How Long Will it Take

How long is it going to take to build your first ship?  The answer is easy…somewhere between a few months and few decades.

My first ship, the Phantom, took six months (which included a two month break).  It should have taken longer – I rushed through some parts and it showed.  My second build is entering week three, and I’m basically on page 2 of the instructions.  I expect the Bluenose to take about a year or so if I keep up this pace.

Photo Apr 01, 9 04 30 AM
My completed Phantom took 6 months, which included a 2 month break where I did nothing.

How long it takes to build a ship depends on a number of factors…

  • The complexity of your model.  Different ships, different kits, different manufacturers all have varying levels of detail, instructions, and complexity.  The same ship from different kit manufacturers may take wildly different lengths of time.
  • The amount of time you spend working.  Some people only get an hour or two each week, some work nearly full-time.  Life happens, and you may not be able to always dedicate time to building.
  • Your skill level.  For experienced builders, or those who at least have experience with woodworking or modeling, many tasks are obvious and quick.  For those of us with limited experience, easy tasks can take a while.  I spent days preparing to cut the rabbet – something that an experienced modeler would knock out in an hour.
  • Availability of tools and materials.  Your kit won’t include all the materials you’ll need.  And it probably doesn’t contain any tools.  When you hit a stall because you need to wait for a tool or material to arrive, you could be waiting for a week.
  • Attention to detail.  I’ve been amazed at the models some first-time-builders produce.  Part of it is skill (some people are just naturally amazing), and part of it is the self-control to work at a controlled pace and pay attention to detail.  Rigging my Phantom went quick – but if I were focused on doing it right, using the correct knots and seizings, it would have taken 3-4 times longer.
  • Interest in researching.  I picked up ship modeling because I enjoy wood model building, not because I have a particular interest in ships.  If you’re the opposite, you may enjoy spending time researching the ship and the techniques used in ship building during that period.  Your model will turn out better if you do.  Spending time studying photos, drawings, books, and plans from the period will give you valuable information on the details that make your model pop.  What kind of materials were used for rigging?  What was standard deck planking techniques during the period?  Would a particular piece have been painted or left natural wood?  Your instructions won’t address this, but research will.  But research takes time.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours over the last year reading build logs on forums, mostly on NRG’s Model Ship World.  I’ve seen people who have worked on the same ship for years.  I’ve seen many people who start a build log that begins with a half-finished ship and states “I started this build 20 years ago, and I’m just picking it back up.”

How long will your build take?  As long it takes.  Ship building isn’t so much about the finished model (although you’ll admire it for years), it’s about the process.