Introduction: Build a Model Boat: HMS Ajax
One of Model Boats Magazine's South African readers, Pat Keogh describes his latest model.
When I think back over the years and when I started in 1975 purchasing my first set of plans from David McGregor, it strikes me as quite as humorous that it has taken so many years to actually start building models properly. In fact the first of my static models was built in 1978 and strangely enough, it was HMS Ajax built to a scale of 1:96 and constructed by doubling all the measurements from the 1:192 scale plan and then ending up with a 72 inch long poor piece of junk! I still have some photos of that model and even now am horrified to see what a mess it was, but at the time I was of course very happy with it. Thirty four years later and with some model making experience behind me, I have now built this famous WW2 cruiser once more, but with some considerable improvement in its quality, I hope.
Step 1: Basic Hull
As usual, I started the project by preparing the hull frames from 2mm ABS plastic sheet. Cutting this material at 2mm thickness is fairly difficult, but with care accurate frames can be achieved, Photo 1, and this part of the building process took about three days of spare time.
Once the frames were cut, slots were punched out for the stringers and then construction of the hull could properly start. The keel strip of 6 x 25mm mahogany was prepared with slots cut in it at spaced intervals for the frames. With these in place, 4 x 4mm strips of Meranti were fitted into the pre-cut slots in the frames. Accuracy during this part of the construction is vital to ensure the hull shape is true in all dimensions and is not twisted, Photo 2. I like using this method, which I suppose is yet another version of plank-on-frame, because while building the hull I get the feel of what construction on a slipway must have looked like. The 2mm plastic ABS deck is fitted to the frames at this stage and that also helps ensure the hull shape remains true.
Having built the framework skeleton of the hull, it was covered with Meranti veneer 'plates'. This is almost the easiest part of construction because appearance is not the main concern, since everything will be covered with fibreglass resin and that coating will be completed with a lot of attention to the final finish. Two layers of veneer are applied so that the wood can be sanded to a good surface to make work with the fibreglass a little easier, Photo 3. The complex stern and bow curved sections are made from balsa wood and sanded to the correct shape. Nothing unusual there!
So, the hull has now taken shape and is ready for fibreglass work to commence. This is the hard part, as much rubbing down, filling and re-coating will be needed to obtain the final finish and appearance. Over-spraying each fibreglass application with a grey general purpose primer, highlights all the faults an blemishes and as a result the work required can be quite daunting, Photo 4. After the first vigorous sandpapering with 100 grit wet and dry sandpaper a great deal of the worst roughness has been removed and the areas that need to be filled with Tamiya plastic filler highlighted by the remaining primer, Photo 5. This process will need to be repeated a number of times before the final colour coat painting with Tamiya acrylics, Photo 6.
The portholes were then drilled and their outer rings made from fine copper wire. For planking the decks, Meranti veneer was used again, cut into 1.5 wide by x 25mm strips. The width of 1.5mm is over-scale, but to attempt to plank the deck with strips only 1mm wide by 0.7mm thick would be an extremely long and difficult task! The hull was then painted in its final colours, and it was time to sit back with a beer or two and admire it, Photo 7. Not quite as simple as that of course because the propshafts and rudder had to be added as well as careful masking for the boot topping etc., but you get the idea. This construction and painting of the basic hull took three months of intermittent spare time.
Step 2: Superstructure
This was the next phase of construction and it was built entirely out of ABS plastic sheet, mostly 0.9mm thick, but also 0.5mm. This material cuts very easily, glues well with superglue and sands to a very smooth finish. Another excellent property of this particular type of plastic is that it bends very easily and is tough enough such that even sharp bends do not cause it to break. Filling any joint lines is easy, using Tamiya plastic filler or similar. To make sure all the joint lines are properly filled, a light coat of spray primer will reveal any ongoing defects. Photo 8 is view of progress thus far and the painting of some of them as in Photo 9 had the whole thing coming together nicely. I tended to paint as I built, at least with this model. Small detail parts, such as the turrets, boats and carley floats etc. were all built individually for this model, rather than masters being made and copies cast in resin. The only reason for this being that no cold cure mould making rubber was to hand. Photo 10 is a close-up of the model well on its way to completion, but minus railings.
Step 3: Railings
To make the railings, a jig (now ten years old) enables a 12 inch section of railings to be assembled in about 10 minutes. Evergreen 0.5mm styrene rod was used for the uprights and 0.3mm copper wire for the cable between them. The copper wire came from components in old TV sets - so yes, metal recycling in a positive model making way!
Fitting the railings onto the superstructure and hull was a very slow and tedious process since every section had to be cut and fitted to different sized areas. The after superstructure was a comparatively easy job compared to the forward bridge area, Photo 11. My friend Aldo Petrina from Italy tells me that when he fits railings to his models he leaves some of the uprights a bit longer than others, using these to help locate the whole section run, rather than necessarily inserting each and every stanchion into the hull. It is after all a static model, so they are not likely to be knocked, or at least that is the theory. After the trials and tribulations of the railings, the rigging was a synch!
Step 4: Conclusion
HMS Ajax, Photos 12 and 13, kept me busy for just under nine months, totalling about 800 hours of enjoyable labour, and I am very satisfied with the result. There are now 10 static models in my collection and they have now taken over a complete room in the house. The next project is the WW2 Italian heavy cruiser, Fiume, for which Aldo Petrina has come to my rescue with books and plans of the Zara class heavy cruisers to which this vessel belonged, so watch these pages in about a year's time!