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Ships in scale

Is it possible to make warships in miniature with empty matchboxes and refills of ballpoint pens? "Why not?" asks R. Vijayaraghavan, ship-modelling enthusiast.



Miniature model of the new INS Godavari

CAN WARSHIPS be made to fit into your pocket? "Yes, you can make warships in miniature with most of the details intact," says R. Viyaraghavan (VR to his friends), ship-modelling enthusiast.

Miniature models of the new INS Godavari, the older INS Brahmaputra and Lt. Gunther Prien's U-47 of the Scapa Flow raid fame adorn VR's living room. You have got to see them to believe that minute details can be incorporated into tiny warships that fit into your palm or even pocket.

Warships have fascinated VR since his college days as a Naval NCC cadet. "Ship modelling is a mandatory subject for the cadets as it is the easiest way to learn the structure of a ship. Our modelling instructor, who was a former naval Electrical Chief Officer, regaled us with his World War II adventures and taught us the rudiments of scale modelling." VR had many training stints at the sea, sailed with quite a few of the Navy's warships and got to know them inside out. "The hobby caught on for life," says VR.

Rudiments of scale modelling

Scale modelling requires patience perseverance and ingenuity. "When you reduce the size of a big warship to fit your table top or pocket, the effect is like viewing it from a distance," explains VR. The farther the ship, the smaller the details, and the more minute aspects such as the rivets,

railings and ropes become invisible. "So, the finer details of the ships are omitted while making a very small model. The larger details can be reduced proportionately and shown on the ship," he says.

Tools required

Empty matchboxes, ballpoint refills, teakwood reapers, tap-washers, corrugated packing paper, coconut broom bristles and invitation cards - all find their way to VR's table top armament industry. Cut to size, shaped, glued in place and camouflaged with a coat or two of grey or olive green paint, the raw materials transform into six-inch guns, multiple pom-poms, 40mm Bofors ack-ack mountings, depth charge racks, tank tracks and turret co-axial machine guns. Paper clips and pins turn into davits, stanchions and yardarms.

VR uses the beads of his wife's necklace to make radar domes while his child's pencils are cut into 15mm pieces. The pencils pieces when sanded down into the desired shape form miniature lifeboats and are lashed to the tiny davits.


"Sometime ago, a friend, who is an art director in films, gifted me with a couple of British books on scale modelling. I realized how much more there was to learn," he reminisces. Soon, VR got hooked onto making scale models of tanks and artillery pieces. His shelves showcase an enviable miniature collection of a Panzer MK IV, an AMX-13 light tank and a PT-76 light tank plus some howitzers on his shelves.

Scaling techniques

Model making involves a great deal of research. VR pores over reference books on warships on topics as varied as Roman galleons to World War II period destroyers, cruisers and modern warships. A plan or a few pictures of the top view, side elevations, fore and the aft views are required before working on a model. "Colour pictures are also needed to know the colour scheme," says VR. With the help of these data a suitable plan is drawn. The wood to be used is cut accordingly and shaped. Generally, warships are scaled down to a proportion from 1:200 to 1:1,200, while military vehicles are scaled down to 1:76 or 1:25, says VR. "The hull of a warship is one of the most complicated and beautiful shapes to make, especially the bows at its front," he says.

After the hull has been shaped he adds on what he calls the "superstructure", turrets and masts. Each different part on a model presents a challenge - how to use handily available material and make it reasonably sturdy. VR gathers most of his "equipment" from his home itself. Once detected as useful to fashion the details of a model, whatever be its use at home, the object is commandeered, cut, stuck on the model and camouflaged. "A few years ago, I was looking for some wire which was thin enough to be to scaled yet springy and sturdy enough not to bend out of shape. I wanted to use it to fashion radio antennae and side rails. Veena strings seemed ideal for the purpose. It took a while before my wife realized where the strings of her veena were disappearing," remembers VR.

Procuring the tools also posed a problem. But over the years this enthusiast has accumulated sets of miniature chisels, files, pin-chuck drill, small saws, craft knives and even a pocket-sized vice. "Whenever I travel, to cities such as Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai, I scout the old bazaars for dinghy old shops that sell such tools. These tools are not expensive but the few tool sellers here fleece you for the same, if at all the tool is available in their shops," says VR, who works as an editor of students' publications in the Department of Journalism, the University of Kerala. Currently, he is busy at his home named `Quarterdeck', scaling down a 50-cm-long model of the aircraft carrier INS Viraat and a miniature model of the old anti- submarine frigate INS Trishul.

M. S. VIDYANANDAN

Photos: S. Gopakumar

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