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Building a Model Scale Warship By William Mowll

By Mike Dunn

Publisher : Chatham Publishing
ISBN : 0 86176 019 1 hardback,
0 86176 041 8 paperback
Price : £20



I'm always keen to find new books on making model ships. Part of this is to see if there are any new techniques I can use, part to have another reference book. When I saw this title in one of the book club catalogues, my interest was piqued, and off the order went. Little did I know at that time that this book has a sub-title, and a very important one it is : HMS Warrior 1860!!!! Yup, this book is solely about the author's creation of a 1:48 scale of the world's first all-iron major warship, now proudly restored and on full display at Portsmouth, where the author's model (16 years in crafting) also is displayed in the visitor's centre.

So, from the above you can no doubt guess I was disappointed when this book arrived, with several other modelling tomes. In fact, it was immediately put into the 'get around to' pile, while the others were quickly taken away for perusal! And I admit here & now that I was wrong on this!! OK, it's not what I expected, I could argue that it was sold to me on false pretences, but I must say that this is a well-written book, full of historical information, wonderful reference material, and not a few hints on how to do a model like this properly.

So without further ado . ..

The first thing the Rev. Mowll (for indeed he is a priest, when not crafting models) starts with, even before the first chapter, is a little history of WHY this vessel is so important to the warship field. After all, she wasn't the first steamship; nor was she the first iron hull ship; nor was she armed more than others. But she was a hybrid –she used steam and sail to achieve high speeds and manoeuvrability; the propeller could be hoisted out of the water; the funnels were collapsible for battle; her hull was her armour; the guns were a new design, and were heavier than her contemporaries had. She took the best of the old technology and fused it with the cutting edge of the new – she was one of a kind.

After teasing us with what had been happening in the world of steam and iron ships, we are immediately brought back to earth with Chapter One, being all about the tools recommended to have in your workshop, ranging from machine tools (both full and miniature), lathes and forges to adhesives, woods and plastics, finishing with paints. Moving swiftly on, Chapter Two drops us into the thick of things – how to build a one-piece hull over eight feet in length. The scale of this model has to be seen to be believed – it was chosen to match an earlier model (of the SS Great Britain) the author had made, but unlike that ship, this one was to be of GRP. However, the master had to be crafted first, and this is what Chapter Two is all about. Seeing the working diagrams, as well as the hull in various stages really makes you glad it isn't YOU making her! Once the hull is crafted, you are shown how to create the mould the final hull will be cast from, which is also covered here. Finally, the creation of the stern frame, the rudder and the solepiece is covered, together with the crafting of the screw and propeller. No easy way out here – EVERYTHING is hand-built!

Moving from the hull, Chapter Three gets onto the decks. Instead of taking one or two pieces of timber, each plank is hand-cut and caulked onto the deck-frame. To give an idea of how long this section took, 64 feet of plyboard was ripped into planks! Chapter Four starts us on detailing, with the figure-head, the sideheads and the outboard fittings being made and fitted. The section on the figure-head covers carving the figure of the Roman warrior through to casting the final piece. The other parts in this chapter cover the sideheads (and yes, the word 'heads' in this phrase does indicate latrine facilities, right on the bow of the ship), creating the correctly scaled chain and anchors, crafting the sheaves, gilding the galleries, creating and hanging the gun-ports and davits.

Chapter Five gets to grips with the fixtures and fittings, starting with the funnels, and moving swiftly to acid etching for iron bar gratings. The cowls are covered next, as are chainwales, hammock racks, the installation of the gratings, creating decorative ropes, ladders, the wheels and respective indicators, the compasses and telegraphs, the capstan and flag lockers – which takes us up to Chapter Six. Here, we are into the armaments of the ship. And guess what? Rather than buy cannon, you are taken through the technique of sand-casting them – The auxiliary guns are created with rubber moulds, and the gun carriages made.

The ships boats are the subject of Chapter Seven, with no less than eight different types being carried (ranging from cutters to pinnaces to dinghies). As several of these boats will be quite substantial on the finished model, some time is taken here to go through the creation of those that will be noticeable – indeed, within this book on creating one ship, you get information to allow you to build two extra fully-detailed boats thrown in! And exceptional they are too.

The masts and yards are found in Chapter Eight, starting with the bowsprit before moving into the creation of the various masts and ancillary parts. This brings us neatly onto Chapter Nine, on rigging and the ropewalk. What is the ropewalk? Simply a method for you to make your own rope – after all, if you are creating everything else, surely a little rope isn't going to stop you?! Once created, the methods of rigging (and securing the rigging) are covered. One of the largest chapters, it can be appreciated just how complex sailing ships really are when a battleship has her sails set – which is where Chapter Ten comes in – flag and sailmaking.

Chapter Eleven covers Warrior's other means of propulsion – the engine and boiler. This fully working model has a functioning steam plant under the decks, and this is where you learn how it was done.

Chapter Twelve covers the basic trials of the almost-complete vessel – ensuring the boilers feed the engines and turn the screws, fitting the radio-control and testing both the rudders and the sail controls, before taking us into the Epilogue – the actual launching of this model – for she is a fully-functioning replica of the real HMS Warrior, powered by both the steam plant and the sails. Needing four men to carry her, she is launched into the English Channel, and beyond!!


This book covers a man's obsession with creating a masterpiece – from start to finish, this model took 16 years, and the only aspects he didn't make were the GRP hull (but he created the master it was taken from), the sails (but he designed them for his sail-maker) and the boiler (as it required official safety certificates). This model is truly a labour of love, and the hints and tips scattered profusely in the book take you through numerous techniques you would never consider yourself.

Had I just left this book on the pile, I would be the worse for it. While it wasn't what I wanted or expected, it is an exceptional account of the patient creation of a very large, functional model. This book is to be recommended to any modeller who scratch-builds models, whether working or static, as well as to those wanting to know more about this particular vessel. It sits on my bookshelf close to my warship references, within easy reach of the times I need to check a method of how to do something – more praise I cannot give.

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