By   Bob Wilson

 Portholes often pose a problem in models, especially miniatures.   All too often, one sees ports which if checked against the scale would be the size of dustbin lids or even larger.    This problem raises its head more prominently when dealing with ships with white hulls.

 For some years, the only solution I could find was to simply put them on in Indian ink using a fine pen.   Although they could be made quite unobtrusive on small scales, I still found them unsatisfactory for the simple reason that they were not  quite round.               

During my last thirteen years at sea, when ship’s were beginning to be fitted with teleprinters, it did not take me long to realise that the perfectly round holes punched in the paper recording tapes would furnish me with a bottomless pit of portholes.    Not the holes themselves, but the round pieces that were punched out and fell into a collection tray in the machine.     These tiny white paper disks came in two sizes, the larger ones, which formed the coded telex message and the much smaller ones which were simply there to take the sprockets of the driving wheel.      These discarded disks were known collectively as “chad,” and millions were produced by each teleprinter during the course of a voyage.     

 When I first began using them as ports, I laboriously painted each one black before sticking it on the hull.     Eventually, I filled a pan with black cold water dye and tipped a bag of chad into it, mixing it into a porridge like mixture.    Then I emptied the lot onto a large sheet of paper and placed it in the tropical sunshine (Preferably when in port on a calm, windless day).    When dried out, the chad all separated again, but kept its new colour of black.     The handling of the ports is easier than you would imagine.   Place a tiny spot of glue on the hull where the port is to be.    Empty some chad on a piece of white paper and pick up each piece by sticking the point of  a scalpel in it.


 The disadvantage to using telex punching was the fact that only two sizes were available, but I did use them to good effect for a number of years.    The first attached photograph shows a model of the Spanish sail training ship JUAN SEBASTIAN DE ELCANO, built to a scale of 25 feet to one inch.     I used the smaller punchings to fit the portholes on the white hull and they were quite effective, although possible a little bit too prominent.      In recent years, teleprinters have changed to electronic memories and the punched tape seems almost obsolete.    By phoning around, however, I was able to locate a company that still used it and they were good enough to send me a huge bag of chad.


When it came to building a miniature of the liner EMPRESS OF BRITAIN to a scale of 50 feet to one inch, I realised that I would have to use some other method.     By this time, the small, handheld battery-powered model makers drill had appeared on the scene.   After the hull had been plated in paper plates, I marked the position of each port by pressing the point of a HB pencil into the paper plate whilst pressing and twisting slightly.    This left a slight dent.     After painting the hull, these dents were still visible, although only just.    I drilled each port with the handheld drill and a fit bit.     The effect was very neat.   At a distance, the portholes are barely discernable, but if looked for, they can be seen.

 Another method is to wind fine wire round a needle, slide it off and cut wire rings from it with a scalpel.    Stick them on the model before painting.   After painting, twist a 2B pencil in the middle.   This will give a shiny look to the port.   This method looks good, but the wire rings are more difficult to handle on small scales. 

  The JUAN SEBASTIAN DE ELCANO model had a hull length of about 10.5 inches.   I used an Underhill plan  for this model.      The EMPRESS OF BRITAIN had a hull length of 14.7 inches.    The plan was found in a Shipbuilding & Shipping Record journal which reviewed the ship when she was built.

 Photographs of both models (neither of which is still in my possession) are shown below.    Note the smooth, wind filled sails on the training ship.    Sails are particularly difficult to get right in a miniature – but that is another story!