Tuesday 8 September 2015


I build very slowly. 

This has a lot to do with the dual nature of my HMS Terror project, which aims to create both an accurate model and a complete set of 1845 era plans. The latter has consumed hundreds of hours of my spare time and has led to some interesting side projects. It’s necessary and rewarding work, but it keeps me out of my workshop.  

Another reason I build so slowly is that I enjoy the process of building; figuring out the steps and making the templates and jigs to build accurately. My most recent sub-project was constructing a “building board,” essential for accurately aligning the bulkheads with the false keel of my model. The board needs to keep the false keel perfectly straight and perpendicular, while providing a flat surface for gluing the bulkheads at right angles to the keel.

I started the board by cutting a 1/4“ groove into a 32" long piece of MDF sheet. The groove is just slightly deeper than the false keel on the model, providing a full view of the rabbet, and fits tightly so that the keel remains perfectly straight.

Marking the groove on the MDF sheet. The board is 12" x 32 ". 

I cut the groove into the board with a table saw. MDF is brittle, so care is needed at this stage. 

The stern and stem of the model also needed to be kept perpendicular to the board. To achieve this, I designed two supports, one for the stern and one for the stem, which would slot into the building board groove.  I used a laser cutter to make these from 1/4” MDF sheet; they fit together somewhat like a piece of Ikea furniture.

My custom plans for the stem and stern supports. The idea for the interlocking pieces came from children's toys.  

Cutting the pieces from 1/4 " MDF. My local library provides a 60 watt laser cutter for public use. 

The pieces after cutting. 

The finished supports (stem on left, stern on right). 

It's hard to see, but the support has a rail designed to fit into the groove for proper alignment. 

The supports were glued into place, and their alignment was double-checked with a square. 

I lined the groove with painter's masking tape to prevent damage to the model's keel. 

I lined the supports with masking tape as well. 

The finished building board. 

Instead of using set screws, which might damage the model, I used rubber bands to secure the model in place. In practice
the fit was tight enough that rubber bands weren't really necessary. 

The bulkheads fit tightly and relatively squarely, but it was necessary to use a carpenter's square to
ensure that they were at perfect right angles to the keel. These stainless steel squares from Lee Valley
were perfect for the task.  

The second-to-last last bulkhead is put in place. 

The completed superstructure. It's hard to see here, but two of the forward stations have
alignment issues at the area of the chock channels and bulwarks and will need to be sanded and/or modified with
 trim.  I double checked the plans, and the errors, around 1.5 mm off, seem to have crept in from my
original measurements. These errors weren't large enough to force me to re-cut the stations. 

I'm quite happy with the alignment (the stern looks slightly twisted here, but it's just a trick caused
by the camera angle). 

Midships bulkheads at the position of the rabbet. 

A view of the bottom of the ship. Again, I'm quite pleased with the alignment
(the stem and stern are still little wobbly and will need some filling blocks). 

Mini-Crozer stands on his deck. It's been a long time.  

Mini-Crozier inspects the stern, noting that work is needed on the bearding line.
Though Terror was small by Royal Navy standards, a 102 foot ship was still a
substantial vessel, as this image indicates.  

Mini-Crozier stands at the Captain's sacred spot on the quarterdeck.  

Now that the bulkhead of the model is finally assembled, I can move towards planking it. A significant amount of fairing (sanding to ensure the fore and aft edges of the bulkheads match the ships lines) is necessary, and I hope to finish that shortly. Meanwhile, I've almost completed the "Phillips' Patent Capstan", and I hope to reveal my plans and model here soon. 


  1. So exciting to see how the ship is beginning to take shape! Superb work.

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  2. This is beautiful work, really painstaking. I'll confess I misted up a little at mini-Crozier on the quarterdeck.

  3. Well, this is a slow but unstoppable work, like the conquer of the Northwest Passage itself!!

  4. Hello.

    I'm a painter and most of my paintings are of or about the Franklin Expedition. I'm pretty excited you're building the Terror as it housed one of my favourite sailors on the expedition {Petty Officer John Torrington}. I'll be following your work closely, it looks really cool so far. Mini Crozier is adorable.


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