MidWest's Skiff Kit Build

Getting Started

I am currently building a skiff from Midwest's beginner's series. After reading a good bit on the Internet and asking questions on various forums, one suggestion that was given to me numerous times was to start with a simple kit. Even though I have built some large plastic ship models, there are significant differences with wooden vessels. I've purchased a variety of wooden kits on ebay, however, one should exercise a bit of caution when buying a "previously owned" kit. It is quite possible for a part or parts to be missing, etc. That said, I've found in general that the wooden ship kit community on ebay is fairly reputable, but it pays to do your homework first. The advantage of buying from an established website or retailer is you can be confident you are getting what is advertised. Based on advice from experienced modelers, I'm beginning with a few small and relatively easy to build kits.

Build status and notes:
09/18/05 - Skiff bottom has been marked and scored, stem post is completed and ready to attach to the bow. The transom is now attached to the knee and is also ready to be attached to the skiff bottom. I used CA "thick" glue (aka Superglue) for glueing the basswood parts. The thick CA has a bit slower cure time, but it is still relatively fast drying (roughly 10 seconds). The glue comes in thin, medium and thick mixtures. As I discovered after gluing a couple of fingers together, it is definitely a must to also keep debonder close at hand (which I did) to be able to disolve the dried glue.
I found it helpful to tape the kit plans to the table top on which I'm working since a number of parts have to be measured and compared for cutting and finishing parts.

09/28/05 - The stem post and transom have been glued to the bottom using CA. The bottom outer edge where the transom meets the skiff bottom has been sanded to a bevel to match the same angle as the transom. The bottom inboard cleats have been cut to size and glued in place on the bottom where light marking lines were penciled in matching the pattern. The four sets of frames have been sanded (3 of the 4) with a slight bevel to lean them toward the stem post or stern and glued at the outer edges on the center line drawn of the bottom cleats. When the planking is added in place it is supposed to "straighten" the frames to the upright position. The framed kit is now ready to be "fared", the process of sanding all the outer edges to make them smooth and to match at joints in order for the next outer pieces to fit smoothly. The directions recommend using pencil lead to coat the outer edges to be sanded to help with the process by clearly showing what has been sanded. *Note: For sanding I am presently using 2 sanding blocks with 100 grit paper (the plans call for 80 grit, but this works about as well) and one emory board (some vendors call them "sanding sticks"). The images below were taken before faring.

Skiff Frame Stern
Skiff Frame Port
Skiff Frame Bow

11/05/05 - Completed fairing. Made "strongback" to assist in planking of the skiff. Basically a long block of wood a bit longer than the skiff itself with wooden shems to add a curve to the bottom board so side planks can be fitted.

12/04/05 - OOPS. I'm showing a couple of images of how NOT to do things in the hope if may help someone else. I mistakenly though that there was no need to soak the single basswood side planks prior to installing (there are numerous methods for soaking planks). The port side plank want on ok, without soaking, however, it did take a fair amount of force to flex the wood into position. I was not so lucky on starboard. In attempting to force the wood into shape I cracked the wood.

While I could have covered the mistake with sawdust, glue and sanding, the folks on the SSL web forum encouraged me to remove the side plank and that replacing it will not only make for a better end result, but will give me experience in removing glued (CA) parts and fixing problems. I've also decided on the new plank to use white glue or wood glue and clamps. It will definitely take longer to set and cure, but it will get added time to position critical pieces.

Cracks are visible in the middle of the side panel and near the very bottom of the same panel. It is glued to the stem post.

12/21/05 - Fixing cracked pieces. In examining the skiff as I was going about removing the cracked side plank, I determined that the frames on the starboard side had varying degrees of small cracks as well. I attribute these at least in part to the force that was necessary use to bend an un-soaked side around the frames. Up to this point I have used either fast (thin) or slow (thick) CA glue. Removing the cracked pieces was not nearly as bad as I had expected. Using liberal amounts of the CA Debonder on the seams, I gave it a few seconds to soak into the word and begin working on the dried CA glue. I have a very inexpensive but also very sharp "Flip-it" utility knife that I worked into the seams as much as I could. In some cases, I could simply pull parts of the side away. For more difficult joints, I used the knife to slowly work the glue and wood apart. I've included links to pictures below if anyone wants to see the "ugly" side of my kit build.

I've already come away with some lessons. 1) Soak wood that has need to be bent or formed around frames (if there is any doubt, soak it). One suggestion given in my case was to soak one side of the basswood to help the wood naturally tend to curve to the inside (with the outside portion being the one soaked). 2) While CA glue is quick for making joins, at least in my case white or yellow carpenters glue will be my choice for routine building such as this. I've used it in the past. Just squirt a small dab out on a piece of scrap wood and use a toothpick twirled in it to pick up the glue and apply where needed. It gives time to work a piece into the correct position. In many cases, the part will need to be held in place with pins, rubberbands or clamps. The glue dries clear and is easy to sand. Adding a bit of sawdust to the glue makes a great filler. 3) cleaning up the parts of the boat left in place that have CA glue on them will likely take more time to scrap, sand or file off. Another benefit of white glue.

For my kit, I will now need to cut out a new side panel which can be done fairly easily with the MidWest kit instructions since the major parts are drawn out to scale on the plans. I can make a template and trace around it on an appropriate thinkness of basswood plank (in this case 1/16 inch). Since I'm also planning to make new frame for one side I'll need to get correct measurements, trace them out on stock basswood (1/8 I believe for these) and cut them out using a series of shallow cuts with a very sharp scalpel or hobby knife. I have a liking for X-acto disposable knives that come with a safety top that can be used to cover the blade when it is not in use. I cycle these down for different uses as they become more dull.

Picture links:
01/03/06 - New frames cut from scrap wood which held the originals. The frame pieces were glued using white glue. The new side was cut from a 1/32 inch thick piece of MidWest basswood, using a stencil made from the original part. As a note, the original piece for the sides which the plans indicate as 1/32 inch thick measured closer to 3/64 inch (using Caliper). This time I soaked about 3 inches of the side panel in plain water for about 2 hours before prior to gluing. The bending and shaping of at the stem post worked much more easily with the soaked wood. It is now ready for smoothing the joints and cutting frames to match.

03/25/06 - After spending time re-arranging my work-bench, making a few additions and working on a couple other projects (cf. Granado, etc.), I finally got some time to work on my little skiff that had been shelved. Since I last worked on it, I have purchased a closeout small rotary tool to use in addition to my cordless Dremel. In this case, I had a pushpin that had become CA glued to the inside bow section of the skiff. The new little tool and a diamond grinding wheel made short work of the remnant of the pushpin and also helped clean off some excess CA glue from my earlier go round with the stem post and replacing the side.

Since this was my first time using a rotary tool I was a bit hesitant, but it quickly became apparent that with a bit of care the tool will save a substantial amount of time sanding. I also used it to pre-drill the holes for the mount for my plan holder. After looking at several options and the suggestions from folks in one of the Ship modelers forums, I tried using a large piece of foam board and some clear acetate. While it did ok, it was a bit unweildy. The device I purchased is fairly simple with a flange that is screwed to the top of my work bench and then aluminum tubing as a post and one as an adjustible cross piece, I just clip the plans to the cross piece. In my work area it allows me to rotate the plans out of the way when not in use or swing the plans right in for close study. That done, it will be time now to start finishing up the skiff (starting with the false stem and the remaining parts and getting it all stained and painted.


Finally finished up during the holiday season on this project. I've come to prefer using Elmer's wood glue over CA type glues for most purposes. The drying time takes a bit longer, but I don't wind up with the type of mess I had to start out with. I finished the kit pretty much to the box instructions using acrylic paint for the inner and outer hull and oars and then clear Deft satin finish for the natural woods (mahogany and bass). While the skiff is no prize, I did learn a good bit in the process which will come in handy on other models. One thing I figured out fairly far into the build was a simple way to hold awkward parts together while the glue dried. I have a fairly wide assortment of clamps from clothes pins to sliding C-clamps, but found that there are some places where a bit of masking tape was a better means of holding things together while the glue set.

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