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Building Model Boats

I was fascinated with PT-109. The boat. The stories.

Infamously chopped in half by a Japanese destroyer while on patrol in the Solomon Islands—and the crew rescued by John F. Kennedy.

But mostly, I was mesmerized by the guns and torpedoes.

I was seven or eight, and weirdly into war stuff.

Maybe not so weird. My nine year old seems to turn anything into a gun. And apparently watched the Ken Burns documentary “The War” by getting up at like 5am every morning to view each episode before the adults woke up.

Yes, I now have parental controls figured out.

Well anyway, I think I got into war stuff because of models.

My dad bought a balsa wood PT-109 sometime in the early 70’s. I know that because I remember seeing it as a toddler, and ultimately I ended up with it, in an unfinished state, years later.

To me, models were this awesome connection with my dad. A special treat, that sometimes meant time together, just the two of us. Or occasionally he’d stop over and bring me one. It was kinda how I knew he thought of me when we weren’t together.

So it wasn’t really about “war stuff.”

All I really wanted was to build them with him.

Seaworthy Small Ships

A little over a month ago, Dadand received a tweet about something neat to do with your kids—building some functioning model boat kits from Seaworthy Small Ships.

I got all sappy and thought about my dad, then my kids, and figured it would be a good thing to try with them. I did one model with my oldest son before, but he lost interest after a few minutes.

Then I questioned the possibility of him truly being my offspring.

But seriously, I checked out Seaworthy Small Ships and started looking at some of the model boat kits they offered. Honestly, at first I was concerned that a pile of wooden parts would require some modeling skills well beyond the experience of my kids.

I pictured sharp craft knives, impatient kid meltdowns and dad on the porch well after bedtime finishing the kits so they could float them the next morning.

Well, some of it was true, but actually all good…read on…

I received two model kits, the semi-scale “Toad” tugboat , and the pine-wood sailer “Paddle Wheeler.” The pine-wood sailer product line is more simplistic in nature, while the semi-scale tugboat required more advanced techniques and patience that is certainly lacking in my 4-year-old twins. Both boat kits are powered by rubber band and actually can be played with!

Seaworthy Small Ships Toad Rubber Band-Powered Model Boat

The Toad kit looked a little overwhelming for a nine-year-old at first, but it wasn't so bad.

The twins were excited to build something on their own. My girl was also eager for photos, while my boy was eager try out some military maneuvers with the paddle wheeler.

The Build

I spread out some newspaper on the porch table and laid out some supplies. The kids wore me out with anticipation in building the kits.

“Is that the paint for the boats? When are we going to paint?”

“Is that the glue, can I glue?”

“No, I’m sitting in that seat.” “NOOOOOOOOO! I am!”

“Heeeeeeyyyyy, I want that brush. Daaaaaad…Stella is taking MY brush.”

And the fighting begins.

But once I got them all working, it was some good time spent. I don’t know how to describe it best, but building the models led us down a path we often take for granted.

“Real” conversation. My twins were asking me about when I was a child. How wood can float. My oldest was learning about parts of a boat as the Toad kit was detailed enough to get his mind going—he started to tell me what’s under the deck hatch, knowledge probably garnered from something like Deadly Catch, another show that needs the parental controls.

Aside from conversation, the kits went together really well. I was impressed with the younger ones being able to (mostly) assemble and paint the pine-wood sailer “Paddle Wheeler” boat without much guidance from me.

The twins loved painting the boat. Getting to this point was pretty easy. They both took turns applying glue and adding pieces of the cabin to the deck.

The paddle wheel gets a good ol' coat of whitewash. Err...enamel.

The paddle wheel, and Frank's fingers, get a good ol' coat of whitewash. Err...enamel.

Finishing touches, 'cause paddle wheelers need red smokestacks.

My oldest (a year younger than the recommended age of 10) had no issue with reading and following the instructions for the Toad, although there were parts of the build that required a craft knife that I wasn’t going to let him do. He was excited to glue up separate parts of the boat, but still was a bit impatient and couldn’t understand why we couldn’t just glue the whole thing together at once.

Wooden model boats built as family fun time.

The Toad is taking shape with some sanding of the hull. Note the awesome sanding block we made which will end up as a lazy minimal monday post very soon.

I did help him with the painting part, as he wanted to match the paint scheme from the box, so I showed him how to use some tape for straight lines.

Dad blog paints the model boat kits

Painting is cool. And yes there are handprints on my screen in the background. That's for another post.

Gluing up the cabin assembly after the paint got to dry overnight. We did leave some area as bare wood so the glue would adhere.

The little wooden lifeboat was probably the most difficult part of the build. It required a hobby knife to cut the shape from a small block of wood—something my boy wasn't quite ready to handle just yet. But he had no problem gluing it to the deck.

The finished tugboat!!

Once everything was dry, we took them for a test run in the tub. Honestly, I think my expectations were kinda low for how they’d operate. Remember those balsa planes you’d wind up? And although they had wheels, they could never take off, and would never fly as long as you thought they would.

Well, I was surprised.

I thought the Paddle Wheeler would just go “Brrrrrrrrrrrruuppppppp” and be done.

Moving like six inches.

They both did really, really well. To the point the tub was too small a proving ground. The Toad just kept going and going. It left us wanting to go find a pond.

If you have kids, a tub or pond, a passion for models, or just a free Saturday, then check out Seaworthy Small Ships and create your own model boat experience.

Everyone says it’s about “experiences.”

I say it to my advertising clients. I hear other parents talk about it.

It’s what my dad did with me a lot. We did stuff. I remember it all.

Except, I don’t really remember what ever happened to that big balsa wood PT-109. But I tell myself one day that I’m gonna build another.

And I’ll experience it with my kids.


Disclosure: I received two boat kits to build with my kids. We don’t get paid for reviews. We don’t promise good reviews of stuff here at dadand, and in fact, we don’t even promise a review. Heck I spent like $20 on paints and brushes and stuff. So I PAID to do this review. Anyway, we kind of do what we want to, and think that sometimes you’ll like it. Or like us disliking it. That’s all. I’m on a boat.


  • emily

    Awesome post, Marty. Pete and I were looking at the PT-109 in Michael’s last week, so odd that you started with reference to that. Brain share, obviously. And do I see a floating naked Ken doll by the drain? I assume it’s unrelated, not a victim of the maiden voyage.


  • Pete Fazio

    I even pointed to the model and said “John F Kennedy and PT-109”.


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