Wood or plastic? What is the difference?!

February 6th, 2022

A Canadian client asked me what the differences are between wood and plastic kits, and specifically why I like to sell wood kits instead of plastic kits. Here is my answer:

I have to say the biggest difference is that you can send yourself down endless rabbit holes with wood.  The materials in a typical wood ship kit are wood, string, some cloth, and some metal bits. These last can be quite elaborate, depending on the kit. Some of the wood pieces are pre-cut for you but many parts are made up from, well, sticks. So this means you create a lot of your own parts, which also means you can detail, remake, improve, or otherwise modify your model until the cows come home.

The instructions on wood ship kits are generally just guides and need to be supplemented with tutorials to be found on various sites all over the world. There is one fellow here in Montreal who has created a wonderful site http://www.shipmodeling.ca/subs/index.html#R but there are also various fora out there where you can follow build logs of your favourite model from start to finish. 

I like https://modelshipworld.com/, but there are others. 

There are many, many ship builders within a couple of kilometres of where you are and I am sure you can see ships in windows of houses as you walk around your neighbourhood. Nova Scotia, in general, and the area from Mahone Bay to Lunenburg has to be the area of the world where I have the highest density of clients. 

But, let us forget the rabbit holes for now. 

The main reason I like to sell wood kits over plastic kits is what I call the “hours of fun per dollar”. A wood ship kit can take a lot longer to build than a plastic model of the same value. Also, once the wood ship kit is obtained, there are very few products that one would need to buy to complete that specific model. For example, one can easily build a wood ship kit with no paint. Just some varnish and wax are more than enough for wood ships. If one wanted to paint a model, one could use water-based paints that are applied with brushes. Tools bought, or created, to build one ship can then be used for further constructions. 

Which brings me to the next issue; the environment. In many cases, my clients are older people, who have moved to a smaller residence, an apartment, or a residence, where they frown on the use of VOCs and other pollutants. Since wood ships do not need to be painted with spray paints to look good, this is an important consideration. 

Finally, there is the legacy perspective. Getting to the end of the construction of a wood ship kit is a real achievement, and the resulting piece is of lasting value. I have heard of at least one house, in Florida, selling for $50,000 over the asking price (this was long before house prices went up because the sun rises), because the seller agreed to leave his model of the HMS Victory. 

Now, from the hobby itself, there are three things that one would need to consider when delving into ship modelling. First, the subject has to be interesting. I think it’s more important to be personally attracted to a subject than to think about the complexity of the build, within reason, of course. I do think it would be a mistake for a beginner to spend $2000 on a humongous HMS Victory as a first model. It would be just as much a mistake to spend $300 on a Bluenose model if one has seen enough of them for several lifetimes. 

Next, one has to consider their skill set, and this would include their eyesight, and hand-eye coordination. Those issues would dictate the scale we are looking for. I think I can handle a scale as small as 1:64 but I know that a model of that scale will not come out too well. On the other hand, I think I can do very well with models around 1:32 scale or larger. 

Then one could think about brands, and what each brings to the table. I like to work with Jotika, Amati, and Bluejacket, for their quality, subject matter, and variety of subjects. I will tolerate Artesania Latina, although less and less, for a number of reasons. 

I also like Billings Boats, as all their kits are built in Denmark, but there are issues with these kits that a beginner should be aware of. On the other hand, the company has recently gone through a major reorganization and I find the new management is doing a great job re-establishing the company’s reputation.

So, if you ever wanted to try your hand at ship modelling, you have come to the right place!

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