Len Jordan's Guide to Painting and Finishing 1/1200 Ship Models

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This guide was written by the late Len Jordan in 2005 for collectors completing his finely detailed 1/1200 scale model ship kits.
These notes can only give a general idea of how to finish ship models, there are many ways in which it can be done and I've described my way. The list at the end of the notes suggests books that can help. To familiarise yourself with the appearance of ships, especially colour schemes and the layout of masts and derricks etc, John Bowen's book 'A Ship Modelmaker's Manual' is invaluable, so, of course, are his other books and the one written by Michael Ainsworth. All of these books contain a number of drawings of ships at this scale. The books written by these two authors are designed for 'scratchbuilders', or, to use the old description, for people who want to build small scale ship models; either way they can be a great help to familiarise yourself  with ship models at this scale. The magazines can be bought from most newsagents; the most recent books can be bought from shops, the older ones may be available through your local library or from second hand booksellers.
Resin models have the advantage of holding very fine detail and are light in weight. The resin used is of high quality but care needs to be taken when handling the casting as small items can be easily knocked off. Most of the ventilators on the models have nylon inserts for strength, but, due to their small size this is not possible with very small ventilators and care should be taken when painting. These items may be glued back into place with a superglue or an epoxy resin adhesive. Small parts are usually hard to find however, and a clean table with a suitable dark covering is advisable so that the parts can be seen.
It you look at a full size ship from a distance of about a mile the ship, to the eye, is about the same size as a 1/1200 scale model. Distance tends to make colours fade and although the difference in colour scheme can be seen, the colours themselves are several shades lighter than if the ship was seen in close-up. For a model colour scheme the colours should not be too 'bright'. The difficult colours are black, red, brown and green. Black and red can be dulled with white but for brown and green use some of the pastel shades available rather than bright colours.
Tools and Materials (see end of notes for supplier)
1. A craft knife. Either of the Plas-plugs, Edding or Olfa knives with snap-off blades are ideal. A scalpel with a No. 10A blade is also useful, as are razor blades, preferably the single edge type.
2. A pin vice or pin chuck. This is used for holding small drills. Don't buy cheap ones with several collets - buy the recognised engineering type with a proper chuck from about 0-2mm capacity.
3. Drills. The sizes required are 0.5mm (20 thou), 0.6mm (24 thou), 0.7mm (28 thou), 0.8mm (32thou) and 1mm (40 thou). These will cover all of the holes you need to drill. If you use the pins mentioned under Masts, the drill you will need is the 0.8mm. All of these drills are available from Model Engineer suppliers. Needles, with the point broken off and ground to a chisel end, also make good drills.
4. Magnifier. A good magnifying glass, preferably one with a stand, is very helpful.
5. Abrasive paper. Wet and dry paper, obtainable in any hardware shop, is ideal for resin. One coarse sheet and one fine sheet is enough, the coarse sheet for rubbing down the base of the model if required, and the fine for any blemishes on the hull.
6. Filler. The best filler is Plastic Padding (Car Body Putty). It sticks to resin perfectly. However, it is messy and epoxy putty in a tube is equally as good. There are two types, the American (Green Stuff) and the British (Humbrol Filler). Both are obtainable from model shops.
7. Paint. Humbrol enamels are the best to use. Acrylic paints are also very good and can be obtained from many shops. Acrylic paints are virtually the same as emulsion paint, visit your local D.I.Y. supermarket and you'll find small pots of emulsion used for test or matching purposes in the home. These can often be found to cover the needs of ship model painters. Note that in the U.S.A. and other countries emulsion paint is known as latex.
8. Brushes. The brushes sold in model shops tend to be rather coarse and the ones sold in art shops are far superior, but of course, cost more. Sable brushes are perfect and you need a No. 0 and a No. 1 for fine work and a No. 2 for general work.
9. Adhesives. For securing the funnels and other parts (where separate) together with masts, derrick posts and derricks use Superglue, preferably the thick, five second type, as it gives you time to adjust the placing.
10. Mast and derrick material. Although masts are provided you may want to make your own. Masts are best made from brass pins of 0.55mm diameter which can be bought in the sewing departments of large stores. Don't buy steel pins, these are made from stainless steel and are very hard and brittle. Derricks, which are usually of a smaller diameter than masts, can be made from brass picture wire, sold in small coils in hardware shops. You have to separate the strands and stretch the wire to straighten it, but this is very easily done. You can also use plastic rod, obtainable from model shops, or stretched sprue.
11. Mapping pens. Available from art shops, these are very fine pointed pens, suitable for use with coloured inks, or with thinned paint. These are especially good for putting lines or bands on funnels.
First, keep everything clean, this includes the model, paint and brushes. Obtain a clear plastic lunch box or similar and keep the model covered except when actually working on it. Wash the brushes out as soon as possible after use and keep the paint well stirred and the container clean. Secondly, use thin coats of paint, many models are ruined by thick coats. With metal models coats of paint can be removed with a paint remover, but paint remover can ruin a resin model as it melts the surface and the detail disappears. Before starting to paint, carefully brush the model with a clean dry paint brush to remove any dust (bare resin attracts dust) and after this has been removed use a clean brush to put on a thin coat of white paint. Apart from reducing the static on the model, this has the advantage of showing up any blemishes not noticed during the preparation stage. As before, any blemishes should be filled, allowed to dry and carefully trimmed or sanded to the surface. Another way of putting on a primer coat is to obtain a can of Humbrol white spray paint.
Next, paint the superstructure the correct colour. Decks are next, being painted carefully with a very fine brush. This is followed by painting the hatches, winches and windlasses and the tops or the insides of the boats. The tops of covered boats are painted a mid-grey and the inside of open boats a medium brown, although ships built in the 1960s and later had the insides painted orange. Some of the colours will need a second and possibly a third coat. When this is complete, touch up the superstructure paintwork.
The hull colour is now applied and, if a white topstrake is to be painted, leave the hull colour off in these areas. For the waterline and topstrake painting, a piece of masking tape is required. Ordinary masking tape used in house painting is useless, and a fine plastic tape made by 3M, usually available in model shops, is preferable. Alternatively, you can buy coloured 'striping' tape for cars from Halfords or other car accessory shops. Quite apart from the fact that it can be used for putting stripes on hulls, it can also be used as masking tape. Cut enough to mask one side of the hull and apply to the hull working out from the middle to each end, raising it slightly towards the bow and stern.
Repeat this for the other side of the ship and then ensure that the tape is stuck firmly to the hull by pressing with a finger nail all round.
Paint the waterline and include the base of the model. Use two coats of paint and then peel off the strip before it is dry. Touch up the errors with hull colour. The topstrakes are done similarly, using tape and peeling off after the second coat of paint.
Stripes or lines on the hull can be put on by using masking tape to define the edges, and carefully painting the line in, or by buying the striping tape mentioned above. Another way is to put a strip of masking tape on the hull just below where the line is to go and then, using the tape as a guide, draw the required line along it using a mapping pen with the appropriate ink or paint colour.
Funnels (where separate) are best painted by first sticking them down to double sided tape. Paint the funnel(s) basic colour and allow to dry thoroughly. Then, holding the funnel, add the funnel bands or other decorations (see note on mapping pens).
One way to put bands on is to use cigarette paper. Check where the gummed portion of the paper is and paint the other side the basic colours of the bands. When dry, draw a fine pencil line down the centre of the area parallel to the edge of the paper and then paint the second colour to this line. Cut out the strip required and using the gummed backing, apply to the funnel. This has the advantage of barely adding to the diameter of the funnel and looks realistic. Where a funnel has a flag or other device on it, this can be made from a suitably painted sticky label.
Finishing (adding masts and derricks)
Masts Before attempting to fit the masts supplied, check that the holes for them in the hull are clear and to a reasonable depth. Unfortunately, during the casting process they sometimes fill and need to be drilled out with a small drill in a pin vice. A depth of 3mm is usually sufficient.
For those who prefer to make their own masts the best materials are brass pins or brass wire as mentioned under materials. The crosstrees supplied are cast in resin. Cut the crosstrees from the backing sheet and glue them on the pins with superglue in the place shown on the drawing. If you roughen the pins first with sandpaper it will provide a key for the glue. The large masts on liners are best made from fine needles with the point (the top of the mast) cut off.
Derrick Posts, which are usually the same diameter as the masts, can be cut from pins or nylon to the correct length.
Derricks Most of the derricks on a ship are of 5 or 10 ton capacity and can be made from brass picture wire. Cut a piece of the wire several inches long and separate the strands. Take one piece of wire and, using two pairs of pliers, stretch it to straighten it. Cut the wire to the lengths shown on the drawing and glue them to the base of the mast or derrick post as required. After the glue is dry, paint the masts ans derricks with the correct colour paint.
Heavy Lift Derricks These, when fitted, are at least twice the diameter of ordinary derricks are are usually shown attached vertically to the masts. This type of derrick is only used for lifting heavy pieces of machinery and is fitted, at the end, with large blocks to carry the heavy wires required to carry the load. These blocks, when not in use, are wrapped in sacking and covered in canvas to protect them from the elements. These derricks can be made from pins with a blob of solder or superglue on the end to represent the canvas covered blocks. These are then cut to length and glued to the mast. Given this, occasionally the heavy blocks were removed from the derricks and stowed away until required for a heavy lift, so fitting a pin with the top cut or filed square may be acceptable.
Note on Derricks The working position of the derricks in harbour can be any angle; the stowed position when at sea is usually parallel with the deck except for heavy lift derricks which are usually stowed vertically 'up the mast'.
Finally, paint the whole model with a coat of flatting agent to 'kill' any gloss parts on the model.
For your own reference it is a good idea to mark the name of the ship and date on the base with a fine marker pen.
All of the tools and materials mentioned in these notes can be obtained from: Squires Model & Craft Tools, 100 London Road, Bognor Regis PO21 1DD Tel. 01243-842424. An online catalogue is available.
Helpful Books
Waterline Ship Models 1972 by John Bowen. Conway Maritime Press
A Ship Modelmaker's Manual 1982 by John Bowen. Conway Maritime Press
Miniature Merchant Ships 1997 by John Bowen. Conway Maritime Press
More Miniature Merchant Ships 2003 by John Bowen. Conway Maritime Press
Warships in Miniature 2001 by Michael Ainsworth. Conway Maritime Press
Merchant Ships by E.C. Talbot-Booth. From the 1930s until 1950 they were published by Sampson Low, the 1959 and 1963 editions were published by The Journal of Commerce. These cover the period of most of the models.
Ships in Focus Record
Shipping Today and Yesterday
Ships Monthly
Sea Breezes
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