Tale of the Tape

Every ship modeler has secrets. This is mine while building up a styrene hull for a 500′ freighter. At least 125 pieces of tape, and counting! The top and bottom of the sides have to follow the curves of the deck (top) and bottoms (bottom). The curves are not the same and on this ship (the Beavercove) there was a knife bow and a rounded cruiser stern. It took a day to cut all the pieces, and today to put it together, with filler used to smooth out the compound curves and seams. This has open holds, although the construction visible in some means I’ll probably leave them closed. If I decide to open them, then I’ll hide the center braces by cutting them down and putting crates on top of the pile. After ten years I completely redrew the hull parts, and the fit was superb compared to earlier efforts. It takes a while to master  this 2D type of construction.

Hull of 499' Freighter under construction
Tape serves as clamps to hold the sides to the top and bottom.

My New Workshop

Due to Kay’s illness and passing, and then a move to a new residence, I’ve ignored this website and parts of the business for way too long. On September 9, 2019, my new workshop will officially open. It is a finished stall in a three-car garage, with the other two stalls and the entire upstairs available for bulky or messy work like shaping eight-foot N scale hulls or accommodating a paint booth and photo studio.

It represents the first true modeling and manufacturing facility since I left Ohio about four years ago. The workshop has been moved five times since, twice in a hurry, which has led to boxes upon boxes being scrambled each time. I had hoped to open it in February, but historic amounts of rain last winter delayed that earlier opening.

With a new partner in life, I hope to be introducing a comprehensive line of 3D-printed marine parts, along with my long-promised online ordering system. In the works are some projects that have been delayed the last three years. First will be WW II warships, notably Benson and Fletcher destroyers and Atlanta and Cleveland cruisers, followed by a Baltimore cruiser. I have built all of these for customers but now will be able to share them. I’ll also be filling some gaps in the commercial merchant fleet: more small pleasure boats and smaller freighters, tankers and barges.

My thanks to customers who have shown patience during the delays of the past few years.


Preparing to Move Again

I will be shutting down most production activities for the first weeks of January to prepare for a move across town. Since I lost my beloved Kay in October, I no longer need this large and elegant house. I will be moving to a smaller house that happens to have 960 sq. ft barn that will be perfect for my workshop, with a 300 sq. ft. loft perfect for my trains and the layout that has followed me from Albuquerque to Oxford Ohio to Decatur. My appreciation to my customers who graciously experienced delivery delays during these difficult times! –Peter Nolan

How to Make Completed Models Unique

All of my models are custom built in my workshop. Most details were mastered, molded and cast here, but are now quickly being replaced by 3D printed models, with far superior precision and freedom to model the empty spaces. And less cost in the long run, as the 3D printer builds the assemblies rather than I painstaking gluing small 2D parts together.

I never like to build two models of the same ship the identical way, with the same colors and details. I like to vary the rigs and details from ship to ship, as they vary in real life, even on consecutive models from the same production line. I do this so that everyone gets a ship that is at least a little different from others. The variations keep the ships fresh. There is always equivalent detail compared to the published model and usually more.

The same goes for paint schemes and names. You can change names and colors if you’d like to–I usually encourage it, in fact. Like details, colors, names and home ports add variety. Below is an example of four of my fishing vessels with varying details and color schemes from the first versions.


Of course there are times when absolute fidelity to history is of utmost importance. A model of the Indianapolis heavy cruiser on her final mission must be faithful to every detail—no freelancing allowed here. Warships are usually very well documented. While they were updated regularly, it is usually but not always possible to find photos of every important update. Some US Navy and Coast Guard ships served for 60+ years, so there are always variations to model.

A good example is the 215’ Reliance USCG cutters, which started life without stacks for more helicopter landing area. The horizontal exhaust was difficult to maintain and robbed interior space, so the USCG modified the ships in the mid 1980s for vertical stacks.

On the civilian side, the Port Welcome of Baltimore Harbor is the Port Welcome with subtle changes in details over the years—unless you want to put it in Boston Harbor and call her something else. Still, if you are modeling an era when the Port Welcome had Navy-stye davits instead of the later quadrants or scrapped the lifeboats for the canister-style life rafts, these changes are easily made, usually without charge.

Peter Nolan

3D Printing Added for Greater Detail, Less Cost

N Scale Ships took the plunge, bought a small 3D printer and learned how to use 3D design tools. After just a few weeks many small parts and assemblies have been designed and produced. I had an advantage because many assemblies were already drawn in 2D and could be imported and adapted readily. Already done are anchors, cranes, passenger benches, masts with platforms and support structures, large and small davit mechanisms and platforms, hatches, running lights, windlasses, trawler net reels, storage lockers and many other topside and deck details like inspection covers and vents. Prices will be reduced as I revise the website (long overdue) and add online ordering.

As some have learned, I lost my beloved Kay in October 2018. Her illness required a substantial part of my time for the past two years. I can now pay more attention to this site and its products. While I doubt I will ever offer even smaller boats entirely 3D printed, the next step beyond details and assemblies is the cabin structures of some of the smaller ships where I can begin to add details like conduits, junction boxes, log desks and other details that were previously and painstakingly applied by hand. Attaching 0.5 mm squares for junction boxes, even with surgically sharp tweezers, is a challenge.

I will also be moving again, to a smaller house with a much bigger workshop. As always product suggestions are welcomed, if not always implemented.

I also changed my tag line to “Any Ship in N or Z or Thereabouts” to reflect to reflect the reality that I could not maintain an adequate supply of larger scale parts.

Good times and smooth sailing ahead!

Peter Nolan


Largest N Scale Ship Ever Built

I’m just finishing up a museum model of a Ti-class ultra-large crude carrier, currently the largest ships in the world at 441,585 deadweight tons and displacing 509,484 long tons at full load. This is the Ti Oceania. It is painted completely in flat white, as the ships colors, markings and activities will be projected onto it by 3D projectors.

In real life, it is 380 m long or 1246.75 feet, with a beam of 68 m or 223 feet and a draught of 80 feet. The model is 2.375 m long or 7 feet 9 inches, and 0.425 m wide or nearly 17 inches. The hull is MDF, medium density fiberboard, so the model weighs over 100 pounds.



Many of the details were drawn in 2D for photo-etched brass, or modeled in 3D for 3D printing. Other details such as lifeboats were mastered, then molded in RTV silicon and cast in resin.


Some retired ultra large crude carriers were a bit larger, but I’ve never heard of them being modeled in N scale. As ULCCs are actually shrinking these days, this may be the largest N scale ship built for a long time.


New Bridge/Dock for ATSF Barges in N and Z

A new bridge/dock for the ATSF barges features a positionable bridge, a bridge lift mechanism, and correctly spaced channels for mounting rails. Builders can leave off the pieces that form the channels and use sectional track on the plain decks, although extensive trimming of ties will be necessary to match the prototype’s spacing, in which the center rails are closely adjacent to the rails for the outer tracks.5616NewDockPortFront

Here a barge painted for the Burlington railroad is at the dock. With careful trimming, a slight press-fit between the barge and the bridge can be achieved.


Here’s a slightly closer look at how the barge and dock, with rails installed, match.


The bridge/dock is 180 mm (7″) long; with the integral docking wings, it is 215 mm (8.5″) long.

The kit, without rails, is $69. A built-up without rails is $169. Installation of rails for both barge and dock is $125. Installation on the barge alone is $100. The rails on the dock can not be installed separately.

Summer Update

It’s been a slow summer for new product announcements. I’ve been very busy with some large commissioned ships and getting the Ohio/Alabama situation resolved, in favor of Ohio.

I’ve had some real problems with the ship drawings I’ve purchased. None of them have been “faired.” A faired drawing means that the deck width matches the width of the sections. Let’s say there are 20 sections (or stations) marked on the profile of a ship. The top width of those sections should match the width of the deck. Well, they usually do not match.

The same goes for the waterline, if I am building a waterline model. The bottom width of the sections should match the width of the hull where it meets the waterline. It doesn’t happen often.

Making it worse, the height of the sections should match the height of the ship in profile. As you might have guessed, they don’t!

I’ve learned that there’s nothing worse than drawing the sections, the center keel, the deck and the bottom to the plans, cutting them out on my cutter, and finding that nothing matches up. I thought at first that I was misinterpreting the drawings, which is commonplace. No such luck–and I’m not that unskilled.

I’ve also been busy inventing ways to make in true scale such items as twin 20 mm Oerkilon cannons and quad 40 mm Bofors, as well as the smaller gun directors. I’ll post some pictures soon of the heavy cruiser Indianapolis, where you can see what I’ve come up with.

Which reminds me that my parts pages are hopelessly outdated. I’m going to try to update these with all of the new parts I’ve developed, with a shopping cart system.

Look for the 169′ Marin ferry from San Francisco Bay in the next few weeks. And–seven years after I first built it–a 110′ patrol boat from WW2.

Spring 2015 Announcements

After my winter hiatus to Alabama, here’s what’s coming in the next few weeks. All are available in N and Z scale (or other scales). Prices are my estimates and could rise or fall a bit as we get experience cutting and packaging them. Prices are for kits; built-ups for these are now quoted independently and will be scheduled on a first-come, first built basis.

A 250′ self-unloader for Great Lakes freighters. This will be positionable, and capable of being movable. Kit price will be about $70.

A Hulett Unloader in N and Z. Like the self-unloader, this will be positionable and capable of automating by intrepid modelers. Kit price will be about $95. The brass kit for railings and stairways will be about $35.

A 180′ auto ferry for protected routes such as the Wadden Sea in Europe or around Seattle. Kit price around $95

A 90′ passenger ferry/cruise ship that is smaller, sleeker and faster than my Port Welcome. Where the Port Welcome weighed in at 105 tons, this one weighs less than 50 tons, so it is much narrower. Kit price about $70.

A 65′ shrimper/crabber suitable for anywhere around the world. Kit price about $40 with booms and brass. Full side decals for the waterline hull eliminate the need for painting–an experiment on my part. Kit price about $60.

An 80′ fishing vessel (single hold) and 90′ fishing vessel (double holds). These also have hull decals. Kit price about $60.

A 145′ oceanographic research ship, the German Capella. Details to come. Kit will be about $200; built-ups start at $1100.

And now, for the big ships:

The C3 Beavercove is now available as a kit. The N scale kit is $545; the Z scale kit is $495. There is an enormous amount of styrene, brass, posts & booms, and details in these kits. Built-ups start at $4000.00.

The Contra Costa car ferry from San Francisco. This 433′ x 117′ side paddlewheel may be the largest ship by weight ever built from wood. The house sides, each with hundreds of window panes, will be etched brass sheets. Price TBD for kits, but probably about $600; built-ups start at $4000.00. I’m not sure how many modelers have ever attempted this model, but this will be your chance. The brass alone will be about $150. The earlier Solano can be custom-ordered; it will be more expensive due to the curved tracks and center house for the A-beams of the steam engines, and offset paddles.

I also began work on various dock facilities, such as a modular ore dock for a Twin Harbors-like scene; a container crane; stay tuned.

I’ll get pictures uploaded and posted as time permits.

My Winter Hiatus Starts November 30

My wife and I (and the dog) enjoy the warmer winters of northern Alabama over those of unpredictable southern Ohio. This year we plan to spend November 30 through about February 15 in Alabama. Obviously I cannot move my entire operation with us, so many kits will not be available during that time. I do bring a small cuttter and some supplies to fill custom orders. If you would like to order a kit or a built-up during that time, please let me know by November 28, and I’ll either ship it before we leave or bring the necessary gear to ship it from Alabama. Some of the larger ships require many sheets of styrene and extensive brass and cast parts; these can be fulfilled if I know ahead of time.

I spend my work time in Alabama developing new ships and cutting the first prototypes. The new small Cameo cutter has proven to be a delight, but has a tough time cutting through .020″ (0.5 mm) styrene, which the big BlackCat cutter devours, literally and sometimes with a great mess. The old Silhouette SD, stressed repeatedly to near death, has been retired.

Any suggestions for interesting ships for N or Z scale? I plan to do a HandyMax-size bulk freighter in both Z and N. That’s about 620′ (187 m) long by 85′ (26 m) in beam. And perhaps a modern off-shore supply vessel of about 200′ (60 m) length. Or any structures similar to the 250′ (75 m) self-unloader crane that I hope to introduce before leaving?

Thanks all!