Steve's Shipyard



As seen in Scale Ship Modeler May / June 2000 Volume 23 Number 3!

So, after surfing the model warship web pages, you decided that you like what you see, and you want to build a rookie cruiser? Be sure to check out this story, and also the building tips that we have recorded from our experiences. Here is the story of a 1999 rookie, and his first 7 weeks building a working model of the USS HOUSTON.

Week One - send money and order form to Swampworks, for a fiberglass cruiser kit, and start stocking up on construction supplies. My list of supplies looks something like this:

Week Two - Unpack the kit, and become very familiar with the parts that were included. Start dabbling, fooling around with the parts, and end up building the superstructure! This is the funnest part of the project for me, as the superstructure can be laid on top of the unfinished wooden deck, on top of the untouched hull, and it starts looking like a boat after only a few hours of work. I used .015 styrene sheet to make the gun tubs, as it bends easily and is very light weight. I used other styrene stock to scratch build cranes, guns, and other details, with thin flower-decorating wire used for handrails, anti-aircraft gun barrels, and other details. I took the hull, deck, and superstructure, upstairs into the bathroom for floating. Using my new 6volt 7amphour batteries (1 to run, and 1 spare), I weighted the boat down and learned a thing or two about stability. Experimenting in the tub, before doing much work on the boat, is helpful. Weighing the hull down with the official weight of the model, about 8 pounds for my cruiser, also helps you to visualize the water line.

Week Three - Cut out the wooden deck. For my step-deck cruiser, I had the forward and stern halves to work with. Be patient here! It took a good four hours for me to get the exact fit that I wanted. After cutting and sanding, I decided how I wanted the deck pieces arranged. This meant cutting (with a hobby knife) the deck at the extreme bow and the extreme stern, and using slow-curing epoxy to glue into place. I then used fast-curing epoxy to set the 1/4" wooden structure, that the deck will attach to. I also used some of this for cross-bracing, especially where the step-deck thingy happens. I used some balsa sheet to deck some areas of the step deck, where I wanted the bilge pump outlet to be later mounted in place. Finally, I was able to coat the wooden pieces with slow-curing epoxy that was thinned about 50/50 with denatured alcohol. This left a strong coat of epoxy on the wood, to give strength and water-proofing. After this work was done, the hull had the desired shape and strength, and I was ready to cut out the "penetrable windows". I carefully marked out the areas with tape, and slowly and carefully used my moto-tool with the fiberglass reinforced cutting wheel. GO VERY SLOWLY AND CAREFULLY. This took me about 3 hours to do, and made my boat look pretty weird.

Week Four - Order the hardware kit, BB cannon kit, CO2 regulator, CO2 bottle, and bilge pump kits from Swampworks. All this cost a little more than the kit price. I decided that for my cruiser, I would use dual stern guns (told many times that this is the best way to configure a 3-unit cruiser)! After the parts came, I again familiarized myself with them. This time, while dabbling with the parts, I ended up building the bilge pump in about an hour. It was really cool to rig it up to the battery, and spit water all over the kitchen when it turned on! The water shot a good 8 feet, almost instantly! (I thought it was way cool, but I was asked to dry off the kitchen by someone who was less impressed!)

Week Five - Layout the "guts" or interior configuration of the model. For me, this meant building the rudder first. Once I had the rudder installed through a balsa block, I waterproofed it with thinned epoxy. I then filed off a flat spot on the rudder post, for the rudder arm setscrew. I used an angle, to give my rudder arm more travel room. That said, I'm thinking about changing the plans, and going with a geared rudder. I also made the stuffing tubes, using the brass rods provided in the kit. Using new flux really helps the soldering to go easier. It is tricky, so I practiced on a few brass tubes, before using my "real" brass. After measuring twice, I soldered up the shafts, and cut off the ends, to match the length of the prop shafts (allowing for the length needed to attach the prop, and the coupling). I then filed the end of the stuffing tubes, and filed flat spots onto the shaft for the prop and coupling set screws.

Mounting the stuffing tubes was scary, but it came out alright. Some of the good advice I got included laying the shafts out so that the props will wash against the rudder, keeping the shafts as low as possible in the hull, and keeping the props close to the hull and to the rudder. I cut out a larger hole than needed, to give me room to align each prop shaft. Using electrical tape, I taped over the outside of the hole, where the prop shaft exits the hull, and filled from the inside with slow-curing epoxy resin to cement into place. Using the Swampworks hardware kit, I aligned the motors with the shafts (using the dogbone drive system), and found that I needed to make a new motor mount out of aircraft plywood. I used two pieces of plywood, with brass rod connecting the two. The brass rod is installed where the motors will be set (onto two rods), and later attached with tie wraps. Into the aft plywood, I cut out a hole for the motor bearing to recess into, holding the motor in place. After everything was aligned, I used slow-curing epoxy resin to set into place, and to water-proof.

Week Six - I started working on installation of the bilge pump and battery. First, I sanded the bottom of the bilge pump housing, to reduce the amount of water that would have to fill the hull in order to prime the pump. Then, I aligned the pump with the inlet holes facing fore and aft. I then cut out aircraft plywood supports for the right and left side of the bilge pump, to help channel water into the pump, and to support the bottom in place. I will later add supports for the top of the pump, to hold it securely in place. I also used epoxy to set balsa blocks under the battery area (amidships), and around the battery, to ensure it does not move if the boat rolls heavily. After cementing these balsa blocks in place, I coated with thinned slow-curing epoxy. I was careful to ensure water could "channel" or flow through the center of the bottom of the boat, to get to the bilge pump. I was also careful to keep the battery as low as possible in the hull (for best stability).

Week Seven - With everything in basic position, I constructed a radio box out of aircraft plywood. Careful planning is important here, to ensure a reliable working model. My first go around, I tryed to work my bilge pump AND my rudder with one servo. I paid for that mistake when the model was launched. I later reworked the radio box to include 3 servos (gun, motors forward and back, and bilge pump). I installed the rudder servo in a separate box between the stuffing tubes (close to the rudder). This is a very reliable setup, and suprisingly the boat is about 20% underweight even with radio boxes installed. When completing the wiring, I purchased some expensive silver solder and connectors. The connectors really help organize the wiring, to keep things from getting tangled up. All connections were soldered AND crimped.

After wiring everything up, which tested OK, I was ready to install the balsa sides. I used the silkspan that came with my kit to coat both sides of the balsa, applying the silkspan with clear dope. After coating the balsa, it was glued to the hull using superglue. After covering the hull, I put a light coat of thinned epoxy on the bottom and extreme bow to strengthen and smooth the transition of the hull to the balsa. I was careful not to get any epoxy on the balsa. Finally, I silkspanned over the seams, and painted the hull.

The USS HOUSTON was launched on March 20, 1999 with much fanfare. Click here to view photos of the event!

The Last Few Weeks - After getting the pieces together, it was time to actually get things "ship shape". This meant cleaning up the wiring, eliminating unnecessary weight, and test firing the gun system. A lot of work goes into optimizing a model, which probably doesn't end until you sell the boat to somebody else. In my case, I ended up adding a fourth servo to operate the rudder, adding dense polyethylene sheilds to protect the interior parts, adding foam to channel the water, and learning how to "tweak" guns during the week following launching. In future weeks I plan to finish the deck hold-downs, learn about light-weight regulators, and try a few other weight saving ideas. The heavy battery makes my rookie cruiser a real heavyweight, and makes it more challenging to build reliable systems out of light weight materials. I can't give enough praise to members of MWC and IRCWCC for their generous contributions of advice along the way. Special thanks also go out to those who host the "combat" lists, where so many of my questions were answered.

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