Thursday, January 26, 2012

Adding masts to your models

In the past four years I have renewed my interest in naval wargaming.  Intially I was focused on WWII due to the release of the CMG War at Sea  by Wizards of the Coast (WotC).  My WWII flleets are now comprised soley 1/1800 models that come pre-painted made by WotC.   They are not the greatest detail, but not bad either and the selection has steadily improved now that they have released a sixth set the majority of WWII major units are available. 

DKM Graf Spee
WotC (Custom Painted)
 War at Sea was and is a great game and it was excellent at the time as I did not have a lot of modeling time and was easy to teach to my children and get them interested in gaming.  In the last two years my gaming has expanded from the beer and pretzels style War at Sea provides to the more traditional naval war gaming.  I have explored an number of rule sets over the years and finally found a set I really like two years ago called Naval Thunder that covers the periods of Pre-Dreadnoughts through WWII.   

After discovering how much fun it was to game the pre-dread and WWI eras using Naval Thunder  I decided to expand my collection to include fleets for Russo-Japanese War (RJW), the Spanish American War (SPAN-AM), and WWI.  As WotC is the only company I am aware of that produces 1/1800 scale ships I had to decide on another scale to use for my new fleets.  I chose 1/2400 scale because it seems to have the widest variety of models available at affordable prices for building large fleets. 

 Two of my favorite 1/2400 manufactures are GHQ (High Quality metal at a premium price that are readily available) and Panzerschiffe (less detail resin models at a fraction of the price available via mail order).  When building my Pre-dread fleets I decided to go with Panzershiffe as I could buy entire fleets for the cost of a handful of GHQ models as most panzerschiffe model cost $3-5.

Early Attempt with styrene
When painted the Panzerschiffe models looked nice, but were still missing something to give them that wow factor on the gaming table.  I did a bit of research and discovered the nice Houston 1/1000 scale models with full masts and decided I would try to replicate them using styrene rods.  Unfortunately the masts came out looking a little chunky.  After a bit more searching(War Times Journal) I decided to try different sizes of piano wire which was readily available at my hobby shop.

IMO, the results were amazing, so I proceeded to re-mast the ships I had already completed and use the process I developed to mast all my Pre-Dread fleets.

Below is the process I refined over time.

Materials Required:
1. Painted Ship you intend to install masts
2. Wire. I use 0.30 gauge for main mast and 0.15 gauge for spars and smaller masts.
3. Good Wire cutters/pliers

4. Sheet or wide strip of 0.30 thick styrene (used for crows nest) A single sheet does many models
5. Tweezers
6. Pin vise drill
7. Acrylic paints (same ones I used for the ships)
8. Clear coat spray (I use Testers dull coat)
9. Super Glue (I recommend Gorilla glue super glue or zap a cap)
10. File (optional)
11. single hole paper punch

1. Completely paint the ship to the desired scheme to include wash and dry brush.  I usually mount them on the base prior to putting on masts and give them at least one coat of clear coat to protect the paint while handling.  Basically you can start with a completed ship you have already own that is painted.

For this example we will use USS Oregon

Panzerschiffe 1/2400 model

2. Find a picture of the ship in question to get an idea of what the masts look like and scale. I usually use my laptop with a tab open for multiple ships at one time so I can keep working while one model dries. Of course old fashioned books and pictures work as well for those technically challenged.

USS Oregon:
USS Oregon 1898

3. Drill holes in the model at the locations the mast should be placed.  Use a bit the size of the wire you plan to install to ensure a tight fit.  I try to drill almost through the model to provide a deep hole for stability.

4. Test fit the wire in the drilled hole.

5. Either cut the wire to desired length or install a longer piece of wire and then cut to desired height after it is glued in place.   I prefer to cut the wire after installed as it is easier to install.

6. after the wire is test fitted place a small touch of glue on the end of the wire and install in the drilled hole. If not already the correct height cut it now.  If the model is mounted on base be careful as cutting the thick wire can jolt the model enough to dislodge it from the base (I have remounted many a ship because of this).

USS Maine (Before)

Do not press the wire deeper into the hole using your finger as it will likely be sharp and you will impale yourself (many sore fingers) and nothing like blood to ruin your paint job.  Carefully use the pliers being careful not to slip and damage the ship.

7.  Paint the lower mast the desired color.  This is important as the wires glue together much better when one is painted as opposed to the bare wire.

8.  If the mast requires a crows nest/observation platform do the following:

8a- Drill a hole in the 0.30 thick styrene using the drill bit you used for the mast.

8b-center the the hole punch over the drilled hole and punch the chad out which will now have a small hole in the center

8c-fit the chad over the mast and slide it down to the desired point.  I no longer glue them as I found they fit tight enough and the paint will firmly hold them in place.  Extra glue only increases the chance of messing up the model.

8d-paint to desired color.

9. Install the upper mast by cutting a piece of thin wire.  Place a very small drop of glue on the lower mast and attach the thin wire vertically to the lower mast to form the upper mast.  It is good if they overlap more than needed for stability. Again, if the upper mast is longer than desired it can be trimmed to proper height once the glue is set.

10. Paint the upper mast.

11. Attach any spars (cross members) to the mast by cutting spars the desired length and glue to main mast at the desired points.

Hold the cross wires very lightly and do not squeeze the thin wire as it is like a needle and will tend to stick into your fingers.  Also ensure your fingers are free of glue and be patient. As long as one surface is painted they should bond almost instantly.

USS Maine (After)
 Note: when attaching spars/cross members to a mast with a crows nest I tend to glue the larger spar to the underside of the crows nest as it will glue best.  Another good spot to attach a spar is where the upper and lower mast meet. Always use your picture as a guide.  At 1/2400 scale I have found that close looks pretty good and increased stability prevent future repairs.  These are gaming models, so they do not have to be exact.

Note:  when gluing spars to the upper mast I place a bit of glue on the mast and then attach the spar to the mast.   Again, if the mast is painted the wire will glue almost instantly as long as the mast has been painted.

12. When complete and glue is dry finish painting to desired colors.  Then apply wash and dry bush as desired to match the rest of the model.

13. Apply a thin clear coat and you are done.  This is why it is a good Idea to have already clear coated the ship once as you do not want to spray the masts two heavy and get a build up.  One thin coat of Dull Coat will seal them and remove any shiny surfaces.

14. Most importantly take pics and share.

This process has worked very well for me as I now have the complete OoB for RJW as well as most of the SPAN-AM war.  I ran out of time before my deployment to go back and do some of my non-GHQ WWI units.  Tripods will be a challenge, but doable I think.  Obviously this method can be applied to any scale by changing the gauge of the wire appropriately.  I have seen some modelers put single masts on 1/6000 and WTJ is where I received some of my information which is 1/3000 scale.

Examples of finished models:

Be patient and have fun!


  1. Aaro

    Might I suggest an addition to the required supplies?

    THIMBLES to protect finger and thumb when holding wire (such as spars).

    -- Jeff

  2. Jeff,

    Excellent Point! Although may be difficult to handle the wires. ;)

    Care and patience are the watch words.