So you want to build a warship – Part 3

Part 3 – Tools
I figure I’m probably pretty typical, in the sense that I’ve accumulated a variety of hand and power tools over the years.  It’s likely that anybody who considers building their own model R/C combat warship already has a fair selection of tools, and is reasonably handy when it comes to using them.  However, many of us aren’t that experienced at scratch-building models – and there are some differences between building a full-scale house, gun cabinet, or even bird feeder and building a model warship.

In particular, some of the standard tools that one is likely to find in the garage or workshop are just too big or too fast for the kind of detail work you’ll be getting into.  It was a real surprise to me, how much a power saw blade dances around – you don’t realize it when the parts you’re cutting are “normal” sized.  But when you’re working with smaller parts, any little deviation from your line can be noticeable.

Hard-core model builders have small versions of our familiar full-size tools.  This includes table saws, scroll saws, sanders, lathes – even planers and jointers!  Any kind of tool you can imagine can be had in a size that makes it very easy to make small parts with great precision – and these aren’t cheap crap, either!  Just because they’re small, doesn’t mean they aren’t “real”.  Get ahold of a Micro Mark catalog & prepare to be shocked at some of the tools available for modellers!

On to specifics.  The following tools are what I’ve found useful to indispensable, along with a few that I wish I had!

  • Scroll Saw – Very useful for rough-cutting ribs & other hull parts.
  • Table Saw – This is one that I found especially tricky to use, because it wasn’t that precise.  Unless you have a lot of long, straight cuts to make, the usefulness of a table saw is minimal.
  • Dremel Tool – The single most useful tool you can own!!!  You can usually find one that comes as a kit, with a variety of cutters & other accessories.  In addition to the basic tool, get the flex. shaft accessory & the drill press stand.  The flex. shaft can be really handy for reaching certain tight areas, but other times it just gets in the way.  As for the drill press, I’ve found it most useful to lock the tool in with a sanding drum, to finish off nice, square edges.  In particular, finishing up ribs that have been roughed-out with a scroll saw – zip-zip-done!  Another handy attachment is a cute little mini circular saw blade.
  • Coping Saw – Sometimes it’s just more convenient to work slowly, & by hand.
  • Exacto Modeler’s Saw Set – (see above).
  • Exacto/Utility Knives – Myriad of general cutting uses.
  • Hacksaw – We’ll be cutting brass rod & tubing.
  • Files and Rasps – Your basic flat bastard, round, & rat-tail to finish up what the hacksaw starts.  Also a set of jeweler’s files!
  • Vises & Clamps – I have a suction-base ball-jointed vise that is just great!  Also, about two dozen 1″ C-clamps, about 10 deep-throat clamps, & an assortment of others – and sometimes I still don’t have enough!  Spring-type clothespins make good, cheap clamps for certain uses as well.  Surgical hemostats are also included in the clamping group, and are an indispensable item!  Also, those little alligator-clip gripper thingies are nice.
  • Drill & Bits – I only have an electric, & sometimes wish I had a hand drill as well.
  • Screwdrivers – Misc. assortment, slot & philips.
  • Pliers & Wrenches – Get a grip!
  • Wire Cutter & Stripper – Diagonal cutters work best; those fancy-looking, self-adjusting wire strippers are much better than the cheapo ones, & worth getting.
  • Soldering Iron – We’ll have electrical hookups, & soldered connections are recommended.  A solder-sucker (de-soldering tool) is also useful, for when you have to un-do something.
  • Multi-meter – Measure volts & ohms, at least – indispensible for troubleshooting wiring problems.
  • Rulers – Straight-edge (I have 6″, 18″, & 36″ stainless rulers) and tape measure.
  • Brushes – Variety of sizes for applying dope, paint, etc.
  • Glue – Cyanoacrylic (CA) and epoxy.
  • Popsicle Sticks – For mixing & applying epoxy, etc.
  • Mixing Cups – Snag a stack next time you’re out for fast-food.
  • Plungers/Pumps/Syringes – Somebody realizes how useful these are, & prices them accordingly!  Where I shop, they cost way more than it looks like they are worth – until you start using them!  Great for dispensing glues into tight spots and/or with precision.  I also use one to load grease into stuffing tubes.

That’s all I have, except for one, custom-built specialty tool.  In the process of building my first ship, a number of minor problems I had putting the hull together let me to design a jig to hold pieces into place.  For my second project, I built the jig first, and it’s worked out well.  Here’s what it looks like:

Figure 1.
Hull Assembly Fixture.

Dimensions of the fixture depend on the size of the ship you want to build.  Basically, the top level of the fixture represents the ship’s water line.  Everything is located vertically relative to this plane, lengthwise from the bow of the ship, and longitudinally from the center line.  To help locate parts along the length, glue a pair of rulers to the top side rails, making sure that they are aligned properly with one another.

To hold individual parts, a number of clamping jigs are also needed:

Figure 2.
Clamping Jig.

A rectangle of thin plywood is cut, and a piece of 1/2″ square stock glued to it, representing the water line.  A center line, for reference, is drawn perpendicular to the water line.  To help with alignment, graduated tic marks can be added to the top and/or front of the square, to indicate various measurements from the center line (make the center line “0”).  These tics are used to position pieces with respect to the ship’s center line.  Similar tics above and below the water line can help to locate parts vertially.

The jig is used primarily for assembling ribs to keel.  Align a rib’s center line and water line with those drawn on the clamping jig.  If necessary, use the horizontal and/or vertical tic marks to position the piece relative to these lines, according to the plan.  Position the combined clamping jig & rib at the proper position along the length of the hull, set the assembly onto the fixture’s rails (water line of fixture matches water line of jig).  Make sure that the center line of the clamping jig is aligned with the center line of the fixture – the horizontal tic marks on the jig can help with this – and clamp the assembly in place.  The rib is now precisely aligned in 3 dimensions.  Use additional clamping jigs to align intersecting parts, and glue them into place!

Figure 3.
Fixture and Jig In Use.

In the next installment, we’ll start making use of some of those cutting tools listed above, and make some sawdust fly!

Part 4 – Framing The Hull