Week 16

Happy New Year to you all! This is the last update for this project, as HMS Beagle is now complete!

side view

The completed model of HMS Beagle: side view

front view

The completed model of HMS Beagle: front view

top view

The completed model of HMS Beagle: top view

The completed model of HMS Beagle showing the hull detail and plinth.

The completed model of HMS Beagle showing the hull detail and plinth.

The model making part of the project was finished just before Christmas, leaving only the base and the brass plinths to be completed.

The base is made of a piece of Dark Teak with an ornate edging which I routered in keeping with the design of the brass plinths. I used a teak oil finish, giving the wood a burnished look by using three layers of wax after the oil had dried. The plinths themselves were turned by a good friend of mine, as my poor lathe could not cope with 40mm brass rod! I decided against the traditional glossy brass, as the brushed metal blends better with the rest of the display.

beagle 1

The model of the Beagle showing the teak base and brass plinths.

beagle 2

The completed model of HMS Beagle: deck detail

Once it was all stuck and bolted together it was time to step back, critically examining the overall “look” of the model – how all pieces work together, how the shading fits in the with the rest of the ship, whether colours blend in, and whether there is anything that really stands out. Having a Christmas break allowed me to forget the model for a time and fresh eyes picked out many small problems which careful airbrushing helped to remove. I thought the main flag looked rather stiff and unnatural, so made a few alterations. The flag and the pennant are made out of shim brass sheet, a very thin brass ideal for the job, with a wire soldered to the edge for the rope. This was painted white, and transfers added for the art work. The metal was twisted to look like a flowing piece of material, and, using my trusty airbrush, I added shading to the folds,  allowing it texture and definition.

The main problem was cleaning the deck. Imagine the deck, carrying canons, rigging, winches and numerous other apparatus, as well as bits and pieces of materials left over from the production of the model! Firstly I thought I’d blow the pieces out. I blew….and all the bits went to the other side of the deck. I did it again… and they went back to the opposite side once more. I eventually spent a very long two hours picking out the bits using tweezers!

It certainly has been a journey, but as we draw to the end of the “making of the Beagle”, I hope it has been as enjoyable for you as it has for me. This has been my first model of a sailing ship, and I called upon many sources of information and excellent books in the making and understanding of such. In particular, I would like to credit Karl Heinz Marquardt’s work “HMS Beagle Survey Ship Extraordinaire”, from the ‘Anatomy of a Ship’ series. This book is designed for model makers and was a huge help in getting the project to completion. I have always said that the one of the major problems facing model makers is finding information, and was pleased to note that this was not the case at all in the making of the Beagle!

beagle 31

The completed model of HMS Beagle: deck detail

All pictures of the model used in the updates were taken using my Nikon camera. I have been using black out roller blind from Spotlight, (available in both blue and white), and why I did not do this years ago I do not know, as I think the effect has been brilliant.

I would like to thank the following people for their help and support throughout this project:

Nigel Erskine – Curator, Richella King -Manager of Online Services, Myfanwy Appleton – Web Editing, Peter Webster – Artillerist, Tim Smith – Marine Archaeologist, Mike Rikard-Bell – Marine Archaeologist, Ben Joseph – Plinth Turner, RIchard Taylor – Advisor, Glen Andrews – Retailer, Rhonda Brewer – Retailer.

Finally, I am open to any questions you may have, please feel free to get in touch for a chat.  I gave an interview on ABC Radio on the 19th of January which you can listen to.

On the first of February I will be giving a talk on the Beagle and professional model making in general at the Australian National Maritime Museum. For further information  please visit  the museum’s website.

I look forward to seeing the ship on display as part of the Charles Darwin exhibition on the 20th of March 2009 in the ANMM Gallery One!

Contributed by model-maker Mike Bass.

Week 15

I think we can safely say that I’m on the home stretch now!

Overall view of the model

Overall view of the model

Last week I completed the yard arms.  They look a piece of art now they’re finished, with all the pulleys and detail on them.  I’ve been lucky in finding a supplier of good pulleys.  Made of rosewood and laser cut, the end result is a very detailed pulley that is able to be stained to the required colour.

Close-up of the yard arms

Close-up of the yard arms

Once the pulleys were pinned on, I started the running rigging, using a hemp coloured thread 0.25 mm thick.  The job began with the bracers and lifters, rather tricky as the bracers are tied to the base of the mast and there is next to no room for one’s hands to fit in the space and tie the line down.  Things are getting a little harder! The more lines you put on the model, the less it looks like you have done.

Side view of the model

Side view of the model

The Beagle should be complete, or close to, within the week, with the next update coming after Christmas. Wishing you a happy Christmas and a great New Year!

Week 14

The Standing rigging is now complete. The main challenge was the rat lines (the netting the sailors used to climb up the mast). Following are six images showing the technique I used to get the effect I was after. As I have seen many examples of well-made models that have been let down only by hairy unnatural rigging poking in all directions, one of my main concerns was to get the ratlines to loop down in a natural way.

Overall view of the model

Overall view of the model

Image A

Once the main lines (made from 0.8mm thread) had been fitted to the mast and deadeyes, I drew up spacing lines on a card where the ratlines were to be placed.

Image A and B "How to"

Image A and B "How to"

Image B

Using a thick needle and ratlines made of 0.25mm thread, I held the thick down line with tweezers  pushed the needle through each large thread in turn. Using the back cardboard spacer, I repeated the process until all the vertical ratlines were in place, as per Image C.

Images C and D "How to"

Images C and D "How to"

Image D shows how, using another piece of thread, I tied a knot at the right end of each vertical line. A drop of superglue was then carefully placed on each knot. Not only does this hold all in palace, but it makes it much easier to cut the ends of the knot cleanly with fine wire nippers.

Image E shows the tweezers holding thread down whilst I superglued the next intersection of the lines.  The glue dries almost immediately, and the line retains its downward loop. One has to be careful not to use too much however, as it distorts the effect.  I decided that I would not add a knot to all of the downward lines, just the ends, as at this scale it would be ‘over the top’.

Images E and F "How to"

Images E and F "How to"

Image F shows the finished effect.

Close-up of completed standing rigging

Close-up of completed standing rigging

This section of the rigging took me three days to complete, and I have had a neck ache for the whole of the weekend…model-makers beware!! Running rigging is to be completed next.

Contributed by model-maker Mike Bass.

Week 13

Things have been a little slow this week as I have had a bad head cold (and no, I will not make any sneezing/rigging jokes), but I have managed to make progress with the rigging.

Profile of Model

Profile of Model

For the standing rigging, I am using three thicknesses of threads: 0.25mm, 0.5mm, and 0.8mm.  One thing I have noticed with other display models of the same type is that the rigging can ruin the model’s overall effect if it is too heavy.  The thread I am using is specifically designed for this type of work, and once a coating of bee’s wax is applied (the bee’s wax smooths down the thread to prevent it looking ‘hairy’), it looks perfect for the job.  I have selected black thread for the running rigging as all rigging on the original would have been tarred to prevent rotting.

I have been using a selection of different pulleys, blocks and dead eyes to attach the thread to the ship’s hull. The rigging of the ship has proven to be quite a challenge for me!  I started at the bowsprit and have been working backward, finding out that the tightening of one thread can slacken all the other threads you have just installed.

So far the effect on the model looks great, but the standing rigging is only 70% of the overall look.  I hope to finish the standing rigging this week, then on to the running rigging, which will, I think, be double the challenge!

Contributed by model-maker Mike Bass.

Week 12

This week I have made and completed the main masts and bowsprit.

Overall view of the model

Overall view of the model

I used a hardwood dowel for the masts, and turned each section down on a lathe.  I then pinned each section together, being careful to keep masts straight.

The hardest part was to gluing the masts into the deck.  I used a super araldite which takes three days to dry, yet once stuck is impossible to ‘unstick’.   Gluing the masts is tricky and time consuming because the masts must be positioned at the correct angle when viewed from the side and must appear upright and square when viewed from the bow.

Close-up of the main mast

Close-up of the main mast

I have taken care to include the Harris conductors on the masts, copper strips running from the top of the mast to the deck of the ship, a special feature that saved the Beagle from lightening strikes many times.  The conductors channeled the electricity from lightening strikes to the copper sheathing of the hull, thereby earthing the ship to the sea.

Close-up of the Harris conductors

Close-up of the Harris conductors

Next week I will start the rigging, possibly the most difficult, but yet most rewarding challenge of the whole project.

Contributed by model maker Mike Bass.

Week 11

Apart from a few bits and pieces, I have completed the hull and all the components.

Overall view of the model

Overall view of the model

It took me a little longer than expected to complete and rig the small boats off the hull, but I am very pleased with the results. I have yet to make the oars and the sail bundles of these boats.

Close up of the small boats

Close up of the small boats

The carronade was a lot of fun to make. I turned the barrel out of PVC rod, similar to how the cannons were made before. Soon all the cannon will be rigged to the deck.

Close up of canon

Close up of canon

The plan for the coming week is to make all the masts of the model, having already completed the bowsprit at the front of the hull.

Contributed by model maker Mike Bass.

Week 10

This week the focus has been on the deck of the model, with work on canons, anchors, and small boats.

Overall view of the model

Overall view of the model

All canons have now been completed and fitted to the hull. I gently airbrushed the wooden deck around each to create slight shadow under the guns.

Close-up of canons

Close-up of canons

The anchors were easy to make, but hard to install, as there are many ropes and chains holding them in place!

Close-up of anchors

Close-up of anchors

The Beagle has a total of seven smaller boats. I carved each hull in chemi wood, then used my small vacuum forming tool to create plastic card replica as shown in the image below. The process involves heating a sheet of plastic card until it is soft, then use of the vacuum cleaner to suck the plastic over the master.  If you want to learn more about vacuum forming, drop me an email.

Vacuum former

Vacuum former

Three of the boats have wooden layered boards on the outside, achieved by sticking on lengths of plastic strips.

HMS Beagle's small boats

HMS Beagle

In the next week, I will finish painting and fitting the boats. The carronade will be next on the list, then I will start on the Beagle’s masts. Contributed by model-maker Mike Bass.

Week 9

This week the project comes to its official halfway point! I feel that I am on schedule, having now completed most of the gun deck detail during the past few days.

Overall view of the model

Overall view of the model

The 6lbs and 9lbs cannon were all turned from pieces of PVC rod, with the shape achieved using a mould of silicon rubber and resin as a molding substance. I will be putting further detail on them before next week. All the skylights and hatchways are now painted and stuck on. I created the wood effect on the hatch ways by using a wire brush on plastic card and then scoring in the hatch doors.

Close-up aft

Close-up aft

Looking towards the bow of the ship, the latest addition is the anchor winch and anchor chain. The winch itself had to be made and positioned very carefully, as that particular area is now getting very busy. Before sticking these parts down I deliberately airbrushed the deck around their intended position to give depth and break up the ‘clean model look’. Anchors will be attached to the anchor chains in the next couple of days.

Close-up fore

Close-up fore

By next week, I hope to have all the guns, anchors, and boats completed!

Contributed by model-maker Mike Bass.

Week 8

This week’s work saw the completion of the weathering effects on the hull and bulwarks using techniques as described last week, and the beginning of fine detail on the stern.

Overall view of the model

Overall view of the model

Stern view of the model

Stern view of the model

Bow view of the model

Bow view of the model

I started with the compass, turning it on the lathe using PVC rod. The steps leading down to the gun deck were constructed from American walnut, this wood being of both a very fine grain and an appropriate colour.

The airbrush I described in the last update has been used extensively, as this time I am texturing and shading areas not only to weather sections, but also to make the model look as realistic as possible in all detail.


I am hoping to have all components on the deck completed by the end of the week.

Contributed by model-maker Mike Bass.


Week 7

A huge amount has happened to the model over week 7, with work being done on planking detail, and overall painting, and alterations made to the main deck as a result of conflicting sketches.

The model so far.

The model so far.

One of the problems associated with gathering information from many sources, is that sometimes this information differs, or contradicts itself. This week I had to change the ‘Hammock Rail’, running the length of the main deck.
Changes to the hammock rail.

The changed hammock rail.

This rail was originally used as added protection for riflemen whilst they shot at enemy ships, the hammocks of the sailors being stuffed into a cavity running along its length. I had been using some excellent drawings that indicated the rail still existed on the ship, but we later discovered some sketches of the ship from its time, showing that the rail had either been removed or simplified. Rail rebuild!
View of the Bow

View of the Bow

All the decks of the model are individually planked out of snowy Australian pine, a very fine grain wood used in making prototypes. Using a black felt tip pen, I coloured the edge of each plank. When all are laid together, this creates an impression of the corking that would have been present between each plank.

The challenge in painting the Beagle is achieving the required weathering effects. The copper sheathing on the hull of the ship would have, once immersed in salt water, turned a golden brown colour, with green oxidisation along the water line. To this end, I employed three main techniques.

Close-up of the Stern

Close-up of the Stern

Firstly, I used an airbrush to achieve gentle shading and texture throughout, painting the model a mid brown first, shading the hull in black, then using a copper colour as a light general coat. Using a mask cut from paper, I then used the airbrush to spray all copper sheets around the waterline with patches of green to represent oxidisation. Finally, with the hull masked, the airbrush was again used to paint all white and black sections.

A dry brush technique was then used to highlight the raised areas. This is done by removing most of the paint from the paint brush so that it is only lightly charged, and brushing it over the raised area many times.

Lastly, inks were used to highly the score lines and corners, emphasising detail.

Side view HMS Beagle

Side view HMS Beagle

Next week, I am starting the deck detail on the stern, working forward from there.

Contributed by model-maker Mike Bass.