Paper Mache Ship Models




About: four tires and wheel? you've got yourself a deal

I wanted to build a pretty large ship model to go along with my model railroad in the scale of 1/87. This was before I understood how to use fiberglass, so I chose the preferred method of hull construction: paper mache. I had used mache to create the mountains of the layout among other projects. It goes on similarly to fiberglass, but much, much less stinky.

Hopefully this instructable will guide you through the rough steps of creating good-looking largish ships for model railroads or I suppose, anything else...

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Step 1: Hull Construction

So, I decided to build a 347' general cargo ship from Moldova called "Hassan D" this ship has been through many names and mainly has been in service transporting ore/coal. Before starting, do extensive research on your chosen vessel such as all the dimensions, plans, pictures, and information on the ship. Good vessel-finding websites include marinetraffic and vesselfinder

To begin your hull, first study your scaled measurements and cut from cardboard a rough form. stack and glue layers of the cardboard on top of itself until you seemingly have the shape of your ship. you may have to repeat this step until you have your ship's shape right. Sorry no pics here

After your form is dry, you are ready to mix your first paper mache, how I make it is as follows: mix one part water with one part flour and add in about a tablespoon of salt to make sure your hull doesn't end up moldy. Cut strips of newspaper that will cover your hull width-wise. There is a copious amount of information on the web about how to make good mache and apply it. Just make sure the previous layer is dry before continuing. I did 12 coats of mache on my ship, and it seemed very sturdy after about 9. Since there is no keel on the ship, the hull had to be the main place of strength.

I made the ship's gunwales from serial box cardboard and attached it to the hull after paper mache coat 4, then placed all later layers over the gunwales.

After all the paper mache is dried and your hull has been smoothed several times with fine-grit sandpaper, your are ready to paint. I painted 6 coats of Rustoleum matte colonial red after two coats of Rustoleum primer, which I thought came up a little bright and shiny for my taste, but I think I matched the color alright. Then seal it up with 2 coats of Rustoleum clear kote

Step 2: Rough in Details

Start with big things on the ship like the deck, the superstructure, and if any, cranes. My ship had a stern structure and two large jib cranes.

To make the deck, I used 1/4" Birch ply, do not do this. Make your deck out of sheet styrene. My deck had an intense grain in the wood which was impossible to sand out. Styrene is the material of choice for countless things on my ship

The superstructure on the Hassan D is made of sheet styrene. To make the basic shape, start with the biggest walls and superglue lego bricks to the corner to ensure a 90 degree angle for the next piece, then add the small surfaces

To make cranes if your ship needs them, I started with birch ply bases (again don't do this) and made the crane masts from 1/2" pvc, the jibs are wooden dowels. If you find an object that will look like something useful in scale, paint it and use it on your model

Don't forget to pay attention to the pictures of your ship, I went back and reflected several times throughout the build

The adhesives used on the ship include super glue, white glue, and hot glue

Step 3: Finer Details

After the large structures on your ship are complete, its time to take it to the next step, finer details

This includes whatever your ship requires, mine included many common items found on ships: railings, lines, windows, antenna masts, smoke stack, bollards, anchor windlasses, bulkheads, exhaust vents, ladders, doors, stairs, etc

I have found many methods for creating these details, listed below are what I used if you'd like to try them out

1. Railings: a material called hardware cloth found at hardware stores cut to size works very well for railings in many scales

2. Lines: thread

3. Windows: I printed out black rectangles made in paint (next ship, I'll probably cut the windows out to give it more dimension

4. Antenna masts: For my ship, I made my antennas out of many lego pieces cut and super glued together along with smaller printed details like flags (pay attention to your ship's antenna as they are all different)

5. Smoke stack: My ship needed a simple column for its stack, so I used 1" pvc and painted it accordingly

6. Bollards: bollards are essentially ship cleats, I made mine from sheet styrene and lego rods, painted appropriatly

7. Anchor windlasses: I made them from small plastic wheels from a miniature civil war cannon painted and detailed with lego chain

8. Bulkheads: made from balsa wood and sheet styrene

9. Exhaust vents: just printed textures found on google, sized down

10. Ladders: A company called plastruct makes tons of great detailing parts, some of which includes ladders and railings of a variety of scales

11. Doors: like the windows, I used a printed texture but next time I'll cut them out

12. Stairs: from plastruct as well

The last pic is a radar mast made from a paperclip and some plastic bits

Step 4: Lifeboats

Really every ship needs them, they can be a project of their own

The Hassan D's lifeboats are pretty simple small motorboats, to make them I started with a bunch of balsa wood sections glued together, cut the basic shape, then sanded them smooth. After I was satisfied with the shape and texture of the hulls, I painted them with 4 coats of pumpkin orange acrylic paint. Then I made their mooring covers from aluminum foil painted red. I then added rub rails made of thin white thread. The rudders are small pieces of sheet styrene painted their appropriate color.

Once the boats were complete, I had to make their cranes (think there is a nautical term for lifeboats cranes... can't remember) To make them. I cut their basic shapes from styrene and painted them with orange oil-based model painted for a glossy finish. Then, using hot glue, I carefully attach the ends of the lifeboats to small pieces of thread and then the thread to the cranes. Hot glue because it dries quickly. Then I added more glue to prevent them from swinging while the ship was being moved.

Step 5: Finishing Touches

The last things your model ship needs are very little detail parts like pipes, anchors, propellers, cargo tie-downs, cargo itself, and maybe other things your ship needs.

I added all the ship's lettering with dry transfer decals from a company called woodland scenics, the lettering includes the name wherever it appears, depth markings, IMO number, home port, etc

I'm no master modeler, but I think the ship looks pretty good when it all came together, hope this helps!

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    9 Discussions

    Pernickety Jon

    2 years ago

    Wow - it looks great. Could you post a photo of the ship with your model railway?


    3 years ago

    Great build - have posted it as my FAVE OF THE DAY on F/B group PROTO - TYPE - CHAT.
    Nice job, as with all your builds - look forward to the next project you show - - any chance of seeing more of you rail layout??

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    thanks, I probably will have future instructables about other parts of the layout

    more to come!


    3 years ago

    Wow! I build model ships in bottles but have never thought to do it with paper mache. I've never worked with it but it seems like a lot of fun, plus my two year old would probably enjoy playing along too. Consider this bookmarked!

    1 reply

    gee wiz! your work inside bottles is inspirational, I don't have the steady hands for that!

    Paper mache is very easy to work with, definitely recommend it to beginning modelers

    Uncle Kudzu

    3 years ago

    Very impressive! I work with papier mache sometimes, but nothing remotely this ambitious. Thanks for sharing this!

    1 reply

    3 years ago

    Wow!! That's an impressive model - very, very impressive!!

    (The word for lifeboat cranes is Davit)

    1 reply