How to Build a Model Gondola

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Things You'll Need

  • Good reference material on gondolas
  • Sheet balsa, three sheets at least 12-inches long by 12-inches wide
  • Straight pins
  • Small, lightweight saw
  • Ruler

There are few boats more elegant than a gondola, those romantic vessels poled along the canals of Venice. For modelers hoping to capture the boat’s sleek lines, however, those long curving sides present a challenge: the boat tapers towards the center and out of the water at either end. Aligning that taper and getting wood to follow it can be difficult. The secret to success in this project lies in turning the wood cross-grain, defeating its linear strength and increasing its pliability. Using the wood in this contrary fashion makes it easy to capture the gondola's sleek lines.

Draw the gondola’s side profile onto a sheet of balsa so that the length of the boat runs parallel to the wood’s grain. Stack a second sheet of balsa beneath the first, making sure that the grain of the two sheets runs in the same direction. Use another sheet of balsa and draw the boat’s bottom outline on it, making sure to draw the length of the hull across the grain of the wood.

Cut the side panels out of the two balsa sheets using the saw. Make certain that the two sheets remain firmly together as you cut through the wood: the goal is to make two copies of the same profile. Cut the gondola’s bottom from its sheet with the saw as well.

Glue the bottom panel to one side by running a line of wood glue along one side of the bottom panel and centering it on the gondola’s profile, holding it at a right angle until the glue sets. Drive a couple of straight pins through the side and into the bottom to hold it in place.

Bend the bottom piece up as you bend the side panel in so that the two pieces meet along the bottom edge. Drive straight pins through the side and into the bottom to hold the pieces together as you work your way from the center of the hull towards the bow. Turn the boat around and repeat the bending process from the center out to the stern.

Attach the other side of the gondola using the glue, bend and pin method, starting from the center and working your way first out to the bow and then out to the stern. The end result of this procedure will be a completed, tapered hull that rises from the waterline at either end.

Add at least three thwarts -- or seats -- across the center of the gondola, one each in the bow, stern and center of the boat, from scrap balsa. The thwarts should each be the same width as the hull and about 3/4-inch deep. Glue them to the inside of the hull.


  • Venetian gondolas were finished in a wide variety of colors and stains, and with a large number of additional details. Some were partially decked over the bow, while others had bird-cage looking contrivances built around the center thwart. Check your references to see what you’d like to add to your boat.


  • Make sure the glue sets in each step: don't go on until the glue is holding firmly. Go back and re-glue any piece that comes loose.


  • Ship Models How to Build Them; Charles G. Davis; 1953
  • Illustrated History of Ship and Boats; Lionel Casson; 1964

About the Author

Novelist, publisher and freelance writer John Reinhart began writing professionally in 1988. He brings more than 20 years of experience in customer service management, business journalism, marketing and education. Reinhart holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University, Chico.

Photo Credits

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