Let’s talk about scratch-building.

I absolutely love it. The joy of building something from everyday materials has always driven me, and driven those I love a little spare.. .  I love browsing in model shops but I only do it if I am looking for something I cannot replicate, or just to get ideas.  Then it’s off to the $2 shop to get the raw materials. Or to the plastic manufacturers for off-cuts etc etc.vlcsnap-2015-12-14-21h06m43s455

Early morning is the best time for thinking. The scratchbuilder spends a lot of time absorbed in thought about what to use and how to build.  I find that the best ideas are found at those times.  I used to travel long distances to work, and managed to design the ballasting system for my first sub while in cruise control.

I made tyres for the sides of my old tug boat (Now the camera boat) from rubber bonnet stoppers I retrieved from the local car wreckers. Perfect, and already weathered. Of course I cannot wander through wreckers any more here due to ‘Occupational Health and Safety!’

Want to get started with scratch building but don’t know where to start?

The best way to start is to sign up for my mailing list and you will receive the ScratchbuildwithJohn series of videos over ten weeks, which introduce you to the basic tenets of the hobby.  I am very concerned that the skills of the hobby are getting lost.  So it is personal mission of mine to inform you, although I admit what I provide is very idiosyncratic.  It’s about how I do things.  I am not at all the best modeler in the world, but I have a go and the results speak for themselves.  Join me and have some fun.

Here are some teasers.


Lathes.mpeg_snapshot_01.52_[2016.06.29_21.30Scratch building also requires a workshop.  And no, unless you live on your own I doubt you can use a room in the house.  I want to keep my family so I use the garage.  My workshop is pretty basic and I have a lot of tools that I use all the time and some only occasionally.  My old lathe is a real boon.  If you are serious this should be a consideration but you don’t need a new one.  Mine is an old imperial machine and at about $400 to buy has saved me thousands.  The real issue here of course is that I love working on it. I notice now you can buy new Chinese lathes under $800 which will do everything you need.  The best part about buying second hand though is that you also get all the old tools, spacers, collets and the kitchen sink.

Once again, I have a few videos on tools and lathes and you will see the lathe featured many times in the builds. (Check the categories on the right sidebar) Now I will be the first to admit these videos are pretty basic.  So soon I will be doing another series on tools.  I will take a boat, maybe the Nautilus, and study my own videos to build up a list of the all the necessary tools.  I like doing that., Crazy I know..

Some of the scratchbuilding ideas I come up with are part of my collective memory.  By that I mean that scratch builders constantly view things in terms of what they can copy and adapt.  So when I am building things I tend to use an amalgam of all of this, and occasionally think, ‘I am sure this has got to be a first...’

The recent story of the weathered submarine sail however must be a first unless we are talking alternate universes!  I dreamed that up one morning and the result was stunning.  I was never sure how it would be but it turned out beautifully. There are times that things don’t turn out, and you probably won’t see them here!00010 (17).MTS_snapshot_00.03_[2016.05.15_18.35

I find my use of aluminium flashing is getting more prolific.  I use that because it is plentiful, bends easily and has a memory.  It is easy to imprint with rivets and if scored it sticks permanently. I do use a lot of epoxy in my builds.  The bulwark around Scuffy was quite difficult to model as the angles are sharp.  I found that using flashing was the perfect answer, but I used two layers and epoxied them together.  The conning-tower of the U boat is made of flashing, as is the sail on the Nautilus.  It needs to be sprayed with etch before painting but that is hardly a consideration.

homepool (2).MTS_snapshot_00.40_[2016.06.29_21.36.35]I am sometimes tempted to buy a hull, or a model that is already made for me.  The only time I have done that is with the Flower Class corvette ‘Snowberry’, which is an iconic little model kit.  Mine however is powered and has a turning firing turret.  I have a series on rewiring it which is on the site using Arduino style electronics (relays) and a magnetic door catch that I use as an on/off switch which is also now installed on several of my boats.  This boat features in dramatic scenes in some of my videos!

Scratchbuilding Electronics

That leads to another point.  Scratchbuilding electronics.  I like to use what is to hand as opposed to buying off the shelf.  This means sometimes using a door catch to power up a complete boat. The subs all have these as does Scuffy and the Snowberry.  It is easy to use but you must remember which pocket it is in when the session is over if you want to turn the boat off! In this context, everything about Arduino is scratchbuilding.  It is about using lots of ideas, many belonging to others, to make something unique.


I am very proud of the planes on the bow of the nautilus.  They require arduino programming and a slab of engineering, which I tend to do by trial and error.  When mech
you look at the complexity of the finished mechanism, it looks like it was all done as a result of careful planning.  In fact, at the beginning I didn’t know how it would look at the end.  I only knew how to start, and that was by making a ‘track’ for bike brake cable, and keeping the weight (servos) low.  It was only after that was done did I find some gears for the retract arms, and then think about where the gears would have to go.

Finally I also scratch build parts I can’t seem to buy.  For the submarines I ideally want a two way impeller pump, but it does not seem possible to purchase anything like that which works efficiently.  I have made them and painstakingly show you how to follow the build.  You need a lathe though.

As a final thought.  If you can’t get a lathe, make friends with someone who has one.  Really good friends.  And don’t wear a tie.


As you have read this you may have wondered when the ‘how to’s’ would begin.  I guess it is such a big subject that is hard to do, other than show you things I have completed.  Part32SuperandPaint.mpeg_snapshot_06.09_[2016.06.29_21.58.33]