Gene Larson's Shop Notes


Return To Shop Notes Home Page


By: Eugene L. Larson
Copyright (c) March 1987 - retained by the author.

Reproduced here in essentially its original form and content. Some updates have been added.
If any changes are recommended please contact the author with facts and references.

First published in Ships in Scale Magazine, September/October 1987.



In the last issue, I covered wood processing, using saws and sanders, to obtain the proper dimensions for modeling projects. Below is a list of woods, their characteristics, and applicability to model building. Use it only as a guide. There are always exceptions. For example, normally oak isn't recommended for model work because of its large grain and porous nature; however, I've seen some beautiful models done in oak that was carefully selected to avoid the disadvantages. I don't claim 100% accuracy or complete details. Some woods haven't been included due to lack of information or ignorance of their existence. Please write to me if you can make additions or corrections.

When planning a model, the types of wood to use are extremely important, One critical aspect is availability. Boxwood has always been a favorite, probably due as much to its historic use as to its outstanding characteristics. The original Admiralty models are masterpieces, and boxwood greatly enhances their appearance.

However, now the truly good European boxwood is very difficult to obtain. Why not do as they did in the days of building the dockyard models and use the best locally available woods? There are many domestic types which look as good as boxwood and work as well. The color can't be matched, but why is this necessary? Many people don't even like the yellowish color of boxwood. Why not try the local maple, cherry, pear, apple, dogwood, etc.? You'll be surprised at the results.

There are many sources for wood. Some local lumberyards have the typical cherry, walnut, maple, basswood, birch, pine, oak, and mahogany. Some specialty wood craft stores carry the more exotic domestic and foreign types. Fruit woods usually aren't found in lumberyards and stores. Mail order is a strong possibility, and in some cases the only way to obtain the wood other than harvesting it yourself in an orchard or forest,

I like to see the lumber before I buy to be sure it has the grain, texture, color, and lack of flaws such as knots that I require. If you find a good mail order source, stick with it. Normally, more raw wood is needed than anticipated, because you'll want to discard poorer areas. This is true whether you buy locally or through the mail. Watch for wood dealers at carving and model shows and at conferences such as the one held annually by the Nautical Research Guild (NRG).

Ask questions about the wood you're purchasing. If the dealer can't answer the basic ones, then be careful of the products. An example here is appropriate. A local dealer who has had a good supply of lumber for a long time started receiving a different-looking walnut. I bought it rough cut in 100 board foot quantities in 1" and 2" thicknesses and didn't think much about it until I started planing some of the pieces to size. Suddenly, unacceptable white sapwood appeared. I accept a lot of scrap cut-off pieces, but can't tolerate throwing away useless wood, especially at walnut prices!

I started asking questions and received the answer that you can't tell the sapwood until the board is planed. Once planed, either by the dealer or me, it was mine. I kept asking questions and complaining. I was finally told that the rough cut walnut was being boiled or steamed to get a flow of the dark brown walnut color into the white sapwood. This permits the producer and dealer to upgrade the lumber at least two steps and make more money. Steaming/ boiling results in the walnut color being deposited more on the rough surface of the wood than into the wood. Hence, it's impossible to see the areas of white sapwood which have darkened somewhat in color but not enough for my requirements. Also, this process must have some effect on the original color of the dark heartwood.

Another obvious source is to cut your own with permission. Jack Kitzerow's articles in the NRG Journal are a great reference on how to cut and dry woods. I've been able to find holly, apple, pear, dogwood, basswood, and plum. Once your friends know you're looking for wood, and not for burning in fireplaces, you'll be surprised what turns up. Jack says that when ever he travels anywhere by car, he always carries a small saw with him. There are many times I wished I had my chain saw along!

Some added comments by Joe McCleary from the 1999 NRG/Mariners' Museum Model Builders' Symposium: Generally consider using woods which are diffuse porous (most fruit woods, Poplar, Basswood, European or South American Boxwood) rather than ring porous (most pines other than Sugar Pine and most firs). You get what you pay for. Why buy cut-rate wood that could cause construction problems or repid deterioration of the model? Even a relatively high price for wood is a small part of the expense of a model. Usually the most expensive single item in a cased model is the plexi-glass or plate glass for the case. Check the end grain even more than the surface grain as an indication of quality and suitability of wood. When re-sawing, be careful to consider how you can help or hurt your situatin (i.e. in effect create a quarter sawn piece that originally was not cut that way). [In order to minimize waste lumber mills refrain from cutting quarter sawn planks. Instead they produce billet or slab sawn wood which has a tendency to warp and cup. This creates major problems for bread and butter hull construction.] Think of wood as a good investment. When you stumble on to a good piece, buy it. Start your own "wood yard" (something like a wine cellar for wood). Almost any place protected from the weather and insects that allows flat storage will do. The longer you store it, the better it gets. In almost any situation it is best to actually see the wood being purchased, unless you REALLY trust the person who is running a mail order business. In the latter case, insure that you retain the right to return unsatisfactory pieces. Do not forget non-conventional methods for collecting wood: used furniture (from second-hand shops or even the trash); wood or used furniture found at flea markets. Use various apecies of wood for contrast and decoration when you are building a model of a wooden ship. In some cases the need for the use of paint can almost be done away with. In many cases wood can be made to simulate other materials quite effectively. When building a model of a wooden boat or ship, consider using the same wood that was used to construct the original vessel as the wood for the base. Makes a nice tie-in and conversation piece.


* * For vendors that sell various common and exotic woods see the Materials section of the Source List on the NRG web site.* *

Apple and crab apple (Malus) vary in color from light cream sapwood to a pale to medium pinkish brown heartwood. Darker hardwood is more difficult to find in large sizes. It is heavy, brittle and has a fine, dense, even texture, and bends easily, and resists splitting. Well suited for carving and turning, as it's extremely hard and limber. Excellent for bent or built-up frames, deck equipment, blocks, and deadeyes. It takes a good finish. Can be stained and is one of the most desirable modeling woods, however, twisted grain and knots must be avoided.
Application: Framing, Planking, Fittings)

Alder, red (Alnus rubra) is lighter than cherry but nearly as strong. About half the price of cherry. Red alder can be used as a substitute in appearance for black cherry.

Ash (Fraxinus) is a creamy white to tan wood. Its long, straight, close grain makes it useful for ribs and planks. Some pieces have a coarse texture. Bends easily when steamed or heated, and often has a wavy figure. White ash can be used as a substitute in appearance for red oak.

Balsa (Ochroma pyramidale) is a straight grained, coarse textured, white to pinkish-white wood which is very soft and light weight. When cut, it has a tendency to crumble and won't hold a clean, sharp edge. It doesn't give a smooth finish. Glues well, but doesn't reliably hold fasteners. Extremely sharp tools are required to cut it, and it dents under finger pressure. This wood is at the top of the "don't use" list, as it can't be worked accurately in even the largest scales.
Application: Filler blocks, no other use for ship models, great advantage for flying model airplanes

Bamboo is a cane-like grass comprising over 700 species, but it makes excellent dowels when split and pulled through a drawplate. Used to fasten planks or fittings when drawn to .020" diameter or less for trunnels (Tree nails).
Application: Framing

Basswood (Tilia americans) is also known as American Linden, American Whitewood, and Limewood. (The universal "duck carvers" wood.) European varieties are called lime and are slightly harder. Pale, almost white to pale creamy brown with a straight grain and fine uniform texture which makes it suitable to represent other woods in scale when stained. Holds a fairly sharp edge, but frays when drilled and sawed. Bends relatively easy but has poor steam bending properties, and low strength. It finishes well but surface "fur" requires sealing. Basswood, an excellent all-around wood, is recommended for anyone's first attempt at a plank-on-frame model, Utilized extensively for solid hull construction by kit manufacturers and scratch-builders, as it carves extremely well. Used for bread and butter hulls, built-up frames, bent frames, planking, decks, and deck equipment. Care is needed to retain sharp edges. Not as heavy as European Lime, and a good replacement for sugar pine.
Application: Solid hulls, Deck structures

Beech (Fagus americans) is a white or pale brown wood with a distinctive fleck. Has a straight but coarse grain with tiny pores, good texture. Hard and soft areas make it difficult to bend. Humidity adversely affects the wood, plus it's brittle. Has limited modeling value. Heartwood and sapwood expand differently and, therefore, shouldn't be used together.
Application: None

Birch (Betula). Red, white and yellow birch are similar except for color. Red birch is used to resemble oak at a small scale. Yellow birch can be used as a substitute in appearance for maple. The sapwood is generally creamy-white, and the heartwood is a very pale brown. It has an even and straight grain, and has good strength and bending properties. It is stiff, very hard, and holds a clean edge. Suitable for frames, keels, and deckhouses. Sharp tools are required. Should be selected carefully and cut to avoid grain patterns. Warps readily if not thoroughly seasoned. Canadian and European birch should be avoided due to twisting tendencies. Birch is valuable in the form of high-grade aircraft plywood for model skins, mounting pads, or underlayment or framing. Ideal for jigs and patterns.
Application: Framing, Deck structures, Jigs & tools, Hull covering

Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) Formerly used for tree nails; good for fence posts. Hard, dense wood but too coarse for model work.
Application: None

Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens). The English and European box are the most desirable of the box family and are the true boxwood. This is a tree and shouldn't be confused with the box shrub common to the U.S. It has become expensive dur to scarsity. A very fine textured hardwood with a strong distinctive tanish cream to yellow color. Very dense with almost no grain or figure. It carves with great detail. Used in all categories of ship modeling including turning, framing, planking, carvings, deck equipment, decorations, blocks, deadeyes, trunnels, and belaying pins. Boxwood is relatively hard to cut, even with extremely sharp tools, but the effort is worth the labor. A superior wood for models, as it retains sharp edges and details to the smallest dimensions. Care should be taken as in time it can warp and twist if not supported.
Application: Framing, Small fittings, planking, Deck structures, Spars, and nearly all other applications including jigs and tools.

Boxwood, South American (Gossypiospermum praecox, Brazil) is not botanically related to Euopean boxwood, but has similar properties, and is 20% lighter. It is white to lemon and tan in color, with straight, compact and uniform grain and structure, and turns well and gives a high polish. However, it does not carve with the crispness as the European boxwood. It is quite strong and has good dry heat bending properties. It may discolor in ammonia. Boxwood from sources other than Europe should be used with caution, since their quality and versatility are limited.
Application: Framing, Small fittings, planking, Deck structures, Spars, and nearly all other applications includin jigs and tools.

Brazilian Cherry (Hymenaea courbaril) is reddish brown with a mahogany grain. Good for machining and turning. Color darkens with exposure.

Butternut (Juglans cinerea) Straight grain but coarse texture brown wood. Not suitable for model work due to grain structure appearance.

Canarywood (Centroloblum orinocense) Medium to coarse straight grain. Yellow with streaks of red. Color deepens with age. Not suitable for model work.

Cedar, red (Thujaplicata, western; juniperus virginiana, eastern) is a straight grained, nonresinous, fine textured, brittle softwood varying in color from pale pinkish-brown to dark brown with insect repellant odor. Works easily and takes a good finish. Brass or copper should be the only metal fasteners used. Too soft and fibrous for model work. Eastern red cedar has an aroma.

Cedar, Spanish (Cedrela odorata) Light reddish to dark brown with texture similar to mahogany. Strong and light weight and carves well.

Cherry, black (Prunus serotina) is an excellent hard, straight and close grained wood for modeling. Best is found in mid-Atlantic states. Has a light to pale reddish-brown color which deepens with age. When well seasoned, it's comparatively free from checking and warping. Has a satiny, straight, fine grain with occasional ripples and low shrinkage. Carves, finishes, and works well, but will burn if power tools aren't sharp. Its stiffness and strength make it suitable for framing, planking, deckhouses, and deck equipment. Also a good wood for half-hull construction, especially if the grain pattern is chosen to enhance vessel's curves. It can be brittle, so care must be taken in bending. Small streaks of deep red dried sap can easily be avoided when cutting. An outstanding American equivalent to boxwood though not in color. Color naturally darkens with age to a rich hue. Makes a good scale representation for teak. Red alder can be used as a substitute in appearance for black cherry. Yellow poplar can be used as a substitute in grain appearance for black cherry.
Application: Framing, Small fittings, planking, Deck structures, Spars, and nearly all other applications

Cocobolo (Dalbergia) is a dark brown hardwood with irregular grain and medium fine texture. Good for deadeyes, blocks, and hearts. Color varies from purple red to yellow, and turns deep orange-red with exposure to air and light.

Degame' (Oxandra lanceolata), lance, and lemonwood are classified in the same category and their names are often interchanged. A pale, creamy yellow to light brown hardwood with a very fine, even texture and straight grain. Heartwood is dark. Machines well and carves with excellent detail. Excellent choice for small parts, masts and spars, but difficult to find (native to Caribbean). Also an excellent substitute for box. Has a plastic-like appearance.
Application: Fittings, Spars, and Planking

Dogwood (Cornus florida) is an extremely hard, dense wood with a close and very fine grain. A little hard to machine due to its toughness and hardness. Usually white to cream, but can be found in colors to pale yellow and pinkish-brown. Capable of an extremely smooth finish and can be turned to exacting dimensions. Doesn't take stain well and is difficult to work, but can be carved to delicate detail. Hardness will dull and burn saw blades if care isn't exercised when cutting. A substitute for boxwood, but not commercially available. Must be located privately.
Application: Fittings

Ebony (Diospyros ebenum) is a fine grained and extremely heavy, dark brown to jet black hardwood which requires very sharp tools. Shavings can stain materials. It can be machined with difficulty to an excellent finish, but applications are limited since it's brittle. Bends well with dry heat and steam, but disintegrates in ammonia. Can be used for wales, deck fittings, rails, and planking of bulwarks where black strakes are needed, and to simulate iron. Trunnels simulate iron spikes. Very expensive and comes in short lengths.
Application: Planking, and Fittings

Elm (Ulums). The genuine rock elm is one of the best woods for modeling, not to be confused with grey elm. Wood is white with a long, straight grain. It's tough, has a close texture, and is easy to bend. Elm is ideal for ribs, keels, stems, knees, and planks.

Fir (Abies), including Douglas fir, red and yellow deal, and pitch pine isn't recommended for modeling. Has a coarse grain and alternately hard and soft grain. Also exudes resin.
Application: None

Gum, red (Liquidambar styraciflua) has a white to golden yellow sapwood and is sometimes referred to as hazel pine. Similar to pear, but slightly darker. Excellent to simulate teak and mahogany. Heartwood is brown to reddish-brown and often called satin walnut. Has a close, fine, and even texture, irregular grain, and bright satiny sheen. Can be used for planking, decks, and deckhouses. Excellent for ship modeling. Red gum can be used as a substitute in appearance for walnut.

Hemlock (Tsuga) isn't recommended due to its coarse grain and alternately hard and soft areas.

Holly (Ilex opaca) is ivory white to gray-white (sometimes greenish) with a straight, close, tight, extremely fine grain. Some grain can be irregular. A quality wood with an even texture and beautiful appearance. Requires sharp tools. Bends well due to low stiffness and high strength. Has a high rate of shrinkage, so dry wood is essential. An excellent modeling material, being fairly hard but easily worked. Glues well. Easy to carve and holds edges better than most other woods. Will accept end fastenings with a minimum of splitting. Holly can be used for framing, planking, simulating holystoned decks, trim, carvings, blocks, small fittings, guns, and other turnings. Hard to machine, but with care can be finished to a smooth surface. Affected by humidity; should be kept in a controlled environment. Expensive, so look for trees being cut down. Be sure the color is desirable for the application since it is very noticable, especially surrounded by darker woods.
Application: Planking, Fittings, Turnings

Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) is also called ironwood. The wood is white to light tan and hard, heavy and strong, and will take a very smooth finish. Has a dense, fine texture with occasional irregular grain. Turns well and can be cut to quite small sizes. A very smooth finish can be obtained. An excellent substitute for boxwood, especially when the color of boxwood is objectionable. Is extremely rare.
Application: Fittings

Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) is sometimes called blue beech. Has characteristics similar to hophornbeam.

Ironwood - See hophornbeam and hornbeam.

Jelutong (Dyuera costulata), grown in Malaya, Sumatra, and Borneo, is a creamy white to straw-colored softwood with fine, even texture. Used as an alternative to yellow pine for pattern making. Has a stable, straight, even grain with a plain appearance. Cuts and carves easily to give crisp detail with excellent retention of edges with some fuzz. Is firm; but lacks strength. Contains occasional latex-trace ducts which must be filled. Can be used for solid hulls and carvings; light weight makes it suitable for R/ C models. Basswood, Poplar and Sugar pine would probably be a better choice.
Application: Solid hulls

Lance - See degame.

Larch (Larix laricina) is also called tamarack. Has a pale to medium-brown color with pronounced growth rings. A hard, tough wood used for planking full-scale boats. Doesn't have much application in model work.

Lemon - See degame'. Not wood from a lemon tree!

Lignum vitae isn't recommended except for blocks and deadeyes on the actual ships.

Lime - English name for basswood. See basswood.

Linden - See basswood.

Luan - Philipine mahogany. Luan can be used as a substitute in appearance for Honduras mahogany. Softer, less strength, and less stable than Honduras mahogany. Not recommended for model work.

Mahogany, Honduras (Swietenia macrophylla) is a medium to deep red-brown hardwood which works well, takes a superb finish, but has a tendency to be brittle. A pronounced and open straight to wavy grain limits its modeling use. Careful selection can be rewarding if fine grain pieces can be found. Harder than pine, it's less likely to dent. Excellent for details on larger models. Light weight, medium density hardwood with moderate strength. Ideal to use in combination with basswood for half-hull models.

Maple, Bird's Eye (Acer saccharum) Eyes provide wood with a dramatic effect making it a good accent wood, but not suitable for natural finish model work.
Application: Bases, None for model work

Maple, Hard or Rock (Acer saccharum) is a heavy fine grained white wood, readily available, stable, and among the hardest of usable modeling materials. Although excellent for small parts, its extreme hardness and occasional irregular grain make work difficult. Grain varies from a bird's-eye figure to straight. Color can be pale yellow to deep honey, and can be dull looking. Has high density, a fine, even texture, and is strong and stable. An alternative to box. Easily worked with hand and power tools. Good bending properties, holds an edge well and takes a good finish. Suitable for turnings, frames, planking, and decks because of its honey color, ability to take a smooth finish, and show a distinctive sheen. Can also be used for model bases and cases. Soft, or silver maple, and red maple are not as good for model work. Yellow birch can be used as a substitute in appearance for maple. Application: Framing, Fittings, Deck structures, Planking, Jigs and tools

Mountain ash (Sorbus americans) or whitebeam is closely related to apple. A tough, hard wood which turns and carves well and takes an excellent finish. Dulls tools quickly. European variety is rowan.

Oak (Quercus) grows in many varieties. Usually not recommended for modeling due to its coarse texture and prominent markings. A very strong wood suitable for the internal structure of a built-up model. Takes an excellent finish. Red (Quercus rubra) and white oak (Quercus alba) are acceptable for model bases and half-hull backboards. White ash can be used as a substitute in appearance for red oak.

Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera) A medium to coarse grained hardwood with bright orange to golden yellow color which machines well.

Obechi (Triplochiton scleroxylon) is a very light, pale, straw-colored hardwood which works and finishes well with very sharp tools. End grain has a tendency to crumble when cut. Texture is coarse and contains a grit which quickly dulls tools. The prominent, open grain usually needs filling.

Padauk, African (Plerocarpus) isn't a common modeling wood, but its red color makes it suitable for natural finishes where red is required. However the color will age to a deep orange brown. Has an even, medium-fine grain similar to the texture of walnut. Numerous pores are open, making the wood unacceptable for large areas such as the insides of bulwarks. Pau Marfin (Balfourodendron riedelianum) Heavy, dense lemon colored wood from Brazil and Argentina. Straight grain with generally even texture and high strength. No suitable use in model work.
Application: None

Pear, fruit (Pyrus communis) is a fine, close grained wood with distinct pores. Can be worked to delicate detail, bends well, and takes an excellent finish. Selected pieces have a straight grain. Turns and cuts well with a clean sharp edge, and holds sharp detail, but has a slight dulling effect on tools. Bends well with dry heat; do not steam. Used for planking, decks, deckhouses and equipment, carving, blocks, and deadeyes. An excellent wood for modeling, but a little scarce. Domestic pear has a cream to pinkish brown to rose color and the grain structure is excellent for modeling. Foreign pear is usually of better quality, but difficult to find. "Swiss pear" produced by steaming the pear under pressure to to even the coloration to a soft red-brown. It is uniform in color and the grain structure duplicates mahogany when lightly stained and varnished. It provides good contrast in unpainted models. Bradford pear is a non-fruit bearing, fast growing ornamental tree.
Application: Planking, Fittings, Deck structures

Pecan (Carya illinoensis) is in the hickory family, but has better color. Heartwood ranges from light to medium tan. Sapwood is creamy. Has a close, tight grain and at times a wavy figure. Similar to maple in working properties. Strong and hard, requiring sharp tools. Bends well and finishes to a very smooth surface.

Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is also called white ebony. Color varies from silver-grey to cream to light brown with occasional dark streaks. Dark wood is confined to a small heartwood core. Oxidizes rapidly and takes on a dark shade. Grain looks like miniature oak. Exceptionally strong and dense, but affected by humidity. Not suited for planking or structural work, but can be carved to intricate detail. An ultra-smooth finish is possible, but tools dull rapidly.

Pine, Sugar (Pinus lambertiana). Even grained and seasons well. Very stable and used by pattern makers. A difficult to find west coast wood. Excellent for solid hulls.
Application: Solid hulls

Pine, White (Pinus strobus). Eastern white pine, sometimes called yellow pine, and sugar pine (pinus lambertiana) are the best of the pine family. Yellow pine is being replaced with jelutong due to availability. Currently yellow pine is so variable in quality that it is difficult to descrie its properties. The lumber yard variety is from fast growig trees, and the grain and texture make it undesirable for model work. The good quality pine is usually pale yellow to light brown with fine, even texture and straight grain. Easily worked, finishes well, and has low shrinkage. Good for solid hulls and pattern making. Don't confuse with ponderosa pine, sometimes called western yellow pine, or with Yellow Pine which is also known as Florida Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) that is used as building material. Pines other than eastern white and sugar aren't as well suited for model work. Due to the lack of availability of quality pine, consideration should be given to using Sugar Pine, Basswood or Poplar.
Application: Solid hulls

Poplar, yellow (Liriodendron tulipifera), also called tulip poplar and yellow poplar, varies in color from light, creamy white in the sapwood to pale brown and light green in the heartwood. Heartwood is more stable, easier to carve, and preferred over sapwood. Straight grained with a fine, even texture, it takes a good finish. Doesn't bend easily, but maintains excellent edges. Heavier and more stable than basswood. Works well for frames and solid hulls. A good replacement for more expensive woods. Yellow poplar can be used as a substitute in appearance for black walnut and black cherry. Poplar is one of the most common hardwoods in North America and is used for cabinets and bases for furniture.

Purple heart (Peltogyne) is generally not suited for modeling. However, its pale to deep reddish-brown color is desirable for certain natural finish applications such as fittings and trim. Quite hard with tight straight grain and fine to moderately coarse texture. It is very stable, glues well and takes a good finish. Dulls tools quickly. Has a medium brown color when cut, but quickly deepens to reddish-brown. An excellent bottom for half hulls, but requires a hammer and chisel to carve.
Application: Solid hulls, Deck structures, jigs and tools

Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is a reddish - brown wood with an open grain. Very soft and tends to fray when cut. Finishes well. If not sealed, will turn gray with age. Not suitable for modeling.

Rosewood, Bolivian (Machaerium acutifolium) A hard, heavy fine grained variable patterened wood ans has a deep chocolate brown to purple black color. Machines well.

Rosewood, Honduras (Dalbergia stevensonii) A hard, heavy and dense pink to purple-brown wood. Straight grain with medium t fine grain.

Satin walnut - See gum.

Satinwood (Fagara flava) ranges in color from cream to golden yellow. Has a bright, satiny sheen when finished. Will take a smooth finish. A fine uniform texture, but grain varies from straight to wavy producing a mottled effect. Turns well. Good for cabinetwork and inlays, but becoming rare. Dust might cause skin irritation. West Indian and Florida satinwood are better than that from Ceylon or the East Indies.

Spruce, Sitka (Picea sitchensis) or Silver Spruce is creamy white to pale yellow with a slight pink tinge. It has a fine, uniform texture and straight grain depending on the rate of growth. Good bending qualities and works and finishes well. Great for masts and yards due to its long, straight grain and stiffness. Split the wood first along its grain before making the spars.
Application: Spars

Sycamore, American (Platanus occidentalis) has a white, hard, close interlocking grain. Has a medium texture, is moderately light, and relatively strong. Cuts cleanly and takes a good finish. Sharp tools are required. Excellent for planking, because it bends and twists easily and holds its shape. Probably should be painted. Widely used by model makers.

Sycamore, English is in the maple family and has a cream color with a straight, fine grain. Called harewood when dyed silver-gray, it turns and carves easily if the tools are sharp. Also bends readily, but not especially recommended for modeling. Turns well and finishes well but only stains fair.

Teak (Tectona grandis) is a light, golden brown wood with darker streaks. Grain is coarse and oily, making it mostly unsuitable for model work. Abrasive nature is hard on tools. Suitable for spars due to its straight, tough grain.

Tulipwood (Dalbergia frutescens) Pink to yellow hard dense wood with significant stripes of violet, rose and salmon. Irregular medium to fine grain.

Tupelo (Nyssa aquatics) is also called gum, water gum and black gum. Wood is white to light cream and grey-green, even and fine textured, and soft but quite firm. The interlocking grain resists splitting. Carves exceptionally t well and is preferred to basswood by some wood carvers. It is stable but not very strong. Used for all aspects of modeling in the same ways as basswood. It is somewhat scarse but can be located through wild foul carving supply sources. Better choices are Basswood. Poplar or Sugar Maple
Application: Solid hulls

Walnut, Black (Juglans nigra). American black walnut is a uniform dark purple brown. Even but coarse, open grain limits modeling applications. Can be used for frames, keels, and some planking if the grain is carefully selected. Works easily, is hard, strong, and stiff. Free from warping or cracking. Bends easily when steamed or heated. Sands to an excellent finish. Cuts and carves exceptionally well, but usually can't obtain fine detail. Great for half hulls when used in combination with cherry. Also makes good baseboards. Yellow poplar can be used as a substitute in appearance for black walnut. Red gum can be used as a substitute in appearance for black walnut.

Walnut, Brazilian / Imbuia (Phoebe porosa) Yellow to olive to chocolate brown in color with plain or variegated fine grain. Use protection when machining due to possible irritation.

Walnut, Claro (Juglans) Dark chocolate brown color with wavy and curly grain. Similar to Black Walunt in characteristics but with a more significant grain pattern. Carefully chosen California claro walnut simulates teak decking.

Wenge (Millettia) A coarse grain heavy and dense straight grained wood. Dark brown with black and light brown streaks. Difficult to work. Not suitable for model work.

Whitebeam - See mountain ash.

Whitewood - See spruce.

Yew (Taxus baccata) is almost as hard as oak with a red-brown color and fairly visible growth rings. Texture is fine and even, grain is usually straight. Doesn't bend easily.

Yellowheart (Euxlophora paraensis) Consistent bright yellow, fine straight grained hardwood. Machines and turns well.

Willow (Salix) is pale with a very fine, nearly featureless texture. Light weight, but strong. Works easily and finishes well. Recommended for radio-controlled models, but not static display.

Zebrawood (Microberlinia brazzavillenis) Coarse grained tan to golden yellow with streaks of black and dark brown. Heavy hardwood. Not suitable for mosel work.


Planking and decks: Apple, basswood, box, cherry, elm, gum, holly, larch, maple, pear, sycamore, and tupelo.

Frames: Apple, ash, basswood, birch, box, cherry, degame, elm, holly, maple, pear, and tupelo.

Bent frames: Apple, ash, basswood, box, elm, holly, and tupelo.

Masts and yards: Birch, box, degame, pear, pine, spruce, and teak.

Deck equipment: Apple, basswood, box, cherry, holly, maple, pear, sycamore, and tupelo.

Blocks and deadeyes: Apple, beech, box, cocobolo, holly, lignum vitae, and pear.

Solid hulls: Bass, cedar, jelutong, pine (sugar and white), poplar, and tupelo.

Deck houses: Apple, basswood, birch, box, cherry, gum, maple, mahogany, pear, poplar, tupelo, and walnut.

Treenails: Apple, bamboo, birch, box, cherry, holly, maple, and pear.

Carving: Apple, box, cherry, dogwood, holly, jelutong, degame, pear, persimmon, tupelo, and whitebeam.

Turning: Apple, box, cherry, dogwood, holly, pear, maple, satinwood, and whitebeam.


World Woods in Color, by William A. Lincoln; Linden Publishing, 3845 N. Blackstone Avenue, Fresno, CA 93726, $49.95

Identifying Wood, A Practical Handbook for Craftsmen, by R. Bruce Hoadley, Taunton Press, 63 South Main Street, Newtown, CT 06470, $32.95

The International Book of Wood, edited by Martyn Bramwell, 1976, out of print but available in libraries.


A Ship Modelmaker's Manual, John Bowen, Conway Maritime Press Ltd., Chrysalis Books, 9 Blenheim Court, Brewery Road, London, N7 9NT.

Nautical Research Journal, Nautical Research Guild, 6413 Dahlonega Road, Bethesda, Maryland 20816. NOTE: There is a new address on this web site for the NRG

Scale Model Sailing Ships, John Bowen, Conway Maritime Press.

Ship Modelling Hints & Tips, J.H. Craine, Conway Maritime Press.

Ship Modeler's Shop Notes, Nautical Research Guild.

The Fife Rail, Nautical Research and Model Ship Society, 620 Saddle Road, Wheaton, Illinois 60187.

The Main Wale, Great Lakes Society of Model Shipwrights, 2118 Belle Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44107.

Woodcraft, woodworker's supply catalog, Web Site:

Wood Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, 1716 Locust Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50336

Notes from Joe McCleary (former NRG Director) from presentation at the Second Nautical Research Guild/The Mariners' Museum Symposium, April 1999


Return To Shop Notes Home Page