Ship Model Jigs

You have selected the model that you want to build and decided how and where it will be displayed. You have collected the tools, plans and reference material you will need and created a secure work area for yourself. You are almost ready to begin.

Before the actual construction of the model starts, there is one more preparatory job to be carried out; the building of the jig. The jig’s task is to provide the model with a stable base during construction and to hold it still while the modeler carries out work on it. There are two types of jigs that you will find useful. The temporary jig and the permanent display stand.

The temporary jigs are either commercially available or the model builder can build his own. Commercially available jigs are devices such as the Fair-A-Frame used to ensure perfect alignment of the bulkheads to the false keel, a hull planking vise which holds the false keel allowing the builder plank the model on the stand, a timber tapering tool which acts similarly to the hull planking vice and the Keel Klamper which is also similar to the hull planking vise but with the feature of allowing the builder to rotate the model in many directions making the build much more easy. With anyone of these jigs, the model can remain on the jig during the compete construction.

To build your own jig, the base plate should be a sheet of chipboard about ¾” thick, somewhat longer and wider than the ship’s hull. Glue paper or plastic film on to the base, and draw on it the exact centerline of the ship and the precise location of the frames – later on you will appreciate these lines: you will be able to tell whether the bulkheads are exactly at right angles to the false keel by using a small plumb bob or a square. The supports for the stem and stern must be exactly 90 degrees to the base plate, to ensure that the keel, stern, and sternpost are exactly vertical. This again allows you to check whether the centre of the frames and the centre of the deck beam are exon the mid-ship plane by using a small plumb bob. The supports can be made of wood but angle iron is better. The model will remain on this building jig until the wales are fitted when the hull becomes quite rigid. At that stage the model can be removed for planking.

After planking, staining, painting and coppering underwater hull (if appropriate) it makes sense to fix the model on a permanent display stand. The base plate of this stand should be made of a high quality hardwood, as appropriate to the model. The choice of wood is of course a matter of taste but it should harmonize with the colouring of the ship model. The stand should not draw the attention of the viewer away from the model itself. As an example, oak, walnut or mahogany should only be used with the fairly dark planked ships of the 19th Century. To prevent the base plate suffering damage during further construction work, cover it with a sheet of thick plastic and secure the edges with tape.

There are three types of model display stands; cradles, pedestals, and blocks. Dioramas are also some times seen with slipways holding up the model.

Which ever way you choose to display your model, ensure that the stand is securely attached to the base board and the model itself. Gluing is good, screwing is better. The advantage of the cradle is that the models security and the builders peace of mind are ensured; the disadvantage is that in two places, the lines of the underwater hull are interrupted. Incidentally, the support surfaces of the cradle must be an exact fit for the hull. The advantage of the pedestal is that the hull form is shown off to its maximum effect; the disadvantage is that you have to drill a hole in the keel of the model. The pedestal should not be too tall – maybe 1 ½” to 2 inches – again you don’t want to distract from the ship model itself.

There are a number of other jigs that you will find helpful. For planking of the deck, it is useful to create a cutting template so that all of the lengths are equal and an overlay pattern so that the toenails are properly lined up. More on this topic later.

For bending wood, once again there are commercially available jigs and tools. A Planking Machine will bend the wood to an unspecified degree but does make the piece more pliable. A Plank Forming Jig allows for different shapes and angles because the tool itself is adjustable. This is very good for pieces of wood that are up to 0.8mm thick. Then there is the Electric Plank bender which allows for very severe bends in thicker pieces of wood. This tool is excellent for early period ship modeling. There are a number of hand tools that are available that work by notching the wood to allow for bending. You can also create a wood bending jig from a scrap piece of plywood and nails. Arrange the nails into a crescent shape, cover them with tape (to avoid rusting) and place your wet planking material in the jig to dry. This is very effective for hull shapes like schooners.

For rigging, assembling rat lines present a special challenge. Once again there is a commercial product available called a Loom-A-Line The advantage of this jig is that you create two rat lines at once and the pegs that are used to create the shape are adjustable allowing for different sizes of rat lines. However you can easily build your own jig using a scrap piece of plywood and nails positioned in the shape of a teepee. You would likely need to build a few of these for the sizes required by the model. There is also a jig called a reeving tool. This tool makes threading of deadeye assemblies or blocks and tackles easier, and assures perfect spacing of deadeyes.

There are many other jigs that can make your modeling experience rewarding;

If you are coiling lines for a ship model to hang around belaying pins, you can make a jig from a piece of one-by-two and three nails or pegs for each coil. One nail goes into the top surface and the other into the face and a third nail is further down the face.

Mast and spar tapering jigs are very useful and are made from hollowed out tapered wood in which you rest a piece of sandpaper.

Rope walks can be easily made that allow the builder to produce your own rigging lines. There is also a commercially available rope walk.

And the list goes on.