What Tools Do I Need For Model Ship Building?

Model Ship Building Beginners Tool Kit


The essential tools for model ship building are a mix of specialists modeling tools to common household tools. In this post we will review the essential tools you will require to successfully build your model ship.


Hobby Knife

A hobby knife or snap blade knife is an essential tool for model ship building. You’ll find many uses for the knife from tapering planks to trimming rigging cord. The blade is retractable and it is advisable to retract it when it is not being used. As the front cutting section of blade becomes dull from use it is a simple matter to break that section of the blade off and extend the blade further in the holder to expose a new and sharper blade piece. 

There is a blade locking mechanism in the handle. When you have extended the blade to the desired length slide the mechanism back to lock the blade in place. This will ensure the blade does not slide in or out while it is being used which could be dangerous.

Razor Saws

Razor saws are a very useful tool for accurately cutting the timbers used for model building. The kerf or blade cut is exceptionally fine. As the name implies the blade is very sharp and care needs to be exercised when using the saw. The blades come in a range of depths and number of teeth—fine, medium and coarse—all are very sharp.

Knife Blades & Knife Handle

You’ll always find a use for a set of knife blades. The chisel, curved and pointed blades—each has a unique function from cutting the end off a length of rigging cord in a very confined space to fractionally fitting a piece of planking to finish off the hull.

Mitre Box—Mini

The mitre box is used in conjunction with a razor saw to accurately cut lengths of timber either at a right angle or 45 degrees. It is made of aluminium and will last a lifetime.


The mini plane is a small plane with a razor blade as the cutting blade. The depth of blade cut can be adjusted by loosening the wing nut and moving the blade either in or out. It is the ideal tool to use when tapering the planks before bending them and fixing to the hull bulkhead frames.

Sandpaper & Sanding Blocks

Sandpaper/glasspaper comes in a range of grades—from very fine to coarse. You’ll find it necessary to use sandpaper at various times to fractionally adjust a piece of timber or to sand the hull planks smooth when finished planking.

A useful tool is a Sanding Block which has sandpaper glued to each face. The set has a range of sizes depending upon the application. They are particularly useful when fairing the bulkhead frames of a model.

Needle Files

Needle files are very small and fine files. The set consists of different shaped files—flat, half round, square, triangular, round and pointed. They are used to fractionally adjust small timber or metal items, adjust the size of holes or shape timber fittings.

Planking Screws

After the hull planks have been tapered and bent you’ll need to fix them to the bulkhead frames while the PVA glue sets. You can use small brass nails and hammer them through each plank on to the bulkhead frame. The nail heads are either cut off or pulled out once the glue has set.

Alternatively you could use map pins which are used in a similar way to the nails. They have the advantage of being slightly bigger than the brass nails and hence easier to handle. The map pin is removed when the glue has set.

Another popular method is to use Planking Screws. These items are reusable. The foot is placed on the plank in its location. The screw piece is screwed into the bulkhead frame through a small hole in the foot. Tightening the screw piece into the bulkhead holds the plank in position while the glue sets. One planking screw is used to hold the plank in position on each bulkhead frame.

Plank Bender Hand Held

A hand held plank bender is probably the most essential tool you’ll need for model ship building. After tapering the planks as required you’ll need to bend them to the desired shape to fit around the bow and possibly the stern of the model.

The plank bender has a blunt blade edge and a flat surface in its the jaws. Placing a plank on the flat surface between the jaws and squeezing the handles gently will bring the blade down onto the plank. By gently crimping the plank along a length will start to cause the plank to curve around.

Crimping at approximately 1cm intervals will be enough to start with. If further curvature is required re-crimp between these intervals and continue until the required curvature is achieved. Care needs to be taken not to crimp too hard as this will break the plank. Gentle crimping will achieve the goal.  

Hammer – Modellers

A modeller’s hammer is used to hammer in small nails. It has a small head to allow access to confined spaces.

Pin Vice & Drills

A Pin Vice is a hand held chuck for small drills. The swivel top pin vice shown has a reversible chuck along with another reversible chuck in the head of the shaft. This gives it considerable versatility in the size of drills the pin vice can be used with.

A range of small drills will always be handy while model building. Care needs to be taken while using the drills especially the very small items as they are easily broken. Do not apply too much push pressure while drilling and turn the pin vice slowly. The typical size of drills used are 0.5mm through to 2mm

Metal Rule & Dressmakers Tape Measure

An imperial/metric metal rule is a must. Usually 12inch/30cm will suffice. Not only can it be used for linear measurements but can also be used to lay across planking timber and used with a hobby knife to taper planks. Place the rule along the line of desired cut and using the rule as a guide run the hobby knife along plank. With each cut go a little deeper. Cutting too deeply with one or two cuts will cause the knife blade to follow the timber grain and will run off.

A dressmakers tape measure is also a very useful addition to the tool kit. Used for taking measurements along the edge of the bulkhead frames to accurately calculate the width of tapering required on the planks. 


The range of tools presented in this chapter are considered the basic and essential tools you will need to complete a model ship. As you progress with your modelling you will acquire more tools that will suit your particular needs.

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