Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly. Love truly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile. - Samuel Longhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Building the Laser Dream Works American Gunboat

The American Gunboat was my bonus choice in the Run out the Guns Kickstarter. Although I have been exposed to plank on hull ship building (that’s my Dad’s thing) I haven’t really built any ships myself so it seemed best to start with something simpler than the USS Wasp or HMS Frolic. Not only is it simpler but it’s a pretty cool looking ship on top of that, I had no idea that ships had “turrets” as such that early.

So I took the plywood sheet of parts and the instructions and headed down to my little workshop. Of course that space is filling up and there were 28mm Normans and 15mm British Napoleonics all over the place so I had to do a little (very little) cleaning up before I got started.

First the plywood sheet has a piece of plastic over the surface to keep all the parts in place. I will attest to the fact that this is pretty darn sticky stuff and does a very good job keeping everything in place. Of course as you take it off everything that is even somewhat loose in the wooden “sprue” wants to come off right along with it. So be careful when you remove this plastic sheeting, in the process of removing this I managed to misplace part 18 which is a rather important part of the “gun turret”, don’t worry though I found both of them after I went through all the cut out squares from the rowers’ benches. I imagine this is going to be an issue with the bigger ships as well so it is definitely something to pay attention to and take some care with so you can still identify all the parts at the end.
American Gunboat Part Sheet. If you click
on the picture to see an enlargement you
can see the plastic used to hold everything
in place.
Then it is on to the fun stuff, building the ship! The instructions overall are great. They could do with a few more pictures and at one point started to use the wrong part numbers for the deck . I noticed that as I was building (the confusion starts early too, the deck that goes on top of piece 4 is made up of two pieces 5 and 6 and at some point 4 gets transposed into that mix) so I was able to keep track of which number I should really be using but it should be fixed in the instructions.

American Gunboat, fully color instructions!
You start off with pieces 1 (the bottom most deck) 2 and 3, the bow and stern pieces. Now at this point I also grabbed piece 4 which is the next deck up so I could dry fit things together. Piece 1 has no designation on it to determine which end should be the bow and which end should be the stern except that the notch on one end is a bit smaller than the notch on the other end. I tried it one way then tried fitting piece 4 in place and didn't get a good fit, so I reversed it and that seem to fit better. Now I don’t remember which end I used for the bow. However, dry fit it all until you get a fit that you are satisfied with. Not really helpful but there you go. Now here is the helpful tip. The stern piece also contains the tiller handle which is quite fragile. Eventually as you add decks you get to the point where a couple of the top decks have to slide that tiller through a slot and the fit is very, very tight. I would recommend sanding both sides of the tiller down a bit so that it doesn't jam into one of these slots and break off like mine did. It was a pretty clean break but I waited to fix it until the build was just about finished.  I then glued pieces 1-4 together and broke out my collection of clamps. I wouldn't even attempt this build without clamps (but then many of you already know how I feel about clamps). I also used my regular carpenters glue instead of white or PVA glue.

Deck 4 being glued to Deck 1 with the stern and bow
pieces already in place.
At this stage you are simply building up, adding a slightly wider deck each time till you finally get to the top deck which includes all the engraved planks. I glued and clamped each deck and waited for the glue to at least begin to set while cleaning up any glue that squeezed out from between the decks before removing the clamps and moving on to the next deck. So waiting for glue to dry at this point is probably the hardest part. I did make a mistake here. At some point I didn't get one of the decks flush to the stern piece. That caused a small offset between the decks and I didn't catch it until glue had already set to the point of no return. In hind site I could have been using one or both of the masts to help keep the decks aligned properly. 
Fortunately the offset was slight and I was able to seat the masts later on without to much of a problem. It does mean I will probably have to add a bit more rigging to keep the masts aligned properly which I hadn't intended on doing.
The two piece Deck, parts 5 and 6 being glued to Deck 4 

Deck 7 being glued down to the two piece Deck.

Deck 8 being glued down to Deck 7

Deck 9 being glued down to Deck 8.
If you look close you can see that this is the deck that I
managed to offset a bit.
Once you have completed the hull its time to add details. Most of these details are pretty straight forward except for the first one which is the short railing that goes all the way around the deck. It is not a complete circle its “broken” at the bow. This actually makes it easier to work with since you don’t have to try and glue the whole thing down in one go. I started at the bow on the starboard side and slowly worked my way aft, making sure that the outside of the rail was flush with the outside edge of the deck and holding it place with my small clamps. This took a bit of work because there is not a lot of space for a clamp to grab underneath the deck. Fortunately carpenters glue setups up pretty fast and only a few clamps shot across the room. When I got to the stern I stopped and let that side of the rail set up. After that had dried I worked my way up the port side from the stern to the bow the same way as I did on the starboard side.
Starboard Side Rail being clamped down

Port Side Rail being clamped down
The hatches and rower bench pieces are straightforward and only need to have some weight added to them (fortunately I have some weights, although I think I’m going to get another set since they have come in so handy) to make sure they sit down flush with the deck. The gun turret rings take a bit more care. You don’t want to have any glue on the inside edge or the carriage won’t turn properly (or may even glue it in completely!). If you are going to just glue the guns in place then you don’t have to be quite that careful. Of course I wanted them to turn that was the whole point of picking up this particular model (that and I thought it might make a good small pirate ship). The gun turret carriage also takes a little care so that you don’t get glue in the wrong spot but really goes together quite quickly. After that you add the pewter carriage for the cannonade and then the cannonade itself you are ready for a game. Well almost ready.

Weighing down the rowers' benches

Weighing down the outer rings for the gun turrets
The mostly completed hull. I wont glue down the steps
for the masts until I'm ready to rig it.
At this point I dry fitted the masts and was quite thankful that they actually fit into place more or less properly since I had mis-aligned the decks. I thought I had some rigging line but if I do I can’t find it so I couldn’t finish up the masts. But basically she is ready to be named and painted at this point. She will have to go behind my wild west buildings in the painting queue right now but it is a very simple paint job so maybe I’ll move her up in the line just to have her completely done.

Overall I really enjoyed building this kit. Other than the blip in the instructions with the deck part numbers they are really well written, although I think a little extra time spent on the rigging and where you can get the stuff you need for rigging would be nice. Still I don’t have any truly serious complaints and I would recommend this kit to anyone that needs some ships to play with.

This seems like a good website for rigging supplies: http://www.modelexpo-online.com/page.asp?lp=8010

I had already purchased some rigging tools from Micro Mark since I knew I had three ships on the way (no idea if these tools will actually help more or not!): http://www.micromark.com/SearchResult.aspx?deptIdFilter=0&searchPhrase=rigging

And of course go to Laser Dream Works to buy your own ships!


  1. I admire your patience Kris. Now did you take off work to do this or did you stay up all night?

    1. Actually the whole build only took about 4 hours and most of that was spent waiting for the glue to dry!

  2. Very nice Kris, looking very very cool!!

    1. I'm really happy with the way this first one came out. I'm actually looking forward to getting started on the bigger ships.

  3. Took a look at this range and they are so beautiful! Wish I had enough space for a few.

    1. I know space is definitely an issue with these bigger ships. I'm not quite sure where I'm go to put these.

  4. Greetings Kris,
    I really appreciate your comments and observations and will get the corrections into the instruction books. I am looking forward to seeing you get the other two ships built.

    Matt Green
    Laser Dream Works

    1. I'm looking forward to taking a stab at something bigger now! Glad the post helped you out. I'm pretty impressed with the kits so far.

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    1. Your, right I'll have to get a lottery ticket!. If its a sure winner though I'll have to wait till its a big pot!