Beginning to Plank the Hull

Day 32.

It is time to start planking the hull of the Model Shipways Bluenose.  I’ve never planked a hull before.  This should be interesting.

Part of the reason I chose the Bluenose as my first POB build is because the hull planking is relatively straight forward.  The ship doesn’t have some of the complex curves that you’ll find on larger ships.  You don’t have to do as much with stealers or spiling.  The hull also gets painted, so even if I mess something up, as long as it ends up sanded smooth it should look fine.

My goal is to use this to get comfortable with planking.  I’ll use my next ship build to learn the more complex planking techniques.

So, where to start?

The practicum I’m following has a very simple approach to planking the Bluenose hull.  I’ve read the chapter many, many times, and I’m confident I can handle this.  The practicum’s approach is basically to ignore cutting strips, and just use full-length strips.  You start at the deck line (which is why the waterways had to go in) and work your way about 1/3 down the side.  Then you move to the keel, and work your way about 1/3 up.  This keeps any errors from accumulating.  I like that.

This approach doesn’t worry about bands, tick marks, etc.

The instructions take you down a more traditional route.  Using the plans, you divide the hull in the bands, and measure the plank thickness for each band.  This involves tick marks, etc.  The instructions also have you cutting the strips to a more correct length.  Instead of using the full strips along the hull, you cut and install pieces that are about 7″ each.

Which way should I go?  I think I’m going to do a combination of the two.

  • I’m going to use the simplified ‘process’ from the practicum – work down from the deck about 1/3, then up from the keel about 1/3, then do the middle.
  • I’m going to use the width of the wood stock as the width of the planks.  I won’t bother with making planks narrower unless I need something that has to fit in a unique spot.
  • I’m going to cut the strips into shorter pieces per the instructions.  I know you won’t see these joints once the hull is painted, but I think installing smaller pieces will be easier.  This also gives me practice with getting a good pattern of joints.

Let’s get started.

I need to place the first plank along the top edge of the waterway.  This is done because later we’ll install planking above this line, and in the first plank that goes above the deck we’ll need to cut scuppers.  These are small openings where water can run off the deck.  These need to be flush with the deck.

The fore deck and the quarter deck are at different heights.  This means that if you run a strake from the bow to stern, it won’t line up with both the fore and quarter decks.  The practicum ignores this, and tells you to line the strake up with the  bottom of the waterway on the quarter deck.  It recommends this because the practicum does not add the scuppers.  It simply omits that detail (intentionally).

I want scuppers.

So I need to do a little more work to get things lined up with the decks.  Referring to the plans, I see that the first band of planks (‘A’) does indeed deal with this.  At bulkhead ‘H’, where the decks meet, there is an extra strake for the quarter deck.  This looks like it should allow the strake from the fore deck to run right under it.

I guess the first step is to clamp some planks on the hull and test this theory.  That worked.  Now I know how we’ll deal with that transition between decks.

Photo Apr 23, 8 39 53 AM
The first planks need to be even with the deck.  The fore deck and quarter deck are different heights.  But, look at that, the difference is the height of one plank…

Before I can actually start installing any planking, I need to cut some planks.  To make it easier to get consistent sized planks and straight cuts, I made a quick jig to hold the material while I cut it.

Photo Apr 23, 9 18 36 AM
My jig for uniform plank lengths.  Ended up not being used too much, but it did help to ensure straight cuts.

I’m only cutting a few at a time so I don’t end up with a pile of planks that are the wrong size.

With a few planks cut, there’s nothing left to do but glue one one.  I decided to start around bulkhead ‘H’.  I put the plank on that lines up with the quarter panel, and worked  my way aft.  Then I returned to bulkhead ‘H’ and started with the first strake of the fore deck, working my way forward.

Once everything had set, I removed the clamps.  Since this line of planks needs to lie flush with the waterway, I needed to do some cleanup.  There were some spots to be sanded (where the waterway was too high).  There were some gaps between the plank the edge of the waterway (to be filled with wood putty).  I made a few rounds of sanding and filling until I was happy with the fit.  The waterways are visible on the completed model, so I want the joint here to look good.

After the first strake or two got installed, I flipped the ship upside-down.  This makes it easier to work on the planking.

Photo Apr 23, 12 55 40 PM
With the planks that need to be even with the deck are done, we start working our way down.

The clamps I used are modified ‘binder clips’ from an office supply store.  I can’t take credit for this…many, many other builders have posted about modifying binder clips this way.  Basically, you sacrifice a few clips by removing their ‘handles’, and use those handles to improve the other clips.

I continued adding planks as I worked my way up the hull.  The goal was to get the area near the transom fully planked – covering the horn timbers.  This took a week or two.

I found that I didn’t use my plank-cutting jig very often, since I needed to measure and cut the plank length individually for each plank.  The curve of the hull created slight differences in the required lengths.

After about 17-18 strakes, I had the ‘top’ part of the hull planked.

Photo May 01, 5 14 14 PM
Top half of the deck is planked.

It is a bit of mess.  But, I believe it is a controlled mess.  With some sanding and filling, it should turn out fine.

I can trace the problems to a couple things:

  • I didn’t do a great job of fairing the bulkheads.  Some of the planks sit lower (deeper) than others.  This is because one ‘end’ of a bulkhead is ‘lower’ than the other end.  Better fairing would have avoided this.
  • Some planks are not beveled properly.  This creates gaps between the planks.

I’m very glad I chose the Bluenose as my first POB build.  This hull will be painted, so as long as I can sand this smooth (and liberally apply wood filler), it will be fine.  If I had chosen a ship that had exposed planking, it would be a disaster at this point.

Photo May 01, 5 14 10 PM
Planking status so far.  You can see the planks twisting around the transom in the stern.

So, I’m done with the upper 1/3 of the hull.  Next I’ve got to install the garboard plank, which runs along the bottom of the keel.  I’ve been hesitating on this for a few days.  If I get this next plank wrong, the planking will be misaligned as I move up the ship.  So, no pressure.

Maybe I’ll get around to that tomorrow.

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