Making Cannon Carriages, Part 1

There will be times when you want to do some scratch building on your model to make it more accurate or historically correct. One feature found on many model ship kits today that can use such an upgrade is the cannon carriage.

The procedure I will show you today requires a miniature table saw such as the Byrnes table saw or the older Preac table saw. I made the carriages shown in this article using the Preac table saw.

The first step in making cannon carriages is to choose the wood that you wish to use. A common wood available to model shipbuilders has always been basswood.

Basswood is a soft wood with very little visible grain making it ideal for model shipbuilding. Because of its softness, it is easy to cut and carve making it somewhat ideal for making all kinds of model ship parts. However, its soft nature also is a deterrent for making many parts because it does not hold a good, sharp edge well.

The most desired wood that model shipbuilders like to use is boxwood. Boxwood is the wood that many old model ships found in museums were made of. It is a hard wood, with a cream yellow color. It has no visible grain pattern, holds a very nice sharp edge, carves nicely, and turns an even darker golden color as it ages.

However, for my cannon carriages I chose to use bloodwood. Bloodwood is a very hard wood that is red in color, similar in color to the color its name implies - blood. It does have some visible grain structure to it. It can dull sharp tools also because of its hard and grainy properties.

Many modelers like to simulate certain colors of a ship using different colors of wood. Bloodwood is commonly used in model ships to simulate such things as the red bulwarks found on most warships, and since cannon carriages were often painted red, it is a preferred wood for making these details.

The carriages I made for this project were actually used to replace the carriages found in the Mamoli kit, Rattlesnake. This particular kit is in 3/16” scale, meaning that a measurement of 3/16” is equal to one scale foot. The carriages I made measured 5/8” in length and 9/32” in height (not including the trucks and axles).

To create a series of parts such as the cannon carriages from scratch so that each carriage is identical in its dimensions requires the use of some technique. Unless you have skills and access to CAD software and a laser cutter or CNC milling machine, the best method to use, and the one I will be covering in this article, is what I call a profile blank.

A profile blank is a piece of wood that when viewed from the end, has the profile of the part you are going to make from it. When the entire length of this piece of wood is sliced up in to thin slices, each slice has the exact same shape or profile of the part by itself.

I often use this technique to make different parts for a model that need to be identical in look as well as in dimension. You may not realize it but just making individual planks from a certain dimensioned thickness of wood is done so by applying this same principal. It starts by taking a billet of wood and milling the profile of the part into the billet from end to end.

The carriage in this demonstration measures 5/8” in length and 9/32” in carriage height (does not include the trucks and axles). A piece of bloodwood is milled to a length of 6” using these dimensions.

When finished, the block of wood will have the profile shown in Photo 1.

Photo 1

To create this profile, you will need a miniature table saw such as the one made by Byrnes Model Machines. I used an older saw known as the Preac Table Saw which is no longer in production.

The blade I used has a width of .057” or approximately 1/16”. It is a slotting blade. Such blades can also be used on the Byrnes saw.

Photo 2 shows the milled billet of bloodwood and the Preac Table Saw. The blade height has been set so that 3/16” protrudes through the slot in the table. This height is used to cut through the bloodwood to create the lowest step in the aft end of the carriage side. This is the step on the left shown in Photo 1 that sits above the notch for the rear axle.

Photo 2

Dial calipers were used to measure the height that the blade was set at. Photo 3 shows how this measurement was take. First the dial calipers were opened up with the width of the calipers set at .187” or 3/16”. Then the calipers were locked in this position.

By opening the calipers to .187” and locking them in this position, the movable rod is extended that distance from the end of the calipers. That enables you to measure the height or thickness of something such as the height of the saw blade shown in Photo 3.

Photo 3

With the extended end sitting on the table top of the saw, the blade is loosened and raised so that the blade touches the end of the calipers. Then the blade is locked thus setting its height to .187”. Now when the blank of bloodwood is run across the blade, a notch will be cut into the wood that is .187” deep.

Looking back at Photo 2, the saw fence is set at a distance that will put the outside edge of the blade, that is the edge facing you in this photo, a distance of 1/8” from the edge of the fence. The wood billet is then run across the blade for the full length of the billet. Photo 4 shows the resulting cut.