Building a Corsair Ship



The Templates:

Print this out, scaling to fit the 8.5x11 inch page. Copy the printed page at 175% to get the proper size for you're ship templates. Download the corsair templates here.


This project has been culminating in the back of my mind since I saw the Return on the King last year. I imagined how amazing it would be to play a battle accross the decks of one of these spikey, spider-web sailed supercool looking ships, and so I began to make plans to build one.

Of course the major problem with this was that I could find no images of the ship from the movie. After a few months of exhaustive google searches I came up with nothing, ultimately forcing me to put the project on hold; I really wanted a ship that closely resembled those that appeared in the movie and so I decided to wait.

Finally the movie was released on DVD, and after a few months of debating with myself about buying the theatrical version (I wanted to wait for the extended...) I bit the bullet. After a few hours of taking as many pictures of the ships out of the movie as I could I was ready to start building one.

What a wonderfully evil looking couple of ships!


  • Hot Wire Foam Cutter
  • 0.5mm foam core
  • Thin cardboard (about 2mm)
  • Thinner cardboard (cereal boxes work best)
  • White glue (PVA glue)
  • Bamboo skewers (Kebab Sticks)
  • 1/4" dowel
  • 2" Insulation Foam (or something similar)
  • Tacks or pins (for holding carboard to foam)
  • Paper Clips (for pinning)
  • Thin string
  • Large sewing needle
  • Sharp hobby knife
  • Scissors
  • Construction paper
  • A bit of modelling putty
  • Pin Vice Drill
  • Super Glue

Step One: The hull of the ship

The first thing I did was come up with some templates. With this project I really wanted to get the shape of the ship right... I have seen a lot of the GW ships with their straight up-and-down gunwhales, remarkably un-boat-like, and decided to come up with a way to do the tapered look of most ships.

So the way I decided to do it was to come up with a template for the deck of the ship, and another for the part of the ship that would sit on the table (which would be the waterline in reality). Then, using various methods, I fixed the deck template to the top of a piece of 2" thick insulation foam, and the water-line template to the bottom of the foam, lined up so that it was in the right possition relative to the deck template.

I made the templates by first freehanding the shape of the top deck. Of course I can never get these to be symetrical... So decided to cut it in half along the length of the template, allowing me to use the side I liked, helping me produce the other side.

The waterline template(s)

So after the templates were made I attached them to the styrofoam. I did this first by attaching the top deck tamplate to the top of the foam and tracing it. Then, using the outline, I figured out where the water-line template should go and traced it. I then took mesurements form the edges of the foam to various spots on the water-line outline and used these to fix the water-line template to the bottom of the foam. I then fixed the deck template to the top of the foam and I was ready to cut it.

I used a hot wire foam cutter to cut out the shape of the boat; using the thin (but not thinner) cardboard as a guide, I cut the ship shape. It is best to take this very slowly, just relax and realize that if you do it right the first time, you will not have to do it again. Also, unless you are a sucker for punishment, don't even try to do this with a hooby knife; after two failed attempts I finally broke down and bought up the foam cutter.

Once the general shape was cut out I fixed up the details (the curved part at the back of the ship) with some free-hand hot wire cutter action. I was quite happy with the final result even though I had a few failed attempts to start.

The foam that will make up the hull of our ship.

Step Two: The basic details

Here you can really see the shape of the front of the ship.

At this point we must look to the images of the movie much more closely for guidance. Even though there are very few actual movie images, a lot of information can be gained with some effort. That being said we have to start 'shaping' the ship into an actual ship instead of the ship-shaped styrofoam block that we currently have.

I decided to do shape the ship was using thin cardboard and fixing it the the sides of the styrofoam. I did this by taking a piece of thin card (which I got from the packaging of those old goblins I recently painted while waiting for the prow beam of my Gondorian longboat to dry) and simply pinning it (with tacks) to the side of the styrofoam. I then traced the edges of the styrofoam onto the pinned cardboard.

Once the tracing was complete I removed the carboard and free-handed the curve of the bow based on the above image of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli jumping onto the deck. I cut it out, traced another one and then fixed them to the front of the ship with PVA glue (held in place with pins until the glue dried). At this point it might be good to trace and cut out an extra set of these to facilitate adding the planks, which we do later on.

The thin cardboard really helped to smooth the sides and define the shape of the ship.

This is likely the best image of the raised rear
deck area of the ship in the entire movie.

I realized at this point that the rear of the ship's deck had a raised platform. I figured I better fix this part onto the foam before adding any more thin cardboard detail to avoid doing any work that would have to be undone.

After looking closely at the reference images (which were not too great) I free handed the shape (with the help of the deck template) of the raised area on some foam card and cut it out with a hobby knife. I then simply cut out a block of 1/2" foam to bring it up a bit further an glued it into place. Now that the raised deck has been added, everything is ready for the detail to be put in place; at this point the basic hull of the ship is complete. (So, if you are using the 'deck outline' ships that are shown in the Warhammer General's Compendium you can paint the hull black and stop here ;)

Here I realized that he foam core alone would not be high enough for the raised deck area and decided to
add some 1/2" foam for height.

See the short gunwales here? They
must be great sailors to be comfortable
on those decks!

So at this point it is time to finish off the basic details; the gunwales, gunwale planks, and the floor planks. Since we already have the front gunwales in place it is trivial to add the gunwales to the rest of the ship. It should be noted that by referencing the movies it is clear that the gunwales are extrmely short; they must have been pretty confident sailors to sail on ships with gunwales that low... I am not sure I would get on one of those ships!

To make and attach the remainder of the gunwales I measured the height of the gunwales which were already attached (the ones that I eyeballed). I also measured the length that the gunwales should be using a flexible ruler that I fit to the side of the styrofoam. With these measurements I drew and cut out a couple of gunwales for either side of the ship. I attached them with the tack/glue method described above.

Here the gunwales are attached along with the raised deck.

Finally I attached the sides of the raised deck. I had to have a look at the movie references for this as I wanted to keep the design of the ship primarily based on the movie... Of course I didn't have the reference images on hand when I did it and went on memory, which subsequently resulted in me getting it upside down... The best movie reference for the front end of the raised deck is the one that is displayed above. You can see in that image that the raised deck side ends with a sort of web pattern that tapers toward the water, and in the picture below you can see that my version tapers toward the sky. Once I noticed the difference I was a bit disappointed, but I figure it could be possible that a Corsair ship is designed like mine. You can also see from the below image some of the details that have been added, including the floor boards.

Here you can see the problem with the sides
of the raised deck. Also the floor details.

Finally, as previewed in the above image, it is time to add the planks to the floor and the side of the ship. This part would have been made a lot easier if I had made a second copy of each of the gunwale pieces; it is easy to then cut these into strips and attach them to the sides. Instead I simply cut out strips and placed them along the gunwales to best approximate the affect of planks.

For the floor I used the template that was used to cut the styrofoam to cut out a piece of construction paper and then slice it up to reseble planks. The best way to attach these planks is with PVA glue. This is a somewhat time consuming step, with little obvious value... But I assure you it will make the ship look very good in the end. So now it is time to add the characteristic details...

Step Three: The important details

A nice view of the bow of a corsair

I think the thing to realize here is that there is a lot of detail on these ships; the people at Weta did their job and made a fantastic model Corsair ship. This means that the quality of our model ship is primarily limited by the amount of work we are willing to put in. That in mind, lets set off on the (seemingly endless) addition of details.

Another view of the corsair bow

At this point I also realized that there are a number of different Corsair ships in the movie. There are at least two large warship variants, as well as a smaller ship (the one that Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli jump off of). Each of these ships is distinctly different for various reasons, but the two warships are more similar to each other than to the smaller ship. The most striking difference between the warship and the smaller ship are the sails; they are aligned differently and on the warship where the masts are angled, on the smaller ship the masts are straight up and down. I decided to base my ship on the war ships because I think they look better and there are more reference images of them in the move.

I started with the bow of the ship; that nasty part that is supposedly designed to slice enemy ships in two by ramming. There are some pretty good references from the movie so I took some time to have a look at them (they should be embedded in the surrounding text). We see that they are made of rusty metal. There seems to be a metal 'cap' that sits on top of the front of the ship, as well as a lot of jagged metal that descends all the way to the water level.

The first thing I did after I had a pretty good idea of what was needed was to simply cut out an approximation of the 'cap' on the bow, as well as the metal that the 'cap' would sit on from some thin cardboard. I cut the 'cap' fist out of foamcore to make up the actual structure of the, and then I cut a piece of thin card that would be bent over it to make it look like a piece of metal. It is important to note that painting plays a large roll in the metal look. I also cut the segment that the 'cap' would rest on out of thin card.

After the first try I had a much better idea of what was needed and was pretty much able to get exactly what I had wanted on the second try, with a few modifications here and there. The basic design of the cardboard pieces can be seen below. I attached the prow beam to the bottom of the 'cap'; this seemed to be the easiest way to attach the beam as it cannot really anchor to the base of the ship due to its angle.

Here are the pieces that were made for the metal bow.
The prow beam is already attached, and everything is ready
to be fixed onto the front of the ship.

I attached the piece that the 'cap' would stick to first by applying a copious amount of PVA glue to it and holding it firmly to the bow of the boat. I then attached the 'cap' to the top of it with yet more PVA glue and everything was ready. You will note that in the picture the gunwale planks have yet to be fixed to the ship, this was a mistake on my part. It is much easier to fix the planks first and then attach the bow ramming implements after.

Finally attached you can see the ramming implements ready to go.
Keep in mind that painting will play a large role in the look of this.

To polish off the ramming implements, I cut a suitably jagged piece of 1mm cardboard to run along the front of the ship, extending it into the water (this is visible in the image above). This finishes the ramming implements and now it is time to move on to the gunwale protection.

So here we have to take the time to look at what kind of implements the Corsairs use to keep those Gondorians from boarding their ships; let see how they line the gunwales!

The first thing to note is that there is interesting metal contraption along the gunwales. They look a lot like teeth, with spikes sticking out the top. Certainly an interesting challenge for a modeler with limited time and resources. Still, it is easy to see that the smooth metal part is easily approximated with thin cardboard, and with a little imagination the spikes can be approximated with tooth picks. Again, if these are painted well they will look great.

A great view of the gunwale 'teeth'.

The first thing I did was sketch an approximation of a single 'tooth'. I worked on it until I was happy with it and then I cut it out. I used this single 'tooth' to draw the actual gunwale 'teeth' implements for the entire ship by tracing it a number of times in a line and cutting it out. I then took a bunch of the flat tooth picks (although the round ones might look a bit better, but will take more work to flatten one side), cut them in (about) half and glued them to the center of the teeth.

A very close up view of the 'teeth'.

There are a number of different ways to do this to create the more detailed affect of the movie models. One could use green stuff or milliput to sculpt one 'tooth' and then make a mold for massproduction. That would take a lot more work than I was willing to put into it though. Another way would be to simply carve the tooth picks, or even a piece of balsa to look more like the movies. I had given all of these ideas thought and in the end decided to go with the plain tooth pick idea; it was good enough for me and I had a long way to go yet.

Here is a length of those 'teeth', made from tooth picks and construction paper.

After attaching the tooth picks and letting them dry (if you don't wait for them to dry it is likely that they will end up off center) I attached the implements to inside of the front of the ship (as in the above pictures you can see they only reside at the front of the ship and not along the entire length of the gunwales) as well as the raised rear deck (as it can be argued that there are teeth there too from the only good rear deck image above).

How did those dwarves get on that Corsair ship?
Still, it is a good view of the 'teeth' on the raised
rear deck.

So now that the 'teeth' are added it is time to go back to the reference images from the movie for some more inspiration on ship details. I decided to continue with the gunwales as that was my current focus.

Here is the first time I really noticed the
pattern. What is it?

Another thing I quickly noticed when looking at all the pictures is that there seemed to be a pattern on the side of all of the Corsair ships; it resembles a single line of checkers, although without alternating black and white squares, rather with gray squares with outlines. It took me some time to figure out what this was.

This line of gray squares is obviously different in colour from the surrounding ship; they seem a few shades lighter. After looking at all of the images as closely as possible, including the image of Aragorn jumping over the side of the ship, I came to the conclusion that it was either a metal plate bent to resemble planks, or parts of the planks that make up the gunwales that constantly reside above the waterline and so remain a different colour. In either case they look like planks, and so ultimately that consideration will come down to the paint job.

But what about the outlines. Clearly there are outlines to these gray squares. This problem was more easily solved when I had a closer look at the previously mentioned Aragorn image. When Aragorn is shown jumping off the side of the Corsair ship, there are beams that seem to be attached to the outside of the gunwales that are quite long and stick out above the gunwales. Actually these beams seem to be holding up some sort of canvas or leather tarp that seems to be covering all or part of the deck in the case of the ship Aragorn gets off of (which is the small ship and not the warships). Of course, a roof like this (or of any kind really) is a horrible issue for miniature games, as it is very difficult to move miniatures around under them.

A better view of the mysterious pattern, although on a different ship... Is it rusted metal, or rotted wood?

Naturally I left the idea for the tarp roof for some other time and decided just to add the beams. It seems from the Aragorn image that these beams are also used to attach rigging, which is cool and will help us add even more detail to the model later.

To craft these beams I took some balsa wood and I carved little spikes with tiny hooks on the ends. I made sure to taper the spikes out towards the bottom and top too and also made sure there was a little bit of an edge as well. I made about ten of these: I glued four to each side and two to the back of the raised deck area. Everything went swiftly and I was pretty happy with the outcome.

A nice image of the side spikes or rails that I put on.
I eyeballed the spacing, trying to make them evenly spaced.

Looking for more detail to add I took some time to do some stairs from the lower deck to the upper deck. I had no movie reference for this but I assumed they had to be there. Another cool way to do this would be to use tooth picks and string or thin wire to make a rope ladder; this might be better as it would certainly conserve surface space for you to pack your evil minions on the decks.

Getting anxious to work on those awesome looking masts and sails I had a quick look for some final details and found the rased deck that the apparent captain was standing on in the movies. I added this deck to my ship with a simple piece of foamcore cut into a tidy rectangle. I then added the border with a carefully cut piece of construction paper. Too excited about the mast construction I decided to forget the nifty platform detail other than the border, but feel free to take your time and do it really well.

Here he is, the evil Black Numenorean on his raised platform!

Step Four: The Mast and Sails

The first thing to do before attempting to craft the mast and sails is to look at the movie references (as always). The great thing about the sails and masts is the fact that they probably have the best reference pictures. In virtually every image of the ships in the movie you can see the sails; you can see the sales close up in the close up shots, and you can see the sails really well from any distance. This is also true for the masts.

A wonderful view of the sails and masts of both the small and large warships.

Immediately I noticed that the masts were angled. The problem is that it seems that they are both angled towards the front of the ship in some images, while in other images it is almost as if one is angeld forwards and outwards, while the other is angled backwards and out to the opposite side. Was it actually the ship or was it the angle the image was taken from? Then I thought about it for a while and came to the realization that the masts may be be movable.

Why wouldn't they have movable masts? There is at least one historical example: the vikings after all could remove and replace their masts at will, so why couldn't the Corsairs? The Corsair ships are certainly more technologically advanced than the viking longboats. This idea was also supported by the fact that you can see rigging that attaches the top of the masts to the deck of the ship.

With this realization I felt justified in picking the position that was easiest and most aesthetically pleasing to me. I also realized that, to make things easier for me, I would fix the masts in firmly; it is always easier to pin something down and glue it in than to come up with a way to make it dynamic.

The second decision I had to make was how many masts and sails I would do. The smaller warship and the small ship both have only two masts and sails. The larger warship has three sails; a small sail protrudes from the raised rear deck (for reference, check out the image above). I decided to go with only two masts and sails. This was perhaps because i realized how much work those sails would be...

The first thing I did was attach the masts. This is the simplest part of the mast and sail construction. It is made up of a single piece of dowel. I cut the dowel to a good size... To be honest I did not measure it, but I made it about as long as 1/3 the length of the ship. I got this approximation from looking at images of the ship from the movie.

A good spike reference

After cutting out the mast I used some milliput to sculpt the metal spike at the top of the mast. There are some good references in the movie for this. I basically just put a blob of milliput on the end of the mast, wet a piece of wax paper, and rolled the blob accross the paper to produce the pointed end. It took a bit of work to get the shape I was looking for (or at least was happy with). Then I grabbed my modeling tool and carved in some simple patterns to make it look nice. If you are not into the modeling putty, don't worry too much; this piece of detail is not essential and it might be just as easy to carve it out of the dowel than to model it. If you do use putty, make sure to let it dry completely; working with it prematurely could definitely create more work in the long run!

Now that the mast was complete, I drilled two holes in the bottom of the mast with my pin vice drill and inserted some paper clips that had been bent more-or-less straight; these would be inserted into the ship's deck to hold the mast firmly in place. Then I grabbed some foam core and cut out some small square pieces. In the middle of these pieces I cut some square holes that were angled to facilitate the angled masts. Don't worry about the poor fit, as long as the mast fits through this hole and remains at the desired angle everything is fine. We will block the rough edges when we add the rigging.

The completed mast mount.

The next step is to put copious amouns of PVA glue on the bottom and through the hole of the square piece of foamcard. Also put some PVA glue along the paper clips that are protruding from the bottom of the masts. Place the square foamcore in a location on the deck where you want your masts to be and then stick the paperclips and masts through hole and into the deck. Repeat this step with the second mast and then give them both at least a couple of hours for the glue to completely dry.

Once the glue was dry I decided to add the rigging to the base of the masts. I did this by putting a liberal amount of PVA glue around the base of the mast (not on the foamcard, but on the mast itself). I then took some string and wrapped it around the base in a tidy way, and in just enough quantity to cover the sloppy holes in the foamcore. Again, let this dry for a few hours. Once this is dry you should have firmly fixed masts, and you are ready to move on to the sails...

It was time to go back to the movie images once again for some insight on the construction of the sails. It is pretty easy to see that the sails are somewhat fan like with beams running the width of the sails to provide the structure. A very cool design, but very difficult to fabricate easily.

I had some trouble deciding how to craft and attach the sails. I first thought that I would make the sail seperately then attach it to the mast. The logistics of this however became somewhat daunting. How would the whole construction be held together?How would it be fastened to the masts? So, in the end, I decided to build the sails directly onto the masts, for better or for worse.

The first thing I had to do was make the beams that would make up the structure of the sails. Having a look at the movie reference, and then at what I could realistically do, I decided to go with four beams. In the movies they typically have five or six, but that would be too many for the length of mast I had and it would create more work that didn't really need to be done. I would need four beams that would have to go from long to shorter to short. The long beam would support the top of the sail, and the shortest beam would support the bottom of the sail, while the other beams would be evenly spaced inbetween these two.

A great image to get info on the design of the sails.

After looking at the movie images and the hobby materials I had I realized I would have to actually craft the beams. My bamboo skewers were too short to fill the roll, so I had to extend them. I used a pin vice drill to drill a little hole in the top of a bamboo skewer (the side that did not taper to a point). I then cut a 3" piece of bamboo skewer and drilled a hole in one end of that. I cut a small length of a paper clip and used that, along with a liberal amount of super glue, to put the two pieces together. I made a couple of these as I would need them for the two sails.

I made another beam in the above described way, only I added an inch and a half length instead of the three inches I used before. The skewers that I cut the inch and a half piece from were saved to use to support the bottom of the sail. Finally, for the second from the bottom beam I could just use an unmodified bamboo skewer. That turned out to be a bit of work. I hoped at this point that this wasn't setting a president for the rest of the sails.

I decided to attach the skewers to the masts with more pinning. I carefully laid the beams out on a sheet of paper arrayed in the way they would be for the final sail; the points of the skewers formed the point of the triangular sail and spread out fan-like from there. I then decided at what point the beams would attach to the masts and measured the distance between the beams at that point. I then translated these measurements to the mast that was already attached to the ship. Using these measurments I drilled holes in the masts and the beams. Finally I added the pins and a little PVA glue to attach the beams.

This was somewhat challenging as I had to make sure to keep the shape of the sail so that the glue would dry with the sails in place. I decided to do this by tieing the pointed ends of the skewers together with the same string I used to rig the masts to the deck. This was difficult to do on the fly so I suggest that one should practice before attempting it on their models. I didn't practice and so I have one sail that is great, and one that is okay. After the tieing is done it is a good idea to add a blob of PVA glue and spread it around over the string with your finger; this will add support for the string and help keep everything together.

Here is a great reference of the beams and how they are attached to the masts. Note the string holding
the beams together at the point.

After the beams were tied and the glue had dried I added the rigging that would hold the beams to the mast. I basically put some PVA glue on the pinned area and wrapped string around the beam and mast. Be careful not too add too much string, just enough to cover up the pinning and make the join look tidy.

Another image of the sails, this time of the rear sail. This image includes a Haradrim fig for scale.

Once this was together I was starting to think the ship was looking good and taking shape. Now it was time to attach the sails. Unfortunately for me I forgot to trace the shape of the sail (using the beams) before attaching them and so I had to place a large piece of construction paper onto the attached sail beams and trace out the sail. Once this was done I attached the sail by sewing it (using the rigging string) to the bottom and top beams. Unfortunately It didn't work. It held fine, but it only looked good from the side that all the beams could be seen clearly. On the other side there was what looked like just a plain triangular sheet of white construction paper; all of the rigging and the spider-web look was covered up!

I painstakingly cut the attached sail into three wedges that would fit between each of the sail beams. This was difficult primarily because I had to work with a sail that was already attached. Once the three pieces were cut (two of which were still partly attached to the top and bottom beams) I used the same sewing method to attach the middle wedge. The only difference here was that I had to sew the two wedges together, whereas with the top and bottom beams I only had to sew the sail to the beams.

For the second sail I cut the wedge shapes before sewing them all on. Once the sewing was finally done I paused and had a look at the ship and I was quite pleased. It was a lot of work, but it was certainly worth it. Finally I added some more rigging, like from the masts to the prow beam. YOu can really add as much of this rigging as you like: from mast to mast, or from the sail beams to the rigging beams along the side or the rear of the ship, or wherever you like!

I know that the final ship looks kind-of like a parade float at this point, so be sure to check out the next issue for painting instructions! I will also be building the Corsair bolt thrower, Corsair crew and a number of other little ship details to litter the deck of the ship with so don't miss the next issue!

Here is a good image of the final sail and how it is fastened at the point. Here we see
the string near very tip of the point which was the initial rigging I used to hold the
beams together. The other wound rigging there is how I finished the sewing of the
sails. I put some PVA glue there and wrapped the string around the beam. I did the
same at the other end of the sail beams. I was happy about the outcome.

An image of the final ship in all its parade-float glory! See next issue for the painting guide!

The unpainted Haradrim match the unpainted ship!

The rear rasied deck in all its finished, unpainted glory.

Here is a view of the top of the mast.

Through my research I found this editing error. Look at the ship on the left. Notice that the sails are
floating in the air, not at all attached to the deck!