My Workbench

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Scratch Building 1:1200 Ship Masts

I find myself scratch building replacement masts for every ship model manufacturer except Rod Langton's ships. GHQ's masts are featureless, soft and flimsy; Davco's are as flimsy as GHQ masts but are as detailed as Langton's; Navwar masts are featurless and run from relatively stiff to extremely flimsy, but the sails are so bad and yardless that even with sturdy masts I would still want to redo them. So here is a short tutorial on how I create masts that look close to Davco and Langton masts.

I am going to start with a 50 gun Dutch Navwar ship for an example.

The first thing I do is take measurements of the masts that came with the model. I measure the lower mast, top mast, and top gallant mast for each of the three masts. I also measure the bowsprit and jib boom.

I use music wire bought at Hobby Lobby. Sizes: .047 for the lower masts, .039 for the top masts, and .032 for the top galant masts.
I measure and mark the wire, then cut the pieces with a pair of small dykes.

The ends have burrs and can be very sharp so I grind them smooth with a silicate grinding wheel attached to my Dremel tool.
Or you can just use a file to accomplish the same thing.

For the fighting tops you can use any type of card. I have used thin paper card, plastic coated tags, old credit cards, etc. For this examply I am using an expired plastic insurance card.

I measure the fighting top on the model's mast and cut a strip the same width with a pair of scissors. Measure slightly more than the width of the topmast wire from the end of the strip and mark with a pen. With a small drill bit the same size as the lower mast wire, drill a hole through the mark.
Now I cut the fighting top to size and round the corners off of the top mast side. I run the lower mast through the hole in the fighting top leaving just about 1/8" extending through the card. I use just a small drop of superglue to glue the top mast to the lower mast and fighting top.
Next I cut two pieces of black thread and tie them around the joint and add just a dab of superglue to the knot to hold them.
Next glue the top gallant mast to the top mast and tie with two pieces of thread the same way.

I glue up the bow sprit and jib boom the same way.

When the glue is dry, clipp off the tie ends with a clipper or xacto knife.

The mostly finished masts and sprit:

Some times I make up masts for two or more ships at the same time if they are around the same size.

And painted up:

I start the process again for more ships.

Here I am adding a little extra detail to make the masts look even better. I cut narrow strips of thin paper card stock and cut them into 10MM lengths. Then I glue them to oposite sides of the lower mast just beneath the fighting top platform.
Cut three lengths of black thread and tie them around the strips and mast.

Here are comparison shots of Davco's masts and my scratch built masts.

Here are the masts going on the ships:

And masts waiting for two more ships:
I hope this provides some help to a fellow modeler. Thank you for looking.


jmilesr said...

Great tutorial

I use a similar method for making masts. I've also found the "greenstuff" is great for making both furled and unfurled sails. It takes a little practice for unfurled sails but the look is very acceptable

tidders2 said...

fabulous work on those masts

-- Allan

Anonymous said...

So are those K&S music wires paintable? Or do you have to prime them? What with?

A Miniatures Hobby Room said...

I prime the wire with spray metal primer. I have even used plastic primer. Both work well.

Copper Oracle said...

I am just starting out with miniature ships and found your blog. It is proving to be goldmine of information and a huge inspiration. I plan on using your guides with my own ships. Thank you

markmors said...

Fantastic post! Thanks for showing us how to do this. Thinking about making masts for USS Constitution Black Seas.

A Miniatures Hobby Room said...

More than welcome Mark

Steve said...


Your blog has been a lifesaver for my collection of 1/1200 hulls! Thank you.

I’m now reading round lots more of your pages, really really good info, I suspect learnt over many years. Thank you for sharing.

A Miniatures Hobby Room said...

More than welcome Steve! If I can inspire or help just one person in the hobby, then the effort is worthwhile.