Laser Cut Wood Decks For Model Ships
For Scale Modelers, BY SCALE MODELERS.
We're pretty proud of our technology at SCALEDECKS.COM; nobody makes scale wood decks like we do. We do three things that really make our decks stand out:
1. They are incredibly thin
2. They are backed with fleece for good working strength and ease of gluing
3. They combine laser cutting technology with laser printing technology
Our decks are micro-thin (about the thickness of a heavy sheet of paper) and made of 100% real wood, backed with fleece fibers to provide working strength.
I decided to break out three of the decks that I have for kits that are waiting on the shelf and do an analysis and comparison based upon SCALEDECKS.COM production decks. I have the following five to compare, all in 1/350 scale, with associated material thicknesses:
SCALEDECKS.COM Konig/Teak - .0090 thick, fleece backed
Hasegawa Nagato - .0120 thick, adhesive backed
Academy Graf Spee - .0150 thick, adhesive backed
KA MK1 Design Bismarck - .0120 thick, adhesive backed
I prefer to NOT have adhesive backing, allowing for a thinner product and also allowing the modeler to use whatever types of adhesives they prefer. (Styrene cement and slow-set epoxy are excellent. Gator Grip glue also works particularly well.) For the self-adhesive decks above the backing layer is actually very thin, and doesn't add appreciably to the deck thickness. The Hasegawa, for example, barely measures .0005 on my digital caliper; it's VERY thin! (My caliper is only accurate to 1/2000 of an inch, and the backing film kept flipping between .0000 and .0005) The thicknesses above are thus very close to the actual thickness for the wood product alone without the backing.
So, how thin are our decks? Well, the MAPLE in particular is so thin that it is translucent! For this reason we recommend that you paint the deck under the wood to keep an even background color. Paint the deck white for a lighter color, pait it blue to appear less yellow, pait it red to appear warmer, paint it black to appear darker, etc.
To show you this effect, here is the maple Borodino deck placed on top of the teak Konig deck!
Decks are intended to be cemented to the plastic model with the glue that you are comfortable working with. We do not provide a self-adhesive backing as our experience has shown that these can be problematic in positioning. Glues allow you some time to work to position the pieces, and you do not need to worry about deterioration of the adhesive over decades. With the fleece backing, the glue has plenty of surface to bind to.
Not only do the fleece fibers provide a good surface for glue adhesion, they also bind the grain together making the deck incredibly strong while still maintaining flexibility. This not only makes the deck easy for the modeler to handle, it also allows us to ship them to you rolled in a crush-proof box!
As for the detail, note that on a 1/350 scale ship the common 4-inch deck plank would be only 1/100 of an inch thick - about the thickness of a business card - or just a solid blob when appearing on a model. All manufacturers attempt to create a "scale appearance" with deck planking marked farther apart on scales below 1/200 or so. On older plastic kits this was simulated with raised lines; on newer plastic kits, often with recessed lines - molded right into the plastic. It is then up to the hobbyist to paint the deck a uniform tan to rely on shadows to simulate the planks, or to attempt to paint the plastic to simulate wood. Some people also lay individual planks - a time-consuming procedure that is really easy to mess up.
In an attempt to solve these problems, manufacturers began experimenting with laser cut wood decks, or in some cases machine cut decks. Most wood decks simply burn in a plank pattern with the laser cutter, resulting in a very thick brown line - and these lines often appeared quite far apart. Our process uses a very fine inkjet-printed line 1/300 of an inch thick and a minimum of 1/64 of an inch apart to simulate deck planking. On larger scale ships, we can actually create very fine plank widths and gaps that look absolutely right to the human eye. We use inkjet printing because we are able to apply a line much thinner than "burning" in the pattern with the laser. Also, the simulated end-cuts on the planks are lighter - as they are on a real ship. On tinted wood decks we even drop in slight color variations to give the effect of individual wood planks. The net result is that you have a real wood surface that looks like real wood, with the subtlest possible planking lines to break up the wood and create a very realistic scale effect.
There are several differences between other brands of wood decks and SCALEDECKS.COM wood decks. On a deck made by another manufacturer (left), a one-step, laser-only process is used. This is a lot cheaper to mass produce, but the results are inferior. Note that the "butt cuts" on the short ends of the planks appear much darker than the long lines - this is because the laser has to move slower on the short lines, so the wood burns darker. This is a very unrealistic effect, since there tends to be a slight gap between the long sides of the planks whereas the butts are paced tightly together. Also, the color of the plank separators is burned brown, and the lines are thick.
In the SCALEDECKS.COM deck (right), there is a much more realistic color appearance. The lines are very thin grey, not thick burned brown. And the butt cuts are the same color or even lighter than the long plank gaps as they should be. The net result is a much more realistic scale effect.
It takes a lot longer to print the wood in color first, then precisely align it with the path of the laser cutter. But the end result it superb and simply can't be replicated in a one-step, laser cutter-only process. At SCALEDECKS.COM we cut the wood sheets by hand, print them one at a time, and then precisely align each sheet of wood for individual cutting to achieve a superior end product.
With all the hours that you are going to put into your model ship, you want the best, right?
I know that I do!