Model ships are pure magic. They offer builders the satisfaction of shipbuilding without leaving the house. If you’ve decided to build your first model, but you aren’t sure where to start, don’t worry. We’ve put together a list of some of our favorite models suitable for a variety of ability levels. Plus, we’ve answered a few questions about how to choose. Let’s take a look.
Best Wooden Model Ship Kits for Adults and Teenagers
|Caldercraft - HMS Victory (Editors Choice)||54 1⁄2″||Advanced||PoB|
|Model Shipways - Syren||33″||Advanced||PoB|
|Artesania Latina - Providence (Best for Beginners)||12 3⁄16″||Beginner||PoF|
|Caldercraft - Pickle||22 3⁄16″||Intermediate||PoB|
|Amati - Lady Nelson||20 7⁄8″||Intermediate||PoB|
|Model Shipways - 18th Century Longboat Kit||11 3⁄4″||Beginner||PoF|
|Amati - Mercury||33 7⁄8″||Advanced||PoB|
|Artesania Latina - Virginia||21 1⁄4″||Intermediate||PoB|
|Caldercraft - Granado||30 15⁄16″||Advanced||PoB|
|Model Shipways - Dapper Tom||24″||Beginner||SH|
|Artesania Latina - Santa Maria||22 1⁄16″||Intermediate||PoB|
|Artesania Latina - Swift||24 1⁄2″||Beginner||PoB|
|Amati - Chinese Pirate Junk||15 3⁄4″||Intermediate||PoB|
|Artesania Latina - Hms Endeavour's Longboat||16 9⁄16″||Beginner||PoF|
|Artesania Latina - Viking||11 1⁄2″||Intermediate||PoF|
Caldercraft – HMS Victory – Best Advanced Model
This model couldn’t be more beautiful. It’s built for historical accuracy. Since the ship itself is easily one of the most popular warships ever built, Caldercraft poured a lot into this model.
The hull is a double plank-on-bulkhead construction done in lime and walnut. It uses precut gun ports, so you’ll save yourself some headache there, but for the most part, the rest of the ship is going to require a lot of skill and experience.
Details include five different sizes of turned brass cannons, eight sheets of the etched brass component, and three different profiled brass rails. The four ship boats are also a plank on bulkhead construction. Rigging thread comes in two different colors while brass etched windows add fine details.
You’ll have 18 sheets of instructions to guide you, along with comprehensive instructions in full color. It also includes construction photos of the prototype. This model is one of the most exhaustively researched models available, and as such, the historical accuracy is as on point as a model can be.
Model Shipways – US Brig Syren – Best With Existing Build Logs
The original Syren was built by Nathanial Hutton in 1803 and Model Shipways’ research produced a historically accurate model. It’s a 1:64 scale of the ship, so it’s visually impressive. One of the most significant upsides to this model is the variety of build logs, historical photos, and a comprehensive instruction kit.
It uses a plank on bulkhead design with laser cut, basswood keel and bulkheads. Self-adhesive copper take helps with plating the hull below the waterline. An extensive fittings package includes photo-etched brass detailing, over 200 wooden blocks and deadeyes, brass eyebolts, and a number of other fine details.
Fiber materials include different colors of rigging thread, netting, and printed flags. The longboat is a miniature model inside this one, and honestly, really fun to build. The armament is all there with two long guns and 16 precision-cast carronades. It includes eight full-sized plan sheets and a 130 page illustrated assembly manual.
Artesania Latina – Providence – New England’s Whaleboat Model Building Kit – Best Beginner Plank On Frame Build
The Providence is a 1:25 scale model of a whaling boat. It uses high precision laser cut pieces for a quality build that’s suited for beginners but may attract more experienced builders. It can also give you an excellent introduction to some complex building practices without being prohibitively difficult.
The primary wood used for the model is America Cherry, a beautiful model wood. It comes with all the proper pieces to build the model aside from tools. The details are brass and cast iron, plus pre-sewn sails. Rigging threads are different colors and weights for visual interest and to replicate historical details. The wood also varies in color to follow authentic designs more closely.
It’s a smaller model at just 12 inches long by 13 inches high. It looks great left to its natural colorings, but you could also customize the paint to match historical records of these ships or your own creativity.
Caldercraft – HM Schooner Pickle – Best For Skill-Building
Another famous ship from the Battle of Trafalgar, the HMS Pickle carried the message of Nelson’s victory and subsequent death back to England. This model is a 1:64 scale, double plank on bulkhead design with plenty of detail for historical accuracy.
It uses lime and walnut strips for the hull with beautiful Tanganyika strips for the decking. This adds natural sheen to the deck, where the wood would have been polished by use over time. The brass cannonades are fully rigged and come with walnut carriages. Brass etchings add fine detail while the ships boats use resin with walnut and brass components.
The instructions are clear (two step by step, full-color build manuals, and detailed scale plans) with full identification of the parts. It’s good for a higher beginner because the rigging isn’t too complicated and the out of box build is still beautiful. The planking is easier as well.
It’s a museum quality finish if you take your time, and it can teach you some skills with rigging that should pay off with more complicated builds. It includes all rigging in black and natural hemp, birch dowels for masts, brass fittings including boat hooks and grapnels. Every detail is to scale, aside from possibly the number and overall prominence of nail heads. Nothing too out of sync with the real thing, however.
Amati – Lady Nelson Ship Kit – Great Plank On Bulkhead Model
The Amati model is a beautiful model well suited to a skilled beginner or intermediate builder. It’s a plank on bulkhead style of a hull with a single mast. This ship has plenty of cool features such as swivel guns and plenty of rigging. If you’ve only built solid hull models so far, this is an excellent transition to more complex (and realistic) hull building.
It has comprehensive instructions intended for those who are just getting started with building ship models. It has laser cut parts with metal and wooden fittings. It’s 1:64 scale and includes the wooden base and brass pedestal. The finished model is just over 20 inches long and ten inches high. The pieces use MDF instead of plain plywood style pieces for the hull, so there should be no warping to account for.
Model Shipways – 18th Century Longboat – Best All-Inclusive Kit
Model Shipways’ Long Boat is an excellent introduction to building in general and should give you some of the skills you need to complete the more complicated builds on our list. It’s an excellent first boat in terms of skill level and investment.
No mistake, however. It will be a challenge. It isn’t a hobby if you can’t take your time after all. It’s historically accurate and uses precision milled, laser-cut basswood, which finishes beautifully without increasing the overall cost of the model. It comes with all your metal and brass fittings for accuracy to the original craft.
It includes many of the tools you’ll need to build model boats right in the kit. You’ll get clamps, tools, brushes, and glue. You don’t have to have many other things to get started right away, and you can use the tools and clamps again with later builds.
There are two sheets of plans, and a detailed 20-page instruction booklet included. You also get the stand so that you can display your finished model appropriately.
Amati – Mercury Russian Brig – Best Show Stopper
This beautiful Russian Brig is a stunning model ship at 1:64 scale. It uses high precision laser cut parts with all the appropriate sections. The kit comes with a nearly 40-page instruction booklet with clear instructions. It also includes 17 plan sheets.
It has a double planked hull with photo etched brass and copper. There are true scale wooden blocks for a stunning build. It includes 12 different weights of rigging for a realistic effect. Many of the decorative details are photo-etched with nail details. The kit comes with the show platform so you can display your efforts when everything is done.
One downside is this is one of the most expensive models on the list. It’s a massive investment for an intermediate to advanced build, but if you’re serious about your hobby, it’s a stunning investment.
The model is over 33 inches long and 24 inches high. It has beautiful colorings of classic ships and all the appropriate rigging across two ultra tall masts.
Artesania Latina – Virginia American Schooner – Best Double Hull Build
The Latina model is a realistic representation of a schooner at a 1:41 scale. It features high precision, laser cut wooden pieces, brass eyelets, and pre-sewn sales. It’s a double plank on bulkhead style hull. It’s best if you’ve got some previous building history.
It has complete instructions in full color, so you have plenty of references when building. Construction of a model matches closely the real way these schooners were built.
Each mast should be stained or painted if you want a more realistic look. The kit uses a variety of woods including mahogany and applewood. The finished model is just over 21 inches long by just over 19 inches high.
Caldercraft – HM Bomb Vessel Granado – Model Ship Kit – Great Premium Model
Caldercraft’s premium model kit is a 1:64 scale model of a warship in which the primary weapon wasn’t cannons but mortar fire. It’s a gorgeous model with precision cut pieces, brass weapons, including swivel guns and mortars, and all the necessary parts.
Caldercraft’s models excel in instruction. You get nine different detailed plans of the original ship, plus two comprehensive sets of instructions. This isn’t suited for beginners, but if you’ve already got some practice, you know for sure you have plenty of resources at your disposal to complete the build.
Details include etched brass components and profiled brass rails. The gun ports are already cut into the side pieces, so you don’t have to measure them out yourself. Riggings use natural hemp for an authentic look.
Model Shipways – Dapper Tom Baltimore Clipper – Best Solid Hull Design
The Dapper Tom is an interpretation of the classic topsail schooner. It relied on its nimbleness for protection maneuvering through enemy waters. It’s a generic Baltimore schooner rather than a model of a specific ship, and the name, Dapper Tom, was a closely guarded secret for Model Shipways.
It uses a solid hull construction, which is excellent if you aren’t ready to tackle plank on bulkhead models yet. It is machine carved basswood, with true to scale metal fittings. The kit includes eight cast metal cannons (make sure you get a newer kit. The older ones were cast from led), and detailed instructions with clear plans.
If you don’t consider that aspect, the kit is well made and produces an impressive looking ship for beginner builders. It’s a good option too for the more advanced builder who wants practice altering models to mimic certain historical aspects.
Artesania Latina – Santa Maria Model Building Kit – Great Historical Model
Artesania Latina is a scale model of the legendary Santa Maria that accompanied Columbus on his historic voyage. It’s a 1:65 scale model with three masts and a plank on bulkhead construction. It’s intended for intermediate builders because of a large number of parts.
The pieces are laser cut with brass nails and eyebolts. The cloth sails are presewn and attach easily. It comes with detailed instructions that include photographs and drawings to help you build. It’s not cheap, but it’s priced low enough to be an excellent first intermediate-model ship.
However, if you have a few models under your belt and a solid understanding of model building principles, this could be a visually stunning model for your next project. It measures just over ten inches wide by just over 22 inches long and stands a bit over 19 inches high and takes about two months for an advanced builder. Remember to double the manufacturer’s time for unexpected hiccups.
Artesania Latina – Swift – Best For High Beginners
The Swift is a 1:50 scale model of a 19th century Virginia pilot boat that’s also suitable for beginners. It’s an all wood replica with two simple masts and a plank on bulkhead hull. The sails are pre-sewn, and all the pieces are laser-cut.
It has photo illustrated plans, so there’s plenty to guide you along as you practice model building skills. The Swift includes all the parts you need to build, including brass hardware and all the rigging thread. It also has all the planking and parts for masts. It has rich coloring that you could easily customize for historical accuracy. This model is just over 21 inches long and just over 18 inches high. You don’t have to paint it, but it is set up to paint the hull if you decide to do so.
Artesania Latina – VIKING Model Ship Kit – Best Intermediate Build
The Viking replica is a 1:75 scale wooden model with a plank on frame hull. It’s suitable for intermediate builders, but the directions include a DVD and photos to help you along. It’s a good transition model if you’ve been building for a little while and want something more complex for skill-building. The visuals of the directions may help you get those complex details right the first time.
It uses high precision, laser cut parts. The model kit has real brass and cast iron accessories with presewn fabrics for the sales. It includes the string for rigging, and all the plastic and metal hardware. The final build measures just over 11 inches long and a bit over ten inches high. That’s a really manageable size for the transition from beginner to intermediate builds.
The complicated hull might make this a more extended build at about 16 hours, but it depends a lot on how confident you are in your skills.
Artesania Latina – HMS Endeavour’s Captain Longboat Model Building Kit – Best Small Model
Another good model for beginners, this the HMS Endeavor is impressive looking and can help you build model skills for more complex projects. It’s 1:50 scale and comes with a full set of color instructions.
It includes all the pieces you need to build as long as you have the right tools. The pieces are laser cut for precision and use mostly birch. It also includes the pre-sewn sale. The accessories are real brass with a cast and woven parts. Rigging threads are three different colors for visual interest. Although this is a good beginner style build, plan for it to take ten days of steady work or possibly many, many more depending on your skill level and available time.
It includes the pedal stand for displaying the boat when you’re finished. You can check the real scale of the ship with included plans. It’s a very manageable size at about 16 inches and a half inches long and just over ten inches high. One downside to this model is that it frequently has gaps in the second hull planking.
Amati – Chinese Pirate Junk Wooden Ship Model Kit – Best Chinese Junk Model
Amati’s replica of a classic Chinese Junk ship isn’t exactly historically accurate, but it’s an enjoyable build. It uses a plank on bulkhead construction, so it’s suitable for high beginners to intermediate builders.
It comes with all the necessary parts cut with laser precision. Pieces are made of beech and walnut, plus accessories made from wood and metal. Sails are precut and pre-sewn for easy assembly.
It’s a 1:100 scale model, but since these ships were relatively small, it’s still only about 15 inches long by 13 inches high. There are even some bamboo pieces for a bit of authenticity. It’s modeled after a pirate style junk because it includes weaponry, something a merchant junk would lack.
It’s affordable and suited for high beginners or true beginners with a sense of grit and excellent research skills. Currently, Junk models are pretty rare, and this is one of possibly two options available.
Wooden Model Ship Buyer’s Guide
Here are a few things to keep in mind before you buy your model ship kit.
What Is My Ability Level?
Be honest. You may want bragging rights, but if you tackle a project that’s way beyond your scope and ability level, it’s not comfortable.
Many model ships have an ability rating on the box so you can get an idea of what you’re getting into. It’s better to start with something that’s less involved so you can practice the basics.
If it doesn’t have a rating on the box, looking at the hull of the ship might give you an idea. If it ’s a sharper bow like what’s on a clipper ship, it might be a little easier to put together while learning hull planking.
You can also look at the number of masts. Masts can be labor intensive so more than one might be too much to handle if you’re a true beginner.
If you can paint the hull after assembly, that can hide a lot of mistakes. Leaving the hull natural requires more precise planking, so you won’t have as much room for error.
Many beginners make the mistake of jumping right into a three-level Frigate and skipping the entry-level model entirely. While it’s possible that you could complete this type of build as a beginner, it’s unlikely.
There are a lot of things that you should master first before attempting complicated gun riggings and multiple masts. To maximize the likelihood that you’ll finish your model and not leave it languishing in the closet.
What’s The Hull Type Of The Model Ship?
Certain hull types may be more comfortable for beginners as well. A solid hull has fewer parts to assemble, but it really limits what you can build.
Plank on bulkhead models are a little more involved. This is probably one of the most common types of ship to build. While they’re still in the realm of beginners, they will require more work. You’re going to have a lot of options with this type of hull.
Plank on frame models are the most minimal. You’ve got to build the entire thing basically from the bones. It has a more realistic keel and frame, something very similar to a real ship.
What Is The Scale Of A Model?
Scales are the relationship between the scale and a real ship. They’re expressed as ratios and will determine the size of your boat. You’ll need to consider how big the original boat is and not just the ratio; a smaller ship will end up with a smaller model regardless of scale.
Beginners have to balance having a larger size of pieces to work with so that they’re easier to handle with a small enough size that it isn’t cumbersome. Many beginners have good luck with a 1:64 scale model.
How Are The Instructions?
The instructions are critical because these aren’t just snap in plastic pieces. You have to make most of the parts yourself. If you’re a beginner, this can be overwhelming if the instructions aren’t clear.
Instructions vary between retailers because many of the models are designed by a person under contract. They may or may not have experience writing instructions for beginners. One way to see if the instructions are clear enough for you is to do a search online and read them before you purchase the model.
Some of the models also include a practicum, which is a quick course-like walkthrough. They can help guide you through the particulars of building the ship before you ever actually pick up any of the pieces.
Most important of all, a numbered parts list should be included, so you know for sure that you have everything you need before you get halfway through and realize something’s missing.
How Much Does It Cost?
The last factor to consider is how much you’re willing to pay. Some models can be prohibitively expensive. If you’re a seasoned model builder, the cost may be worth it. However, as a beginner, you don’t want to be stuck with a model you’ve sunk a lot of money into.
That said, sometimes the more money you spend, the better quality parts you get. You need to balance price with quality so that you’re likely to finish the build because of quality parts but not so stuck in the money aspect that it isn’t fun anymore.
Sign up for a few of the manufacturer’s mailing lists so that you can get notifications of any sales happening on their models. You might get a pleasant surprise.
Model shipbuilding is an excellent hobby for building patience, hand-eye coordination, and learning about humanity’s storied past building seafaring vessels. Some of the models on the list are excellent representations of real, famous ships, while others allow you to explore the generic versions of certain types of ships.
Be sure to get a model that reflects your ability and begin to build on your skills. Tackling a project that’s too far beyond your expertise is an excellent way to end up with a half-finished project in the closet and a lot of missed opportunity.