After several years of modeling wooden ships, I have acquired nearly forty volumes of reference books in my model room. Some of them are general works and some of them offer advice on specialty work—rigging, planking, etc. However, if I were beginning this fascinating hobby, and could have only one reference book, that book would be “Ship Modeling Simplified” by Frank Mastini.
In our hobby, skill levels are commonly characterized as “Beginner”, “Intermediate”, and “Advanced”. There should be a fourth level: “Master Shipwright”. After several years, most of us can claim—rightly or not—that we have arrived in the “Advanced” class. A very small fraction of us can claim to be a Master Shipwright. Frank Mastini was a Master Shipwright. If you are going to learn from others, why not learn from a Master.
At 161 pages, this is a short book as references go, and certainly too short considering the wealth of information contained in it. First, nearly every page contains crisp, well-drawn illustrations of the subject matter. The book will take you from setting up your shop—your “shipyard”, to advice on which tools are essential vs those tools that are helpful as your skill (and wallet) grows.
There are dozens of valuable tips and pointers—from advice on picking out the proper model—to warnings on mistakes commonly made by beginners. I still refer to this volume frequently to check on something or other. My volume has so many book-marks and reference tabs stuck to the pages, they look ragged. This book is available from McGraw Hill publishers, Camden, Maine.
The next most battered, dog-eared volume is “Planking Techniques for Model Ship Builders” by Donald Dressel. Unlike the Mastini volume, this is a specialty reference dedicated to construction of the hull and planking the hull and deck. Again, chock full of well-drawn, clear illustrations to make the advice more understandable. 138 pages, from Tab Books, Blue Ridge Summit, PA.
After the planking comes the rigging. My specialty reference for this task is “Rigging Period Ship Models” by Lennarth Petersson.
The largest and most comprehensive reference in my shipyard is “The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea” an encyclopedic volume of nearly 1,000 pages by the Oxford University Press. What makes this volume so fascinating is that when you look up a definition or word or term, there is usually a subject right next to it that is so captivating you’re stuck in the book far beyond the couple minutes it should have taken to read what you were looking for to begin with. I can scarcely think of any nautical word, term or phrase that cannot be found in this book.
One final note of advice. Before you start construction of a model, learn as much as you can about the ship you’re going to model. My current project is an advanced level kit of the Cutty Sark—the famous Clipper Ship. I have two documentary type books—“The Log of the Cutty Sark” by Basil Lubbock—a detailed history of the ship with much of the narrative of her voyages taken from the actual ship’s log; and ““The Cutty Sark” by C. Nepean Longridge. The Longridge work covers construction of the model with comparisons to the actual ship at drydock and is arguably the definitive reference work on the Cutty Sark.
This is not the hobby for those who need instant gratification. Patience is key and no amount of reference material will fully exempt the beginner (or advanced level) modeler with the frustration and disappointment of having to tear out a day’s worth (or more) of labor and materials when you find you’ve done it wrong. But knowing as much as you can before you start will considerably lessen your reliance on Maalox and tranquilizers.
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