Model ship restoration – top tips and advice for beginners

The hobby of model ship collecting can be an incredibly exciting one, particularly when you’ve managed to find a rare vessel at a car boot sale or lingering on eBay with no bids. It’s also a hobby with a fair share of drawbacks. It’s possible however to receive a model that falls short of our expectations. In such a situation, restoration is often necessary.

Restoration can be just as delicate a procedure as building a model from scratch and is something you might want to look to a professional model maker for help with, if you are unsure.

However, if you’ve had prior experience in creating or ‘touching up’ your own vessels then it might be something you want to experiment with yourself in order to claim more ownership over your collection (and save money, of course).

So, if you’re just getting into the field of restoration, here are a few top tips to keep you from making any expensive mistakes.


Before you begin in earnest, ensure that the model is properly cleaned as it has spent decades gathering grime and dust. This is going to be a large job in itself, so try to dedicate an afternoon at least if you can, depending on the size of the model. Take a small torch and a series of cotton buds and ensure you’ve cleared all of the small crevices of dirt and dust. Take your time and be gentle.


There are countless model ship forums online that are populated by hobbyists that will be eager to help you. Take some photos of your project and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.


Depending on the age of the model, you could be playing with fire when removing certain pieces. Take stock of the structural integrity of the piece before going any further. If your model is made from wood, try to decipher the type and the age, which you should be able to do by checking the markings.

Use mildly soapy water if you wish for cleaning, but ensure it’s dried as if it’s left to soak in it can damage the wood later. Use a table fan or hairdryer on a low setting for this.


This should go without saying, but you don’t want to go with just any old paint. Hobby stores will provide you with the kind of paint you’ll need as enamel model paint is thicker and more durable than typical acrylic paint. You’ll also want to use a small and delicate brush.

When it comes to matching existing colours, try not to be too sentimental as it’s unlikely you will match 100%. Chances are, you’re going to be giving the whole ship a once-over anyway, so giving it a brand new paint job might actually work in your favour.


If you are nervous about going any further and you think you’ve taken your restoration project as far as you can yourself then you can always bring in a professional model ship restoration service at a later date. They might be able to elaborate on your work and help transform a 6/10 into a 10/10!

In any restoration job, time, patience and a LOT of cotton buds are always going to be your best friends.

Above all else, never lose your temper and keep a steady hand. Finally, don’t be afraid to use your instincts and common sense. You’d be amazed how often they can prove to be one and the same.