Finishing Hull Planking

Day 44.

After days of deliberating, I installed the garboard strake.  This line of hull planking starts at the sternpost, and tucks into the rabbet we cut into the keel.  Since the bow of the ship curves upwards, it required tapering because we don’t want the planks to curve upwards.

With that plank installed, I continued working up from the keel (actually down, because the ship is mounted upside-down at the moment.  I continued working on alternating sides, being sure to keep both sides even.

Photo May 08, 4 20 27 PM
Planking up from the garboard and down from the deck.

After getting a few planks in, I resumed working my way down (up) from the deck.  The gap between my two sections of planks stared to narrow.

The process slowed down quite a bit as I put in the planks near the sternpost.  Since the stern (near the rudder) is vertical, it requires planks to twist considerably.  I really should have done this properly (soak the wood in water, use heat to bend it), but I didn’t.  Probably one of the bigger mistakes I made during planking.

I was able to get all the planks in, but there are some dips and such where the curves get extreme.  Fortunately this is a painted hull, so I can patch things up with wood filler.

Photo May 08, 6 20 26 PM
Finished planking, prior to sanding or filling.

The fully planked hull looks very rough.  I was a little concerned, because most of the hull plankings I see in other people’s build logs looks a lot neater.  But I did see a few shots here and there that indicate that most hull plankings look a little rough before they’re sanded.  Hopefully that is the case here.

Before any sanding…

Photo May 08, 6 46 46 PM
From this angle, the lighting really highlights how uneven some of the planks ended up.

…and after initial sanding was completed…

Photo May 10, 6 28 22 PM
After the initial sanding, it is better, but there are still some notable issues.

It’s worth point out here that there are common variations on planked ship models.  How good your planking needs to be at this point depends on the situation.

  • Painted hullslike this one, might have one or two layers of planking (this has one), but you’re going to paint over it.  Once painted you won’t see the individual planks or the wood grain, so the goal is to get it smooth and even.
  • Non-painted hulls  leave the wood exposed.  These are often double planked, meaning that you put one a ‘base’ layer of planking using common wood (like I’ve just done), then add a second layer using thinner but higher quality wood (walnut, etc.).  The first plank layer creates the smooth base for the final planking.  That second planking has to be perfect because it is going to be visible.  Imperfections will stand out, and you can’t really use wood filler because it won’t match the wood.

So I’m really glad I’m doing a painted hull with a single layer of planking – it means my planking job is good enough.

With the first pass of sanding done, it is time to add wood filler and smooth out the hull.  You’d only do this on painted hulls, or on the first layer of double-planked hulls.  The goal is add a bunch of wood filler/putty, let it dry, then sand it down so the hull is perfectly smooth.

The practicum (and many Bluenose build logs) show a very generous amount of wood filler being applied.  They recommend spreading it on like you’d put peanut butter on bread – just cover the whole thing.  Sure, why not?  But, let’s just do one side so we can see how it turns out.

Photo May 10, 6 45 47 PM
One side gets covered in wood filler.  The amount seems excessive, but this is what the practicum does…

I applied a lot of wood filler.  It looks crazy, but this is what the practicum does.  To apply the filler, I used normal kitchen spatula.  I didn’t have one in my workbench, so I ‘borrowed’ my wife’s fancy Le Creuset spatula (shhh…don’t tell her).  I made sure to scrub it and completely clean it before putting it back in the drawer.

I let it dry for 24+ hours, then began sanding it down.  Or at least trying to sand it down.  It ended up taking 3-4 days of sanding, starting with 60 grit sandpaper.  It was a LOT of sanding.

Photo May 11, 7 16 29 PM
Sanding takes hours.  And hours.

In the end, I probably sanded off over 95% of the filler.  I’m glad I didn’t do both sides at once, because I’ve learned that I really don’t need that filler.

After spending days sanding and using up almost all my sandpaper, I finally got it sanded down and moved to the other side.  I used a much lighter coat of filler on the second side and was able to easily sand it off in about 20 minutes.

With both sides now filled, I have the hull a quick sanding, then did a little more patch-up work.  This time I added little bits of filler to specific areas that were still problematic.  I let it dry, then sanded it back down.

As a final pass, I have the hull a good sanding with 150 grit, 220 grit, 400 grit, and 800 grit sandpaper.

Photo May 15, 7 52 57 AM
After both sides have been sanded, filled, and sanded.  Much better.

That’s the ‘finished’ hull planking job, after filling and sanding.  It is remarkable how much better it is compared to the pre-sanding photos above.

Overall, I’m very happy with how it turned out.  It is straight, even, and smooth.  The curves toward the stern probably are not exactly as they should be, but they are close enough that nobody would notice.  The two sides of the hull match almost exactly.

There are probably several spots that need a little more cleanup (filler, etc).  I’m going to hold off on addressing those now.  Instead I’ll wait until I start painting the hull.  That will begin with spraying on some primer and sanding, which will make every tiny defect really obvious.  I’ll clean up the final details during the priming process.

So, it’s time to flip the ship back over and start working on something else…

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