Unlike most hobbies, ship model making requires few expensive tools. Almost every household harbors the beginnings of a fine model maker’s tool kit. The rest can be made, improvised, and bought as the work progresses.
Most important of all tools to the maker of ship models is his knife. It may be anything from an inexpensive pocketknife to a high-grade wood carver’s tool. Price and handle style are unimportant as long as its blade is keen and has the quality of taking and holding an edge. Many experts rely on various types of “sloyd”or bench knives. Others use nothing more than an ordinary jackknife, while still others feel that inexpensive kitchen paring knives, ground and sharpened to convenient shapes, are best suited to the work.
For the special carving and whittling jobs that often are required on models, as well as for the general shaping and roughing, the amateur can fashion his own specially shaped knives from sections of discarded hack saw blades. Ground to shape, hardened and tempered, honed to a fine edge, and mounted in suitable handles, they form one of the most useful assortments of tools that the model maker can own. To make a knife simply grind off the teeth, and shape the end. Then, as a preliminary to the tempering process, grind one side bright or polish it with emery cloth.
While you are polishing the blade, place a flat iron bar in your furnace or forge and heat it until it becomes red hot. Pick up your knife blade with a pair of tongs or pliers at the handle end or tang and proceed to rub the blade over the hot iron until the polished surface turns a light brown. Then quickly plunge it vertically into a pail or pitcher of water. Finally, give the blade its final grinding and sharpening. When grinding thin tools be careful not to draw the temper. If you use an emery wheel, be sure to keep the work cool by dipping it in water frequently.
If, during the process of shaping your knife, you will file a series of V-notches in the point opposite the cutting edge, you can furnish yourself with an excellent tool for marking imitation planking lines on the decks of your ship models. Grind the upper edge of your knife to a rounded point, file in ten or twelve teeth at the highest point of the curve, and then, using a fine flat file, dull the points of the teeth slightly. Lines are drawn on the wood with a pencil and the tool moved back and forth over the lines with a light pressure. To make sure that straight lines will be true and uniform, you can guide the tool with a ruler.
Tiny gouges of various shapes and sizes also can be made from discarded hack saw blades. The blade is first softened by heating it to a dull red and laying it on a brick. After it has been allowed to cool, the teeth are removed with a file.
The gouge shape then is obtained by setting a vise to the proper width and driving the blade into the opening by pounding a long, rounded wooden tool against it with a mallet. Another and perhaps more accurate method is to use a swage block cut to fit the desired curve of the gouge.
To stiffen the otherwise springy blade, the curved channel must run the full length of the tool. The edge of the gouge, which has an inside as well as an outside bevel, should be shaped and partly sharpened before it is hardened.
In hardening the tool, heat the blade to a dull red for about 1 in. of its length and, holding it vertically, plunge it into cold water. To temper it, brighten about 1 in. at the point and hold it over a flame in such a way that the tool is heated at its middle. Watch the polished portion of the blade and, as soon as a light brown or straw color appears, plunge it into water. These should give excellent knives for ship building.