Friday, January 6, 2012

Scratch Built Sopwith Camel Seat by Bruce Julson

Want to take your Model Airways Sopwith Camel to the next level? Follow Bruce Julson's lead and scratch build a seat!

Bruce's comments: I am writing to thank you again for your decision to spare me additional expense! I also want to share something from the model Sopwith Camel project that I felt you might appreciate.I decided that the seat is somewhat unimpressive as comes in the kit so, yesterday, I began scratch building a correct seat from actual materials used in the original. No wire, no plastic. Just wood, cane, and cotton fiber, glued and woven together.


  1. Bruce

    Lovely work could you give us a description as to how you made the seat

    Jay Ben ari

  2. Great work Bruce

    Could you give us a description of the build


  3. It took me about three evenings after work to put the whole thing together.
    I used a willow stick that was roughly the correct diameter, anda small spool of natural undyed cotton string to use for the wicker.
    I soaked the willow in boiling water until it was soft enough to bend, and, using the metal seat provided in the kit as a mold, I bent the willow around the metal seat base.
    I left one end of the twig that was shaped for the seat base, long enough to bend across the front edge of the seat. Essentially it was a "J" shaped piece, with the long end folded over across to the other end, forming a "D" shape. I "lashed" the corner together with a short length of thread and put a drop of CA on it to ensure the joint didn't come apart.
    I then shaped the seat back frame, bending it along the contours of the the metal seat back and sides. It formed kind of a warped "U" shape.
    (So, the metal seat was of some use after all).
    Now that I had the seat frame shaped, I notched the ends of the seat back piece with a jeweler's rat-tail file to fit the round contour of the twig and glued them to the respective front corners of the seat base. I then cut to size and shaped the two side support pieces and glued them into place.
    I now had a cane-back seat frame ready for the "wicker".
    I used Asian bamboo skewers that you buy at any grocery or kitchen goods store.
    Bamboo is a wonder to work with in small scale because it is so light and flexible, yet it's tensile strength is quite good.
    I split a skewer into tiny flat strips. I then cut ten strips to length across the seat bottom, leaving room between them for the fiber string I will later weave into them, that mimics the wicker.
    I filed several tiny vertical notches spaced across the back of the seat base between each strip to help keep the "caning" string even across the seat bottom as I weave it in.
    Before I began weaving the seat base, I wrapped the entire edge of the seat base (between the cane strips) with the same string I will weave the seat with and locked it in place with CA glue.
    This gives the Illusion of a continual weave and a realistic look to the finished seat, since the bamboo cane seat strips do not actually wrap around the edges of the seat base.
    Using a large carpet needle I began weaving the "caning" of the seat bottom, across, (side to side). After weaving about half of the seat in, back just past the upright supports, (This is important because the caning actually holds the whole base together) I stopped weaving and drilled tiny holes along the top back of the seat bottom, using a Dremel, spacing them between each bamboo strip.
    If you look at the photos, you will see that I then glued 2 very small slivers of the these bamboo sticks into each hole, ensuring that they end up on the inside of the seat back, just above the top of the seat (see Photo #3).

    This post is continued in a second window as it is too long for one posting.

  4. Episode two; building the wicker seat, continued;

    VERY IMPORTANT; I didn't glue the top edges to the seat back, as the caning process will spread these slivers out across the seat back.
    These upright slivers are deliberately in multiples of two, so that as you weave the seat-back, you can fan out the slivers across the back of the seat as you work upward and weave between them as they do in real seat-caning.
    I then finished "caning" the seat bottom (I deliberately left the string uncut so I could finish off with one length of string).
    At this point the seat looked like photo #3.
    Again, this is where the linear strength of the bamboo is so important.
    The rigidity of the sticks made it possible to "weave" the natural fiber string in and out and around these tiny upright sticks without breaking them.
    Weaving the seat back was a bit more difficult, as I had to be very careful to not miss an upright with the string, because if I missed one, I would have to unravel back to the missed upright and start again.
    Starting at either side support, I wrapped and glued one end of the string to the support and worked my way across, weaving in and out of each group (KEEPING THE PAIRS TOGETHER) until I was about halfway up the side supports. Using the needle, I "tamped down" the weaving; tightening it up each time I went across. At this point you will notice the gap in the wicker seat back. Leaving the gap was merely a matter of separating two rows with needle, pressing up and down with the needle and continuing up the seat-back. At the gap, I began spreading the uprights out, weaving in and out of each small piece, creating more weaves up top than there were below, no longer keeping the "groups" together.
    This created the fan-like effect in the caning process. As I worked upward I wove fewer and fewer uprights together, because the work was moving to the center of the seat back.
    I then wrapped the end caning string in at the top and placed a drop of CA on it.
    I then tightly wrapped string around the seat-back top, all the way across to the uprights, in between all the weaves and glued the end in the same way I ended the weaving. This, again creates the illusion of wrapped caning.
    Now the seat looked like photo #4.
    Using some very thin leather from an old wallet, I fashioned the seat back edge, using a strip that had stitching along it, giving the piece a "stitched" look and glued it in place.
    I cut the seat cushion from a tiny bit of foam that I had in my scrap box, and wrapped it in another piece of the same wallet leather.
    The seat belts are cut from thin strips of an old chamois skin, and the buckles are fashioned from staples and bits of brass.
    I hope you can understand all this.
    It took me a while to remember the whole process.

    Bruce Julson

  5. Lastly, I wish to thank all of you for your interest in my little project, and to Eric Snow, for making this flight log available to us "armchair airframe mechanics"

    Bruce Julson

  6. Thanks bruce, the explanation was very good. I will try it when I get to my camel. Keep up the good work

    Jay Ben ari