Building Tips


I started writing articles on “How to Build a Warship” and posting them to our Region 1 mailing list. But the more I wrote the more I felt I was missing. No pictures no way to show how things are done. It is so much easier to show someone in person. This lead to me putting together my DVD while I built my the FN Montcalm. It worked really well to video tape how I was doing things while talking about why. The below articles are incomplete but still a good source on how and why we do things.


Since we have a bunch of new guys in this region I thought I'd do a building tip every Friday. If you're working on a new ship you might want to save these. It might even help the vets out too. I will be saving them if you ever need them reposted let me know.


I'm going to go in order of construction. So this week we'll start with cutting out a hull. Please speak up if you think I have something wrong or if you have another way to do it. There is always a better way. Also I did not invent this stuff, mostly stole it from others...


Cutting your fiber glass hull. The first step is to calculate how many ribs you are allowed. 15% of the hull can be hard area, this includes the 2” at the bow and 1” at the stern. Lets take a 60” ship (with no casements, we’ll get to those latter) 15% is 9” of hard area. You’re going to use 3” for the bow and stern so you have 6” left for ribs. You are allowed to use a max of 3/8” wide ribs no more than 1” apart. Almost every one uses ¼” ribs as there are now more ribs to work with. This is better because it helps stops big blow outs in the balsa and the balsa has more places to stick to. In our case ¼” ribs gives us 24 ribs (6”x4). If the math does work out perfectly you can toss in a small rib or make one rib bigger. It is better to go with one bigger rib to give a little extra strength to the hull at a step deck or casement area. Also small ribs tend to let bbs pass to the side and not block them. When laying out your ribs it is best to put more in the front than the back. Your bow is higher in the water and gets shot a lot more than the stern. I like to put the first few at the 1” on center then make the spacing bigger as you move back. Make sure and place a rib anyplace the hull changes heights, at step decks or casements as this keeps the hull from falling apart. Now that you have the ribs laid out you can put the 3/8” deck line at the top and the 1” below the water line mark at the bottom to make all of your windows. If your 1” below goes 45 deg past the bottom you can stop it there. This happens in the stern of most ships. Take a drill and drill bit and drill out the corners of each window. This makes a stronger joint that a square cut. It also helps stop the over cut into the rib. Cutting fiberglass is messy, put on a good dust mask, some old clothes and get a vacuum. Wives are not happy if you do this in the house. Get a dremel and a box of the reinforced cutoff disks and get to work.

If your ship has a bulge or armor belt or other funny shape you are allowed a 1/8” wide stringer. This will run horizontally on the hull. The balsa is going to stick to it so on ships like the NC leave the outer part of the armor belt solid, the balsa will not stick to the inner part. You can put a stringer to the next rib after the feature on the hull. You can lay out your ribs so the stringer gets to be a little longer. This is one of those competitive things.

Casements and decks that are ½” inset. I could type forever on this one. This is one of those things people are always debating. What is solid and what is not. We’ll just go with the quick explanation today. If you have a part of the hull that insets more than ½” everything in that area is solid and the 3/8” deck drops at that point. If you have a casement that is not ½” inset parts of it need to be penetrable. The way the rules read this makes a hole big enough for 1-3 bbs to fit in. If you have a casement ship you should layout the hull and have a vet look at it before you cut it to make sure you have it right. If you can’t find one take some photos and e-mail them. That’s it for now good luck and get cutting.

Putting on the deck. Now that you have the hull cut up you can put in the deck. Most people you 5 ply plywood. Getting the good stuff and paying more for it will help out in the long run. The 5 play is takes more of a beating than 3 ply. That said if you use three ply and seal it well it will hold up almost as good. On battleships use ¼ for the sub deck and 1/8 for the main deck. This is where they came up with the 3/8 of solid deck area. On light cruisers or destroyers use ¼ for both or 1/16 if you’re going really light. Swampy always sent out ¼ square balsa or spruce strips. This went in fairly easy but made for a poor deck seal when finished. Flip your hull upside down and trace out the subdeck. Trace on the inside by using the windows you just cut out. Tape or glue the hull down so it does not move. Be very careful to make exact marks as you want a tight fit and not a lot of sanding. Once you have that marked cut it out and sand it down until there is a good fit. Now use this piece of ¼ to trace out the 1/8 main deck. Now you have two decks that same shape. Tape or lightly glue (So you can take it out) the subdeck in. look at were you need to keep solid are as a cross brace. It is always a good idea to put one at a step deck. Try and keep them away from motors, batteries and the CO2 bottle. No matter were you put them they’ll be in the way. Watch out for the barbets too, a cross brace next to them makes guns hard to get in. Cut out these parts. Leave enough sub deck at the sides (3/4”-1”) so you can have a good deck seal. More in the stern is better, the bow is not as important. But don’t leave too much or you’ll be carrying extra weight and might not get those batteries in the hull. Now we need to find the best way install the main deck. I like to keep the front 3-4 inches and the back 1-2 inches glued in place. In the back this helps keep the water out when going in reverse. If you have a step deck ship this is a little easier. I like the way my Mpls slides in place. I have a small piece of plastic glued on the front the slides under the part of the deck that is solid. I also have a little piece of wood in the middle of the deck that catches a cross brace to hold down the deck. If done correctly you can use the slide method on the back of your ship and use the step deck to hold down the lower deck. Ron’s Arizona does a great job of this. His deck is very solid and has no screws. If you have a one deck level ship you might want to leave the entire deck in one piece or cut it so the middle section opens for most of the important stuff. Most NCs and Sodaks have the stern left in place and the B turret forward left in place. This leaves most of the middle of the ship open for batteries and other stuff. The best thing to do is look at other ships to see how others have done it. No two ways are always the same. Make sure you can get into the hull quickly, screws are bad. Some people hold down their deck with a turn latch. I have screws coming out of my deck and put a nut at the top. It’s almost as bad as screws but I don’t need a tool to get in the ship. Now that you know were to make the cuts cut up the main deck. Then cut off about 1/8-1/4 of the sides. Glue this to the sub deck and it makes a great deck seal. Now that you have all the parts cut out. You need to glue them in the hull. Make sure and sand down the fiberglass so the glue can stick to it. I like fiberglass resin or epoxy. Gorilla glue is ok too. I put the deck in and tape it to the bottom (use those windows) to keep the glue in place. Now you can layout the barbets and glue them in place. I like to use epoxy for this, make sure and sand the wood and barbet to rough it up so the glues has a place to hold. I always make my barbets out of electrical conduit. It’s easy for me to get, comes in lots of sizes and is easy to cut. It will take bbs for a few years, I had to replace mine after fours years of battling. When you cut out holes for the guns try to make them as small as you can. Every hole in your deck will let water in. After I get my guns in place I always seal up the hole with silicon caulk. Some people like to make fancy lines on their ship. Use a rulers and a pencil before you cut the main deck and trace out lines to make a plank look on your ship. Now that things are glued in place we need to seal the wood. When ever you use wood in these ships it needs to be sealed. You can use fiberglass resign, sanding sealer or polyurethane (Varnish). Curly told me he uses WD40. Just spray it on the wood once a year and rubs it in. I did this to the main deck of the Mpls and it has held up alright. But I like the polyurethane better.

Motor shafts, props and rudders. Typically the props and rudders get placed in just about the scale location. The guys who designed the real thing did tests on small models to see if the big stuff would work. So we should be able to take the big stuff and copy it in our models. The best thing to do, again, is copy what someone else did. Find out who has the same ship as you, a ship that performs well is always better, and ask them what kind of props they use, where the place them and were the rudder goes. Ask for the number of blades on the prop, the size of the prop and the pitch of the prop. Also find out what gear set up they use. You want to use a rudder that looks like an airplane wing. Battler’s Connection has some good rudders or you can make your own. Ben uses helicopter tail wings and they work very well. Make sure you use all of the area allowed by the rules. You want to get them as close to the props as you can. This means cutting off the pointy part of the prop. Some ships like the SoDak have the props between skeggs. If you put the props between the skeggs with the rudder right outside of them the make a little thrust tunnel, helping your turning.  When you find the right spot drill a hole in the hull and insert a tube. Make it a little long to start with. There are several different ways to turn the rudders. In some ships with narrow sterns you need to use push rods. Wide stern ships can use a gear set up. I have the same gear on each of my rudder servos and a smaller gear on the rudder post. Once you know how you are turning the rudders, let’s say with gears, get every thing set up and cut the rudder tube so the gear will sit on top of it even with the servo gear. If you take a little too much off you can use a small chunk of gun tubing as a bushing. I like to mount the part of the gear with the set screw on it up in the air. Makes it easier to get on and off when you can see it. It is very important to get the two gears lined up and not binding or coming apart. If you lose control of your rudder in battle you are sunk. This is why I have gone to water tight boxes around the rudder servo in my ships. Too many times I lost control to a wet servo. If you can’t fit a box back there the best way I have found is coating the servo board and potentiometer (Pot) in Corrosion X (Red Can). The key here is two get it into the pot. When this gets wet the servo no longer turns. The newer pots on Futaba don’t have holes in them. I have been able to cut the side of the pot to make a little hole to spray Corrosion X into. Back to the props. In general bigger props take bigger motors to drive them. Bigger props give you more speed and thrust. If your motors get hot when you drive you need to but on smaller props or smaller gears. A four blade prop gives you more thrust than a three blade. The more blades the more resistance in the water when spinning the slower top end speed. The higher the pitch (40 degrees) the more top end speed, lower pitch (25 degrees) is better for acceleration. In our hobby you want to have good acceleration and a lot of thrust. On cruisers 25 degree three blade 1 ¼” props work well. The ships are light and don’t need four blades of thrust. The three blades also save a little power because the motors don’t work as hard to get to speed. Bigger cruisers like a Des Moines can go with the four blades or 1 ½” prop. Battleships should have four blade 25 degree props. Smaller battleships (Class four or smaller class five) can use 1 ½” the bigger class 5 and class 6 should use 1 ¾”. Ships with three props should turn the center shaft with a large 2” or 2 ¼” prop. If you put too big of a prop on some of the wash from the props will miss your rudder hurting your turning. Get the shafts as level as you can in the ship. This will push the motors to the bow in the ship a little. But you need that room for the guns and rudder box. Keeping the shafts level helps when you back up because you don’t get sucked under as much. Before you glue in the shafts sand down the outside so the glue has something to hang on too. I like to install a piece of wood or brass on the outside of the hull to help hold the shaft in place about half way between the prop and where the shaft enters the hull. Make sure and glue them in good, use epoxy or fiberglass and cloth so they don’t come out. I cut cardboard templates a little bigger (1/16”) than the props and tape this to the end of the shaft to hold things together as I’m gluing. The props should just miss each other and just miss the hull. Once you know where things are going and know how long the shafts need to be you can make the shafts. I use a 1/8” brass rod as the drive rod. Some guys use a bigger size. I typically go up three sizes of tubing to make the main shaft. This means when drive rod at the hobby store get a 1/8” rod and a piece of the size tube it fits into. Take that tube and find the size it fits into. Take the 2nd tube and fit it into tube #3. Buy all of these and go home. Cut a ½” long section of the smallest tube and ½” of the next size up for each end of your shaft. These act as bushings. Take the main shaft tube and solder them in place. Leave them a little tapered at the end and don’t use too much solder so it gets in the shaft. Make sure and sand the tube before you solder so it sticks good. Now glue in the shaft. Get the rod cut to size and you can add the props. If you props have a set screw you MUST grind a flat spot in the rod or they WILL come off. I like to cut 1/3 of the way into the rod making a U for the set screw to go into. This way if it comes a little lose it will not slide off the end of the rod. Use blue lock tight on the set screw or it WILL fall off. At the other end do the same thing to the gear or U joint. To gear or not to gear the motors. On cruisers with 3-4 shafts you can run a direct drive and make speed by putting on drag disk. The U joints and plastic dog bones work pretty well. Be aware of rocks, sticks and other things in the water. These tend to break the plastic done bone if the prop blades manage to survive. You can drill a small hole in the round part of the bone and put a rod through it to fix it. Battleships must have a gear box. Make sure the gears mesh well or they will fall apart quickly. Right now the thing to do is have reverse only motors. If you can fit them into your battleship go for it. You will draw more power from your batteries but will stop and back up a lot faster. This can be a huge advantage for your ship. Of course this might get outlawed.


When we last left our ship it had windows cut out, the deck in and the motors, props and rudder installed. All of these systems will make your ship move and turn. It is very important to have all of these working. A ship that can move and turn is hard to sink. It is even harder to sink if it has good damage control. To get good damage control you need to have good water channeling, a good pump, a ship that is balanced and sinks level and a level headed captain. First the pump. In the past people made these themselves. You can still do this, but they are not as good as the Charlie Pumps. So buy one from him. The small pumps he sells for cruisers works well for small ships, no changes are needed. The large pump is good for ships that are not heavy enough to carry more than 12 amps of batteries (VDTs, I-boats). The big ships like NCs, Nagatos, Sodaks even Lion should replace the motor with a Stinger motor. These are $20 or less at the any hobby store. They spin faster and have a higher (Almost twice) pump out put than the standard motor. This will allow your ship to make it when others would have sunk. One of the biggest reasons a ship with working systems sink is a clogged pump. To prevent this you need to keep the weeds, balsa and bbs away from your pump. I place a small piece of screen ring over the opening of the pump. I also put four spacers (I use the same size nuts as are on the pump) around the intake hole. Then I put another screen around the entire body of the pump. I take this one step farther and have a screen house that the pump sits in. There is screen on all sides with a flap of screen help in place by Velcro at the front of the house that the pump comes out of. This will keep most things away from the pump anything that does get in is stopped by the other screens. I like to make my own pump out let by soldering together sections of tube from 1/8” up to the hose size. Each piece gets a little longer (1/4”) so the water is gradually compressed.  The output is shaped like a funnel. Water channeling is very important in big ships. If you have a cruiser it is not needed. I just have a little in the bow and stern in my ships. In my battleship I leave a channel 1” wide by ¼” tall from the motors to A turret. The channel might be a little less than ¼” but the edges by the hull are a little taller. This will help the water flow to the center of the ship. At the bow and stern I have a lot of water channel that is built up to the bottom of the window. Be careful as too much water channeling can make the bottom of your ship buoyant and cause you to list and sink. This is what my major problem in refit #2 on Warspite was. The only place I had for water to go was the bulges, they filled up I tipped over and sank. I use balsa wood sanded to shape for the water channeling. I seal it with epoxy or resin. Make sure and check it for cracks every winter or water will get in and make your ship heavier than needed. Put your finished ship in the tub or pool and let it sink with the pump on. Make sure it is balanced so it sinks level. Extra top weight in your super structure will list you over. Keep this weight to a minimum. If it sinks to fast by the bow or stern add a little weight so it sinks level. You can also take out some water channeling to level the sink. Make sure the ship is combat ready with a half load of bbs and CO2. This is what your ship will weigh when you are in the most trouble. Building a ship that sinks level is not too hard. Getting a captain that is level headed is harder. DO NOT forget to turn on your pump. All the stuff you have built will NOT work if you forget to turn on your pump. Do not fly into a battle against over whelming odds and take a ton of damage. It is fun (I have done it many times) but it will get you sunk. If you look like you are hurt get on five and hide. Either in some pond structure, weeds, a bay, far away from shore or in your teammates. Move very little as this just pushes more water into your ship. Small movements to avoid enemy guns are all you need. Hitting a still target is not easy under pressure. Talk a little trash to make the other guy nervous. Remind him you don’t have much time left, even if you do. Be ready to jump in the water to touch your ship. If you’re riding the edge don’t try to drive it in, you might sink, it counts even off your 5 if it is not touched.


Now our ship moves, turns and has a good pump in it. Now we just need guns to go out and play. Building guns takes time to learn. My first two attempts were big failures. So I bought some from Charley and they are still in the Warspite and Mpls. I have never had a problem with them for three years. If you are going to build your own guns you really need to see one being built. I can’t explain it in an article. A how to video would work and this winter I am going to make one. There has already been a great article written about how to choose your gun set up and how to use them. It was written by Chris Pearce years ago. I copied it off his web site (Since taken down) I’ll let him do most of the talking today.


I’ll cover how to fire your guns. There are two ways to do this, popit valves or solenoids. The popits are pushed by a servo. The solenoids are fired with an electrical switch pushed by a servo or a team delta board that replaces the servo. The popits are cheaper and lighter. They work well for single guns. They can be made to work with twin or trips but it is not as easy as solenoids. Solenoids are heavier and cost $50 each (In 2006). But they are easy to make twins and trips fire. The servo vs team delta is pretty even choice if you are starting out with a new ship. To buy a servo and switch it costs almost the same as a team delta board. The team deltas can fire a little faster then the servos. The selection is up to the captain, his ship selection and his budget. For a twin guns cruiser you can use the solenoids and still make weight. In a small class 4 ship like a VDT or I-boat popits save weight and can easily fire the single guns. Bigger class four ships like a Tiger have the weight to give for solenoids. Class 5 and higher ships all should have solenoids. They have the weight and need them for the multiple gun set ups. I’ll cover how to wire up solenoids in the wiring part of this series.

What size bottle should you get? 3.5oz bottles will cover all ships with 2-3 guns. I have seen one 5.5 unit ship use one but he had to be very careful getting a good fill and not wasting gas. A 7oz bottle will get any other class of ship through a sortie. A lot of people use a 9oz bottle as they are a little easier to find but they weigh more and are longer making them harder to fit in the ship. I have always used a standard regulator. You just need to find something that fits your bottle and keep the pressure at 150PSI. I have seen some people using the Palmer Rock the Boat regulators. They are adjustable, lighter then a standard one but a little longer and the need an adaptor to fit on the bottles we use.

Almost every one uses Clippard 1/8” hose for distributing the air and 1/16” hose from the popit or solenoid to the guns. I have seen ¼ copper tube soldered into the ship instead of the 1/8” hose. I have also seen the Parker push in hose and fittings. Parker hose does not pop off as easily, when it’s hot outside Clippard hose gets soft and will come off of the barb fittings. You need to use the hose clamps if you go with Clippard hose.

Now that you have selected a bottle, regulator, hose and fittings let’s get them in the ship. 99.99% of the time the bottle goes in the bow of the ship with the regulator at the very front. Make sure and give the bottle a little of an angle to keep the liquid CO2 at the bottom. If it gets into the regulator it will freeze and start venting. From the regulator install a T fitting one side should have a needle valve to release pressure when you want to take off the bottle. The other side will have your first section of hose attached. Make sure you have enough hose to get the bottle out of the ship. Having extra hose is not a problem here. Bring this 1/8” hose to the first accumulation tank. Let’s say you have a VDT. A small accumulation tank (3” long ½” pipe) will work. Wait what is an accumulation tank, it’s just what it says a tank made out of copper water pipe that holds extra air for the guns. Some believe this is the key to firing guns faster and harder, other say not. I know that it can make plumbing easier. Typically I make them out of ½” pipe. For trips I have made them out of ¾”. Let’s say you need one for a solenoid sidemount. I would make this a T, the short side of the T would have the solenoid on it and the long side would have the in and out hose barbs. Make sure and check the solenoid so when you turn it on to the tank it sits the correct way. You will need to mark the threaded fitting to know what way up is. Back to the VDT, this ship has three popits that are all in the radio box. Our tank will have one hose barb and three threaded fitting coming out of it. Each threaded fitting gets a popit screwed on to it. Make sure they will still fit in the box. You need to line up the servo horns with the popits and line up the popits with the tank. Then you can cut holes in your radio box. From here you run a 1/16” hose to each gun. Make the hose as short as you can. I also drill out the 1/16” hose barbs so a little more air comes out of them. Easy stuff.

Now for an NC or some 5 unit ship with one less sidemount. The first tank would be a T tank like above. The out hose would then go to the other sidemount on the other side. From here it goes to the stern tank. In the bow I like to have the solenoids laying down with the tanks. Would look like a “4”. These would lay in opposite directions to take up less space.

For duel or trip sterns you need to use check valves so the air only goes into the accumulation tank and not out of it. This makes tweaking the guns easier. They don’t rob air from each other if one of them is tweaked a little lighter then the other. Starting at the air in hose we would come to a 3” long by ½” tank. From here go to a check valve that goes to each of the 2 or 3 accumulation tanks. This tank can be ¾” or ½” depending on the room you have in the ship. On this tank put each of your solenoids. Again make sure when you build them the solenoids will stand up straight. One of the keys to a good gas system is no leaks. If you have never soldered copper before here are a few tips. Cut the copper and ream it out (Smoothing the inside and the outside). Use a fine sandpaper to rough up the inside and out side of the pieces you are going to solder. Put some flux on both parts and put them together. You should prefit everything before you solder it. When soldering I like to put the parts in a vice using wood on either side to keep the copper from transferring heat to the vise. Heat the copper with a torch slowly; don’t turn it to high and blast away. Remove the flame and touch the solder to the copper until it melts into the joint. A little goes along way. I like to put the big parts together the put on the little parts on using gravity to hold things in place. If you have trouble with the small parts put a wet rag on the end that you are done on. This will “Eat” the heat and keep them from coming off.


Before you wire your ship you need to have a truly water tight radio box. The receiver and servos don’t like water and a leaky box can quickly end a day of battling. In my first battle I sank in the first sortie and had a small leak in my box. That was the end of my battling day. It took a while for me to finally get a radio box that was would stay dry. I have always been impressed with Lars’ radio box. He’ll sink and leave his ship in the water until the battle slows down before he goes out to get it. He never seams to have a leak. I build boxes out of 1/16” or 1/8” plywood to the size of the ship they are going into. In my cruiser it is rectangle shaped, in the battleship it is square. Let’s say you are working on a battleship. You’ll need room for a throttle servo, pump and light servo and two gun servos. If you are using team delta switches the box can be smaller. If you can’t get a measurement from someone’s already finished box layout your own.  Get all of the servos and switches laid out and make sure you have room in the box to wire everything. Make a little cardboard box first if you need to make sure things will fit. I make the box tall enough to leave a ¼” under the servos. This space is where I run my wires it also lets any water that does get in stay under the servos. After you cut out your bottom and sides glue them together with epoxy. I tape everything together then get the epoxy in the seams. Then glue in a rail on two of the sides opposite from each other. This rail will hold the cross rails that the servos are screwed to. You can measure this height by screwing two ¼” square pieces of spruce (balsa is not strong enough) to a servo and holding it ¼” off the bottom. You’ll need to make small slot in one of the rails to get the servos in and out. The slot needs to be big enough to get the servo wire through. You can also use a ¼” by ½” piece in the middle instead of two ¼” square peices. Try and keep the receiver off of the bottom to keep in away from any water that does get in. At the top of the box put 2-3 short strips of plywood on the outside. This will make the top where the cover goes wider. You want the top to be about a ¼” to ½” wide. I cut a cover out of plexiglass or thin lexan. On my battleship I have put two screws on each side to hold the cover in place. Head of the screw on the bottom of the rail and a nut on top of the cover. This way if you sink in a deep pond the air pressure will not pop the top off. This is not needed but another failsafe. Were the wires go into the box I drill one hole a little larger then the wire. Never put two wires into the same hole. Each wire location should have another layer of plywood or ¼” left over spruce around it. The thicker the wood the better the glue will hold the wire in. Once the wire is in the box and there is enough length in the box to work with I use epoxy to hold the wire in place. Once the epoxy drys put some thin CA glue around it to fill any small holes. At the end of the year check your wires and if there looks to be any cracks put some more CA in there. After you get everything glued in place cover the box with resin or epoxy to water proof the wood. For wires that you might want to take out someday, like the rudder lead or antenna, I cut a slot in the top rail and use silicon to hold the wire in. I also use silicon to hold the top on the box. The siliconed in wires are the weak link in the box. If they wiggle they could separate from the wood or plastic and make a small hole.

I highly recommend using a box for your rudder servo if you have room for one. The best way is to put the box a few inches ahead of the rudder and use 1-2 push rods to move the rudder. Make the box the same way as the radio box. Make the bottom ½” longer then needed on each side. Then you can mount a screw in your water channeling to hold the box in place so it can come out. Or glue the box in place. A rubber boot around the push rods will keep the water out. Remember to use a little CA to hold the boot to the rod or is will leak for sure. This is a mistake I made with my first box. If you put the rudder post in the box you need to put an o-ring around the rudder rod and tighten it down. I use the same elbow or T from our guns to hold the rod. You just need the treaded end so you can get two rudders out of one elbow by cutting it in half. It is the same idea as a gun breach. But with this you do not need to cut out the breach the standard ¼” opening is just the right size for the o-ring. You have to add some brass rod inside of the “Breach” for the o-ring to sit on. You then make a “barrel” that compresses the o-ring.