I would like to make a series of boat's hulls from a single block of wood. My first consideration is how to semi-accurately model the complex geometry of the stern and bow of a ship. The models only have to be optically accurate and will not be used for wave modeling or scientific analysis, but nevertheless the geometries are pretty complex. Has anyone had similar projects who can help?

  • 1
    I should hope we are not using toy boats for scientific analysis.
    – Matt
    May 25, 2015 at 12:04
  • Interesting project. How big is this single block of wood? Hardwood or softwood? Are you planning to hollow out the hulls? It would be interesting to hear from someone who has actually undertaken such a complex project of duplicating doubly curved surfaces.
    – Ast Pace
    May 25, 2015 at 16:44
  • I only have softwoods at the moment. The blocks are relatively small - no larger than 20cm square and 50cm long, but still quite a lot of material to remove by hand. May 25, 2015 at 19:13
  • Robert: If the answers above have not given you the info you need you may wish to contact The St. Tammany Woodworkers Guild www.sttammanywoodworkersguild.com. They make the blanks and small pieces for The Wooden Boat Festival's children's toy boat build. This past Saturday they had 650 children built their own toy boat and expected that many or more Sunday. The guild starts with a 2X6 or larger piece of wood and work it into a boat shape. Shapes include shrimp trawlers, battle ships, catamarans and sail. They are a great group of dedicated and talented craftsmen and women. Also check out the W
    – user2809
    Oct 12, 2016 at 22:52

4 Answers 4


One method for reproducing complex curves is to mill the surfaces of the block flat and parallel, and then use a drill press to drill a series of holes to measured depths. You can then start removing stock by any means: band saw, hand planes, sanding, etc. until you've just barely removed the evidence of the holes.

Another possibility is to create a series of templates for use with a plunge router -- one template for each depth. This would leave you with a hull with a series of steps, and you'd again have to remove the remaining stock. This is a sort of manual version of CNC routing (which is yet another possibility).

If you're going to make several identical copies of the same hull, the fastest way (not counting jig construction) is to build a copying jig/pantograph for your router. You could then create the first model by any means (such as 3D printing, plaster casting, etc.) and make as many copies in wood as you need.

  • @Robert Buckley just out of curiosity, which method are you thinking about using? I'm guessing that building a pantograph is not in the running.
    – Ast Pace
    May 27, 2015 at 20:10

All the answers so far assume you're looking for a power tool method (and you probably are), however, since you indicate that you're working in softwood, you may want to consider a couple of carving knives and a few evenings on the front porch. Your first couple might have a few rough spots, but I'm told you can get the hang of it reasonably quickly, especially for the type of quality you're indicating.

  • Good thinking....actually I was not really contemplating power tools at all, I was going to stick with my chisels, files, spokeshave and paper. But really I was looking for a tutorial about techniques on how to semi-accurately replicate a hulls geometry. The best answers I have found so far are here in this blog - themodelshipwright.com/prototype-shipbuilding May 26, 2015 at 20:43
  • Haven't read the link, but I'd imagine they'd be able to give you better answers for your question than you'll find here.
    – FreeMan
    May 26, 2015 at 20:49

Personally, I think your best bet is to get CAD files and use a CNC machine. First this would make it a lot easier to replicate the work and it can be done in relatively short order.

If you can't/don't want to buy one (understandable, I don't have one nor likely to either) there are different places that you can rent/pay to use them. I think some Maker Spaces have them, there are other communities as well. And some shops will let you bring in your CAD files and put it on their machines.

And while this isn't wood working, you can also get/buy/use 3D printers to print the whole ship and some of them can have very fine detail indeed.


Is it possible to reconsider whether you must start with a solid block of wood? For much of boatbuilding history, half-hull models were used which were made out of horizontal slices or sections (called 'waterlines'). Each section could then be cut to the appropriate shape, and then 'faired' to a smooth hull surface.

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