Craft Special – Making a galleon from stuff you have at home

My youngest son has a penchant for pirates – who doesn’t? He has been pestering me for months for a toy ship but thrift stores have not provided one, only those very colourful plastic ones for real young ones which are too psychedelic and cheerful to conjure up the seamy and salty world of piracy. And whilst you can get replica ships on Amazon, I balked at paying $150 for a wooden model which probably wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the hands of a 10 year old.

There was nothing for it: I was going to have to make one. I had no idea how I was going to go about this but having made a rudimentary prototype in about 10 minutes with an old box, brown paper, some bamboo skewers, Play Doh, Mod Podge and some old material, I thought that with a little more time and effort and maybe even a bit of research, I could do something better. I do like a creative challenge.

The Phonix Figter

It was time to try. My first effort, originally named the “Phoenix Fighter” was still around as my son wanted to use it in a sea battle with his new ship.

Actually, I should advise that due to a shortage of alphabet stickers when the “Phoenix Fighter” was named, it is known affectionately as the “Phonix Figter” in our house, a much more original name even if slightly confusing. “Phonix” wasn’t going anywhere although it may need to be revamped at some point.

We looked on Google to find a picture of what he wanted and of course, he sourced the most elaborate looking ship with many white sails, cannons galore and a beautiful warm patina which I could only hope to emulate.

“I want it to look like this, Mum”. No small feat.

Now that we had sourced the lookalike, it was time to try and put the whole thing together. I had saved some Amazon packaging previously and we looked at the size of the boxes that would be needed. It wasn’t going to be a small ship like “Phonix” – it had to be substantial.

Can I just say at this point that there was going to be no way that I was going to be able to construct a replica of the picture my son had chosen. Not a hope. Not with all the time in the world. Not with all my crafting ingenuity.

A close approximation was what I was aiming for.

It was obvious that the galleon had a distinctive shape and I had to emulate this somehow but I wanted to use the materials that I had to hand.

As you can see from the image above, I cleverly got some cheap duct tape from the dollar store, cut up some pieces of an Amazon box and made the pointy bit at the front of the ship (apologies for the lack of nautical terms). Knowing that seeing the construction materials so obviously was not going to give the galleon the look that my youngest wanted, I had some strips of brown paper which I’d saved from a purchase and subsequent delivery of very nice smelling girly pampering product from The Body Shop and these were going to be used to provide the cladding for the ship or the material to hide the inner gubbins.

I soaked them in a Mod Podge and water solution until they were less crisp and more malleable and draped them over my rudimentary construction.

It took a long time to dry and this effect had to be done over the whole of the ship where tape and cardboard had been used to construct the shape. Next, the back of the ship had to be built up to make a higher deck and the railings. Not easy.

I also had to figure out how to make it more rounded and less box-like and more ship-like on the side as well as adding the cannons, of which there were many. I decided to use egg boxes and the bottom of each particular segment where the egg sits had a little circular indent which could be coloured black to simulate the hole on the side of the ship where the cannon pokes out.

To make the cannon, I used round head paper fasteners in a nice bright gold-style finish and poked these through the black circles. Drawing a smaller black circle in the middle with Sharpie made them look like they contained a hole where the cannonballs fire from the end of a cannon. Then it was just a case of positioning them on either side of the ship, filling in the gaps between them with more paper/Mod Podge solution and then waiting for it all to dry again.

Once the sides of the ship had dried and this took days, it was time to cover the ship with wood or similar. I used two sorts – the coffee stirring sticks that you can get from the dollar store and bigger bamboo popsicle sticks/lollipop sticks, also available at the dollar store or Walmart. They had rounded ends so I had to cut them with a scissors to get a sharper end.

I stuck them on, let it dry again and then it was time to paint!

The painting made the difference. I used cheap acrylic paint again from the dollar store and coated the whole thing. Unfortunately, the finish lacked the lustre of the model to which I was aspiring so I coated the whole thing in more Mod Podge which could only help to keep everything together anyway and the ship started to look shiny.

I had constructed two decks out of tangerine boxes left over after we had consumed those yummy oranges and these were from the supermarket. I stuck lollipop/popsicle sticks on those too, painted them, Mod Podged them and they were just placed inside the ship. The upper deck was removable but the lower deck had to stay in position as the masts needed to go through it to sit on the base of the ship.

Masts were made out of bamboo skewers with the ends cut off to make them less pointy. I glued them and secured them with some more duct tape and a coat of paint later, they were done. A crow’s nest was a painted bottle top with a hole made in its base to be threaded onto the mast once the sails were in situ.

When I made the “Phonix Figter”, I used material for the sails but for this ship, I wanted for it to look like it was in full sail all the time. The best way to do this was to use poster board from the dollar store in white to make four sails which could then be secured to the mast through holes at the top and the bottom of each sail. The mast could be pushed through. I put some cut down bamboo skewers at the top of the sail to make them look a little more authentic and help them to keep their shape.

I also stuck some triangular sails at the front so that it added a bit of detail. Pretty much, the ship was finished.

And there it is. A galleon made from things at home. It’s not going to set the world alight and I would never be able to sell them but in terms of providing my son with what he wanted, a pirate ship to play with, I have accomplished my goal.

Materials used
  • old cardboard boxes, varying sizes
  • old brown paper, torn into strips
  • Mod Podge or cheap PVA glue
  • acrylic paint in some sort of brown colour
  • paint brush
  • wooden stirring sticks
  • wooden lollipop/popsicle sticks
  • scissors
  • paper fasteners in brass finish
  • black Sharpie
  • white card
  • bamboo skewers
  • duct tape
  • 2 egg boxes, the ones which hold 12 eggs

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