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Smoothing and Finishing


Stonington Pulling Boat

Model and photo by Rob Pittaway

     When you have finished all the work with the spokeshave or gouge, begin with sandpaper toward the final smoothing of the surface. Start with a 16-grit paper and always use a small block of cork or wood where needed for doing reverse curves. The sanding block will keep the localized pressure of your fingers from sanding long grooves into the wood, and the long strokes will help even out unfair spots and will keep the sanding uniform. Avoid working on small areas only, and keep checking with the templates to make sure that not too much wood is being taken off. After shaping with the coarse paper, the next step is to smooth out the hull using 100, 120 and 150 grit (or finer) papers to get a very smooth surface. The best paper to use is aluminum oxide, open-coat production paper; while this costs a bit more than regular sandpaper it lasts much longer and does a better job. 

     During sanding you can check the fairness of the hull with thin pine battens cut 3/16 of an inch square and as long as the model. These should be rubbed with a bit of blue chalk. Bend the batten down over the model with the chalk surface bearing on the wood and move it slightly back and forth. Like the chalked template, the batten leaves a bit of color on the unfair high spots. By carefully alternating between the templates and the battens you can make the model very fair and smooth and ready for finishing.

Rob's Morgan Whaleboat

Model of a Morgan Whaleboat by Rob Pittaway

shaped with sections of pine alternating with mahogany


     You have any number of choices of finishes for the completed model. You can use one of the many wood finishes and stains on the market, or you can wax, oil, varnish, shellac or paint the wood to whatever color scheme you prefer. Not all models have to be finished in an elaborate way in order to be appealing. Many beautiful, traditional working models are simply oiled a bit to keep the wood from cracking.  Sunlight brings oiled pine to a fine mellow color in time. Further, a fancy finish on a model used around the shop would just get banged up. 

     After you have finished the surface, you can hang the model on the wall without further decoration or you can mount it on a contrasting color backboard to show it off. You can also add spars, rudder, sails, centerboard, bowsprit, etc., to provide as much information about the boat as you want.

     Now the model is finished and ready to serve its intended function and bring you unending pride. The possibilities are endless: once you are set up to do this kind of work you need only develop your skill and follow your imagination.

                                                                  ---Robert A. Pittaway