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Model Ship Basics
A Building Guide for Trumpeter's 1/350th Scale Z-25

By Rick Herrington

The objective of this article is to give you the basics on how to build a ship model. The methods used in this article can be applied to almost any kit model.

If you're just starting out building ship kits, you may want to tackle a less complex model than the Trumpeter Z-25 depicted here. Any one of Tamiya's 1/700 scale ship kits would be a great starter. They are well engineered, fit well and do not require much filling or clean up. Built straight from the box they build into a fine representation of the British, German, Japanese or American ship the model depicts.

The Trumpeter 1/350th scale Z-25 is a model of the German Narvik Class destroyer. The model depicts the ship as she was configured late in World War II when allied air power was the main threat to German warships.


References are an essential part of any build. Part of my reference for the Z-25 build was an excellent publication put out by Squadron in 1979 called Kriegsmarine by Robert C. Stern.


AJ Press puts out many excellent ship books although most of them are in Polish.

The internet is always a valuable source when researching the model you want to build also.

Model Art, a Japanese publication, puts out a good reference on German ships: German Warships of World War II.


Kit-supplied references can be a guide to build and paint from too. The illustration below is the kit supplied color view of the X-25. Not all kits come with color illustrations of the model. Older models just give you the box top art and the instructions painting guide to work with.


Once you've researched your model or if you've skipped over this part and want to dive straight into your opened box it's time to gather the tools for your build.


  • Exacto Knife
    Essential in any model building project, the Exacto knife is used for removing seam lines and general cutting.
  • Plastic Clippers
    Clippers are used to cut the plastic parts from the sprues the parts are attached to. The closer you can nip to the actual part when cutting it off the sprue, the less time you have to spend cleaning up the part. Don't skimp when buying a pair of plastic clippers.
  • Tweezers
    Tweezers are a big help in handling the small parts and in placing and holding photo etch parts.
  • Straight Edge Razor Blade
    I get these at my local hardware store and use them as a backup for my Exacto knife. Generally I use them to cut plastic and to scrape seam lines.
  • Nail Files
    The least expensive of the tools I own. I get these from my wife when she's finished using them on her nails. If you're not married, they're available at your local grocery or drug store. I use these for sanding and removing seam lines from parts.
  • Liquid Glues
    Liquid glue is the glue I use for assembling plastic models. It gives me the control of being able to apply it where I want it without an excess of glue. Tamiya glue dries faster than Testors and melts the plastic faster than Testors. The bottle I use for building is a 50-50 mix of each.
  • Primer/Gap Filler
    I use Tamiya Gap Filler to fill the small gaps that appear after you glue parts together. I also use Gunze Sangyo Mr. Surfacer 500 and 1000. The difference between the Mr. Surfacers is the thickness of the filler. The lower the number, the thicker the liquid. The Tamiya white filler is on the thin side. I use the thicker liquid for filling larger gaps. I also use thinned Mr. Surfacer 1200 as a primer for my models. I thin it 50-75% with Gunze Sangyo thinner and apply it with my airbrush.


  • Airbrush
    An airbrush is not essential to completing a ship model. Brushes will do almost as well. But if you're serious about modeling you probably have one of these at home.



Some kits are easy to build. Some are designed where you rarely have to glance at the instructions as the kits are so well designed. The Trumpeter kit we're building is one where you have to pay close attention to the instructions for the building process to go well.

Kit Instructions:


Kit Instructions are a vital part of your build. They can help or hinder you greatly. Review them before you start building to make yourself familiar with the way the construction sequence is laid out and how you should approach it. Familiarize yourself with where the parts on the plastic trees are located.

Getting started:


I won't spend too much time on construction of the model other than to mention that with liquid glue you have to be careful as it tends to act like a liquid. It flows everywhere including the places you don't want it and on to fingers. I usually discover this has happened after I find the finger print left on the side of the hull. A little fine sand paper will fix the mistake, but if you're careful you won't have to fix those kinds of mistakes.

Follow the instructions and pay attention to orientation of parts on the instruction sheet. When you place a part incorrectly it may make a difference in another assembly that fits together with it.

Depending on the part count in the kit (How many parts it takes to build the kit) you may be able to finish your ship kit quickly or in the case of the Z-25 spend a month building it.

I replace any molded on anchor chain with model railroad chain. It comes in different links per inch and can be used for 1/700th or in this case 1/350th. The first step is to scrape off the molded on chain and sand the deck until smooth. Cut the railroad chain to length and attach it to the model with super glue.


This small addition adds a lot to the overall look and feel of your ship kit.

I paint my kits after I have them built. Others choose to build sub-assemblies, paint them and then glue them together. I use a lot of weathering techniques on my models such as pre-shading.

Pre-shading is painting your model with a dark color such as gray or black and then misting the color you want over that base color. This gives highlights and shadows to what otherwise would be a mono-tone color scheme.

I put the photo etch parts on ships after the construction is finished, unless it's going to be impossible to place a part after the ship is constructed.

The picture below is well into the construction. I'm assembling the smaller anti-aircraft weapons. These consist of 40 mm, 37 mm and quad-20 mm's. The assemblies can be mini-kits in themselves so be sure your follow the instructions carefully.



I paint my kits after I have them built. Others choose to build sub-assemblies, paint them and then glue them together. If you are using brushes to paint the Z-25 it would be better to paint the sub-assemblies before gluing them on the ship.

Paint can make or break your model. Most people can ignore a few construction errors if the model has a good finish. If you're a beginner and using brushes to paint try to buy good brushes and keep them clean. If you take care of your brushes they will serve you well for many years. I use acrylic paints when possible (Tamiya or Testors) as these are non-toxic and clean up with water.

I use a lot of weathering techniques such as pre-shading. Pre-shading is painting your model with a dark color such as gray or black and then misting the color you want over that base color. This gives highlights and shadows to what otherwise would be a mono-tone color scheme. The following sequence is how I paint my ships using a Badger 150 airbrush.

This is the model with the two base colors painted on (XF-50 and XF-17). The weapons and mast will be painted separately and added later. The deck is Tamiya XF-50 Field Blue. The rest of the ship, including the superstructure, is painted XF-17 Sea Blue.


To do the highlight I switched to an enamel base paint made by White Ensign Models. White Ensign puts out a line of paints designed for ships. The color I used for the light gray is Hellgrau 50 (Light gray 50).


I lightly spray the Hellgrau 50 over the dark base colors allowing them to show through to create variation in an otherwise mono-tone color.

After masking the upper hull to protect the highlighted upper hull, I used Xtracolor enamel red to paint the lower hull. Xtracolor was not used because I prefer it. I used it because it was there and I didn't have to go out and buy another bottle of paint.


Kreiegsmarine warhips had a black stripe painted where the top hull color met the hull red color. This was usually at the waterline of the ship. The water around the ship in harbor was usually fouled with oil and stained the light gray finish. The black stripe was painted to hide the stains.

I used a Sharpie fine point pen to replicate the stripe, carefully drawing the line between the red hull and the gray upper hull.


I used Alclad to paint the torpedo tubes although it would be fine if you painted them gray like the rest of the hull. I painted them metallic to draw the eye to the ship.


Wooden Decks

Almost all warships had some portion of the ship that was decked in wood. This was usually teak. The purpose of the decking was to give sure footing to the areas most travelled by the crew. The Z-25 was no exception in that the bridge decking was teak. I masked off the surrounding areas with tape making sure the areas I wanted to paint teak remained unmasked and then airbrushed White Ensign Models deck teak color.


After letting this dry for several hours I sprayed the painted area with Testor's acrylic flat coat.


After the acrylic flat coat has dried for several hours the next step is to use a mixture of turpentine, and black and raw sienna oil paints. The mixture is 95% turpentine and 5% oil paint. The liquid should take on a chocolate color. Apply this to the teak deck. Applying this mixture gives variation to the teak color and brings out the planking detail.


Photo Etch

Photo etch is usually a product you buy in addition to the model to detail it even further. It is not necessary to add photo etch to your ship model. If you are a beginner at ship modeling it would be best to wait until you have a few kits built and your skills sharpened before tackling photo etch.

Photo etch is usually for modeling the deck railings which in most cases is not represented in the basic model. Some parts of the base kit are molded heavily such as radars. Photo etch, because of its delicate nature, represents these parts well.

The Z-25 came with basic set of photo etch. Gator glue and super glue, the non-gel type, are musts when working with photo etch. Gator Glue is a white glue which is easy to work with and dries clear.


Use an exacto knife with a new blade to cut the photo etch parts off their surrounding metal. I use a flat rock base to place the part on and then use the blade to cut if off.


The photo above shows the two pieces that made up the photo etch radar for the Z-25. It is made up of the screen and the frame for the screen. These have to be glued together and then glued on to the mast support on the bridge. The length of brass rod you see on the stone is what is used for an applicator. It gives me control over the super glue and allows me to place small amounts of the glue on tiny parts.


After it was installed I masked it off and painted it with Testors Gun Metal Buffing Metalizer.


Photo etch can provide a lot of delicate detail that plastic molding cannot. Just a few pieces can improve your model a great deal.

Safety railings that run along the edge of the deck and superstructure are almost never supplied with a model kit. When they are supplied in plastic they are usually out of scale and poorly done. Installing photo etch railings on a ship, whether it be 1/700 or 1/350 scale can be challenging.

Start by painting the railing the color of your ship. Measure the length of railing you will need. I find it is easier to work with shorter lengths of railing than longer. Try to find a breaking point along the deck which is a logical place to end your length of railing.


The length of railing I'm gluing on determines the type of glue I use to do it. If it is a long length I use Gator Glue and for shorter lengths I use super glue. I apply a pool of the glue I'm using onto an index card and dip the bottom stanchions into the glue and then attach them to the model. Depending on your previous experience this may take one attempt or several. Don't try to re-use a bent up piece of railing.

The picture below is of the Z-25 with the railings installed.


The mast on the Z-25 has a searchlight platform which has a rounded railing. I have tried a number of ways to do rounded railing cheaply including wrapping the railings around lengths of Evergreen styrene tube but finally ended up buying the Mission Models Multi Tool. The tool makes it a great deal easier to do rounded shapes with phot etch with a lot less waste. The tool is the blue instrument you see in the following picture.



Stretched sprue is an easy and inexpensive way to replicate the rigging on a ship. Stretched sprue can be stretched in different widths depending on what you need. If you're not familiar with it, it is the process where you hold a kit sprue over a flame, usually a candle, until it softens. At that point you stretch the sprue pulling from both ends. This usually gives you a fine thread-like length of plastic which you can cut to length. Because it is plastic you can use your regular liquid glue to attach it from point to point.



1/350th scale ships need crewman to look right. L'Arsenal, a French company has a fine line of resin crewman for 1/350th scale ships. There are 32 crewmen on the decks of my Z-25.



The last step in my model was adding a flag. This was a two sided decal included in the kit.

I hope this article has simplified some of the techniques used to build model ships. Depending on your skill level you may use all or just a few to complete your ship model. Thanks for reading and happy model building.

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