timber the finish gives a distinct golden antique look with a low sheen.

Key Takeaways


For all glues, paints and solvents follow the application and safety instructions on the tube or container. Some glues give-off a strong vapour so adequate ventilation should always be ensured when using them. Contact with the skin and eyes should also be avoided. Wash your hands immediately after using the glue. Always store the glues, paints and solvents in a locked cupboard or on a high shelf away from the reach of children.

What Glues & Paints Do I Need For A Model Ship? 1

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