Henry Hall, in his 1883 Models & Measurements notebook (Flying Cloud material from the notebook) said that the Flying Cloud’s decks were made from yellow and pitch pine.  The planks for the forecastle & poop decks were 6 inches wide by 3.5 thick and the planks of the main deck were 7 inches wide and 3.5 thick.


Campbell reports that deck planks on clipper ships averaged 24’ long.[1] He also reports that, on wooden ships, deck planks were fastened to each deck beam they crossed with one or two wood treenails and, on iron hulled ships, were fastened with bolts whose heads were sunk below the surface of the plank and the hole plugged with a piece of wooden dowel.   See figure 1.



Figure 1: Deck fastening – from Campbell – China Tea Clippers – page 147


         On the other hand, Crothers reports that planks fastened to the underlying beams with spikes.  First, 5/8 inch diameter holes were bored part way through the planks and a smaller hole was bored the rest of the way through the plank and into the underlying beam.  After a spike was driven through the plank with the head of the spike was tight against the bottom of the 5/8” hole, the hole was plugged with a wooden plug, where the grain of the plugs was in line with the grain of the deck planks. In most cases there were two spikes per deck plank at each beam[2] 


In any case the fastenings were not all that visible, even on the actual ship.  The hole plug in the plank was less than an inch in diameter.  At 1:96 scale, that would be a ring less than 0.01 inches in diameter.  The treenail, dowel or plug were about the same color as the plank. Thus, the fastenings were very hard, if indeed possible, to see on the full-sized ship from more than a few feet away (see figure 2 as an example) and, thus, nearly impossible to see in a scale model.   


Figure 2: deck of Valhalla 1909?[3]


The deck itself had a crown to it so that the water would run off.  This was referred to as the “camber.” According to Crothers, a typical deck camber was 6 inches at the widest point of the deck[4]


The deck planks under deck houses were continuous to keep the overall deck as water tight as possible.  Of course, this was not the case for the deck planks at hatches, since hatches have to penetrate the deck to be useful.


The ends of the deck plank were staggered to keep the deck as strong as possible.  Under U.S. insurance rules, plank ends could not be closer than 5 feet to each other length wise and there had to be at least 3 planks in between planks that ended on the same beam.[5]


The edges of the deck planks, like the edges of the hull planks, were slightly beveled to create a gap in which to hammer strips of tarred oakum.  Crothers reports that the top of the gap was 1/16” per inch of plank thickness.[6]  Such a narrow slot is, of course, impossible to see on a scale model, so there is no need to actually bevel the plank edges. But the tarred calking would easily be seen as dark lines between the planks.  See figure 2 above for an example.  A common way for modelers to create the visual effect of the calking is to rub the edge of the planks with graphite (e.g., from a #2 pencil) before installing them.  This produces a very thin dark line between planks.


For my Flying Cloud model, I spray painted one side of a basswood plank that had been sanded to be scale 6” or scale 7” thick with a thin even coat of burnt umber paint.  I then ripped the plank into strips, each a little bit wider than the deck plank was to be thick, 3 ½ scale inches (about 0.037 inches for 1:96 scale) to allow for sanding.  I used burnt umber instead of black because the tar used in the 1850s was Stockholm Tar, which was very dark brown rather than black, and burnt umber is about the same color, although the difference between burnt umber and black is hard to see at scale.  For the ends of the planks, I chopped a bunch of the strips into scale 24’ lengths, bundled them tightly together, and sprayed one end with the burnt umber spray paint. 


Deck planks were often trimmed (nibbed) where they met the curved sides of a ship to avoid long narrow points that could break easily and would be hard to secure.  See figure 3.



Figure 3 – nibbed deck planks and a nibbing strake[7]


A reasonable rule of thumb is that nibbing should be done when the length of overlap with the nibbing strake is more than twice the plank width. See figure 4 for an example of nibbing from the forecastle deck of my Flying Cloud model.



Figure 4 – nibbed edge of forecastle deck


For my model, I cut the individual planks and the nibbing strake to shape then coated the cut edges and end of the planks with burnt umber acrylic art paint to represent the calking before gluing the planks to the deck.


I determined that installing the deck directly onto the hull would be very difficult, particularly if I wanted to nib the ends.  Instead I made a template from the model itself and scanned the template into a drawing program on my computer.  I added a centerline and outlines for the deck furniture then, using an ink jet printer, printed the result onto 1/64 inch aircraft plywood.  I then cut the plywood following the outline.  See figure 5.



Figure 5 – templates for the decks


I then cut the nibbing strakes but did not glue them to the template yet.  I then carefully glued a deck plank down the centerline, a plank with no paint on it to simulate calking.  Then, alternating sides, I cut the deck planks along with the nibbing strakes as needed.  I then glued the deck planks down with the calking paint edge facing the center of the deck. I glued each nibbing strake down after gluing the deck planks that intersected with it.  See figure 6 for the finished forecastle deck.



Figure 6 – finished forcastle deck


I used a small syringe filled with white glue and with a #27 blunt needle to apply the glue to back of the individual deck planks & the nibbing strake.


Most decks of clipper ships in the mid 1800s were left unfinished and were scrubbed regularly and scraped with holystones, a type of sandstone, at the end of voyages to make them look good.[8]   I used a light pine stain on basswood covered with a thin coat of satin polyurethane for the forecastle and main decks on my Flying Cloud model. See figure 7 for an example of holystoning.




Figure 7 – crew holystoning deck - 1929[9]


         But not all decks were left unfinished, some of the decks on higher end ships where passengers could congregate were finished in a mixture of boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits.  This mixture would turn the decks very dark, almost black in the sun.  These decks were calked with white lead to provide a contrast.  See figure 8 for an example.




Figure 8 – Cunard ship Russia – about 1870[10]



Even though I did not find any evidence that the Flying Cloud had a dark deck I decided to make the poop deck, where the passengers would have stayed, a dark deck because I thought it might look nice. I used ebony for the deck planks & nibbing strakes.  To simulate the white lead caulking I used TerraSlate waterproof paper, which is actually 5 mil plastic with a matt finish. 


I was able to find some ebony fingerboards for sale – they were about 1.5 inches wide by 16 inches long and about 4 mm thick, with one quite smooth side.  I tried sanding down the thickness but found that the sanding belt immediately became hopelessly clogged. So, I used a different approach.  I used contact cement to glue the TerraSlate paper to the smooth side of an ebony fingerboard.  I then ripped the combination into strips that were the thickness that I wanted for the deck and were whatever the thickness of the fingerboard was wide. Then I ripped the resulting strips so that they were 6” (scale) wide, including the TerraSlate paper.  I used a 20 mil thick fine tooth slotting blade to cut the ebony strips, it did not shatter the ebony like coarser tooth blades did.


I then chopped the strips into 42’ scale lengths and, also using contact cement, I stuck a small piece of the TerraSlate paper on the end of each strip to simulate the end calking. See figure 9.




Figure 9 – ebony deck planks



         Making the ebony planks with nibbing was a bit more complex.  After sanding the ebony to the right shape, more contact cement & more TerraSlate paper was used to simulate the calking in the nibbed area. See figure 10.



Figure 10 – nibbed ebony deck plank


The final poop deck can be seen in figure 11.


Figure 11 – finished poop deck


         All of the decks were glued onto the hull, which had the camber built in, with special gluing jigs.  See figure 12.




         The model with all decks installed can be seen in figure 13.



Figure 13 – model with decks installed


Copyright © 2021 Scott Bradner






[1] Campbell – China Tea Clippers, 1974, page 147

[2] Crothers, American-Built Clipper Ship - 1850-1856, page 294

[3] US Library of Congress,

[4] Crothers, American-Built Clipper Ship - 1850-1856, pages 56-57

[5] Crothers, American-Built Clipper Ship - 1850-1856, page 293

[6] Crothers, American-Built Clipper Ship - 1850-1856, pages 294 and 306

[7] Campbell – China Tea Clippers, 1974, page 147

[8] Schultz, Life on Board American Clipper Ships, 1983, page 7

[9] Vancouver Maritime Museum -

[10] Bunting, Portrait of a Port: Boston 1852-1914, page 401