Building a static model pilot cutter.

Last updated February 3rd 2015

Having built a variety of scale and freelance radio controlled model boats and one static model of a Silhouette ' sailer / trailer', a vessel close to my heart. I became interested in the history of pilot cutters:-

Pilot cutters of a type which date back to the late 19th, early 20th, Century (some of even the older ones are, still sailing ) were designed to cope with all manner of weather and extremely rough seas. Their purpose was to ferry harbour pilots to incoming packets to strike contracts for pilotage through difficult channels into harbour. Quite similar vessels plied their trade from a number of major ports around our Island, often they raced to compete with other pilots.Their function demanded speed and the ability to sail in the worst of conditions.

The history of the boats can be read on many sites on the web, and replicas of the better known craft are still built for enthusiastic sailors. To read about them and view images all that one needs to do is visit Google Search ' Images ' and type in ' pilot cutters ' then click on items of interest, this will take you to appropriate websites. YouTube ' Pilot cutter videos ' show many illustrations of cutters afloat and under construction, a mine of information. Shots from the videos for personal use only and for reference purpose can be downloaded by pausing the video and using one of the many ' freebee 'capture programs. Be careful to observe copyrights however.

Establishing details

As described above my search began on Google. I studied the detailed images, videos and looked at various lines drawings. All the boats were notable for the hull design which combined speed with stability while carrying substantial areas of sail. The hull form is best appreciated by viewing pictures of boats under construction on the sites of present day boat builders in the UK and abroad. As this model will be compounded from views of original boats, renovations and recent productions on the web also what I have deciphered from the various lines drawings, the model should convey a ' Picture ' of the breed of boats.

A rough drawing of the lines of a typical boat were set out on detail paper

The start was made on drawings prepared on the dining room table. I intend to build the model using ' Bread and butter ' hull construction. This involves cutting layers of wood to the plan profile of the vessel providing a series of sections from keel to deck. These are bonded together and the final hull form is generated by carving from the resultant roughly shaped solid block guided by the joint lines between layers.

Sections were drawn on stout card, to provide profiles at points along the hull, cut from the card these will permit a check of the profile at tha chosen station points.

Into the workshop

The lines were transferred to my recycled 3/4" knotty pine board, gifted by a friend, being careful to place the parts such that best use was made of the available surface.

Weight is not a consideration in the case of a static model employing ' Bread and butter ' construction and the interior of the hull will not be visible and the timber is thicker than that normally employed in this construction, sufficient timber can be allowed in the width of the individual layers of wood to ensure that there will be sufficient to cater for changes in the section of individual parts when carving to hull profile.

Prior to glueing, the rough sawn layers are setup for checking. Later the keel will be set between the two halves of the boat and a stern block added after shaping the hull.

A ' Drawing office error ' is clearly illustrated in the 3rd layer of timber. ( When I worked in production, errors were first attributed to ' The drawing office '........ until that is, the real culpability was established ! ).... this error can be simply remedied on the ancient bandsaw, aged 40 years plus and still working perfectly .

Glueing using a range of ' Cheapo 'clamps. Using PVA adhesive from my 1/2 gallon bulk purchase of 10 years ago. Barely visible are removable dowels to maintain alignment

The top layer up to the deck level diminishes in thickness from prow to stern, the forward part of the layer requires fixing whilst adhesive hardens. Due to the hull form clamping cannot be employed so temporary screws are used.

Temporary screws have been inserted for later removal. Screws are recovered and used many times in my recycling process !

Next, having completed the glueing operation , comes the work of shaping the hull to conform with the templates.

The power planer has been used to make a few trial cuts. It needs considerable control to prevent it ' digesting ' the hull members! The planer will deal with convex sections. The concave sections lower down and at the stern will need to be cut with a gouge or sanded out using very coarse grades of glasspaper in a power sander.

I have just acquired a new tool, a ' Saw rasp ', manufactured by Shinto it has a series of saw blades arranged honeycomb fashion in the shape of standard rasp. It cuts most materials and removes most of them fast ! An asset in the workshop where a range of timber and metal materials are used.

To bring the halves up to deck level extra sections from scrap wood are being bonded along the top full slice of the ' Bread and butter 'construction. When planed to profile these will generate the correct deck line, ready for the installation of the deck beams.

The roughly shaped half-hulls were fixed to the keel. The first half being screwed temporarily through the keel, the second through recessed screws through deeply countersunk holes in the hull.

With the half-hulls fixed a rough primer coat ( Actually Dulux emulsion ) serves to show up blemishes.Minor blemishes will be filled, possibly with Polycell fine crack filler. Waterproofing is not required. This model won't be going on the water !

The thick slices of ' bread 'in the sandwich which is the hull mean that the templates come into play to check the section at the station points and help with maintaining the hull profile. At this point I am experiencing difficulty in producing a smooth finish to the hull as the use of recycled knotty pine has a ' Wild grain ' and even the power planer tends to tear the surface whichever way it is applied relative to the direction of the grain .

Remarkably, with many years of model making behind me, getting the correct profile to the underside of the hull at the stern is proving quite difficult .

Time to start fine grain filling and sanding, prior to several coats of paint. The stern block will be added extending the overal length of the hull and avoiding end grain at the transom
The final coats of paint will be applied when the model is finished. The stem post is part of the keel which is the key jointing piece of the model, it will be reduced in section prior to the planking process.


I intend to add a false deck of ply prior to adding the deck planking proper, this will be kept back from the hull side to form a rebate ( recess ) into which I can plant the bulwark sheeting, prior to adding dummy bulwark supports. On the model this sequence of assembly will simplify the deck planking process.

I am using odd scraps from the waste box to build up the stern block, not a pretty sight at present, but it will soon be brought down to size. Here the pieces are glued and fixed with temporary nails and clamps.

Now to saw and rasp it to the correct profile !

This setup is to check that the port and starboard heights of the hull are similar.

Before adding the false deck of ply which is to support the deck planking there are the deck beams to be added , also a support for the mast.

Still in the ' Coarse construction stage ' the deck beams installed ready for fairing off. First the space between the beams has to be filled to start forming the rebate for the 1/16 " ply bulwarks. The bulwark to keel joint will be masked by a rubbing strake.


The inserts between the deck beams are where I will be inserting pins at the joints in the subdeck of 1/16" ply , the space at the stern with the stub beams each side is the position of the well and cabin hatch.

Now for the ply sub-deck which will comprise two layers of 1/16 ply left from a previous project. When laying ply panels in a critical position ( In this case to retain the 1/16 rebate for the bulwarks ) a few pins partially inserted will assist in locating the panel when replaced on the glued surface, the panel being slid until the pins register with the holes made when previously driven.

Still in the 'coarse boatbuilding phase ' the sub-deck panels are glued into place. The pins will be recoverd later.

A sheet of planed 1/8" spruce arrived this a.m. from Hobbies Ltd, Dereham, a useful source of small section timber for models. Builders of full size vessels avoid Spruce for exposed conditions though in this case that won't apply, and I like the colour !

The sub-deck panels are now fixed and a few high spots removed the hull is ready for deck laying. The keel post is yet to be trimmed to shape.

I have found a suitable piece of wood which may be used for the mast and spars, a 30+ year old broom handle set aside ' As probably coming in useful one day ', it is knot-free hardwood of unknown parentage. Presently it is disguised under a coat of enamal. I tested a plane on it and it is a pleasure to cut, not like the rubbish one gets these days.

Now for preparing planking for the deck. I produced a small mandril from a scrap of Phosbronze ,The land for the saw was a ticklish job, ensuring the thickness was such that locknuts on the the treaded retaining bolt would tightly grip the extremely thin sawblade.

A 'Jury ' saw set up on the Myford using the crosslide tool clamp, some pieces of laminate, the arbour and Dremel sawblade ( 2 for about 8 from my local tool supplier, the wonderful Isac Lord store in Wycombe ) Health and safety requires a riving knife but this is not practical on this scale. A push stick however is as importand as ever!

Then to the sawing process.................

With the lathe running at top speed the saw cuts through my 3mm spruce board like the proverbial knife through butter, so much easier than the brutal process when done with a knife. Here are the first few planks cut, just a light sanding required to trim up the edges which appear ragged, this is a feature of the optimised image, not the actual planks !

As a change from plank preparation, a little deck laying. .......First a combing around the well to mask the sides and ends of the planking. Then to placing the first planks.

Initially the planks have been laid to the line of the rear of the cabin and to its width. From there further planks will be full-length, running along the side of the cabin commencing adjacent to the shorter planks which are stopped at the cabin end line.

The glueing technique used here was first tried by fixing a few planks to a scrap of wood. The best method was found to be to spread a minimal amount of PVA on the underside of each plank, keeping away from the edges, then pressing the wood into position as the PVA ' Grabs ' the freshly placed plank. There are then a few minutes in which to adjust the position. The curve of the sub-deck leaves a convincing scale sized joint. Any unruly planks can be weighted down while the glue hardens. A light sanding, in the direction of the grain, overcomes any discrepancies in level.

I was always wary of using PVA for small work as I thought that balsa cement provided a better immediate ' Grab '...Lately I have been happier with PVA which, provided the surfaces are well prepared, ensures early location with just enough time for final accurate location. Joiners always speak of ' Rubbing in a glue block ' and this process has proved over the years to ensure an intimate bond with a minimum glue line.

The edges of the planking have been cleaned up and a check made that the 3 mm ply of the bulwarks will fit snugly around the perimiter. I will leave the work on or above deck for the present to avoid damage when hull is turned over for rudder fixing.
To hold the rudder in its housing whilst forming the opening, In the vice I pre-drilled the rudder blank for two temporary dowels. Using these holes as guides I then clamped the bottom of the rudder in place and pinned the upper end to the hull while drilling matching holes in the rear of the keel to receive the dowels and maintain the line of the blank,

The 3/16"dowels had been used before but will be reused in further, they are pretty substantial will support the yet to be shaped rudder while the propeller opening is cut. I was amazed to read that many early cutters went out by sail alone though engines were soon adopted as auxilliaries.

The blank was now sufficiently secure for the hole to be marked out and opened up prior to finally cutting the rudder to finished size ready for fairing-off. The dowels will be extracted and replaced with shorter versions prior to glue being applied to the front of the finished rudder.

I have found a brass propeller which will cut to size and have turned a stub shaft to position it. The rudder has been trimmed and faired off. Now I will drill for the rudder shaft and produce a bracket to support the pivot at the bottom of the rudder.

The rudder and prop installed, the bottom rudder bearing is bent up from thin brass, the prop is mounted on a stubshaft with a brass thrust bearing on the keel. Later the top of the rudder post will be mounted on the stern deck.

I gave thought to supporting the mast and running gear. I see from the plans and lines drawings that on the prototypes the mast and critical load bearing gear is founded on the keel, or on plates set on the main ribs. As this model is not destined to go on the water, mine will be mounted on deck.

Here I have installed a s/s pin to position the foot of the mast. The join at deck level will be masked by a 'canvas cover ' as on the prototypes. I previously marked the position of the mast on ply set on top of the keel. Three try-squares ensured the keel was vertical and the dowel is true both fore and aft, normal to the waterline and in line with the keel.

The torch allows me to ' see round corners' and is a valuable addition to the workshop equipment !

There is a phrase well known to sports enthusiasts, it is of course ' Rain stopped play '. Much the same situation occurs in life, I have to say that in this case it has to be ' Personal circumstances have halted model making '.

Unfortunate as that is, this page and the project will be restarted when things clear up a little. As soon as I am satisfied with further work I will continue to describe the build and add images to this page.

The opportunity of spending a few half hour spells in the workshop has allowed me to start again at my beginings and a move made to add the bulwarks. I have built several boats before but mainly of modern prototypes with simple geometry...However this one is proving quite difficult .

As a principle I always start with a difficult bit ! Having looked at a range of Cutters on the web I decided to combine several stern details.

At this stage all this looks a bit messy but to retain verticality where the rounded bulwark joins that further forward I had to fix some temporarysupports to the hull and do some fairing off of the hull locally. The planking need sanding and the knees reducing.
The next bulwark section has been installed. The sections are deep enough to permit trimming with a razor saw to a fair line at the correct height when all have been fixed.The evident kink will be removed when the dummy frame members are added along the bulwark, the whole will be stiffened by addition of a hardwood capping later.


The final bulwark section installed. The next steps will be trimming the sections to height .Trimming will be carried out using a very sharp knife while the bulwark is supported on a timber 'Anvil ' mounted in the vice.


Setting out the bulwark sheer line using a flexible 'Spiling batten ' The small clamps are cheepos from the pond shop, and perfectly adequate

Back in the workshop after a couple of months away I ' Activated ' the Myford and turned up some portholes frames. The controls came to hand and I didn't inadvertantly throw things into reverse but the ' Touch ' will need working on!

This is a very foreshortend view ( The camera does lie ! )The cabin sides are in 3mm mahogany and the holes for the brass fittings were drilled using a series of drills from 1/8" to 7/16 ". The material was clamped to surface of the drill press on a hardwood pad, care being taken not to spall the surface of the wood.The brass port frames require centre punching to mimic the full size fixings.

I want to prepare the parts of the model which will show as varnished wood in the finished state. I I can then mask the varnish prior to painting the hull etc.

Installing cabin ' Roof beams '. These are dummies as for support only as I am not modeling the interior of the boat.

The whole of the unseen work will be painted matt black and the ports will be glazed with obscured plastic.

P.S. I am not modeling the inside of the boat as I feel life is too short and that it is not of major interest to the viewer, except perhaps the ladies !

As I write this the 1/16" ply roof to the cabin, which has been soaked is clamped inside a suitable former to produce an ' Overbend ' to ensure that it can be glued in overall contact with the cabin sides and beams.

The ' overbent 'roof has been set on two tapered sections of scrap and a slip of wood to ensure close contact with the roof beams, cabin sides and ends and adhesive applied. The weights ensure success !

As the workshop is not heated at present the assembly will be stripped in the morning, ready for the companion hatch and a roof light to be added.

The starboard rubbing strake has been added. Some thought determined that the strip is '3 dimensional' in that it is curved in plan and in elevation. The answer to its production was that oversize strips were lightly pinned in place then the deck line and a line indicating the depth of the strip was plotted onto this. The final positions of the sections if strip were marked on the hull before each piece was shaped then fastened in place.

Along the run of the hull the ply is long grain, then cross grain at the bow and stern, to facilitate the tighter bend.


starboard freeing ports are next on the menu, after a long break from the workshop ! The image shows the first few in the rough and work on the next. The ports are commenced by chain drilling the ply bulwarks, not easy to avoid breaking out the thin inner veneer face. The ports are cut nearly to size and will be finished using a 'Go, no go' slip of metal. Provided the drilled holes are fairly close, each the next, a scalpel frees the scrap ready for finishing. Miniature jewellers files will finish the job.


The shape of the individual sections of capping was first cut, guided by pencil lines struck from the outside of the hull The section was then trimmed to the required overlap of the bulwark. This allowed the inner edge to be determined using a compass set to the required finished width of the capping.


The ends of sections of capping rail had been trimmed to match those previously laid, coated with a thin film of Pva and carefully positioned prior weighing down, using a mixture of ofcuts to ensure that they were normal to the bulwark . The grab provided by the adhesive ensured contact was maintained whilst hardening took place wthin an hour or so.


The next operation was to plank the companion hatch and the cabin top. Two sections of mahogany sheeting were deeply scribed wth the lines of joints and the section of sheet bent carefully, widening the line without breaking the piece into individual planks. This was acheived by overbending over the side of a saucepan of appropriate diameter. The two halves of each sheet were cut to fit and bonded into place a series of offcuts and weights ensuring they were snug on the ply cabin top.


The finished planking with edging fillets installed. the portholes are prepared and ready to install when final ssenmly takes place. The cabin will be removed and the hull inverted for final coats of paint to be applied


The well washboards having a small capping, curved in elevation had to be constructed on a jig. Jigs come in a variety of configurations , complex to simple, that for these components is very much a simple jig! It had to accept the projection of the capping however and ensure that the joint, capping / washboard side was held whilst the adhesive hardened. Here the glueing is in progress


The washboardshave been installed, attached to rebates in the cabin sides. Just planting them on to the deck would have been a fragile arrangement so the corner blocks were located by pins into the deck and the sides then installed. Where possible, is always worth installing pins to prevent damage in adding further detail.


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