Tools and Techniques

Build Books

April 2, 2016

During my first model ship build, I was using the kit’s plans and instructions along with a practicum.  The practicum was a ‘course’ that walked you through the whole process.  It was fantastic.

But that great practicum ended up having an unintended side-effect.  Since I was referring to it so much, I didn’t spend enough time examining the plans.

Instructions and practicums are easy to flip through.  They are often available as PDFs you can drop on your iPad.  Printed, they can sit on the corner of your desk, open to the appropriate page.

Plans, however, are big.  I don’t have room on my bench to lay out plans.  If I work on top of the plans (some people like this), I’d get glue and stuff all over it.  Plus, my ship, tools, parts, etc. would be covering things up.  I’ve often hung my plans on the wall behind my bench.  But this means my plans are not easy to refer to.  I only looked at them when I knew I needed to reference something.

Photo Apr 10, 9 15 41 AM.jpg

My fancy ‘build books’ for my Bluenose build.

For my second build, I decided to spend a week making build books.  I know that I spend countless hours sitting on the patio, drinking coffee, flipping through the materials.  So I decided to collect all the materials into two books.  Both are printed as well as assembled into PDFs that live on my iPad.

Note: The practicum, instructions, plans, etc. are all copyrighted by their respective owners.  So, I’m not going to show the actual contents of my books, because I think respecting copyrights is important.

Book 1: Practicums and Docs

The first book is thick.   It is probably 300 pages or so.  It contains:

I bound everything with a plastic ‘comb’ spine (available at any office supply store).  I spent a few minutes and made nice covers.

Now all of my reference material is in one place.  I can flip through the practicum and instructions, refer to the parts list when I’m looking for the part number of a particular item, or examine the photos for ideas on color schemes.

As the build has progressed, having the parts list in there has been incredibly helpful.  Referring to the instructions or plans, I can see that I need a piece of wood that is some specific thickness, like 3/16″, but I’ve got 30-40 different bundles of wood lying around.  A quick look at the parts list helps me identify that I’ve got 3 different options at 3/16″ thick.  I find the one one want, note the last couple digits of the part number, then refer to the stickers I added when I inventoried the parts.

Book 2: Plans

The second book is thinner, but still 100+ pages.  This book contains the plans.

I scanned in the plans using the scanner on my printer.  Obviously, my scanner isn’t big enough to scan each plan sheet at once.  I had to carefully scan the plans one section at a time.  It took about 20 scans per sheet, and there were 6 sheets.

After each part was scanned, I brought it into Photoshop and adjusted the rotation and skew, and positioned it so it overlapped the other sections.  I tried to get things reassembled as precisely as possible.

When scanning this way, it is important to pay attention to scale.  DPI is a measure of dots per inch.  Running a tech company that specializes in digital media and photography, I’m really familiar with this, but it confuses a lot of people.

Images themselves have no DPI.  They just have dots – not inches.  You only need to worry about DPI when you bring something into a computer (scanning) or when you take something out (printing).  DPI is the magic value that determines the relationship between dots on your computer and inches in the real world.

How does this apply here?  If you want your scanned plans to be the right size when you print them, you just need to make sure you’re using the same DPI when you scan and print.

Just be sure you use the same DPI throughout the process and you’ll be fine.

For my book, I separated the plans into ‘chapters’ by sheet.  Each section starts out with scaled version of the entire sheet (obviously you can’t see much detail).  This is followed by actual size prints of the various drawings on that page.  Big things, like drawings of the full ship, are cut and span multiple pages.  Small detail drawings are arranged on the page so they fit nicely.

I also made an ‘index’ at the front that has all six of the plan pages so I can quickly glance and figure out “which page had the rigging plan?”.

After printing everything, I did some checks to ensure the scale was right by measuring several items in the book and comparing it to the actual plans.

Worth noting – you may be able to go to a local shop and have the plans scanned for you on a large format scanner.  Some FedEx/Kinkos or office supply shops have this equipment.  It is very inexpensive to do it this way, much faster, and more accurate.   However, the plans are typically copyrighted material (owned by the publisher of the kit), and not all places will copy something has a copyright.