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Jan 18, 2012, 05:01 PM
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It has always puzzled and sometimes perplexed me as to what people want and expect from a model kit and one of the reasons that I have defended most kit manufacturers in the past from comments such as overpricing of a kit.

Is it value for money, accuracy, built down to a price, top of the range perfectness, or do some just want something for nothing?

I worry when people moan at the price of a kit ( not the quality, but the price) knowing what that kit contains, and the pound for pound cost per hour of enjoyment and yes, frustration that they might have to overcome when they buy a model kit and wend their way through the build process to end with a finely built model that they can be proud of.

Few people actually out there who build kits (other than those who are involved in the design and development of a model kit) really know of the time and lengths that manufacturers go to, to bring that product to the modelling public, nor the time and costs involved.

And so, in this build blog of three classic lifeboats, I hope to enlighten those who think that a model can be produced on a whim, that there is a little more to it than that.

I first got into the game of designing kits when I worked preliminarily with the late great Frank Hinchliffe on his two original models for Mountfleet models, the Active Tug and the drifter Danny Boy. Frank taught me the art of centrifugal casting in white metals, for which I am eternally greatful.

However, my other skills for producing "kits".i.e. Grp moulding and plans drawing, and instructions writing, come from the profession that I had a career in for 22 a teacher and eventually head of department in CDT ( craft, design and Technology where chronological and discriptive written reports and the art of technical drawing were paramount in that field.

After Frank and I went our separate ways in the mid 1990's I set to designing my first kit to go on sale, and that was the model lifeboat kit "Anne Letitia Russell" which is now marketed by Metcalf Mouldings.

Since then I have worked on other projects for both full kits and semi kits, and the three that will be the back bone of this build log will also eventually become full kits.
So, what does it take to design a kit from the ground up.......well, stick around, and hopefully I'll be able to show you the process...........a slow one but an enjoyable and rewarding one.

Firstly, you have to chose a subject that will not only inspire you to keep up the enthusiasm, but also one that might inspire others to want to buy the available kit once it has been released onto the market.

I think that the 3 that I have chosen to build here will both inspire and enthuse people to join our merry band and get involved in model boating.

So!! Bring it on!.

The three models that I have chosen, and had chosen some years ago were a continuation on a theme...three lifeboats (how did I guess, many will ask), and these have been worked on in small amounts for some six years now, between working on other projects for comissions, charity and some mayhem members!!, and have always had to take a back seat when a build has come along.

However as I am now in the final stage of the charity build, just waiting for the graphics to arrive ) I can see no more reasons to be interrupted by outside influences and so can get on with the builds with a clear mind.

The three subjects that I have chosen, 3 lifeboats are, in order of photographs ( and all built at 1:12 scale ),

1) RNLB Mary Stanford (of Ballycotton station,) a 51' Barnett, "Stromness" class lifeboat,

2) RNLB H F Bailey (of Cromer station) a 46' Watson class lifeboat

3) RNLB Field Marshal and Mrs Smuts ( of Beaumarris station) a 46' Watson class, and first boat in the RNLI to have central steering.
Pictures of the first two and sister boat to the third, shown below.

So, where does one start?

Plans of the boats were obtained either from the original station house that the lifeboat served at or from the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.
What were needed were both G.A. (general arrangement) and line drawings for all the sections, profiles and plans.

And finally before I stop for the night, I'll just fast forward 6 years and put some pics up of the three models as they are in their present state, dusty, timbers curling from being stored in a damp out shed and cobwebbed.....much remedial work will be needed on the timbers but this is all part of the learning curve of modelling and life, lol The process of making moulds for producing each of the 3 models will be condensed for boredom purposes, as it is a long process, and primarily I want to just concentrate here on the scratch build of 3 venerable old lifeboats.
If anyone wants to read the full story of what it takes to produce a kit for marketting, then please by all means look here.

also, if you google the names of the lifeboats you might be able to read some amazing stories of rescue beyond normal human endurance, especially for the Mary Stanford and the HF Bailey.
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Jan 18, 2012, 05:08 PM
r/c ships and workboats
nhp651 ,This is going to be good especially for those of us that do not see this style of life boat.
As far as the opening statement for kits, I agree with you whole hardidly that most complain about the price--even if just for a hull or small part. Once they measure the time in r & d, make and figure out how much time and materials cost, most would learn that what they are getting is really a deal. Well said for your kit making adventures and now on to your builds!!
Jan 18, 2012, 05:08 PM
Registered User
Thanks for the support keith. it cost me in the reagion of about 20,000 US dollars to set up my little workshop some 18 years ago..would hate to think what it would cost these days to produce a first kit.

So what does it take to be able to set up even the basics of a cottage industry in order to build a kit for public market.

A very very tollerant and understanding supportive wife or partner for a start, and then s goodly amount of capital, even for a small start.

I had luckily just had to retire on ill health grounds form my teaching career and had been paid a lump sum and a was a start.

The old asbestos garage was taken down and a new concrete garage, 12' x 22' was built in it's place in 1994.It was lined with timber battens, fibre glass insulation between walls and insulation boarding and the ceiling treated with the same. It was professionally wired with trip boxes, emergency stop switches and countless plug sockets, and once all done, the perimeter benches were all made by yours truly. 2800 was spent on the bare workshop before tools.

Then came the expenditure of tools, A Myford laithe, second hand, 750, a band saw, 450, pillar drill, scroll saw and sander/linisher ..250 and the coupe' de gras was a visit to Alex Tiranti in Reading where I blew 1500 quid on a centifugal caster and all the plates rings and ancilliaries. Then the multiple hand power tools added another 500 before I even started building a model's amazing what few tools you use when building on a kitchen or bedroom table before you realise that you need them for ease..

It didn't stop there........I needed a large drawing board so bought a "Double Elephant" sized piece of block board ( so that it wouldn't warp in the cold atmosphere when I shut shop down in an evening) and then bought a parallel slide "square" plus french curves, set squares, Rotring pens and draughting paper ( the none rip kind.......).....another 400 quid blown.

Then it was time to start planning the build.......I would need large boxes, small boxes, materials and oh of course screen prints for the printed wooden matter...those alone cost me 300 to have made by a professional.

All the above materials would have to be bought in bulk........a hundred boxes at a time, 400 quid, thin and thicker ply woods in bulk ( 30 sheets minimum of each thickness and there were 3 thicknesses on the Ann Letitia Russell, brass tubing by 50' a time when the boat used about 6" altogether, chain and white metal for casting......dowels by the 100' to get decent prices, obeche block wood for bits and pieces and plugs, and then as I thought at the time not capable of producing an industrial strength set of moulding( which I found when I was forced to work on a remould) after the "professional" moulds started falling apart and they cost me 400quid to have made for the original mouldings, it added up to another 1000.00.........and this was all before I had even started building a model let alone sell it.

Even after selling the original masters to Metcalf Mouldings and what little I recouped from the few that I originally sold, minus costs including a donation from each sale to the RNLI for them allowing me to use their charity number and logo on my boxes, I reckopn that to this day, I am still no where near ever recouping anywhere near the amount initially laid out, but that is the chance you take.

This also does not take into a ccount the hundreds and hundreds of hours taken in developing the model, writing the instructions as you go, having them proof read and then re typed, plus the initial drawings, draughts and re draws pefore you feel that the plans are suitable for puplication, and finally the costs of photocopying amultiple sets of plans and anything up to 40+ pages of instructions and binding them.......all of which costs money.

I still keep the reciepts just to show what a folley it can be and So it isn't for the faint hearted.

That is why I defend to the hilt almost anyone who tries to do the same, against those who think that it is a piece of cake putting a model kit together as though it's a snap decision, lol....they make me cry rather than angry, as those just don't have a clue.

I haven't bothered to add the total up as it would frighten me, but just imagine the outlay that such as Model Slipway and Metcalf Mouldings have to set just to keep their prices as low as they is frightening, and I was doing it on a shoe string.

the garage conversion and shed for storage

My band saw and other main tools

Now you see it, now you don't..the drawing board is hinged and folds up to the ceiling when not in use, giving extra very usefull space behind.

and finally the most important part of my tv and digi box, lol

And now I've got that age old gripe off my chest and displayed to those none believers that kit suppliers are some how ripping off the public with high prices.....please think again.

I can now get on with the build process.

Jan 18, 2012, 05:49 PM
Registered User
Tim B.'s Avatar
Thanks, we will enjoy this !
So great you had time with Mr. Hinchcliffe, the whole story of Mountfleet Models, Caldercraft and Jokita so close to you.

These are important storied in thier own.

Also fun to see you were in on the Danny Boy, I bought what amounts to a Danny Boy and a Pilot Boat in combination ( I didn't like some of the things on the Danny such as the bulwark supports so Sue permitted me to obtain one kit with hand picked features of both ).

Working with Sue and her son, I also was permitted to buy a seperate winch and capstain from totally seperat kits.

It is a long term build, I like turn of the century drifters very much.
Last edited by Tim B.; Jan 18, 2012 at 06:44 PM. Reason: Text
Jan 18, 2012, 06:16 PM
Registered User
osalvat's Avatar
great info...great pics, excellent Neil, all i can say is sit, read, re-read and learn. love the black and white picture of the Henry Blogg/FM & Mr Smuts. The fiberglass work of the hulls looks great.

i think I'm converting to RNLB/RNLI follower!
Jan 18, 2012, 06:20 PM
Registered User
My intentions were when I designed my first lifeboat kit, was to bring a model to the public that even someone with limited experience and tools could actually built. I never expected someone to be able to diagonally plank a hull with complicated tunnels to line, or belting to construct on the bulwark edges of a classic lifeboat, nor did I expect someone to "plank" the cockpits of a classic lifeboat with thin strips of teak or mahogany to simulate those beautiful cabins, and so set about thinking how to make it easy for the modeller.

I also desided from the outset that the plans would be full exact size AND the instructions would be written by a modeller ( with the gift of the gab) for the modeller, in modelling terms.............and those concepts have remained with me to this day.......a boat easy to build with plans and instructions easy to read and understand. I hope that those concepts have born fruit, as I believe the Anne Letitia Russell (ALR as affectionally known ) is the highest selling model lifeboat on the market.....probably others will contradict, but hey ho.........I'm proud of her, and that is something that can't be taken from me.

So what did I decide about construction methods............I was going to make the hard bits from GRP and the rest of the build from good stout ply timbers and obeche'.

I had to begin somewhere and the first job was to construct a working plug of both the hull and the cabins out of some sort of material.

There have been numerous threads on forums as to what materials to use for a plug and believe me, I have probably tried all of them in my time, and will list, just for interest a couple of pro's and cons for each that I have used, but always remember that the finish you obtain on the plug, is the normally finished result on the master mould and the mouldings that go for sale to the public, and therefore if you want repetition of excellence you have to put in the time on the plug to attain this.just see here for what I mean....just astounding, but many many hours of hard work have paid off here.

1) keel and sections filled with polistyrene and skimmed with plaster of's a quick initial method and a shape can be obtained easily, but it's messy, and I have never been able to get rid of the "ghosting" lines of the sections on the plugs and then an awfull lot of rubbing down on the master mould still leaves ghosting lines. My Interceptor 42' Pilot boat was made in this manner and the very faint lines could still be seen evenb after further work on the moulding that I took off for myself........I wouldn't use this method again.

2) solid bread and butter constructional carved hull in a timber such as obeche, samba or jelutong (balsa is far too soft a hardwood for this method in my opinion) has been used, and the finish you can get on these timbers as a plug is second to none.Modern pattern makers use these timbers now that Yellow pine ( the traditional timber for such) is virtually none existant at any reasonalbe price....last checked and it was twice the price of English Oak.I love this method on smaller hulls and the cabins, but on larger ones it becomes very unwealdy and heavy to turn around. However it is a method where the hull "stays where it is" .it doesn't twist in the process nor warp or bend and you get no distortion whilst building or carving.the only downside is that these wood's smell like old fish boxes when cut and carved....but living by the sea, that's an added bonus for me, lol. his can also be an expensive method of building

3) hollow bread and butter constructional carved hull, reasons are exactly the same as before, but less expensive if you jiggle the planks arround to get the greatest cuts from a board. Also the hull is far less heavy.heavy carving as with the method above also are tiring on the arms unless you use electric power carvers and planes to take off the vast amount of spare timber. But those two methods I strongly recomend.

4) there is a third method of this andd that is to set out on a building board the keel and frames, and then bread and butter each section, but this is a slow laborious method that I tried once, and to be honest it was a pain in the bum, and not to be recomended if you value your sanity.

5) use of MDF as a bread and butter "timber".yes, I have tried this method as well, and although some say that the dust caused can be a killer, ( literally as there are some who claim it is carsonagenic) it is the finish that is hard to achieve....No matter how many coats of varnish and sealant you put on MDF, as soon as you try to get a mirror like finish with wet and dry, used wet, the MDF soaks up the water you are using to lubricate the carborundum paper, and I found this method a pain also, and wouldn't recomend that either.

6) Every one's favorite method......POF or Plank on Frame with plenty of polyester filler to fill in the gaps.It is relatively quick and easy and I normally use obeche end blocks for the bow and stern, and this method is the one I used for the three boats I am going to build here.Because the plug isn'rt going anywhere other than the skip once you have produced the master mould from it, the planking can to some extents and purposes be as rough or as good as you want to make it, as long as you have plenty of filler to hand.It is a method that is light and easy to handle and also doesn't cost much to produce, unlike those B & B methods with Obeche and such, and for reasonable sized plugs, sop long as every thing is bolted down to a strong building board when construction is taking place to stop twisting, it is a good quick method., and usually gets my vote.

So on to the build itself.

First job is to get hold of a set of plans for the boat you want to build, including G A (general arrangement ) and line plans for the sections and keel, from which photocopies of the frame sections can then be cut and glued onto the ply wood boarding , and in this case 6mm birch faced ply.

Once cut these are mounted onto a base board to hold firm whilst planking and a plug for making a GRP mould was constructed using plank on frame method.

and in one condensed post, you see the plug being made, moulded and a moulding taken from the moulds.
as I covered this before on my Ambulance Launch blog, it would be rather tedious for you to have to listen to me again.
If you want to read the long drawn out method, and it's pitfalls, please log on to the link in my previous post.
Jan 18, 2012, 06:25 PM
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osalvat's Avatar
i'm a bit speechless here...
Jan 18, 2012, 06:34 PM
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catchthis's Avatar
WOW, I think thats the correct word to sum all of this up. Beautiful hull and mold, your a die hard modeler for sure!
Jan 18, 2012, 07:12 PM
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osalvat's Avatar
fantastic work Neil it is all i can say.
Jan 18, 2012, 09:12 PM
"day ain't over yet-"
der kapitan's Avatar
Yup, been there, seen this and done that---, many, many times---.

A lot of thankless work to build a production mold---.
Jan 19, 2012, 03:46 AM
Registered User
It is now the planning stage of the build.
It's ok building one for yourself, because any mistake that you make can be covered up in the build of your own boat, but if you make a mistake when planning this, then the mistake will be manifested into as many models as are sold in kit form, and each mistake will maifest in complaints to the manufacturer, complaints onto forums such as Mayhem......(we've all seen them, and at times I have been guilty myself of pointing mistakes out to manufacturers)......and as such have tried my best to overcome ANY and ALL mistakes before they got into production.

This is not now a case of building a model and just describing how you did it and overcame problems.....the idea is to overcome those problems for the customer, so here goes.

Sketches and hours and hours of just looking at a model hull and cabins takes place whilst I formulate my ideas as to how the cabins will be supported on a deck and how the deck itself will be supported, in order to get easy access to internals, and even things such as replacing a servo should one go wrong and stop functioning so that all aspects are covered.

How to you make a solid deck to support and yet give space for the well decks that occur on most lifeboats of this kind.

Each set of cabins for each lifeboat I am building is a completely different shape to one another so each set of deck supports will be different, in shape and position but ALL will be constructed in the same way.

You can see below in order how different the cabind are and therefore how differently the deck beam layout will two class of lifeboats will be the same.
1) H F Bailey,
2) Field Marshal and Mrs Smuts
3) Mary Stanford.

NOTE WELL:.......the bases that the cabins are sat upon are not made until the last process, and are only being shown here to high light the different shapes of the layouts.
Jan 19, 2012, 03:50 AM
Registered User
So, what's the first stage.
Take the plans, and from them trace a centre backbone following the sheer of the boat and the inside shape of the bow and stern piece onto some stiff paper and cut out.
Tape some cereal boxsides together the length of the sheet of paper and cut the same shape out..........then try to fit into the hull..hopefully it will, probably it won't, lol
however, make sure that the sheer line of the boat does exactly follow the sheer line of the card cut out by placeing a 600 mm steel rule or similar straight edge across the boat hull, whilst the hull is supported squarely on the bench.
If it fits correctly and looks level, you can transfer this template onto a sheet of 6mm birch faced ply, making sure that the outer grain of the wood is longitudinal to the backbone, and not cross grained( as that would weaken the structure.
Cut out the longitudinal beam and then fit to the boat.
Note at this point there will be ABSOLUTELY NO notches slots or any other recess cut into it (as shown on the photo..this beam was cut some time ago before I ever thought of doing a build log).

and the picture below these two of the main back bone shows the approximate position of the cabins to the hull.

Once the main back bone fits in snugly the next job is to make the bow and stern gussets that will fasten onto the top of the backbone. The bow one is made from 6mm ply as a good strengthener piece and the stern one although bigger is from 3mm ply and both will then hold the back bone straight and in the correct possition. At this point the first cuts into the backbone will be made to remove the section that is now taken by the thickness of each gusset. as these gussets need to fit flush with the original line of the beam and flush with the deck, the cuts will be 6mm and 3mm respectively, and can be seen on the back bone beam.

Also whilst at this point the flat plate for the Servo for the external rudder bar on the Mary Stanford will be made ( using a card template to get the shape and then transfered to 3mm ply. it can then be fitted to the back bone by ise of a slotted joint. AT NO STAGE IS ANYTHING CLUED IN PLACE at this moment.
see photos for the various additions.

the strange cut out in the stern gusset is for the rudder stering block on the Mary Stanford only, which will allow the servo arm to pass through and operate the rudder linkage arm.
Jan 19, 2012, 03:55 AM
Registered User
Next, is to make the cross beams that attach to the main back bone.

These are supporting the deck at vital positions and have to be measured acurately in order to co incide with the positions of the cabins.
You'll see from the beams that they have a camber on them to begin with and when the notches are cut out to take the cabin supports later they (the notches) are cut parallel to the camber so that when it is all assembled finally the deck will still retain the camber from the centre to the side gunwails.

They are not cut tightly to fit the beam of the boat as they need to be taken in and out of the boat several times to line things up, cut joints and generally make sure things fit, but all have to be centred up together to make sure that the next set of cuts are parallel to the centre line of the boat.

These cuts are to take the next two sets of longitudinal beams that give side support to the cabins and the deck.

The longitudinal beams are exact copies of the main back bone, except for the gusseted areas at bow and stern and are cut to length once the cross cuts for the cross beams are marked up exactly to give a perfect square ladder frame that will eventually support the cabin base and the decks.
Jan 19, 2012, 03:56 AM
Registered User
The final cross beams are then made to support the rear larger well deck of the rear cabin, before a piece of 3mm ply is cut roughly as a base for the cabin.

this will eventually sit into all the beams and so they ( the beams ) will have to be recessed down by 3mm to allow the base to fit in and fit flush to the original deck level of the beams.
ONLY when all this cutting, recessing and jointing is done, and all the structure has been dry fitted with spring clamps both inside and out of the boat will it be ready for fitting, but ven then it is not glued and fitted into the boat.

Other parts have to be designed first befor some construction takes place.
Jan 19, 2012, 09:01 AM
Registered User
Tim B.'s Avatar

Thanks Kap.

Originally Posted by der kapitan

A lot of thankless work to build a production mold---.
Thanks Kap.

You done with that mid range 45" ST yet ?

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