Saturday 27 January 2018

An Arabian Dhow for 28mm Figures


Recently, I saw a blog post online about a card model of a dhow that was suitable for 28mm figures I'm very annoyed with myself that I cannot remember whose blog this was; my sincere apologies to the author.  However, this is something that I had been considering for myself as a useful adjunct for my Arab slavers (for the Congo game) or possibly for Pulp Alley games set in East Africa.

Once the idea was there, it didn't take much effort to find the source of this kit: it was made by a Russian outfit called "Umbum" and sold through the "Russia Best" website.

Interestingly, this website is in English [at least when I view it] and so it's quite easy to navigate.  Even more interestingly, their catalogue lists a number of other ship models which might be suitable for wargames:

  • Arabian Dhow
  • Greek Bireme
  • Medieval Caravel
  • Russian Ladja (like a small Viking ship)
  • Hanseatic Cog
  • Oriental Junk
There's no scale given for these kits, but the dimensions of the finished models are usually available on the web page.  I thought that I'd take a chance and so I ordered a dhow and a bireme [for my Greek Argonauts].  This article is about the dhow; more on the bireme another time.

Costs & Delivery

I was a little bit nervous ordering anything from Russia, as their postal system doesn't have the best reputation in the world.  However, I figured that at $8 (USD) for each kit plus about the same again for postage it wasn't too expensive to take a chance.

I ordered these models some time before Christmas and in due course, 6 or 7 weeks later, I received my package with various customs seals and labels attached to it.  It's not clear to me whether this timescale is normal when ordering goods from small Russian companies, or whether the Christmas holidays [and their associated effects on postal services] contributed significantly to the delay.  Anyway, I now had my kits...

The Dhow Kit

The Dhow kit came in a very large, very flat box.  On opening it, I found the following:
  • 1 large sheet of printed parts.  This is quite heavy cardstock, but nicely printed on both sides and die-cut very well.
  • 1 instruction booklet.
  • 1 sheet of paper (?) or plastic (?) sails.  I couldn't quite work out what the sails were made from; these are a very different material from the rest of the ship - much thinner, though still quite strong.
  • A hank of cord to use for rigging.
  • A set of "standee" figures and [oddly] foam bases for them.
  • 1 sealed toothpick!  This is nominally to help push out any small parts, though I didn't find it to be necessary.

The Instructions

I was very impressed by the instruction manual for this model.  It's easy to follow [it uses colour and simple diagrams very effectively] and it is language-neutral throughout.  Quite a delight!

A Suitable Size?

When I bought it, I took a chance that this model would work with my 28mm figures.  In the picture above, you can see the 15 (!) standees alongside a few of my Foundry Arab slavers.  Allowing for stylistic differences and the unusually thick foam bases, I'd say that the kit's card and my metal models are extremely compatible in size.  

The Build

Construction of the dhow was extremely straightforward.  The parts fitted well and were designed to be simply pushed together.

If I had done a "dry" build, I don't think the kit would have taken long to complete.  However, I intended to make this a very permanent model and so I used a paintbrush to apply white glue along the seams at various stages in the construction.  This meant that I had to leave it to dry quite often, thus slowing down the build quite a lot.

A sharp knife cuts off the tabs that protruded from the deck

One other issue that I wished to address was the presence of tabs.  Due to the push-fit nature of the  model, there were occasional tongues of cardboard intruding onto the deck or the sides of the hull [Note that these should NOT be confused with the protruding rigging points or the supports for the bases of the masts!].

Tabs/tongues cut flush and then painted with deck colour.  See if you can spot them all!

Once the glue was dry, I cut these tongues/tabs flush with the surfaces from which they protruded.  I then applied some paint to the exposed edges of the cardboard to hide them.

More construction tabs, this time on the sides of the hull.

After tackling the tabs on the deck, I assembled the hull.  More construction tabs stick out of the sides; these were also cut flush and the raw ends were painted to match their surroundings.

When the assembly was done, I painted all the remaining exposed edges of cardboard with a colour to match the surroundings.  Mostly this was one of two shades of brown, though the decorated prow of the ship, rigging points and some parts of the waterline needed a dark grey.


The completed, fully rigged dhow

There's a lot of ropework on this ship!  It may look complex, but the instructions were very clear and easy to follow.  Two things are probably worth mentioning, though:
  • The stays for the mast are not symmetrical!  The mast is braced differently depending on which side the sail has been placed; I had to redo some knotwork when I realised this.
  • The string supplied with the kit was quite thick, inflexible and possibly wax-coated.  This made it difficult to tie the knots which were suggested in the instructions.  I ended up doing simple hitches instead, with glue to hold them in place and clamps to keep the tension whilst the glue dried.
In hindsight, the rigging took rather longer than the rest of the construction [and wasn't as much fun, either].  However, it does add greatly to the appearance.


I bought this model to assess its suitability for wargaming.  I'd say that in many ways it has surpassed my hopes in this respect:
  • It's cheap.  Even with the cost of international postage, the dhow should be within the financial reach of all but the most impoverished wargamers.
  • It's sturdy.  This model is really designed as a toy, so it's built from heavy-duty materials.
  • It's easy to build.  Apart from possibly the rigging, the parts went together quickly and easily.
  • It's a perfect scale, at least for 28mm figures.
  • It's pre-coloured, even on the inside of the hull [which cannot be seen in the finished model!].  The only painting required is to touch up the raw edges of the cardboard; I'd recommend strongly that you do this.
Of course, I have to balance this with a disadvantage or two:
  • Because of all the [realistic/unavoidable] rigging and deck clutter, it's actually quite awkward to place 28mm figures on the ship.  I managed 3 or 4 on the foredeck without too much trouble, but could only place a single Arab on the aft deck - and that required some dexterity.
  • There are no instructions or alternate parts to permit a docked or anchored ship [i.e. with the sails furled].  I don't imagine it would be too hard for someone to make such an adaptation, though.
So, if you want a dhow, or a whole fleet of them, for gaming then I'd certainly recommend this Russian kit.  I might replace the string provided for rigging with something a bit thinner and softer, though.

Now all I need to do is find somewhere to store the model...


  1. Great article, Colgar6, with plenty of food for thought. I think it looks mighty fine in the photo, but as you say, room for miniatures would appear to be at a premier. Still, if you don't mind the small number of minis on board, then it looks a steal :-)

    1. I think this is the nature of sailing ships: they have rigging and other clutter all over the place :-) . If they're to look at all realistic then space for miniatures (especially those with large bases) will be limited.

  2. I will say it looks rather nice. HAving read the issues and seen it I must say it would not be strong enough for my use. The wargames club it would last 1 maybe 2 weeks, but I doubt longer. But at home It might last years. While I have no use for it I have enjoyed seeing it immensely. Thank you very much.

    1. Not strong enough, Clint? This thing is built from 2mm pasteboard; it's the toughest thing I can think of short of steel plate :-) . What on earth do people at your local club *do* with their models?

    2. They are pretty strong. I haven't built the dhow but several Cogs and Caravels have survived ham-fisted gamers for well over two years.
      Storage is indeed more 'dangerous ' than gaming. We managed to "keep them in nearly pristine shape" in two big RUB boxes.

  3. Great post and a great find, perfect for some games in the sudan or just eye candy. As you say storage might be a problem.

    1. Thanks, Stuart. Yes, it should work excellently as decoration, objective or transport for any games set in the Indian ocean or on the Nile. Sinbad, anyone :-) ?

  4. Great useful post - thanks. I have 3 of these plus a Junk in the to do pile . Think it was Eric the Sheds blog they were on. Storage might indeed be a conundrum to solve !

    1. I think you're right; I seem to think it was indeed Eric's blog. However, I did look there so that I could give due credit for the original article and I failed to find it, so I assumed I must have been mistaken. Oh, well...

      Anyway, I'm very pleased that you found my writings useful.

  5. That looks more impressive built than I thought it was going to. Great job!

    1. It is quite a nice model, isn't it :-) . And a very straightforward kit to build as well...

  6. It may have been 'Eric the Shed;s" blog where you saw these, I'm pretty sure it's where I saw them. They do look good and are a great scale fit for 28mms too. I've been looking to make something similar for my own projects and take inspiration from yours.
    Great post C6

    1. As I mentioned above in my reply to Dave D, I think you are correct and that it was Eric's blog. I couldn't find his post again though - and this led me to doubt my memory of the event.

  7. Very impressive when finished. I think the rigging was well worth the time invested.

    As for figure placement, it's a common problem with ships, especially sailing ships.
    I've read a few gamers comments, and they tend to find ship battles and "WYSIWYG" shooting and placement aren't a good fit.

    For small ships it's common to judge the whole ship as a viable target or not, with crew having an option to be in-play (and visible) or down below (and out of sight).

    1. As gamers, we often put models aside rather than attempting to fit them physically into vehicles [even open-topped ones], aircraft or even buildings. I don't see why small ships should be treated any differently, really.

      Yes, sailing ships tend to be especially bad for deck clutter and the consequent lack of access to such models for large, clumsy hands :-) .

  8. Wow! This ship really looks fantastic!

  9. Thank you for the link to this Russian company - I am hoping to order their Medieval ship as well as armoured train. Would be interested in some of their other products too. Speaking of which have you as yet put the Greek styled Bireme together and or is it in actuality ideal for 28mm. I do Colonials in 1/72 20mm would the Dhow work for that scale as well or would it be too big?

    1. The bireme is sitting beside me as I type, mostly complete. I can't decide whether to finish it as the kit is designed (with mast and sails rigged) or whether to have it "rigged for battle" (without mast &c). The former would make it more difficult to store, but the latter requires some modification to the kit. Hmm.

      As for size, I reckon that the bireme is about the right size or maybe a tad small for 28mm figures; it would probably work quite well for 20mm as well. Note that the central aisle, where the fighting men would be placed, is about 19mm wide. Obviously a standard round 25mm base (for 28mm figures) is too wide to fit in here.

      The dhow is a good size for 28mm figures. My opinion is that it would be a bit too large for 20mm or 1/72 models.

    2. Thank you for the excellent feedback and I look forward to seeing pictures, hopefully of your Bireme - I think rigged would be best, but feel your pain with the constant concern of storage and for that matter durability.