The Scratch Built Collection

Frigate Under Glass

Frigate Under Glass
Boats of Hell's Kitchen
The Votive
The Honey Fitz
Higgins Boat
Da Vinci's Dilemma


                    By Dean A Beeman

                                             Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved

Available as a download:

                                  Ships in Bottles 

A ship in a bottle is as odd curio. The few people who collect these are probably more than a little odd themselves. The builder was or is probably the oddest of the lot.

ost of the ones I have seen appear to have been crafted by a well-intentioned villager in someplace in Micronesia. I think of them as things in a bottle- or whimsical thoughts in a bottle.

Having said that, if you wish to build a ship in a bottle there are a few simple kits that you can find at places like resort souvenir shops. Believe it or not, stumbling through one of these is a very good primer for building the real thing. And if you take your time, substitute good materials for junk and follow the directions you will create a pleasant (but still odd) ship in a bottle.

A giant step forward are the kits produced by professional kit makers. These are not that difficult to make, some have fine detail, and you can create a ship in a bottle, with or without a diorama. These are somewhat more serious and a whole lot more expensive than the souvenir shop kit.


And from ten feet away I can’t tell the difference.

The first and most important step in building a serious ship in a bottle is to decide to do this in the first place. There are other, far more practical things such as tying trout flies that are almost as exact, require as much patience, and are infinitely more useful.

I enjoy the research that underlies each ship- the people, their history and the significance of a particular design. The actual name of a ship may be of interest to people who might look at it, but unless the design or construction was significant I could very well build any one of a thousand different ships or boats that were basically similar. Many full size kits suffer from this same malady- give a ship a different rigging profile (or color scheme or name) and it might just be a different ship.

Work boats, such as the whaleboat and the skipjack are interesting. Tug boats and canal boats are interesting. The interaction of the rigging and the internal workings of a square-rigger are interesting. The Titanic, like many others, tells a tragic story, but the ship itself was not particularly interesting.

The next hurdle is the display case- basically a transparent enclosure (glass, for example) that may itself be interesting. Bottles are one obvious choice, but glass containers are going the way of the vinyl record. There are many interesting choices here if you think outside the bottle: glass sconces, laboratory glassware and decorative blown glass are a few that come to mind when you start to throw in vertical and horizontal dimensions. ( I have heard the legend of the modeler who timed the completion of a model to the final emptying of the expensive scotch bottle that became its home. This is one of the many happy aspects of any hobby.) The purpose of the enclosure is to protect the tiny model as much as it is to display it.

The final hurdle is you. The human eye is a wonder, and can detect the faintest harmony or discord in a mass of details. Faberge eggs were tiny wonders that revealed a small secret- their context was a jumble of exquisite and often conflicting details. So you must be prepared to tackle tasks normally associated with jewelers and dentists. Small children will quickly discern how an unlikely object (a ship) was fitted into its enclosure (a bottle)- they will also stare in awe if it interests them. So be prepared for some painfully detailed (but hopefully enjoyable) work if the cover photo strikes your fancy.

                                             Preface- The Frigate 

Interesting ship models are made of wood and thread. That’s a major problem because wood starts out as cells that grow into fibers, and tiny models and tiny details, even on larger models test the boundaries of wood as a building material. In the example I have chosen this will become obvious.

Like most people I’m a fan of the USS Constitution. After its 5th restoration (in 1976) I acquired a souvenir collection of pieces and parts. The sale of these helped defray the cost, and since the ship had been refitted and restored numerous times, I picked an interesting set that included ropes and other items from at least two prior restorations. A wood screw and copper rivet were probably from 1937, and  a cut nail probably from 1877. The wood pieces look old, but without a little rot you have to wonder how old they really are.

The frigate was a warship that was considered by the Admiralty to be somewhat the same size, but faster than their largest warships, or ships-of-the-line. For various reasons, including its placements of cannons, the frigate evolved into the modern heavy cruiser, and since the advent of guided missiles, has returned to its roots as a large, fast and lethal warship.

There were six frigates added to the original American fleet. Of these the Constitution was one of the first three and carried the heaviest cannons. Rated as a 44-gun ship she carried up to 55: 24-pound long guns on her gun deck and 32-pound carronades on her spar deck. We’ll get into decks and cannon ratings as we go, but suffice it to say this was awesome long and short-range firepower in its day. 

(Current wrangling in Congress is a reminder of similar nonsense 200 years ago: these ships came very close to not being built.)

Joshua Humphreys was the architect for these ships. His designs were revolutionary and were, like a few other aspects of the country at the time, very successful. Many of the design concepts of these ships were radical departures from the accepted, or Royal Navy norms. His hulls were longer than foreign ships of comparable width (beam), which in itself would explain their speed and ability to carry more guns.

But American ships at the time also used very large sheaves (round wheels) inside the hundreds of  blocks that controlled their rigging. This enabled fewer sailors to handle much heavier loads, leading to superior handling, of course, but also freeing more men to serve at the guns. Another unique trait was the furling of sails toward the mast, rather than to an upper spar: sails could be managed more economically, and as a bonus to model makers, this rigging plan creates a much prettier rigging profile. We will revisit the design elements as we go.


Of note, Humpreys, a Quaker, was opposed to slavery, and could not become a Freemason. Thomas Jefferson fired Humphreys. 


In its various restorations, many of the structural elements of the original Humphreys design were removed and ignored. Demonstrating that the Navy eventually gets around to fixing things, the most recent restoration is reasonably true to the original, which is good. What is not so good is that a century’s worth of model-makers may have been studiously building the wrong ship.


At the time, the heaviest British warship (ship of the line) was a 74-gun ship- these floating artillery rafts were  much larger and slower than the frigate. Not to be outdone, the French built an even bigger one- if you want to construct a model of the Valmy, punch 128 holes in a shoebox and paint it. It might even float, but as the French learned, a shoebox doesn’t sail very well.

(I was recently scolded for not pointing out that the Santisima Trinidad, designed by an Irishman and built in Cuba, carried even more guns. And to its credit, actually fired them.)

The Royal Navy was confounded by the superiority of the American ships, and in a classic case of reverse-engineering dismantled a captured American frigate (USS Raleigh). At the time, the Admiralty considered rigging to be a standardized feature of a ship, so there are apparently no British notes on the uniqueness in the rigging. It has been said that the British often overlook the obvious, so they might not have looked at the structure of the wood, either. 


Giving the old lady her due as a brute, she and her sisters were also faster, more nimble and more deadly than anything afloat at the time. A very interesting sort of ship.

You obviously sense the problem in fitting her into a bottle. Well, kind of a bottle. This model will be a vertical representation of what would have been located amidships, or the area surrounding the main mast. It will be large enough to capture most of the unique details of the ship, but small enough to serve as a modest bookend.  

Constructing it according to the instructions can be completed in a few days. (The longest lead item is the time needed for glue and paint to dry.) But after completing it you should have enough leftover material to build a second one, this time incorporating a number of ideas (yours) that have a way of improving any skill.  


As has been carefully explained to generations of new sailors, service in the Navy is what you choose to make of it. The same spirit holds true for this model.

I'm using a classic text for general reference: “The  Ship Model Builder’s Assistant”, Charles G. Davis, Publication Number Twelve of the Marine Research Society, Salem, MA, C. 1926. Mr. Davis, a sailor and naval architect, wrote with an extraordinary command of nautical terminology. (A nautical vocabulary, unfortunately, is like learning French- marginally useful unless you visit Montreal.) Mr. Davis authored at least two other model-building classics (reprints available online at Dover Publications). Where I don’t cite another author it can be found in one of his texts.

Mr. Davis cites, as I will, Captain (Commander) Thomas Macdonough (USN), who, in his letter book of 1815, left a carefully-prepared set of detailed specifications for the Constitution and other warships of the time. These details (like these men) are very interesting and will be noted and followed as scale permits. Copies of original drawings not native to this text are widely available elsewhere.

As a note to my colleagues, scale (1:350) will be maintained as measurements permit. A few measurements will be rounded or ignored. If this somehow causes anyone to suffer a duck fit, I’m busy that day.  

Tools and Materials

Unlike most scale models, this one requires very few tools, and almost no materials. As a matter of fact it could be constructed using card stock and matchsticks. My tools and materials are geared for various sizes of models, so I take having things like scrap and custom tools for granted.

A place to store tools is essential: a shoebox will work. If you don't secure your tools they will get misplaced. You will develop an affinity for a few prize tools. Hide them.

To maintain a semblance of scale (1:350 or so ) you will need an inexpensive dial caliper(12 inch). I am also using a digital caliper that displays to the 2nd decimal. One of these is very handy to have in a normal tool collection, inexpensive models work well, and a ruler is basically worthless in model building. I will be using the closest and most convenient measurements- usually in whole millimeters.

Metal rulers (machinist's rules) will be used as cutting guides (fences).

At least one pin vise with a standard set micro drill bits is needed. Two are better.  I don't usually keep track of most drill size numbers, so if you aren't using a digital caliper and the instructions don't call for a number, drill a test hole in a piece of scrap- if the fit is right use that drill- if not, step the size up or down and try again.

A loupe or a magnifier may come in handy for checking things. An illuminated magnifier works, but all of the work can and will be done without magnification. Good lighting (sunlight is best) is a must.

An X-ACTO razor saw with a fine blade is needed. A 40-teeth per inch (medium) blade is too wide and coarse for our cuts.

An X-ACTO standard knife handle with a few #11 X-ACTO blades. The blades are important, because most other brands are too thick and not sufficiently pointed (sharp).

Thin locking tweezers (the longer and thinner the better), small locking forceps (curved or straight) and small pliers (with a wide flat face area). If you find that the tweezers lock at the wrong time, wrap the lock with tape- you may need the lock sooner or later.

A few sandpaper sheets (100, 120 and 220 grit) will be needed. The flat sanding wand that is used very often on the model was made from a paint stirring stick (paddle) from a paint store. To make the wand, apply contact cement to the wide and narrow face of a paddle, and to the paper side of a piece of sandpaper. When ready, press the paper onto the wand and trim off the edges with a sharp knife. Repeat on the other side using a finer grit. A round sander (100 grit) made from a ¾- 7/8th dowel (broom handle, etc..) will be used on the hull ribs. It's a good idea to make a few more using round, square, thick and thin pieces of scrap, just to have them handy. The ones you don't make at the beginning of the project can be made as you need them. 

A few extra wooden paint stir sticks (1/8x1) from a local home or paint store. These will be used as sanding wands and cut for use as clamping fences, holding platforms, etc..

One 1/32nd inch sheet (3x24 inch) of mahogany, one of basswood, and a small sheet (6x12) of 1/64th birch veneer plywood. Instead of basswood another sheet of mahogany will work fine, and instead of the birch plywood, a piece of 1/64th veneer will work also. (The term plywood is used on its label, but at this thickness the birch consists of two ultra-thin sheets with the same grain bias. Thicker sheets more closely resemble what is commonly known as plywood.) One 1/8th and a few 1/16th inch hardwood dowels will be used on the spars, and at least one 1/16 x 1/16 basswood strip will be handy.

Scrap bins. Another shoe box, partition in a tool box, or a short fat can will all serve well. Scraps are very useful. The more the better- I usually keep at least one can nearby. With this model you won't wind up with much, if any usable scrap. To corral and keep track of small pieces that are ready for gluing, I also have the paper coil from an empty roll of masking tape on the table

Oriental or sushi toothpicks. These are tiny turned pieces of wood with knurled shoulders and a turned spindle area. Importantly, the first turned notch from the main shaft is less than 1mm wide. These are great for making belaying pins and other details on larger models, and will be essential when we get to certain details. They make great glue applicators and they are also wonderful as toothpicks. Every oriental grocer stocks these.

For steaming and smoothing veneer you may need a steam iron, but for our limited steaming, hot tap water will be fine.

20 and 26 gauge brass wire will be used in a number of places. We will use less than a foot of wire, so you can just as well use something like floral wire or the wires from an old electrical appliance instead of buying new rolls of brass wire. On the other hand, brass wire does come in handy around the house and yard.

 A large, sharp toenail clipper is an essential tool- the bigger the better. It will be used to clip wood and wire cleanly, so it must be sharp

Cuticle and suture removal scissors are rigging essentials. Sharp cuticle scissors will work well on this model to cut most threads, but suture removal scissors are a must for serious rigging.

We will use a few templates that are made using card stock. Index card or letter-size paper is fine. Scraps of this paper can also be used for paint pallets, glue pallets and to test measurements.

The teeth on even the cheapest pocket comb are precise- the coarse teeth are usually spaced at 2mm and the fine teeth at 1mm. This creates a simple and accurate tool for spacing planking seams and centering narrow pieces.

Black and white water-based craft paint, and a few small brushes. The brushes are sold as assortments in hobby shops- a much better investment than buying artist brushes. One junk brush is useful for applying glue and cleaning up globs.

A good set of small clamps (micro bar clamps are the handiest) will be needed in the earliest steps and will be useful as a clamp to hold the model erect in the later steps. Wooden clothespins can be cut, shaped and otherwise turned into handy custom clamps. Over time a mangled collection of these just happens. Six or so is a good number, along with bulldog or other small paper clamps.

Multi-purpose white glue, any size. While I am using wood glue in places, you can substitute white glue. In either case glue joints can easily be broken with the knife and reworked and/or reset. Contact cement is used to make the sanding wands, but with a little care white glue might work there, too.

Some critical joints are made much using CA gel (super glue): I don't particularly like to use the stuff but in some spots it is very handy (that is if a joint is never going to be taken apart and/or redone).

Clear nail polish (as a glue, and clear/gloss finish) will be needed (cheapest is best).  Over time this may thicken in the bottle as the alcohol evaporates. You can thin it with small amounts of denatured alcohol or just buy another bottle if it gets too thick. The brush never needs cleaning, and tiny dots can be applied using a needle or a pin.

Any time glue is involved there will be an area that must be released (not glued). Beeswax works best on models, and is resistant to most glue (including CA glues). As we go I will point out when to apply a release. For many of the glue joints, a hatpin or toothpick tip will be used as an applicator: the tip can be kept clean and ready by stabbing it into (and storing it in) the beeswax block. When it comes to rigging, I will be treating (pulling) the finer threads with beeswax. This straightens the fibers and will minimize dust (fuzz) buildup later.  Most fabric stores carry small blocks of beeswax.

A portable work board is essential. Mine is old, about 18x24 inches, balsa-faced, with a cutting fence (glued down) small bench dogs and any number of wires and holes that were needed at one time or another. Any veneer-faced (very smooth) surface larger than about 6x12 inches will work fine- smaller if you want to store the board in the shoebox. You will be stabbing this with knife tips and pins, drilling into it, and spilling glue and paint on it, so this is not a keepsake. Some sort of  balsa surface is handy for pinning and cutting. This should travel easily to a comfortable workspace. The dining room table is not a work board or a safe workplace.

A very thin mechanical pencil is needed, the thinner the better. Or a normal pencil can be kept sharp the old-fashioned way by sanding the tip flat.

Polyester or nylon thread works well, mainly because these contain fewer (or no) burrs in the braids. Even waxed, burrs in cotton or hemp thread collect dust. One heavier size thread is needed (button, black) and thin sewing (one black and one white or tan).

At fabric and craft stores you will find beading needles- these are very thin and usually labeled big eye needles- the eye is formed by bending the centers apart. Fixed and collapsing-eye needles will usually work on large models, but at this scale you will need a needle that is almost as thin as the thread. (When I'm m rigging I usually push a hatpin through the eye and stab the pin into whatever I'm using as a pin cushion.  This step makes threading easy and the needles harder to lose.)

A few long hatpins will be needed for center-marking holes, wood chipping and applying glue dots. These are also handy for keeping the eye of a rigging needle open.

Many of the cut pieces will be narrow- 1-5 millimeters (mm). You can save a lot of time and increase the accuracy of the cuts by using the same carpentry tool as the shipwright-a measuring fence (template). As you cut various widths of scrap pieces, set another one aside for measuring that width again.  Alternatively, mark and cut a series of steps that are increasingly 1mm apart into a scrap of birch or card stock. Either type of fence will be more reliable and much easier to use than the caliper.

Measuring Fence and Sanding Wand

Essential homemade tools- the sanding wand and a measuring fence that is stepped to 1mm increments.

The model will fit into a standard, clear hurricane lamp glass globe- 2.5 inches in diameter at the base and 7.5 inches tall. The inside diameter at the base, with a small error for an imperfection where the globe was cut from its mold, is about 62mm. The scale and all of the measurements are set to those constraints. You may choose to build a slightly smaller model, but a larger one may not (will not) fit into that globe.


Finally, a place to work quietly is a must. Unless you enjoy packing up a few hundred small items and moving them, this can be anywhere that small children, cats and others won’t be encouraged to explore your work in progress. A work board set on the arms of a comfortable chair is a reasonable choice, but be aware that you will spill things, and my tools have the distinct habit of falling between cushions. Working over a carpet is fine, but if you drop something (including a small drill bit or needle) it will more than likely be lost until you find it stuck in your foot.


The list of raw materials doesn’t sound like a lot, but it should be enough to build at least 3 models, or get you well into a different one. It has always struck me when visiting a completed model that it would be far more interesting and educational if the model maker had just stopped at a few key points and left everything as is. This would allow insight into the process as well as the finished product.  Technical skill is one thing, but there’s a reason why artist’s sketch pads are so valuable.

Frigate Tools Laid Out Neatly

Tools, from top, left to bottom right. Scrap bin, pliers, calipers, empty roll for small pieces, wire, forceps, tweezers, pencil, bees wax. Clear nail polish, toothpicks, thread, loupe, clothespin, pin vise, nail clipper, knife, machinist's rule, cutting fence. Hatpins and needles, pin vise, tweezers, suture scissors. Razor saw, cuticle scissors, micro-files. This photo was taken at the start of rigging- before everything was stowed and brought out again only as needed. The measuring fence and bar clamps are somewhere.

Marking and Common Tasks

First, a word on marking things, or the word "mark".

Where the instructions call for a mark in a piece of wood to be cut (cross-grain) using the razor saw, that means marking with a very thin pencil line, to be cut to the edge of the outside of that line and then sanded, using the wand, to erase the line or until the piece is fit for glue. In most cases the saw will erase at least half the line.

For all other cuts, mark means that a measurement is made with a caliper or fence. A spare knife blade is stabbed into the material at one point, and a second knife blade (or the knife) is stabbed into the material at some other point along the same line. A metal straightedge is positioned to butt against these blades; the knife is removed and moved lightly along the edge of the fence until it comes to the second blade, which is removed, and the first (scoring) cut is completed. A second pass with the knife tip inside the scoring cut will complete most cuts. Two or three light cuts are far more accurate than one heavy cut. Once cut, both raw (cut) edges of the wood are dressed (sanded lightly) square and straight using the wand.

For drilling holes, a hatpin or needle is stabbed into the material at an exact point. A pilot (small) hole is drilled at that indentation, and then a final (larger) hole is drilled to the correct diameter. If multiple holes are to be drilled in a straight line, the knife and fence will be used to create a straight indentation. You may be tempted to ignore this ritual as a suggestion, but I will be making no exceptions.

Cuts across the grain are made with the saw, and cuts along the grain (rip cuts) are made with the knife. Thin strips, wire and other small pieces are snipped with the nail clipper and dressed.

On this and other models, surface tension is created when glue is applied to a surface: placing another piece on top of the glue will cause that piece to actually float. So all glue joints must be pressed or clamped until the glue sets. Even if the wood pieces are cut precisely, the errors caused by various glue thicknesses will quickly result in a mess. Always clamp glue joints tightly, even if it's just with fingertips.

All wood will absorb some amount of a coating, including paint. Before a piece is glued the edges should be dressed (lightly sanded). This is particularly true on grain edges where paint, for example, may lift loose grain fibers. This will result in slightly ragged edges and other small imperfections that add up to what will appear to be a careless effort.

Many lines will be held in place with a stopper knot, which is normally a figure-eight. On this scale a simple and more reliable stopper can be made with a modified clinch knot. To tie this knot, form a loop in the end of a length of thread and insert a toothpick. Spin the toothpick six or more revolutions, then pass one end of the thread though that loop, remove the toothpick and pull the thread tight. A long knot will form on the thread. Tie a common, or shoelace knot in the thread with the clinch knot in its middle- when this is tightened the clinch knot will roll back on itself, forming a stopper. Touch it with clear nail polish. Or use any other stopper knot that works for you.

Pencil lines are too wide for most marking at this scale. On the subject of scale, we are going to include all of the ship's major structural and rigging elements that can be fashioned with inexpensive tools and eyesight. If more sophisticated equipment adds to your spare time enjoyment, then modify these instructions to whatever tolerances you can control.

If you have a problem with a work step or even a concept, apply common sense and develop a different solution. And if a word, term or historical note is of interest, look it up and have some fun studying about it while various things dry and set. Any model represents a world unto itself that is best enjoyed with some knowledge of the original.

                                                   Ribs and Frames

The ribs and hull of the Constitution was constructed using live oak, a protected tree, which is basically an evergreen. Whether that symbolism was important to the fledgling Navy or not, the live oak is a fairly squat, slow-growing tree whose trunk wood owes much of its density and strength to the fact that is almost a solid burl. (A burl is the strongest area in a tree: burls form where the limbs join the trunk.) The gentle angles and curves of the live oak's branches also lend themselves to the creation of support structures (knees). When you think of "Ironsides" the raw material is not far from the mark.

Humphreys had the benefit of British shipbuilding history on his side. The British had traditionally built their warships using native (pedunculate) oak that grew in forests much like white oak. In open spaces it was generally known as "hedgerow oak" because of its perpendicular grain (limb) structure and appearance. Trimmed to a hedge line, these trees became gnarled, and were used extensively for knees, ribs and stems. By the 19th century these were becoming scarce in England, but Humphreys had access to what was then an unlimited supply of live oak.

Lacking miniature live oaks, there are three ways to form the ribs on this model.

The first is steaming and bending a wide basswood strip across the grain. This can be done- the basswood fibers are long enough to maintain integrity for the entire shaped (blank) length. The problem is that identical rib sections, while not difficult to cut from the steamed blank, wind up with the inner edges looking contrived, even after sanding and painting. They look OK, but not right. This method may be fine for planking, but creates ugly ribs. It is included here because attempting this failure was fun.

The second method, used by all ship builders at the time, is to construct the ribs in pieces (futtocks) to maximize the grain strength in a given direction. This will create sturdy frames on larger models, but not at this scale.

Trying to create realistic ribs from a solid piece of wood creates the same problem faced by ship builders- strength follows the grain- a shape made from a cross-grain face will fail (break away). The builders overcame this problem by constructing the ribs using timber that was chosen by how well the shape of a tree or limb matched the template shape that Humphreys provided for a given piece.

Below is the rib shape that I will be using to construct the rib blank. The double horizontal lines touching the rib shape are the deck position limits. Only one of these templates will be used to form the ribs, but they will be used as templates for other measurements.

Rib Outline

The outline should copy to a size of 1.00 inches (25mm) X 3 3/8th  inches  (60 mm).On the rib blank, the rib shape will be glued to an outside (disposable) page. The rib on the right also contains the general shape of the knees that will be placed on the berth deck.


If this shape doesn’t conform to your notion of the Constitution’s ribs, then a similar template can be created from the original:

Original Profile

Original hull and rib schematic. The left side is the view from the stern and the right side is from the bow, both between perpendiculars fore and aft. Looking dead center (the center of buoyancy, #5) and imagining the ship listing (tilting) under sail (rotating on that point) the convex shape of the hull also lends itself to speed.


However you choose to create it, the printed rib template should equal the outside dimensions shown. To maintain the scale measurements you should copy, scan or otherwise reproduce the template to those dimensions.


Once you have a reasonable copy, make duplicates and glue (not tape) this shape to a piece of card stock or other stiff paper. (If you have card stock (index cards), print the shape(s) on that instead.)


Humphreys threw out many traditional (British) design rules, but he stuck with the standard warship rules (ratios) of frame (rib) spacing (.0172 x length) and frame (rib) thickness (.47 x frame spacing). A simple single frame usually consists of a set of matching ribs, a small section of keel and keelson where the ribs meet, and a beam that spans and is equal to the thickness of the ribs.


Length at the waterline (LWL) would have determined the major stresses on the hull.

Given our scale and Constitution’s LWL, our entire ship length would be (175 feet /330 =.53x12=6.036 inches). That sounds about right. That would make the thickness of each rib to be (.0127x.47x 6.036) =.03 inches, or 1/32nd , a convenient thickness. We are going to double that. (Some time in the future I may try to use a 1/64th inch sheet of veneer in order to stay with the original.)


The ribs would have been theoretically spaced on center at 2.22 feet, or in our case, every .08 inch. Given our section length of one inch, and to round off and up (and to make this model possible in the first place), I am going to construct a section consisting of 4 ribs, each 1/16th thick, spaced on .20 centers. This will allow us to add important details to the model.


Keep in mind that there is no small amount of controversy concerning the hull construction. In a photo taken during the 1858 restoration, the rib spacing appears nonexistent. This was probably due to the fact that the keel was bent (hogged) at the time as a result of simple age or previous work. I am going to rely more on the original Humphreys drawings as a general guide. If you study the history of the ship you might be surprised at the number of times it was refitted (“in ordinary”) and rebuilt. After her initial launch very little (no) verifiable documentation exists.


As another note, these builders certainly made drawings, but these were more likely detailed sketches, not blueprints. They relied heavily on the British practice of building a scale or half- model to proof every aspect of the ship before and during its construction. The finest examples of these reside in the Roger’s Collection at Annapolis, but the model Humphreys used is lost.


The method we will employ involves cutting and laminating a set of blanks from the sheets. The first set of eight are mahogany, 25mm x 38mm, cut across the grain (the grain runs in a line with the double deck lines. Mahogany grain will cause the knife to wander, so the first knife pass is a very light marking pass, and the rest can be slightly heavier cutting passes.


The second set of nine will be basswood, 25mm x 60mm cut with the grain ( the grain follows the long side of the rectangle). On the paper template, cut off one end at the inside line, and mark each of these long pieces on that line (50mm). This is the reference line for centering the mahogany blanks. The ninth blank will be a template.

Cutting a Straight Line

To cut strips, mark one edge by stabbing a spare blade into the wooden blank. At the other end of the rip(cut) stab the knife into the blank. Move the metal cutting fence (ruler) against both blades, remove the knife and draw the knife blade along the edge of the fence. Remove the tip as the knife gets close. You should feel a bounce as you pass the knife through the dead center of the stab points.

Loose Rib Blanks

Rib blanks ready to be glued. Each of the longer (basswood) blanks has been marked with a pencil line so that the center (mahogany) blanks will line up. 

Once you have cut eight sets, spread glue on the back of a smaller blank and press it firmly into the marked middle area of the larger blank. A flat brush is best but a fingertip will work. Continue making separate sets in this fashion until you reach the last. Line up the sides and ends, and using two pieces of scrap (I’m using a cutup paint stick) and clamp everything together using small C-clamps or mini-clamps.

Step 1

The glued and clamped rib blanks. Note the protective end pieces, and the unglued (vacant) spaces at each end of each blank. The blanks are glued to themselves but not yet to each other.

A small amount of glue will seep out of the sides- this can be wiped off with a fingertip or a damp cloth. Getting the blanks centered and glued in the middle is the challenge.

While these are drying, rip a length of 1/32nd basswood into a strip that is 25mm wide. Cut this into small rectangles (spacers), each 7mmx25mm. You will need 16 of these.

Once the glue is dry on the blanks, separate them. (You may need to apply some gentle pressure with the knife tip if glue drips were left at the sides.)

We will now fill in the vacant end spaces with the spacers.

Step 2


The glued rib blanks, spacers, and the first blank with the paper template cut. Note the open space between the spacers and the center areas of the rib blank.

Apply a thin coat of glue to both of the long ends. Line up a spacer with a rib blank edge on each end and press it down to break the capillary tension. Repeat this step until you reach the last blank. Clamp the individual blanks as before and let them dry.

Apply white glue to the back of the paper template, and glue (and clamp) it to the single long blank, lining up one end.

When the blanks are dry, mark a pencil line on one outside (side) edge of each. This should line up with the pencil line already marked on the inside edge where the short and long blanks meet; this will help to line up the center pieces.

Step 3

The spacers are now glued and clamped together, and the center blanks line up. The paper template is glued and clamped.

This time apply glue to the spacers, and start stacking the individual blanks, lining up the pencil marks as you go.


On the last blank, place the mounted template (paper-side up), line everything up one last time and clamp.


This may sound like a lot of separate gluing and clamping, but the position of the center blanks, the glued portion of the spacers and the final positioning are critical to the integrity of the ribs and the hull. Trying to complete all of these steps at once is probably possible, but more likely a recipe for a blank that is FUBAR.


Each basswood/mahogany blank rib will now be solidly glued in its center and glued to its neighbor at each end, leaving a small space that is not glued. The large blank of blanks is now held together (glued) and will appear to be one solid striped piece with small openings.

Step 4 The Rib Blank is one solid piece

The paper template has been glued to a piece of basswood, and the spacers on the last rib blank have been glued to the template assembly. At both ends the entire blank has the characteristics of a solid, laminated block. The rib blanks, while "floating" in the middle, appear to be part of the solid block.

Our objective is to create eight identical rib halves that will soon become four identical ribs. We are going to shape them all at once and use them as we go. The plies and alternating grain pattern provide strength and realistic thickness, and the two contrasting woods will create an interesting color pattern.

We are now going to cut away and discard the unprinted area on both sides of the printed rib, leaving the ribs and the ends intact.

Using the razor saw, cut two lines from the outer edges of the large blank down toward the blade marks on the template. These don't have to be precise, but should be spaced widely to allow the knife tip to move between the saw cuts. A depth of ¼ inch and a beginning length of 1 inch is about right.

Draw the knife along the blank between the razor saw cuts. Make your first cut at one end and repeat from the other. You will feel and hear the sections fall away as you cut. Like the bending of a keel, this is referred to as hogging. Light pressure on the knife is all that is needed, but always point the knife blade away from the saw cut (toward the discarded area in the center).

Set the larger scraps aside- they will be used for various other components.

First Hogging Cuts

The first hogging cuts. The outer edges were cut with the saw, and the knife tip was drawn between the bottom corners of the saw cuts to cut away (hog) the wood. The larger scraps in the upper right of the photo will be used to construct other pieces and parts. 

Continue to hog out the material until you reach the lines in the paper that were cut earlier. Leave the notched (L-shaped) area in the wider (bottom) area alone for now

Continue Cutting and Sanding

The block in the early sanding stages after being rough-cut. A few homemade sanding wands are shown. For the larger curves you can use things like broom handles to fabricate larger sanders. 

Using a rounded sanding wand, start sanding toward the printed curve. Start with rougher (100 grit) and as you get closer to the curve use smoother (120 grit).


Hold the template with your thumb as much as possible- the wood is glued and strong, but the end pieces are the weakest.


Unless you are an expert toolmaker you will naturally sand a bevel into the wood ( high side away from you). Counteract this by flipping the blank regularly and sanding from the other side, this time holding the template with your index finger.


From time to time hold the blank level, and sight across the blank (down the curves) and from the top and bottom. The entire sanded area should appear invisible from one view and at perfect (almost) right angles in the other. Sand down any high spots and correct any right angle that might be drifting. This is important- the printed template can only be placed on one side, and the accuracy of the other side relies on the trueness of the sanding between the two. This underlines the importance of using stiff sanding wands instead of rolled or folded sandpaper.


One major uniqueness of your model will be the ribs, so this is time well spent.


When sanding has reached the shoulder (notch) area, cut out the interior notch with the razor saw, and cut down to the shoulder on the other side. Saw the blank off at the remaining paper line, sand down to the template and then complete the second notch cut.

Rough-sanded Blank

The blank, partially sanded down to the head and shoulder area. The first shoulder notch has been cut across the blank (left at the top of the curve), and the shoulder is now open on that side.

Ribs Ready For Release
The block, almost completely sanded. Following the initial notch cuts for the shoulders, the remaining end (right side) has been cut away. The second shoulder cuts have been made and both notches can be seen at the right side of the blank. A few more sanding passes will be needed to bring the blank down to the template lines. 

Saw off the ribs in one straight line.

Loose Rib Sets

The ribs after the final cut.

The head (finger) in the keel (shoulder)area should appear to be longer than the width of the keel. That is correct- it should be about twice as long.

If a few of the fingers broke off while being sawed, that is normal. You will need two sets (4 ribs) where they did not.

On a small piece of paper, draw a series of perpendicular pencil lines. These will be used to align the outside ribs.

Using the razor saw, cut a line through a single thickness of finger on one rib. Using the knife tip, pry off that half. On a second rib, cut off one half of the finger so that the rib's fingers overlap. This overlap will be glued.

Lining Up the Rib Pairs

Rib halves before gluing. The pencil lines are a reference so that the bottom (top) edges of the ribs can be lined up with the edge of the paper, and the overlap edges glued with CA gel.

Line up the rib halves, and apply a dot of CA gel to the lower finger area. Place the other rib and very quickly line everything up. You may want to conduct a practice run first.

Repeat the other outside rib the same way, lining it up exactly as the first. Be careful with the ribs at this point.

When the ribs are set, measure the inside distances. They should be identical, but a hair or two probably doesn't matter.

Cut a 50mm piece off the mahogany sheet across the grain. Rip (cut) that piece to a width that is equal to the inside distance between the ribs. This is the platform. Test fit the ribs to insure that their inside edges just touch the edge of the platform. Sand the platform as needed.

On another blank sheet of paper (or the opposite side of the last piece) pencil-trace the sides of the platform. Somewhere in the middle of those lines, mark the paper with intersecting lines that are 25mm apart. The intersections are the markers for the outside ribs. Rub the intersections on the paper with bees wax, and using white glue, glue each rib to the platform at those marks.

First Rib Set in Place on Blank

The first rib being glued to the platform at the pencil marks. I am using a pinned piece of scrap to hold one rib half (left side) and a clothespin fixture to hold the rib upright and in place. The bulldog clamp (upper left) or a paper clamp will work just as well. Dots of white glue have been applied where the rib meets the platform. 

Second Rib Lined up and Glued

The second rib glued to the platform.

                                    Laying the Keel and Keelson

The Constitution's keel was originally constructed using white oak (due to the height of the tree), harvested in New Jersey.  It was completed in sections that were joined with a series of scarf (angled) joints. To visualize this, draw two parallel pencil lines, and intersect them with an angled line. At some distance from each end of the angled line draw perpendicular lines, and erase the sharp points. Draw a perpendicular line in the middle to represent a pin that would have held both pieces together. Further imagine that those lines represent a telephone pole, and you are close to the right construction method and size.

To clarify nautical terms, the keel will face the water (down) and the keelson will face the ship (up, inside). The keel will fit into the upper (shoulder) rib notch and the keelson into the lower. Perfectly cut notches on the ribs will be exactly 1mm x 1mm: they actually will be slightly more or less.

We are first going to lay a keel that accepts the garboard flush, and then add a further extension (shoe) as we finish the model. There will be a lot of hull movement, so a flush keel will make it easier to support the model vertically as we go. If you wish to add the full keel at this point, then simply adjust the depth of the keel components.

Measure the notch facing outward from the platform. If you are not using a digital caliper, trim pieces of scrap or stiff paper until they fit into the notch. Cut two strips of mahogany to the correct width, and clamp and glue them together (don't be too concerned about length).

When the glue dries, measure the exact length between the rib outside edges and cut the wood to fit. Trial-fit the wood to the notch.  The keel should rise slightly above the ribs. If it doesn't, add another strip to the keel, and then apply dots of white glue to each rib and lay in the keel.

Keel Glued in place

As in building the actual ship, the ribs are wobbly and weak. So in the shipyard the ribs would have been individually fastened to a horizontal keel and supported on the ground by various frames. This technique could theoretically be emulated on a model of this size, but this would lead to some sort of inappropriate language. With the help of gravity and glue our task is pretty simple.


Construct the keelson the same way as the keel. The keelson would have been about a foot or so shallower than the keel, but it would have extended into the ship’s interior to accept the ceiling(planking) of the orlop deck.

Keelson in place and glued

The keelson in place.

It is time to lay in the rest of the ribs. On the paper that was used to lay out the first two ribs, add two more intersecting lines- these will form the outline for the gangway that will be about 2mm wide.


Measure and mark a line that is about 9mm from one of the rib intersection marks. Measure and mark another line that is 4mm below that line. Coat the intersections with beeswax and lay the platform back in place. It is not important to fit the fingers on the ribs into the space between the keel and the keelson, so the fingers can be cut off.


Like the first ribs, apply glue and clamp each rib half at the new intersection marks and the keel.

Spaced Ribs in place and Glued

All ribs in place, spaced to allow for the gangway. 

If you find this uneven spacing unnerving, there are enough spare paper templates to allow the construction of two more complete ribs to fill in the spaces. Be aware, however, that cannons and carronades will be placed on the gun and spar decks, so space between the ribs will become critical (limited). The real spacing was much closer than was customary at the time (.0172 x ship’s length), so a cannon muzzle could fit into the room (spacing) on the real ship. Maintaining this ratio will be a problem at this scale.

                                                                Hull Planking       

On the original ship the garboard (first) planks were let in (fitted into a groove) that was cut into the keel (a rabbet). While it is of no concern amidships, the garboard was sharply pointed at each end to allow for the upsweep in the bow and stern. (Thinking of the shape of a garfish, named after a British spear, helps with the name.)


To give the model some needed strength we are going to partially plank the hull to a height that will equal the overhead (roof) of the orlop deck(the base of the berth deck). The birch plywood (1/64th) equates to an actual hull planking (white oak) thickness of slightly less than 5 inches. In this case, reason departs from science, so the birch is fine.


The Constitution’s hull was carvel, or smooth. Any small seams would have been filled (caulked) with oakum (treated rope) that was driven into them with special chisels. While planked models are often built to highlight the enormous amount of work that goes into planking them, the reality was that the shipwright did his best to hide these seams.


Measure the outside width of the ribs and cut a strip across the grain to that width from the birch sheet. Slightly wider (.5mm) is better than narrower. (To determine the grain orientation, bend the plywood in two directions. It will bend easily in one direction (across the grain). Cut this strip again to a length of 30mm.


Hold the piece to the ribs- the keel and the piece should fit together without a space. If there is a space, sand the edge of the piece until it fits neatly to the keel. (That space results from an out-of-square keel- it isn’t critical, but it should be an alert that other components will have to be sanded as well.) The keel should extend slightly above the garboard edge. If it doesn’t, add another strip to the keel.


Apply dots of CA glue to each rib and hold the hull piece in place for a few seconds.


First Hull Planking (Garboard, etc.)

The first hull planking in place, glued to the ribs. The keel extends about .2mm above the garboard edge.


Bend the birch to conform to the shape of the ribs and lightly mark a pencil line at the top (on the ribs). Apply dots of CA gel at the pencil marks, re-bend the birch and hold it in place for a few seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Both Sides Planked

Both garboard pieces in place, bent and glued to the ribs. 

Slide the tip of the knife into the intersection of the ribs and the platform, and gently press down- the white glue joints will break. Remove the platform- it will be used later as deck beams.

Standalone Hull

The frames and partial hull planking, broken from the platform.

The hull is now very strong and correct. A light sanding with the wand will remove any residual glue. The ribs should line up in all dimensions.

If you used both basswood and mahogany the rib and keel joints (notches and fingers) will stand out. The keel and keelson will appear to be solid pieces.


After this point it will not be feasible to paint or work on the interior of the model below the berth deck, so some choices must be made.

I have chosen to leave half of the orlop deck completely unfinished, so order to finish the other half, the keelson is going to be raised by one strip of mahogany and given a coat of clear nail polish.

Using a piece of paper as a template, the ceiling (planking) for the deck is measured and cut from the birch scrap so that it reaches the partial hull planking. To achieve decking seams I use a pocket comb- the fine teeth are spaced at 1mm, so marking the decking is straightforward. Drawing the knife at these points creates the seam, and this carries to the edges where the seams are visible. I will give this piece a coat of white paint and CA gel- glue it into place.

White was a very practical color for the ship's interior because it reflected what little light there was, and also served as a highlighter for objects. I am using a water-based quick-drying craft paint that dries flat, but will appear glossy if given a topcoat of clear nail polish.

Orlop Ceiling in place

The orlop ceiling in place. The planking lines have been drawn, and the decking forms the base for the supporting timbers on the berth deck.

                                Decks and Decking Beams

In the original Humphreys drawing the decks are clearly shown. We will get into each one as we go.

Humphrey's Framing Elevation

In the Humphreys drawing the waterline corresponds to the first solid deck (the berth deck) above the diagonally domed  (curved) riders. Looking at the cross (short) braces in the berth and gun decks, these were actually knees that fitted to the ribs and rose from the horizontal timbers (beams) supporting the crossbeams, carlines and cannons above them. The riders and many of the knees were removed in the early 19th century. Soon after its original launch the Constitution had hogged (warped upward amidships) less than 3 inches. As a result of removing these supports the hogging increased to over a foot  by the 20th century. Before its restoration in 1992, the ship was literally breaking in half.

The original knees appear small on the drawing but were massive. Imagine turning a solid grand piano on its side and you can begin to appreciate how big some of the knees were. Breast knees, hanging knees and dagger knees were fashioned from tree crotches, (where the limbs meet the trunk), so pound-for-pound these were stronger than steel.

This model is based on the area that surrounds the main mast (the middle vertical lines on the drawing). That short open gap on the top, or spar, deck is the gangway opening that was formed with the ribs. The rectangular openings are gun ports.

Ships were built like houses- a weak frame was constructed that outlined the various major components, and then structural components were added to create strength. When everything lined and squared up, elements like hull planking and decking were fitted to the frame. The rigging was installed in the same order. Movable, replaceable items were finally added. That is pretty much the order we will follow.

To create a handy reference, cut another paper template with the knife, this time outlining the outside of the black rib area and the outline of the inner square. Cut the paper at the lower deck lines. Hold this against the ribs on each side to get a very close approximation of where the bottom of each deck will be placed relative to the top of the ribs. The installed hull pieces should line up on both sides and at each end.

All of the decks on any ship at the time formed a dome that rose at a rate of about ¼ inch per foot toward the center of the ship. Before we start the decks we will form all of the deck beams at once to this shape and then trim them to fit as we go.

The platform piece used earlier with the ribs is 50mm long. Two scrap strips from the keel or keelson will be about 1-2mm high. So first mark a pencil line at the center of the platform. Dip the platform in hot water, or hold it under a hot water faucet for a minute or so, and place two 1/32nd scraps under the center line. Support both ends with scrap pieces, and clamp the ends to the work board or another flat surface. This will create a slight but correct dome shape. Let this dry overnight.

All Deck Plaking being curved


 Beam blank. The mahogany was steamed and has a narrow scrap from the keel  underneath the center to create the dome that was present on all decks. The scraps on either side of the piece are holding it to a uniform edge. Individual beams will be cut (ripped) from this piece- each set will be a different width, measured from the marked centerline.

On the Constitution, this dome was accentuated by the use of decreasingly-thick deck planks. The upper deck planks that lay along the ship's centerline were unusually thick, adding additional longitudinal support to the keel itself.

Rest a ruler or piece of scrap between the ribs. As you study the frame, the ruler should be parallel to the centerline (keel) and level to an imaginary waterline. If not, you will have to make minor adjustments in the first beam placements, since all other decks will be level with the lowest beams.

Mark a light pencil mark where the ruler crosses the outside of the ribs at each end. Measure these outer rib distances- they should be the same. Cut a new piece or cut a piece of scrap to a length that is equal to the outside of the ribs and lightly glue it with white glue so that it meets the bottom of the pencil line and, if you applied the ceiling in the earlier steps, lines up with that. Repeat on the other side if needed. This is a temporary spacer for the berth deck beams- it will be broken away from the ribs once the beams are glued in place.

Deck Frames


Support beams in place after the temporary supports (spacers) have been removed. The domed beam blank is on the right, along with a spare beam. These are lined up using one of the rib templates as a spacing guideline. The rib guidelines on those templates are extremes, so the spar deck beams (the top beams) will line up 1mm higher than the gun deck beams (the top of the berth deck). Even though we are using spacers, sight these by eye so that each plane is level- any error in one will be added to the next. Even a small difference will appear huge when the final decking is in place.

From the curved blank, rip (2) 2mm strips (the width of the ribs) and cut off the ends at ½ the distance from the centerline to the rib edges so that they equal about 1mm longer than this distance. Alternating ends of each, sand these down at a slight angle until they rest on and fit the temporary support without being held in place. (Believe it or not, there will be enough bias in the mahogany grain so that these beams won't line up properly unless one of them is reversed.) When these line up, dip each end in a drop of glue, place them and let them dry.

These are the support beams for the berth deck (the overhead for the orlop deck) and appear on the schematic as (the lowest) heavy black lines at the waterline. The center of this deck would have been roughly the center of buoyancy, and the ship rotated in the water around this theoretical point.

Once the beams are dry, remove the temporary support and make another (4 mm wide) set for the gun deck. Lightly glue the supports in place and fit and glue the next set of deck beams. When these are dry, remove the supports and cut a slightly wider (higher-5mm) set of supports for the spar deck. These are higher because the gun deck overhead was higher than the berth deck's overhead.

If you have ever been onboard a ship you already know that dimensional space is precious. One way to cram the most muscle power into the smallest space is to start with small sailors- this explains why few basketball players have naval careers. The headroom on the Constitution, like every other ship, was kept to a minimum. George Washington was not a sailor.

The height of the berth deck will be 4mm (5mm minus the beam thickness), or slightly less than 6 feet actual. There were no openings in the hull at this point, so the ceiling (walls) are pretty simple. Cut (2) 4mm strips from the birch scrap and lightly sand the edges so they are exact duplicates.

I am leaving the lower deck ceiling natural and unmarked (no plank lines). If you prefer the ceiling white or marked, follow the instructions for the orlop deck and paint the ceiling before it is glued in place (resting on the support beams).

When the ceiling is dry, then cut, sand and place another set of support beams just like the first set, making sure that everything still lines up.

The gun deck will be slightly higher (7mm) than the berth deck. So cut two birch pieces that are 6mm wide from the same blank that we've been using. Pencil-mark one piece at 3mm and 10mm from each end, and mark or eyeball an intersecting line at 1mm from the long edge.. Place the two pieces together and drill .024 (#73 drill) holes at each line intersection, through both pieces. These holes form the outline of the gun ports.

Press the knife tip into the edge of each hole (across the grain), move it slightly along a line and press again. Work the knife tip this way between the holes. Then score and work the knife tip toward the far edge (the wider area will be cut out) between the holes and remove the small rectangle. Repeat on the second piece.

The gun ports on the ship would have been spaced at 25 times the ball diameter, with an opening 6.5x wide and 6x high. Given a 24-pound ball diameter of 5.546 inches, the actual port opening would have been 36 inches wide by 33 inches high, or in our case (ignoring decimals), 3mmx4mm. So our ports are close to correct on the vertical, and more than twice the size on the horizontal.

Place and glue the cutout ceiling pieces.

The framed model, like the actual, is a pretty tough cookie at this point.

                                                  Orlop Deck

Looking at the drawing, there are what appear to be 2 offset decks above the keelson, one forward and one aft. These are the same (orlop) deck. If you pronounce boatswain as "bosun" then you would probably pronounce overlap as "orlop", and if you don't particularly want to explore the matter further, call it the "hold".  This very large and mostly forgotten area is much like the hangar deck on an aircraft carrier- big and important, but given a choice between jet takeoffs and grey walls, most photographers head for the flight deck.

The anchor chains were the heaviest non-cannon items on the ship, and, aside from cannonballs, were a main contributor to ballast( a standard 180 fathom set of chains would weigh in at about 6 tons, and the cannon balls added another 20 or so). These chains were laid out and stored on the orlop deck. When the anchors were raised, the chains or anchor rope (cable) would have been wet and fouled, and the forward portion of this area allowed them to be dried (rot and insect-free).

These chains would have been raised and lowered using a continuous length of rope (messenger) tied (bent) to the chain links. The messenger would have fed around a capstan (spoked winch) and lanyards would have temporarily connected the chain to the rope as the chain was fed onto the deck. While it may be romantic to envision a square-rigger swinging on its chains, this did not happen often in the life of a warship, and when it did, upwards of sixty sailors manned the capstans. This was and still is a messy process.

Since it was below the waterline the orlop deck was protected and cool, so a likely place to store things like food, cannon balls and barrels of gunpowder.

The ribs on this deck, like all the others, were covered by ceiling planks. In the context of a ship, the word ceiling refers to any covering that is applied over an exposed structural (rib) area. It is not to be confused with the ceiling in a house, whose counterpart on the ship is the overhead.

The mainmast would have extended through the upper decks and fitted into a mast socket (step) mounted on or carved into the keelson. As we shall see, the base of the mast would have been square. We will add the mast step later.

Chain pumps were mounted on the gun deck above the lowest point in the ship (just aft of the mainmast). A series of buckets or plates, mounted on ropes, scooped up bilge water and raised it to the level of the gun deck where it flowed out of the ship through a series of holes (ports) called scuppers. The upper wheel (sprocket) was quite large and could be cranked by a small crew. The lower and smaller sprockets were mounted on the orlop deck: these pumps could collect and discharge an enormous amount of water. You may elect to add the spaces in the orlop, berth and gun decks (5mmx10mm) as we go, or not. On this model the pump sprockets will be located on the gun deck in the wrong place, but the pump function was vital, and should be noted.

As a protected and out-of-the-way space, the orlop deck usually housed the surgeon's cockpit, or quarters.

One of the most important aspects of the 1992 restoration was the reconstruction of the original "riders" mentioned earlier. As shown in the schematic, these would have risen at intervals along the sides of the orlop deck. One will be added later.

(It should be noted that the hogging (warping) of the original keel and hull was gradually relieved while the ship was in dry dock, and in addition to the riders, major other structural supports were added. Soon afterward, more extensive warping of the same type was also noted on the Constellation in Baltimore.)

Since half the orlop space was ceiled earlier, you can finish the other side or not.

The stanchions that supported the upper deck beams were mortised into the keelson and those beams (pins or tenons set into square, chiseled openings). These will be fashioned from the sushi toothpicks.

First, give a dozen or so of the toothpicks a coat of white paint. Half the length is fine.

Cut a toothpick about 2mm from its base by rolling it under the knife blade. Cut it again in the same way, about 2mm above the last turned area- it should measure about 11mm. The base area will fly away from the knife as this cut is complete, so either hold the base under a fingertip a keep track of where it lands. Sand the ends until this piece (now a stanchion) fits snugly between the keelson and the first support beam. Glue it in place, and repeat on the other side.

While certain early cultures understood geodesic construction, the Constitution's diagonal brace (rider) design has to be one of its earliest appearances on warships. At 12x24 inches these curved supports were substantial, and helped distribute and transfer the weight of the cannons to the keel. They were paired (mirrored) on the ship's sides, so some of this weight was shared by numerous ribs, but most of the weight was concentrated at the point where the feet of the riders met (at the keel), much like a keystone in an arched brick wall. Thus the load was across the width of the keel rather than along its more fragile length.

The keels on most merchant ships warped (sagged)- the bow and stern, being lighter and more buoyant that the cargo, or center area, caused the keel to warp downward from the center, up toward these more buoyant ends. The Constitution's weight (20 tons of cannons) was distributed over a much longer length, and as its center rode over waves, it tried to bend in the opposite direction. Unless the keel was supported, it would have bent upwards towards the  center of the ship(hogged). The riders corrected this load imbalance, but once the riders were removed (in earlier restorations) an inevitable process continued- even the tiny wave action in the harbor was slowly breaking the ship in half.

To reconstruct a rider, cut a short strip (maybe 2 inches) of 1/32nd basswood to a width of about 2mm. I am going to steam and bend it over a beaten-up bending mold, but lacking that, the same curve can be achieved by wetting the strip in hot water, bending it around a round shape like a baseball bat and taping it in place overnight. (The mathematically exact curve can't be drawn on a one-dimensional schematic, so do your best here.)


Load Riders being bent

The riders are being bent (steamed) on the lower bending mold. The same curve is apparent on a completed piece that sat overnight in the mold. This particular block of scrap lumber is about 6 inches square- it isn't pretty, but continues to serve for small bent pieces on other models.

To fill the ceiling space between the cross- beams, and to create a nest for the riders, cut, place and glue 1mmx2mm beams. Cut one end of the curved rider at about a 45-degree angle, fit it to the ceiling, and then mark and cut the rider so that it fits to the keelson, to the new beam and the ceiling. It should be obvious that the riders were originally held loosely in place by mortised cuts (bird's mouths) in the deck beams above them and, in the case of the rider we just placed (amidships), by butting to another rider that lead forward. As the ship hogged naturally these would have settled (floated) into an extremely tight friction fit, just like an igloo.

Many renderings and models place some sort of hanging knees on the orlop deck. Following the load vectors, the weight of the cannons would have either caused these knees or the attached ribs to fail. It's a wonder that the ship survived its early restorations.

To make the orlop deck a little more interesting I'm going to add a section of the lower portion, aft of the rider. This is not correct, but it makes the point about the chains. I am adding a thin section of ceiling to the side opposite the complete ceiling, and a 10mm piece of rib scrap, sanded to fit flush with both ceilings.

Rider in place

The starboard aft rider is the angled piece in the lower left corner, fitted to the ceiling of the orlop deck. The riders spanned two ribs on the ship, as this one does on the model. The small forward orlop deck piece is supported by the ceiling (lower) and a scrap glued across the ribs. The rider will not be obvious once the berth deck is in place, but it is an important detail.

The orlop deck is now complete but unoccupied. It contained lengths of chain, cable (anchor rope), cannonballs, casks and other items like spare timbers, kedge anchors, etc.. That type of decoration can be added later or not at all.

                                    Berth Deck

The berth deck provided what its name implies- a place to hang hammocks (berths). It also housed all of the main functions of the ship when the cannons weren't being fired. Officers, carpenters, Marines, any person or task that required a dry, somewhat-lighted area was found on this deck. Except the captain.

Dining facilities existed wherever the men found a place to sit on a deck. Rest room facilities (basically chutes and holes in the hull) could be found on the spar deck near the bow (head) of the ship. Breaking waves kept this area clean, and wind from the stern took care of the rest. Compared to even the best of conditions (for wealthy shore-dwellers) the sailors enjoyed a much cleaner privy.  

Generally speaking, the berths (hammocks) were laid out in downwind order- the most senior crew positioned toward the stern and so forth.  This to reflect the reality of 200 generally-unwashed men being present on this deck with the wind coming off the stern. Hammocks, carpenters tools and sail-making apparatus can be added now or later.

The most important structural function of the berth deck was to support the gun deck. Crews were important, but cannons won naval battles. These cannons were very heavy, and the berth deck supported all 50 of them on the upper decks (during battles, but also during heavy storms at sea when the cannons acted like pile-drivers on the ship's frame).

This required a network of deck beams, carlines (supporting cross-beams), and knees. These transferred load from the ribs, diagonal riders and stanchions (support posts) to the keelson and keel.

Like merchant ships, the waterways on the berth deck were flat, raised portions of deck planking that extended about a foot from the ceiling (outside walls). Excess rainwater ran in a controlled fashion (how these grooves were cut into the planking is your guess) to these areas from the domed area of the deck, and then down into the bilge.

Composite knees (for lack of a better term) can be seen on the schematic as dark solid vertical lines on the berth deck below the gun ports, and as the hourglass shape on the rib template.

Composite knees were actually two L-shaped knees that were mortised and riveted together (one upside down), so that the loads were transferred equally (vertically and, to a lesser extent, horizontally). On the original these would have been formed from tree crotches, but in the 1992 restoration these were formed and placed as a single laminated knee. The profile is the same, so these can be made as one piece, as shown on the template.

In addition, dagger knees (knees placed at an angle to the breast knees) spread the load between the cannons, as did hanging knees (vertical knees let into the ribs and beams) and breast knees (placed horizontally). These types of massive knees were not unique to these frigates and were placed at every structural right angle. Once pegged in place, the knees and the structural members were forced together with wooden wedges that were pounded into the joints and cut flush. Most of the doors on a typical modern house share this legacy.

To construct the composite knees use the laminated scraps that were cut from the original rib blank. Measure, cut and fit a long piece (longer than about 20mm) of scrap so that it fits between the first sets of deck beams, and meets the rib snugly. Mark and drill centered pilot holes at 3mm and 10mm from that end. The largest micro-drill bit in your collection should be a 1/16th (.0625"). Drill both holes to that diameter, or to the next-largest size in your set. Cut between the outside edges of these holes using the knife tip, and remove the material.

Cut a thin strip of sandpaper, fold it over, and dress (lightly sand) the mortised (hollowed) area. At about 4mm from the end, make a knife cut from the mortise area out at about a 30-degree angle to match the shape shown on the rib blank. On the other side of the mortise, allow slightly more distance from the end, and make another cut on the other side. The breast knee is the small end piece. Lightly sand it to create curves at the straight knife cuts.

The breast knee may break apart, usually because of weak structure in either or both pieces of wood. To give the piece more body on the next try, give the piece a coat of clear nail polish before drilling and cutting.  As an extreme last resort you can try making a new laminate using CA glue to hold the wood layers together.

The composite knees should be included on any model.

As each of the knees is completed, set them aside in order so that they can be placed where they were fitted. Line them up and sand them so that they are approximately equal, and then either leave them natural or give them a coat of white paint.

The deck planking followed the curve of the dome, and the planks decreased in thickness down to the waterway. All knees would have fitted to the beams, not the planking.

Cut a 26mm cross-grain piece from the birch. This will be used for the decks. Cut a deck piece that is slightly wider than the berth deck (40mm), and sand it to fit on the beams.

Mark a straight line on the work board, and stab a spare knife blade at some point along that line. Slide the end of the pocket comb onto that blade, line up the deck piece on the line, and stab another tip into the line to hold the piece. Pencil mark the points where the fine comb teeth meet the piece. Reverse the piece and mark to other edge- the marks should line up square to the edge and the line. At each corner, cut a notch slightly larger than the knee profile so that the deck will clear the knees when everything is in place.

Deck Planking Layout

Marking the planking lines using a pocket comb. The knife tips are stabbed into a pencil line, then the comb and deck blank are lined up with the knife blades and the lines are lightly marked on both ends. Once marked, the ruler is used as a fence to lightly score the lines with the knife.

Fit one set of knees, then slide the deck in place, and fit the other set of knees. Everything should fit neat and cleanly. Remove everything. If your deck is going to be white, paint it now or sand off the pencil marks. Paint the knees white or leave them natural.


Starting with one set of knees, apply a dot of glue to the ceiling ends and fit them back in place. Apply glue to all the beams, place the deck and clamp it in place. Then add the last set of knees.


Stanchions on this deck are tiny- if you want to add them (as I did)  they would have been placed at half the distance from the keelson (centerline) to the ribs. If you have a scrap of 1/32nd basswood, rip a small strip to about 2mm, paint it white and cut it to fit (about 3mm) between the deck and the cross-beam. Glue it in place with white glue.

                                                     Gun Deck 

This and the spar deck can be constructed using mahogany to reflect the plank thickness, but I’m sticking with the birch until we get to the spar deck.


From the birch piece, cut and sand a decking piece to fit (about 40mm). This should be identical to the berth deck.


Pencil-trace this piece onto card stock, and mark diagonal pencil lines through the corners. The intersection is dead center. Mark and cut another piece of paper that lines up with the center and on one side. Make sure it is the same width on both sides.


Mark a pencil line at ¼ inch from a wider line. Using the dead center piece of paper, draw an intersecting line through all threes lines. That is the center location of the main mast (mainmast). The mainmast will be 1/8th inch in diameter, and the holes going through the gun and berth decks will be 5/32nd in diameter to provide some wiggle room. Pierce the deck paper with a hatpin at the mainmast center, and then mark the berth and gun decks with the pin. Drill pilot holes, and then holes in both decks using your largest micro-drill.


If you have a regular 5/32nd drill bit, complete the holes using that bit, with the drill at a very low speed. If not, enlarge the holes by wrapping sandpaper into a tight coil and twirling it in the holes until they are the right size.


On the ship these holes were probably octagonal. Cross-pieces called mast partners would have captured the mast between the beams, and breast knees would have braced the partners on the opposite dimension.


Using the comb again, mark and score planking lines into the deck. The gun deck probably was not stained or painted. That’s up to you. I’m leaving it natural, so I’ve sanded off the pencil marks, and leaving as much sawdust as possible, given it a coat of clear nail polish to highlight the scoring and add some texture. (On the ship, sand was probably spread on the deck to improve footing.)


Slide the gun deck into place and use the 1/8th dowel to line everything up. You may have to sand one edge of the deck. Glue it in place, again using the dowel to line things up.


Typical Cannon


Finally, some cannons.

The drawing is one of any number that can be used to get a general idea of the parts involved in a naval cannon. Instead of a 10 foot barrel we will be dealing with longer scale lengths, allowing the muzzles to protrude outside the hull. This is one of a few concessions of scale to art.  

The gun deck was the first deck that was consistently above water, so the bilges would have had water pumped to this deck where the sea water ran out through scuppers (drainage holes in the hull). This water would also have served as a fire retardant before battle, as a swabbing (scrubbing and sponging) medium for the guns, and a drainage mechanism for blood, burnt powder and other remnants of the battle itself. It also served (an afterthought to the men) as a drainage area for rainwater from hatches and other area of the spar (top) deck.

Of the two types of guns on the ship, the cannons on the gun deck were long-range, 24 pounders, typically firing a 5.5 inch ball- roughly a 24 pound volleyball. (There were many other lethal objects from which to choose, but these were mostly fired from the carronades.). For our purposes the cannon was mounted on a wheeled gun carriage and belayed (held loosely in place) using its cascabel (rounded end knob). After firing, the cannon bore (barrel) was washed (sponged clean), reloaded, and brought back to its firing position using a block and tackle (side tackle).

To fabricate the gun carriages, rip about (8) 4mmx25mm mahogany strips. Apply glue dots at one end (about 5mm), square up the strips and glue them together at that end. (Only one end will be glued together.) Let the blank dry.

Sand the top and bottom edges flat. The profile is going to look like figure 2 in the drawing, with two steps instead of four. Mark a pencil line across all 8 strips 10mm from the unglued end, then a line at 6mm and another at 3mm from that end. At the 3mm mark, use the razor saw to cut a kerf (saw cut) about halfway through all the strips. Turn the blank its glued end, and press the knife blade into the unglued end across all the strips, even with the depth of the saw cut. The wood should fall away, creating a notch that is level across the blanks. If the grain is irregular you may have to cut these with the knife tip from the sides. Sand the notch smooth.

Cannon Carriage Blanks

Cannon frames after being cut from the blank. The blank itself was cut with the razor saw to the three depths, then the excess wood was removed from the blank with a knife tip. The individual frames were then split from the blank.

Remark and re-cut another set from the remaining blank. You shouldn't need all of these, but more is probably better.

On the 1/16th square stick, apply a light coating of white glue on one edge, and press down four of the carriage sides. Repeat on the other side of the stick, lining the sides up as you go. When these dry, give them a coat of clear nail polish.

The cannons and trucks (wheels) will be formed from toothpicks.

Clip the sharp end from a toothpick and chuck that end into a rotary tool or power drill. You will notice the two shoulder areas (the same diameter as the shaft) and a knurled (rounded) area. The knurled area will become the breech, the wider shoulder will become the cascabel and the barrel will extend out from the other shoulder area.

Operating the tool at low speed, hold the edge of the wand against the toothpick shaft, and mill (sand) the area below the narrow shoulder (about 20mm) to a diameter of 1.5-2mm. (Sandpaper is faster, but a micro-file is more precise.) Mill the other end to a diameter of less than 1mm, being careful not to sand the knurled area. Snip off the cascabel to a length of about1mm and round it end. Remove the cannon, and cut it (roll it under the knife) to a total length of about 16mm. It should look like a cannon.

Drill a .0245 (#71,72 or #73) hole through the cannon midway through the remaining shoulder area. Place a dot of CA glue on the end of the 20 gauge wire and insert it through the hole, with about 1mm protruding. Snip the cannon off the wire, with wire protruding on both sides- these are its swivels. Set it on a carriage- it should look like a cannon on its carriage.

Fabricate three more, and then paint the cannons black. With a round file, sand a slight bed for the cannons into the top of the carriages, and saw a very small notch for the swivels (see the diagram).

For the trucks, rip a 1/32nd piece of scrap to a width of 4mm, and use scrap toothpick pieces. About 2mm from one end of the round shaft, saw kerfs about halfway though. Whittle a notch out of the area between the cuts. The carriage will fit into this flattened area (truck). Sand or file the notch to fit the carriage, and cut the piece leaving another 2mm for the wheel on that side. Sand down the ends so they look like wheels. Make another truck, making sure the carriage sits properly on both. Make three more sets and paint the wheels black, or leave them natural.

Put a drop of glue on each axle, space the axles as you see fit, and press the carriage onto the tuck. Glue the cannons to the carriages.

The weight of the cannon would have been slightly biased toward the breach, swung on its swivels (posts), and small wooden chisels would have been slid under the breach end to control elevation on a calm sea. The cannons would have been moved into either battle or storage position using sets (gigs) of block and tackle similar to the one used on the anchor chain. I'm going to save the block and sheave work for the rigging, but you can consult the section on running rigging if you want to fully rig the carriage with its side and train (rear) gigs.

If you are going to extremes, a hole from the top of the cannon to the breach (the touch hole) is needed. Once a paper sack (casing) of gunpowder, wads (shredded rages) and shot were loaded (each shoved home with a ramrod), a porcupine quill (or bird feather) filled with priming (very fine) powder would have been rammed down the touch hole, piercing the powder casing. When a spark or smoldering stick was touched to the quill, all hell broke loose.

The paper casing would have had a rag content of 100%- that's how paper was made. Arguments for flannel, muslin and canvas fall on deaf ears here. Some authors will also argue that the firing mechanism was some sort of flintlock affair, but the loading, aiming and firing sequences were so carefully choreographed that this kluge might have looked romantic, but like its counterpart in the Royal Navy, never adopted. As a matter of fact, the only conceptual improvement in naval artillery into the 20th century was the breech-loading of the cannon.

Fire control algorithms were stored in the gunners (gun captain's) head. The algorithm consisted of a mental image of two ships, going in two separate directions at two different speeds on a rising, falling and tilting sea, compensated by the burn time of the primer, the adequacy of the wad and the position of the cannon. The New York Yankees would have drafted this guy in a minute.

Bear in mind that a typical cannon crew consisted of an officer (a midshipman), two ranks each of gun captain, sponger and loader (6 men), and a shot (ball) carrier, plus men for the pumps, fires and miscellaneous (train tackle). During a battle the first guns were usually fired, cleaned and reloaded on one side of the ship before the last gun on that side had fired. Allowing for wave action (elevation), that works out to roughly one cannonball headed your way every 6 seconds, or 15 of them all at once. It is little wonder that the British forbade single ship engagements with these frigates.

                                              Bilge Pump

The bilge pump will occupy the amidships space on the gun deck. There are a few candidate designs- any variation will do if the pump itself is present and it displays as a circular crank (drum and wheel) type, continuously moving on a chain or cable using plates or buckets.

For the one I am using, center and drill a .0245 in. hole in the middle of a 1/8th dowel. This should be a fairly deep hole (8mm or so). Then mark and drill a pilot hole between that hole and the edge of the dowel- this one about 3mm deep.  Saw a 2mm wheel off that end of the dowel.

Slide a short length of 26 gauge wire into the smaller hole, and apply a dot of CA gel to the wire. Slide the wheel over that dot and it will hold. Clip one end of the wire flush with the wheel. Make another wheel.

The base for the pump will be (2) 3mm x 6mm mahogany strips. Cut and round the ends, then drill a .0245 hole through both pieces about 2/3 of the way to the rounded ends. Cut a thinner strip that will fit in the area between the holes and the square end (about an inch long), and glue the base pieces upright on that piece.

Thread a short length of 20 gauge wire between the base pieces, and slide a wheel onto that wire. Again, apply CA glue to the 20 gauge wire and slide the wheel over that dot. If the thicker wire isn't flush with the wheel, clip it flush. Repeat on the other side. Finally, trim the thinner (26 gauge) wire to about 4mm on both wheels and trim the base spacer flush to the base pieces.

The wheels probably won't rotate on the pump's axle, but if they could, the thin wire (handle) would have been manned by up to six sailors per pump. This water kept the gun deck at least moist as a safety measure, and it provided water to sponge the cannons and extinguish frequent fires. The axle would have been cogged, so that one turn of the outer wheel could have unloaded 4 or more buckets of water. Thinking in terms of two chains and wheels at one revolution per second and about a gallon per bucket, one set of pumps could have pumped out over 30,000 gallons of water an hour.

Gun Deck Populated

The cannons and pump in place. Note the gun ports in the outer hull, the bilge pump in place, the mast hole and the scuppers beneath the gun ports.

The waterways on the gun deck were unlike those on the berth deck. On the gun deck the wheels and carriages of the guns had to reach the ceiling, so the waterways were triangular, the angle facing amidships. The gun deck was also much wetter than the berth deck because it was exposed to rain from the hatch and other openings in the spar deck, and bilge water from the pumps. The waterways were built and beveled so that all of this water fed to lined, round drains cut through the ceiling and hull (scuppers). In most cases the drains (pipes) were made of thin copper plate.

The outer hull can be completed now. First, cut a template from a piece of card stock (about 26mm x 2 inches), and pencil mark the outer edges and tops of the ribs. Mark straight lines and cut it to fit from the existing hull planking to the top of the ribs. Holding it against the ribs, place a cannon on the gun deck and mark where its muzzle hits the paper. Draw a straight line across the paper at this point.

Mark the center point of the outer rib pairs on that line, and mark another set of lines, 4mm apart, framing that point (into a 4mm square). Cut out this frame (gun port) with the knife. Place a cannon back on the deck, hold the template to the hull, and make sure that the cannon muzzle is squared inside both ports, and the ports are level. Test both sides of the ship.

On a 26mm strip of birch, mark and cut the template outline from the strip. You should be ripping (cutting along the grain) the birch. Pace the paper template on the birch blank and drill pilot holes at each corner of the gun ports. Use the knife tip to cut these to the outside of the pilot holes. File away any ragged edges in the ports, and retest the birch with a cannon. Center and  drill a hole for each scupper beneath each gun port.

If everything lines up, place a dot of CA gel on each rib (close to the lower hull) and press this hull section into place. Place a series of small dots along the edges of the ribs, and press the rest of the piece down so that it follows the shape of the ribs.

Repeat on the other side. It shouldn't be necessary, but move a cannon around the deck and check all the ports. Sand or file as needed.

At this point I'm going to give the entire hull a coat of black paint. After the black dries I am going to paint a white stripe on the hull between the head and sill (top and bottom) of the gun ports, and I'm going to give the bottom hull sections a coat of copper paint.

For the scuppers, press the point of a toothpick into each hole. Brush paint onto the point, and twirl it into the holes. This should create a tiny copper doughnut at each hole.

Whether you paint all or part of the hull is a matter of choice. Every hull that I originally left natural wound up looking like a hull made of carefully constructed sticks- I got around to painting every one. A more impressive display is a hull and interior left open and unfinished on one side to display the ship's original design and construction. Furniture and fixtures look great in dollhouses.

The carronades that will be placed on the spar deck weren't much lighter than the cannons on the gun deck, so the knee placement on the gun deck would have continued the philosophy of load vectoring, with the load spread across many knees, beams and eventually the riders, ending at the greatest point of load meeting the highest point of water pressure. (the keel). I think the points about the riders and knees have been made, but if you want to add other types and sets of knees, that's a matter of choice. We've already acknowledged the design innovations.

Since I don't want to obscure things I'm also going to forego stanchions on this deck, and just glue the cannons and pump to the deck using white glue.


                                          Spar Deck

We can now begin to work on areas of the ship that are normally viewed.

If the gun deck was a busy place during a battle, the spar deck was by far the busiest overall and the most crucial, since the ship's sails (air pressure) were its only source of power.

In close-quarter battles, the sailors were exposed to cannon fire, grape shot and musket fire from the enemy ship. Not to mention falling and burning sails, shrouds, splinters and anything else that might kill them. A normal day at sea would have included rain, heat and uniform inspection, also on this deck.

The area on the model is just forward of the mainmast and includes the gangway. This area was the social, ceremonial and judicial heart of the ship. Much modeling and artistic attention is lavished on the stern, helm and bow (figurehead) areas on the ship, probably because without crewmembers those areas are impressive. Line up 400 sailors, Marines and officers in the area of the mainmast and you have quite a different picture.

While the length of Constitution's deck was longer than usual, the deck layout was standard for the period.

We will construct the spar deck using mahogany- there should be plenty of scrap pieces for this, but if not, cut a 26mm piece across the grain. It will need to be ripped slightly wider than the ribs (37mm) and slid into place (to clear the ribs). Cut, sand  and place the deck blank.

One or more of the cannons will probably interfere with the deck. To trim the cannons, slide the razor saw across the beams and down the ribs, and run the wand across the ribs to trim the pump.

Using the mast hole template, mark the mainmast location on the deck, and drill or shape a 5/32nd hole, just as with the other decks. Insert the 1/8th dowel and make sure that it sits perfectly vertical in all directions. According to Commander Macdonough the Constitution's mainmast held a rake (angle toward the stern from perpendicular) of ½ inch per yard of height (1:72). Given a mainmast height of 104 feet (minus the 27 feet from spar deck to keelson) the mainmast would have leaned aft on our scale about .6mm. I'm sticking with perpendicular.

(The correct (Macdonough) overall height of the mainmast structure, from the top of the keelson to the tip of the skysail pole is 260 feet, or 230 feet without the skysail pole. This equates to a height above the spar deck of 203 feet. Somehow the Navy, admired for its precision, has lost track of 7 feet.)

Mark the planking (I'm using the comb). Score the deck using a hatpin or needle to avoid splitting the wood. After scoring, use the knife tip to cut through the very end (.5mm or less) of each score line. Sand off the marks (if any) and give the deck a coat of nail polish.

Hold a scrap of 1/32nd wood on the beams, and use the razor saw to cut the gangways on each side down to that level (the spar deck, between the inside edges of the middle two ribs on each side. Sand the inside edges of the gangway.

Clamp and glue the deck in place with white glue.

At this point and going forward the hull will have to be supported in a vertical position. A mini-clamp will work well, or you can fashion a holder using clothespins, scrap wood or whatever else will consistently hold the hull in the squarely upright position. Until now any out-bounds rib or other minor irregularity was just that. Plumb and square will be more than a guideline from now on.

From the Humphreys drawing, the strongest ribs and reinforcing frames end at the spar deck. The ribs and planks above this deck were more widely spaced and lighter weight- they were basically expendable- if a cannonball hit this area it might punch holes in the planking but not seriously compromise the ship's structure. This was probably of little comfort to the crewmen manning the spar deck.

From photos taken in the early part of the 20th century and during the Constitution's stint as a berthing ship, most of this side area was either simply not there or had been removed. The higher spar deck sides (wales) opened amidships into a lower (or as shown on the schematic, a nonexistent) knee wale area. This would have permitted the cannons to be rolled onto the spar deck, lifted by tackle at the mainmast and capstans, and lowered through the spar deck to the gun deck. At the same time, hundreds, if not thousands of barrels containing everything from gunpowder to salted provisions and rum were rolled onboard, lowered and stored on or near the orlop deck. At sea the crew consumed ( and, like the Royal Navy, was required to consume) about a thousand pounds of foodstuffs a day- that makes for a lot of barrels.

As a nod to its current configuration, a knee wale will fill this open area. Given a rib height above the spar deck of  about 5mm use a 3mm scrap as a guide and begin to saw off the top of the foreward-most rib, and continue that line until the second rib. Break off the rib and birch section that were cut away, and continue the saw cut halfway through the second rib. Continue the cut line by scoring the birch with the knife tip. At the second rib, press  the knife tip between the glued halves, and the cut half will fall away, leaving the gangway plaque. Whether both sides of the gangway were decorated is a matter of conjecture, but Humphreys' Quaker instincts probably would have been to leave it plain.

It can be seen from the 1858 photograph that the original live oak strakes were relatively short, wide and canted at about a 60-degree angle. This would have added additional strength and flexibility to the hull, spreading the impact of a cannonball hit over more than just two ribs, and reinforcing the bias of the internal arched riders.

At this point if you want to create planking lines on the hull, straight or canted, using a needle or hatpin to scribe them into the surface of the paint.


Stepping the Main Mast

Spar deck, with rails and mast in place. The channels and gun port shutters are in place, and the gangway is open and planked.   

Paint a piece of birch scrap white. Rip a 5mm strip of the birch for the aft ceiling. Using the gun port template, cut out ports for the carronades and fit the ceiling so that the gun ports are centered horizontally on the ribs, and the inside edge of the piece lines up with half a rib at the gangway. Repeat for the other side, and by ripping (trimming) the upper portion, place and glue the ceiling and ports for the knee wales.


Cut the gangway plank from scrap (2mmx6mm) and glue it in place. It should  overlap the hull and deck (slightly).


The railings would have had to support swivel guns (small cannons), hammock nests (fences) and other items, so they would have been relatively thick and wide. The mahogany is suitable, so create the railings with (4) 4mm wide railings, cut to fit and dressed at the ends. Any overlap should be inboard, since the shrouds will have to clear the rails.


To acknowledge the waterways I am gluing thin hemp cord (10 pound) at the intersection of deck and ceiling- this also creates a more formal appearance. Any heavy tan thread will work just as well, or this detail can be omitted.

                                                   Hull Fittings     

On any sailing vessel at the time, the lines (shrouds) that steadied the mast from side-side were eventually attached to the ship’s timbers (beams), by way of a chain plate. The chain plates were usually attached (riveted) through the hull to the beam that bore the greatest weight. (In our case, the beams supporting the gun deck.)


The lines that hold a mast in the centerline direction are the forestays (toward the bow), and backstays (toward the stern). Lacking a knightstemple to connect the forestays and nowhere aft to connect the backstays, we are only concerned with the shrouds.


The shrouds were connected to the ship by way of adjustable fixtures that kept the brittle lines running in their strongest direction (with the fibers). These are deadeyes. The deadeyes were connected to the chainplates by connecting timbers that protected the lines (held the shrouds and chainplates away from the side of the ship). These wooden spacers are called channels-they were attached to the beams on the next highest, or spar deck.


To create the channels, paint a birch scrap (25mm or longer) black. Scribe (knife-mark) a line about 1mm from the outside edge of that piece.. Resting a hatpin in that groove, use the comb to space a series of holes 2mm apart. Thread will have to pass cleanly through these holes, so after drilling pilot holes, pass a hatpin through each hole from the opposite side. Rip the piece to a width of 3mm, and then cut off (2) 10mm long channels. There should be 4 holes in each piece, with the end holes lying about 1mm from each end.


To reinforce the channel (so the glue will hold it to the ship), glue both channels to a 1mm wide strip of mahogany or basswood. Glue, clamp and then use CA gel to glue the channels in place- half the distance from the top of a cannon barrel to the bottom of a rail.


The gun ports were protected from the weather by hinged covers (shutters).When closed, the shutters were flush to the hull, with centered portholes that were the same diameter as the cannon’s muzzle. In severe weather the cannons would have been brought amidships, but their usual deployed position was in-place. Just like many other aspects of the ship, whether these were single or double-paned shutters, and whether painted white or black, are all viable candidates, and any combination was certainly correct at one time or another. (A detail that is missing from most models is the narrow foot rail that ran below the gun ports. This detail would have been included originally, not only for work on the guns, but the chainplates and channels.)


I’m going with the interior color of the ship and the stripe (white) as the color for the shutters, and to make things difficult, two-piece construction for the cannon (gun) ports. The appearance will be a split porthole, with the bottom half of the shutter open and resting on the hull and the upper half held open. The cannons will be clear to fire.


Paint a few scraps of birch white on both sides (10mmx25mm is an easy size). Drill a 1/16th (2mm) hole toward the center and not for from the top edge of one piece. Use the rattail micro-file to clean up the hole, then use the knife to cut a clean line across the top of the piece, about 1mm from the edge of the hole. Cut through the line.


Cut another line, parallel to the first, at the same distance from the hole on the other side. From this line, cut lines on both sides of the hole. The hole should now be centered in a square. Finish cutting the side lines, and cut them from the piece at the bottom cut. Place the knife blade across the center of the hole, rock the blade up and down, and cut the hole in half. Finish the bottom cut and set the two shutter pieces aside. Make about six sets of shutters and pick the best eight halves.


Glue one shutter bottom flat to the hull, using white glue, so that the straight shutter edge is lined up with the bottom of the gun port (or the white stripe) and the half-hole is centered with the cannon barrel (hole away from the barrel). Put a dot of CA gel on the straight edge of a top piece and press that to the hull, half-hole outward, slightly above the gun port, centered on the piece below. Repeat for the three other gun ports.


We’re about to give up on the hull, so inspect it and redo any areas that need touchup. Any piece held by the white glue can be broken off and easily redone, so if something is not up to your definition of snuff, fix it.




While we were working on the hull it was mandatory to lift, rotate and otherwise manhandle it.

As we rig the ship the hull should be solidly held in a level position so that the rigging lines (threads) can be pulled into and held in tension (tight). The spars and rigging will be held together with a minimum of glue, so while the model will be strong and flexible it also has to be squared away.

I have leveled the hull using toothpicks on the sides, and white-glued it to a 26x 80 piece of mahogany scrap. The scrap base can be clamped or pinned to the work board if a more solid footing is needed.

Typically a sailboat has a single mast. If two or more masts are present, the mast takes its horizontal name from its position on the ship (fore (forward), main (mid) or mizzen (aft)) and its vertical name from the sails at that level. (In ascending order, Mainmast, Maintopmast, Man-topgallant, and main-royal.)  We are working on the Mainmast (which is nautically correct); at the same time we are working on the Mainmast and all the masts above it (which is different, but also correct).

The Constitution had a made, as opposed to a solid, mainmast. The term refers to the fact that the heaviest masts on larger ships were fabricated from sections of many tree trunks, rather than from a single trunk. Among the better reasons for this method is the fact that the core of most trees is the densest straight area of the tree, and the wood weakens outward from there. The center (core) of the mast was square and fitted into a brace (step) on the keelson. The outer four sections, also formed from the center of trees, were square at the core and then shaped hexagonally (8 sided) and rounded as they rose up from the spar deck to the area near the top (small) deck) where the core emerged as a square again. These long sections were fitted tightly together to form the laminated (made) mast and were fastened to the core by rope or iron hoops (wythes or withes). The hoops were driven down the mast to insure a tight fit, and driven again as the wood dried. So the mast was square at its base, square at its top and hexagonal and rounded elsewhere.

A little math is in order to get the proportions right.

The tonnage, or displacement of a sailing ship is determined by the distance between its perpendiculars- in our case roughly the length of the gun deck: 174 feet, 10 ½ inches (on our scale, 6 inches, or 154 mm). This measurement determines many others, such as the placement and vertical height of the masts. We'll deal with the width (span) of the spars later.

The main (lower) mast would have been measured from its foot (or step, on the keelson) and been 2-3 times the beam of 43 feet, 6 inches. (Given the model scale, 1.58 inches, or 40 mm, which is very close to our beam.)

This results in a lower main mast height of 104 feet, or in our case, 3.6 inches or 90 mm. To get the other measurements out of the way, the next vertical member, or top mast was 62 feet long, or 2.1 inches rounded to 54 mm on our model. We are going to combine the topgallant and royal gallant into one section- call it the topgallant. This measured 55 feet on the original, so 1.9 inches, or 50 mm. (If you want to get technical, the topgallant area was 33 feet and the royal 22 feet. The royalgallant had a diameter of 6.8 inches. The skysail mast pole (where the flags were flown) would have added an additional 39 feet.

These mast sections would have been tapered slightly to another fairly precise series of ratios, but for our purposes, given the original diameter of 2 feet 10 inches, our lower (main) mast should have a diameter of .1 inches (1/8th), or 3.2 mm.

Given my faith in Captain Macdonough's measurements, this happens to be exactly the same size as the mast dowel that we have been using with the decks.

We went through this earlier, but a tiny off-angle at its base will result in a huge off-center at the top of the mast, so when it sits loose in the hole, the mast should be plumb (straight up) in all directions. If it isn't yet, mark the mast on the edge of the shallowest angle, and using the flat wand, start to sand that surface and the ones next to it flat until the mast sits true. If a minor shaping doesn't fix the problem, then either the wayward sides of mast holes will need to be filed away, or the hole enlarged some other way. A mast collar will correct any open gaps at the spar deck.

To make tapering the rest of the masts and yards a little easier, it might be helpful to tightly wrap a piece of 100 grit sandpaper backwards (grit to the center) and push it into a ½ in scrap of plastic, copper or any other small tubing you can find. Twist it slightly to form a slight cone inside the tube. This will reduce the wobble as you operate a rotary tool. You can do the same thing with a finer grit and push it into the other end. Leave a little overhang so you can easily gauge sanding marks.

The main mast would have been gently tapered away from its fulcrum point (basically the mast hole in the spar deck).  

The square area ( exposed core) at the top would have been 1/7th   of its height, resulting in our case in a squared area 14 mm from the top of the main mast. The Navy's rule at the time was .29 x topmast length, or 16 mm. Our solution, the average, is to mark a line around the mast 15mm from the top. Mark the front of the mast somewhere near but below this mark.

Saw a slight (1/32nd) kerf around the mast at the circle mark. Sand the front (fore) flat. Then sand the back (aft) edge parallel to the front, and both sides square to both of those. The core square should be about 3/32nd wide, with a sharp, flat ledge at its bottom. To sharpen the ledge, whittle (draw the knife down) to the kerf.

On the left (port) and right (starboard) side, continue the flat surface another 5 mm below the kerf. This will be the flat base for the cheeks (cheeks of the hounds).

On the actual mast, the outside pieces would simply have been cut shorter than the core, creating the ledges that we are having to form from a solid piece.

Think of the cheeks (cheeks of the hounds) as thin hanging knees, made from the same area of a tree. Trestle (support) trees (short beams) sat on and extended the tops of the cheeks to support a small semicircular deck (the top, or fighting top). Each support tree was wide enough to rest on both the ledge and the top of the cheek on that side of the mast. The trees were actually notched into a network of smaller trees, but that is a detail for a larger scale.

To make the cheeks, rip a 1/32nd x4mm wide strip. Mark a point 7 mm from one end and saw a diagonal from one end corner to that mark. With a round wand or rolled sandpaper, sand a gentle curve into the angled face, and clip about 1 mm up from the sharp tip. Glue it to one flattened side area on the mainmast, with the 4mm area at the top, the back edge flush with the mast, and the curved angle facing front. Repeat for the other side, lining up both 4mm ends with the ledge.

Main Mast Before Riggting

Completed main mast with wythes; cheeks and trestle trees supporting the top; top with lubber holes and shroud holes, cap; top mast with cheeks and trees; cap; top gallant mast

The next mast up, or the topmast (to be precise the main topmast), was made from a single tree trunk. It was probably squared at its base to fit the mainmast, and rested on the forward edge of the ledge. It was made fast to the mainmast and held in place (side-side) between the cheeks and trees, and fore-aft by a thick cap that fitted around and clamped (held) both masts. On later ships the cap was often a formed iron piece.

Chuck a length of 3/32x3/32 basswood into a rotary tool and mark the point closest to the collet or chuck. Mark at 8 mm from this point and cut it to a length of 54 from the first mark. Turn and taper this piece from the 8 mm mark so that the top end has a diameter of about 2mm. Saw off at the first mark, and glue it to the forward edge of the squared main mast, with the foot of this piece (now the top mast) resting on the cheeks.

Repeat this process for the top mast/ topgallant assembly. This time the squared area on the top mast will be 4 mm long, the cheeks 3mm wide and the topgallant turned from a piece of 1/16x1/16 stick, tapered to about 1 mm at its peak. The stick may not stand the pressure of the rotary tool, so turning it by fingertip may be a safer way to turn the topgallant. Alternatively, taper a 5/64th dowel and sand the lower section square.

The entire assembly should be 7 inches long (shorter if you stepped the mast on the gun deck). It should be straight in all directions; viewed from the front it should appear to have been made from a single tapered dowel.

To form the wythes on the main mast I am going to use some .06mm copper wire, but the thin brass wire or thick thread will work. Mark three lines at equal intervals between the spar deck and cheek lines. Bend the wire around one of those points and clip it to a length of about ¼ inch. On the back of the mast, use pliers to twist the bitter ends of the wire until the hoop fits snugly to the mast. Using a needle or pin, touch a tiny amount of super glue at the mast-wire junction. Give the marked area a coat of nail polish.

When it's dry, snip the wire close to the mast with the nail clippers. Repeat at the other marks. (You can flatten the wire using a small hammer if you prefer that look. Or practice alternatives using wires, threads or tape strips. These should look good to you, and are important aspects of understanding the ship.) Touch up the backs with a micro file.

A top cap held the top of the lower and the shaft of the upper masts together. It will also be a convenient rigging point.

If the top cap was wooden (some were iron) its dimensions were as follows: the top cap was generally 4x the width of the upper mast in length (8mm and 6mm), 1.5x times in width (3 and 1.5mm) and .75 in thickness (1.5 and 1.5 mm). These can be fabricated, or short (1/4 inch) sections of 1/16x1/16 sticks can be glued fore-aft at both tops. When these are dry, fit 1/16x1/6 sections between these two, and let dry. Clip the fronts to extend about 3/32 forward of the top mast section, round the fronts and sand the rears and tops flat.

The trestle trees were supports for any deck above them, as well as forming a base for any cross-trees that also supported that deck. They were also useful for holding rigging lines close to the mast.

Rough-cut, fit and glue (2) 1/16x1/16x 1/12 inch trestle trees to the tops of the lower cheeks, and (2) 1/32x1/32x ¼ in trestle trees to the upper.

The top deck formed the base for the upper shrouds, but it was also the fire base for Marine marksmen doing their best to shoot the helmsman (among others) on the enemy ship. It was entered from the ratlines though a lubber hole that also provided clearance for the lower shrouds that were attached to the main mast.

Our top deck (fighting top) will be 1/32nd thick, 20mm wide by 12 mm deep. Cut the piece so the grain runs port-starboard (20 mm). Mark 2 lines, each 6mm from a long end, across the blank. Mark another two lines 6mm apart and slightly off center running in the other direction. These will form a rectangular opening in the middle of the deck called the lubber hole.

On the short sides, drill a series of holes on the inside of the lines starting at the corners. Drill as many as you can. Then begin to cut out the rectangle with a series of light passes with the knife tip, rotating the piece as you go. After each pass check the unmarked side- when the knife cuts show through with sufficient detail, start cutting from that side until the center section falls out. Lightly touchup the interior edges with a micro file, and sand a rounded corner on the front (wider) edge.

Give the outer edges of the deck a coat of nail polish. Then mark lines about 2mm from each side edge., and mark and drill 3 pilot  (.025) holes, starting 2 mm from the aft edge, about 3mm apart on that line.

Slide the deck over the mast, and fit and glue it to the lower trestle trees. When the glue dries, trim the trees to the edges of the deck, and sand them flush.

Step the mast so that it rests on the keelson. If you slip the glass enclosure over the model, the tip (top) of the topgallant should be at or slightly below the top of the hurricane glass. The main mast can be shortened slightly (very) at its foot, but any other changes to the mast will create a FUBAR in the rigging plan.

Locate a piece of laminated scrap and trim it to a width of 4mm. Mark the center at one end and file or sand a semicircle at that point that fits the mast. This is the mast step. Trim it at an angle to a length of about 6mm, apply white glue and set it on the keelson. Re-step the mast and line everything up so the mast sits correctly when fitted into the step. Remove the mast and let the step glue dry.

The mast, like the actual, will not be fixed, or glued.

                                             Standing Rigging

Rigging is categorized into those lines (ropes) that hold the masts in position (standing) as opposed to rigging that allows the sails to be adjusted when the ship is underway (running).

Let's deal with terminology.

A length of timber sitting on a dock is a piece of wood until it is fitted to the ship where it is named. A length of rope sitting on a dock is a length of rope until it is named.

Nautical terminology is a universal language because many sailors (conscripted or otherwise) did not speak English. So it was a shorthand way to communicate during storms and battles. Think of it as a language that a surgeon might use: a named blood vessel doesn't have to convey much meaning as a normal part of your body, but you certainly want the surgeon to know its exact location if you're undergoing an operation. Most arcane nautical terms are politely confined to a nautical curriculum.

Ropes placed on the Constitution were three-stranded Russian hemp that had been treated at the ropewalk (factory). These were fabricated using the same technology that created thread and cloth (the spinning wheel).

On the dock they were brown coils, ( ½ inch rope, for example was delivered in 75 fathom lengths). They were heavy, brittle and ragged. Once placed , they were named, such as shrouds, lifts, stays and sheets. When the ship was fully rigged they formed a profile (outline), consisting of lines.

A skill that is still required today is based on the complex business of weaving and tying these fragile ropes together so that they did not fray, break or otherwise fail during storms or battles. A simplistic example of the stresses is the modern bow and arrow. The bowstring is a complicated piece of rope that operates through a series of pulleys (sheaves) to achieve the significant power needed to bend the bow and then return it to a stable state. The ends of the string are served (wrapped) to minimize wear. If you think of the masts and sprits in terms of the bow, and the shrouds and stays as the string, you are not far off.

On larger models, the diameter of the rigging lines (threads) decreases as the height increases, just as on a ship. In our case the diameter of the threads is more a function of availability than fitness, so button thread will be used for shrouds, and sewing thread for everything else.


The deadeyes are a good place to start the standing rigging. On the ship, the rope that made up the standing rigging was tarred, then by way of a process to protect and smooth the rope strands, it became a shroud that was served (wrapped with thin line), and then wrapped around a deadeye where the bitter (loose) end was lashed back to the shroud to form a strong closed loop. This process took some time and a heavy (serving) mallet to get right. The deadeyes adjusted (tightened) the shrouds as the shrouds shrank and/or stretched over time. Since each rope was woven slightly differently, the fine adjustments that were constantly needed were very much like tuning a huge guitar.

Deadeyes themselves were round (or oblong) pieces of very hard wood, with three holes bored for the looped lanyard (short length of rope). For convenience, most models include perfectly round deadeyes when in fact most of them were shaped more like teardrops so that the shrouds would not have been bent at a weak (severe) angle.

If you think of the holes in a bowling ball, that's not far off from the three holes in a deadeye. The thumb hole on the ball is analogous to the odd eye on a deadeye. The lanyard was adjustable, while the shroud that attached to the mast was not. The deadeyes, rigged in pairs, were not much wider than the shroud, smoothly rounded on edge, and presented much the same sideways profile as the shrouds themselves.

The lanyards, typically 1/3 the diameter of the shrouds that they tightened, were rigged in pairs, and the odd eye on one deadeye faced the shroud (up toward the mast) and the odd eye on the other faced the chainplate. A stopper (figure eight) knot usually formed (inboard) one end of the lanyard's circuit, and from there the lanyard fed through the matching hole in the bottom deadeye, up to the upper odd hole, down to the lower odd hole, and up and down in the remaining holes.

The port and starboard deadeyes were mirror (reversed) images of each other. The stopper in most cases was aft, and the lanyard was hitched (multiple times) to the shroud. To insure that a set (up to six pairs) of the deadeyes was loaded equally, a shear-pole was attached across multiple shrouds (usually at the tope of the deadeyes). This stick gave the sailors a quick visual confirmation that the shrouds were level, or equally loaded.

The diameter of an actual deadeyes would have been roughly equal 6 times the diameter of the lanyard. In our case, that equates to a diameter of about 2mm or less. Deadeyes in this size range can be purchased, still leaving the dilemma of rigging something this small. No problem.

Most sushi toothpicks have a turned portion at the top of the main toothpick shaft. This area is about 1/64th wide and deep. The button thread and 26 gauge brass wire are about 1/128th  (.2mm) in diameter. You can create a similar land in the shaft of a 2mm dowel.

Wrap a length of 26 gauge wire around the groove- two turns will fit. Apply a dot of CA glue to the wire at the groove- capillary action will draw the glue in. One end should be an inch or so long. While that is drying, do the same thing using button thread on another toothpick- one end of the thread should be at least six inches long.

When these have dried, use the knife or clippers to cut off the short ends of the toothpicks, and sand those ends down to the wire, and then the thread. Mark and drill pilot holes down the center of each toothpick (about 3-5mm deep will do). Cut what are now deadeyes from the toothpick shaft. Sand the faces, as best you can, down to the wire and thread on the newly cut sides.

The wire is the chainplate and the button thread is the shroud.

Using the rigging needle, thread a length of black sewing (thin) thread through one deadeye, then the other, and continue this for about 3 loops (there is plenty of space in the holes). On the last loop, pass the needle through the original hole.

Work the thread ends until the deadeyes are about 1-2mm apart and there are no loops or loose areas in the assembly. Then apply a dot of nail polish where the long thread emerges on both sides of one deadeye. Let this dry then trim the thread to the deadeyes. Tug on the wire and thread ends- this should be a sturdy assembly, just as it was on the ship. The sewing thread is the lanyard.

You might also use a #75 or smaller drill bit to drill a correct set of holes- the rigging needle and thread will pass through the holes just fine. A problem is toothpick mortality- these toothpicks, while precise, were not intended for anything like this abuse, so you may destroy a lot of toothpicks before getting to the eight sets that are needed. In this case, rig the deadeyes like the actual. (This is also good practice for making tye blocks later in the rigging process.)

Make three more sets.


Ratlines were the stepladders for sailors going into the rigging (aloft). These would have been hitched (tied using a clove hitch) to multiple shrouds at intervals (steps) of approximately a foot. With the threads we are using that can be accomplished, but the spacing (.03 inches) results in knots that are not attractive. Alternatively the ratlines can be sewn through the shrouds using a very fine needle and set with nail polish.

If you wish to add them, lay out two sets of deadeyes so that the threads meet 30mm from the deadeyes, and anchor both ends so that the wires are 8mm apart. Sew or tie each ratline individually, spacing them about 1mm apart.

The ratlines and shear pole were common to all sailing ships, but are not usually rigged  at this scale. If you went ahead with the ratlines, the sheer poles will be  1mm strips of wood, about 10mm long, tied to the shrouds where they meet the deadeyes. These will be adjusted, so do not glue the sheer poles in place.


The shrouds will hold the mast in its final position.

Drill pilot holes in the mast sections, fore-aft at 66mm and 114mm from the foot, then at 5 and 22mm from the tip (top). Those will hold the spars at the correct height.

Drill lateral (side-side) pilot holes between the sets of masts, midway between the trees and caps, and 2mm below the tip of the mast. Finish-drill the main/top (lowest) hole to a diameter of about .031 (#68 drill).

Also drill pilot holes in the hull on either side of the rear cannons, lined up with the barrel centers, midway between the rear edge of the model and the rear edge of the gangway. These holes are for the chainplates, so the holes should go all the way into the gun deck.

Fit the mast to its step. Select a deadeye/shroud. Thread a short length of 26 gauge wire through the lowest deadeye hole (away from the shroud) and bend it in half to capture the deadeye in a loop. Snip off one end of the wire at the outside edge of the deadeye, and bend that end a bit more, but not too tightly- the deadeye will need to move slightly. The open end of that small loop will face the ship.

On the other end of the wire, make a 90-degree or so sharp bend, about 5mm from the deadeye, oriented toward the open end of the loop. This end will thread into the hull. Snip the wire, leaving a length of about 5mm from the bend.

Thread the wire though a front or rear hole in the channel, and into a hole in the hull. The bottom of the deadeye should be sitting very close to the top of the channel, and the wire should be in a straight line from the hole to the bottom of the channel. The wire is now the chainplate.

No exact measurement will work here, and no matter how carefully the holes are placed you will need to refit each chainplate until all four look similar and correct. When the forward and aft chainplates on each side look correct, apply a dot of CA gel to each wire where it enters the hull.

Using the rigging needle, thread each shroud up through the lubber hole and through the mainmast hole. Lightly tug on the pairs of threads on each side of the top deck and trim the mast so that it is vertical. There should be no slack in the shrouds and they should not be crossed on either side of the mast. The deadeyes should be lined up with the angle of the shrouds-the lines should be taut and straight from the channel to the mast. In short, they should look good.

Main Mast Step 2

The shrouds. The chainplates are glued to the hull, the shrouds have been threaded through the mast, looped and secured at the channel and top. Dots of nail polish on the mast will hold these firmly in place. Also shown are the fife rail with pins, posts with pins and carronades. The model is white-glued to a 1/32nd mahogany  base that will fit inside the base of the globe.

Using the rigging needle, loop the bitter end of one shroud completely around the masts and back through the hole- the fit will be tight. Make a final inspection and apply a dot of clear nail polish to the shrouds at both sides of the hole.

Form a stopper knot in the thinner (sewing) thread. Some threads can be melted into a small ball, but most will need to be tied. Form a series of loops in the end of a thread (3 or 4should do it). Using all the threads, tie a common knot and pull the threads tight. Apply a dot of nail polish to the knot, and while it is still wet, trim off all the threads except the main one. Roll the knot between your fingertips and it should form a roundish blob.

Cut the main thread about 2 feet from the knot. Starting at the rear hole on the top, run (reeve) the thread up through the hole, through the hole in the mast, down through the corresponding hole on the other side, up through the next hole and back through the mast. On the next pass, when the final hole is still vacant, tighten the thread so that all sections are taut, run the thread through the mast, around the mast once and then back through and down through the final hole. The thread is knotted at the mast.

With a clothespin or clamp, lightly tighten the final shroud and hold it in place. Apply a dot of white glue to the hole so that it is filled, and let it dry. Clip the thread below the top.

Form a new knot in another length of thread. Starting at the third (aft) hole in the channel, reeve this thread through the same hole in the mast at the top shrouds, then down through the mating hole in the opposite channel, up through the final hole on that side and then up and back through the mast. Loop this thread like the last one and run it back through the mast and down to the final hole in the channel. Reeve and glue this thread just as in the top.

The mast should still be vertical and the top squared to the spar deck. All of the shrouds should be taut and straight, and the standing rigging profile should be clean and attractive.

                                                         Running Rigging

A major rigging quandary arises because we are rigging a single mast. All of the outboard (sail) lines on the ship would have run aft, to and down the mizzen mast or to rails near the stern. The exact rigging combination for each point of sail could have varied widely, as demonstrated by a myriad of belaying pin and cleat positions on the actual ship.

The individual rigging of any ship was determined by the sailing master (captain), so any size chosen for any component was probably correct at one time or another. Macdonough precisely recorded every 1815 rigging detail, so we'll try to keep up his good work.

The individual spars (yards) that lifted and adjusted the sails were typically not tapered until later in the 19th century. They were lifted into place using ropes (halyards) and a system of blocks. The halyards ran to the spar deck. The yards were loosely help in place by a saddle (a curved piece that fitted the shape of the mast). As the sails filled with wind, the yard and saddle would have been pulled away from the mast, and the energy (air pressure) transferred to the sails' lines (sheets) that were attached aft of (behind) the yard.

Once the yards were in place, ropes (lifts) that had been bent (tied) to each end of each arm were run through tye blocks on the mast and run down and belayed (tied, hitched ) to the fife (pin) rail.

The outside of the blocks (cheeks) held the inner wheels (sheaves) in place. Various lines ran through various blocks, but they all wound up on the spar deck where they could be adjusted and secured (belayed). Each blocks was sized according to the rope diameter that passed around its sheaves. The very smallest blocks, attached to the highest yards, would have been heavier than a lawn mower.

The sheaves (pulley wheels) on American ships were huge. While the British generally used sheaves 3 times the diameter of a given rope, Americans favored a ratio up to 12 times the diameter. That increase in mechanical advantage allowed the Americans to sail with a smaller sail crew and thus devote more of the deck crew to manning the guns. For some reason the Royal Navy never absorbed this crucial detail.

Once the halyards and lifts reached the spar deck, their bitter ends were either belayed (hitched) around a belaying pin that had been inserted through a fife rail, or hitched to a sturdier pin somewhere else.

Fixed ropes (foot ropes) were attached (usually with lanyards or stirrups) on the undersides of the yard arms. These ropes allowed sailors to walk or stand while they worked on the sails. When sails had to be unfurled (let out), furled (folded up) or reefed (made smaller) a sailor had a foothold, but not much else. . A special footrope (flemish horse) might have been rigged at the outboard yard ends to compensate for the lack of rope at a very busy and dangerous point on the yard.

Most models also include a studding sail (studsul) boom. This thin sliding boom was attached to the top of a yard arm (on each side) and slid outboard so that the main yards could be extended and rigged with another (studding), sail. This boom was also a welcome handhold for the sailors and evolved into jackstays.

Some of the ropes (sheets) from the sails and the arms ran from the end of the arms to belaying pins and cleats that were located on rails or otherwise on either side of the spar deck. We will not be rigging a full complement of sheets and blocks- an apologetic footnote follows the main text.

None of the running lines on the ship were knotted, as most people would describe a knot. Sailors may have spent their idle time bending artistic knots, but unless there was an emergency there were no knots to be found in the rigging. This meant that as any one line in the running rigging was moved, all of the other lines were moved in a carefully controlled tapestry. As a line was released from one of various hitches, the fibers in the rope strands straightened: the line was not damaged as it would have been if knotted.

Each line had a name associated with an individual part of an individual sail. For our purposes, shrouds hold the mast vertically, halyards raise the yards (sails) vertically, lifts are sheets that control the angle of the yard(arm) to the mast, and braces ( that we will partially rig)run to other masts, pin rails or cleats. Everything else (ropes, lines, stays, etc., that we are not going to rig) is a sheet. Every sail has a clew.

On the ship (depending on the captain) the yards would have been rigged and raised starting at the lightest and highest, and lowered and stowed in reverse order. Messengers (thin. light ropes) would have been hitched to the lines as they were lowered, and provided the lift needed to thread the heavier lines through the blocks (into position) as the spars were raised (hoisted). Considering the massive weights involved, raising and lowering went quickly.

At rest (sails furled) the yards would have fitted to the masts at saddles (circular indentations). You can lightly form these (or not) on one side of each yard at the center hole using a round file.

The halyards on the model will run aft of the mainmast, the trees and the top. This is a technical but not a directional departure from the actual rigging. You may choose white or tan thread for these lines, or a combination. To contrast the work I'll be using tan for all the running rigging.

To begin, mark a piece of paper with a straight line across a lower portion (the bottom of the keel) and a parallel line 6mm or so above that (the foot of the mast). Mark a perpendicular  line (the height of the mast, or about 173mm) above that point. At 66mm (the location of the first hole in the mast), draw a centered 80mm horizontal line through the mast. This is the main yard. For  the other yards, 114/58mm,152,34mm and 168/27mm respectively. This is the yard (yardarm) plan. These yards are the critical elements for fitting the rigging into the glass enclosure- they will fit perfectly if the enclosure was formed perfectly.

Cut individual yards to these lengths from a length of 1/16th dowel and paint them black.

Laying out the Yards

Yards laid out on a rigging plat. It is difficult to see from the photo, but the studding sail booms are in place on the main and top yards, and foot ropes are in place on all the yards. The fife rail is at the bottom of the diagram. The hole locations are marked on the paper. As a first approximation of fit, straight lines can be drawn from the mast tip to the main yard tips and then to the keel: when the paper is cut along these lines it should fit snugly inside the globe- no yard should touch the glass but the three widest yards will be very close (it is going to be a tight fit.

On the mainmast line on the paper, mark points at 9,32 and 38mm from the center(mast). Drill pilot (.024, #73) holes at these points. On the top mast line, mark and drill at 9,19 and 26mm. On the top gallant and royal gallant, mark and drill at 3mm from each end. Holding a short length of 26 gauge wire in the center hole as you drill the other holes will make this step easier.

The footropes will be rigged using a series of half-hitches. Cut about a foot of thread and run (reeve) it up through an end hole, then loop it around the mast inboard of the hole, then back down through and on to the next hole. Run the thread up through, over and back (through the loop that has formed), up and then back down and out. Loosely tighten the thread- it should lie parallel and about 2mm below the yard. Keep going across the yard. On the main and top, bypass the center hole. As you go, use a hatpin to keep the thread at a constant drape and  tension. At the last hole, finish up with a second full loop around the yard. For the top gallant and royal yards use the center hole.

Apply a dot of nail polish to each end and clip off the threads.

The studding sail booms will only be rigged on the main and top yards: the booms sit on the yard opposite the footropes.  Straighten a length of 20 gauge wire (about 50mm).

Tie (bend) a length of button thread to a boom using a common knot. Reeve (thread) one thread end and then the other through the top of one of the inside holes and anchor the thread with another common knot. Repeat at the other hole. (You will probably need to pull the rigging needle with pliers.) Slide the boom (wire) so that the inside end is about 5mm from the center hole and then apply dots of nail polish to all four knots. Trim the ends of the thread to the lower knot and snip the boom

flush with the yardarm tip. Repeat on the other side and then the other yard.

The top knot should provide about .5mm spacing between the boom and the yard. If the hole is too large (if the knot slips into the hole), loop the second thread (end) around the first, and down through that loop before threading it through the hole. If that doesn't work, make a new yard using a smaller drill bit.

The booms would normally be painted black, so either paint them now or don't. I choose not.

                                                Fife Rail and Posts

The halyards and all other vertical lines rail to a fife (pin) rail. This probably included bracing lines that ran to the aft, or mizzen mast. Holes in the rails were populated with belaying pins- these were turned hardwood pins. A rope was belayed by looping it under the rail (around the lower portion of a pin), then up where a loop was formed. The loop was flipped so that the bitter end was then captured and held by the loop. Moving some of these lines was an endless task, but pulling the pin from the rail released everything so the process could start all over again quickly, and with undamaged lines.

A candidate for the original pin rail that I have adopted is a squared horseshoe shape that straddles the mast.

To make the rail, rip a 3mm x 40mm (or longer) strip of mahogany. Use the knife to lightly score a midline (1.5mm) on the piece- this will help line up the drill.

Cut a length to 30mm (long) and saw two shallow kerfs, 22mm apart ( about  halfway through the 1mm face, 4mm form each end). Rest the knife in the kerf and plane the piece toward each end. This will not be exact.

On the remaining strip, saw a kerf at 4mm from the end, plane the piece, and cut it to a length of 10mm. Repeat this step.

The planed ends will fit together at a 90-degree angle, but the planed faces will need to be sanded to a tight fit to form a rectangular horseshoe.

Glue and clamp the rail.

Drill pilot holes in the middle of each end rail about 2mm from the ends, and in the center of the glued (mortised) area. Trim and sand all the corners and ends, and give the rail a coat of clear nail polish.

Drill a pilot hole in the middle of each end piece (centered between the other two holes), and a centered series of holes about 2mm apart along the long rail, using the scored line to keep the holes straight.

The legs for the rail will be made from center-drilled toothpick sections. These can be painted white or not.

Select the same 5mm area on 4 toothpicks, cut and sand one end of the section on each, drill a pilot hole about 5mm deep and then cut the section free. At each corner pilot hole (on the rai), place a drop of CA glue on a short section of 26 gauge wire, press the wire through the rail into the toothpick section and press the base down onto the leg.

When all four legs are in place the rail should stand on its legs, but not very evenly. Snip the wire ends flush and then sand the legs until the rail stands like a table with a total height of 5mm.

The 20 gauge wire should have a diameter of .0312 inches- this may vary slightly. Use a .031 (#68) to drill a hole in a piece of scrap, and test the wire for fit- it should fit the hole snugly (tightly). If not, select the next size drill up or down and try again. With the right size drill bit, drill the open holes to that diameter.

The belaying pins can be cut easily by either using a scrap from the rib blank, or measuring.

To use scrap, find 1 or 2 pieces 6 mm thick. Drill a hole, slide the wire into the hole, place it on something flat and snip the pin flush with the nail clipper. Dress both ends with a file or sandpaper.

Or use the measuring template, but hold the shorter end or it will fly. Dress the ends.

Slide the pin into a hole in the rail. When we belay the lines it will be much easier if there is about a 1mm handle, or head, extending above the rail. This end should look finished (dressed) and when all the pins are in the rail it should look like a proper (straight line) rail with a uniform line of handles.
This will allow you to raise a pin, slide a loop under it, lower the pin and belay the bitter end. If the fit to the rail is too loose, a dot of nail polish can be applied to a pin in a hole, and that joint can be broken after it dries. This will provide a tiny bit of friction that will make life simpler as the pin is raised and lowered.
Dip the feet of the rail in white glue and place it on the spar deck sot that the long edge is even with the rear of the deck and the mainmast sits in the center, between the short ends. (The horseshoe is facing forward.)

On the ship, the fife rail would have been set into the deck beams that supported the mast, as would the pin (hitching) posts. These posts would have acted as the cheeks for two large sheaves that would have been used to lift the yards (pull the halyards). On some ships the sheaves would have been replaced by a windlass (crank), but in any case the halyards would have eventually been belayed to the fife rail.

The posts will play an important role as we are finishing the model.

Using the same 3mm strips, cut two that are 50mm long and one that is 25mm. Make a sandwich, gluing the short length between the other two. At the ends, glue two short filler pieces, leaving an open (mortised) area of about 2mm.

Drill pilot holes about 1 mm above the mortised area, cut the piece slightly above that hole and sand the piece down to about 1mm above the hole. Drill a final hole with the same bit used for the fife rail. Cut the other end so that the piece is about 7mm long (high). Sand the bottom end flat, position the piece on its end, and keep sanding until it is about 6mm high and stands straight on all planes. Insert the 20 gauge wire in the hole, and snip the wire so that 1mm extends from each side. 

Set the post on the spar deck. It should be slightly higher, but the same width as the fife rail, and sit straight up. Make another.

Among model makers there is no consensus on the posts. One thing is certain- they were anchored to one of the beams that outlined the mast hole. Pick a place and set the posts in white glue.


Carronades, named after the iron mill that produced the original, were ugly, inaccurate but effective (if your intent was to destroy something or someone with a sawed-off shotgun).  While it may be romantic to envision sharpshooters on the fighting top, one round of grape shot from a carronade could have wiped the enemy's deck clean.

The breeches on these guns were identical to the 24 pound cannons, so they used the same powder charge. Their bores (barrels, so to speak) were equivalent to a 32 pound gun. In many cases a barrel of grape shot was tamped home without the benefit of a sealing wad, and the whole affair was fired at point blank range, shredding anything it hit. On her spar deck the Constitution fitted 12 of these per side to carronade ports, but the hatch area provided room for at least 3 more.

The carriages here were not wheeled- the forward part of truck rested on and was rotated on a pinned platform that also allowed these guns to be swung out of the way. Due to its much shorter barrel and likely load, there would have been considerably less recoil than the 24-pound cannons. In most cases the carronades were fired in the later stages of a battle, when sail trim was not as pressing a matter as destroying the enemy, so all of these characteristics led to a much smaller crew.

We still have four sets of cannon frames that are unused. We will use 2 sets for the carronades. Construct the frames just like the cannons, but about 1mm shorter. Instead of wheels, mount the frames on birch rectangles that are the same length but slightly wider than the frames. The guns themselves are the same as the cannons, but about ½ the length. I have painted the birch and guns black and the frame red. These will fit into the ports athwart the fife rail, in the ports on the knee rail or set fore-aft near the sides of the spar deck. I prefer the latter- it adds a little interest and perspective to the deck.

The bedding net presents a unique problem. In theory, the bedding net stretched the length of the gunwales (rails) on the spar deck on both sides, and before battle the sailors would stuff their hammocks inside the webbing as a sort of deterrent to grape and musket shot: the Royal Navy didn't use much of either. So in all likelihood the end result was that the sailors simply got their bedding shot up or set on fire. This leads to the conclusion that even back then there was a personnel guy around figuring out ways to screw the enlisted men. So, no bedding net on my ship.


If you have not yet mounted the model, now is the time- the running rigging will complete the model, and will be easier if the model is ready for final mounting.

I'm going to mount the model on a 1/32nd mahogany step. This was formed by marking a 61mm circle on leftover mahogany, cutting and sanding it, and then testing it to ensure that it fit inside the base of the globe.

I have given the step a coat of nail polish, and glued the model to its center. Looking straight down, the model sits exactly in the center of the step and barely clears the globe. The tip of the mast is about ¼ inch below the top of the globe, so you have room to add a short pedestal (a cutoff golf tee is one candidate). I don't think it needs one: bear in mind that the main and top yards will only fit in a limited vertical range inside the globe.

In any event, use white glue to glue the keel to this or another  thin base- this can be broken apart later.

Ready for Final Mounting

Fife rail, posts, carronades and shrouds in place on mounting pad.

                                         Fitting the Yards

The yards will all be hung and belayed similarly. Fuzz on the thread will complicate the rigging phase, so pulling the bitter end of the thread between your thumb and the beeswax will make life easier. It's also a good idea to keep a spare rigging needle aside with a length of waxed thread- as you prepare to hang a yard, run the needle and thread through the appropriate holes- this will clean and lubricate the holes.

Fashion (or melt) a stopper knot into a length (a foot or so) of light (white or tan) sewing thread (halyard). Thread that through the royal gallant yard (middle hole), through the mast and down to the fife rail. It should pass behind (not touch) the top (deck). Loop it under and around an outer belaying pin then up, over and flipped over the top of that pin. It is now belayed (the bitter end is held fast by the standing rope), and should not need glue. A second, identical loop on the same pin is appropriate.

This may be a good time to make a tool. If you are having difficulty passing the thread behind, up and over the belaying pin, a rigging tool will help. File or grind off the eye-end of a sewing needle, leaving a tiny v-shape at the shaft-end of the eye. (This is a perfect type of job for the fine grinding wheels or discs that come with a Dremel tool.) Drill an appropriate hole down into the end of a small dowel or brush handle, then push in the needle and you have a tiny tool that will make the belaying work much easier. (If this tool works for you, find a needle with an elongated eye. This time grind away most of one side, creating the same notch on the shaft end of the eye, but leaving the end as a barb. This other tool will not only help hold and push, but the barb will pull the thread as well. Stab this one into the other end of the first handle.)

Trim the bitter end at the rail, leaving a 5-10mm tail (bitter end). (On the ship this tail would have likely been whipped, served or ended in an eye splice. Any one of these would have connected the halyard to a messenger when raising and lowering the yard.)

Run the bitter end of a thread over one royal gallant yard arm. Bring that end back, then loop it again, making sure that the bitter end (needle) crosses over the standing end (the loop). Pass the bitter end over the second loop and under the first loop. Tighten by tugging lightly on the standing end. As you tighten the thread, move the loops (the threads on top of the yard) so that they are about 1/3 of the way between the mast and the tip of the arm, and are snugly together.

This is a simple spar (clove) hitch- a useful rigging knot. Repeat on the other side. Together these threads (lines) are the lifts-they control the angle of the yard (sail) to the ship's center (of buoyancy). Trim the shorter end close to the yard and the standing end to about 4 inches.

Thread, hang and belay the top gallant yard halyard (the next yard down) to the fife rail (anywhere is fine, but to keep things symmetrical, use the opposite pin from the royal gallant halyard). Reeve each royal gallant lift through its respective (outboard) hole in the top gallant yard. Fashion two lifts (just like the royal gallant) on the top gallant yard arms, making sure that the loops pass under the foot ropes.

Thread, hang and belay the top yard. Reeve the lifts from the top gallant yard through the end holes. As you tug on each lift, the upper yards will move in unison. Now is a good time to start at the royal gallant, and squaring the yards as you go, make a single loop of each lift around its yard arm (under itself) and down though each one of the top holes. This will clean up the rat's nest that has been accumulating, and give you a preview of the final rigging profile. Fix any hitches or lines that don't look neat and symmetrical.

Tie an eight-inch or so length of thread around the mast(s), slightly above the trees. Use a surgeon's knot (three loops on a common knot) and then anchor it with a common knot. Thread the ends down through their respective holes in the top mast and as you go, mark the ends with paint or a felt-tip pen. Make sure that these threads fall between the trees. When this lift is taut, the trees will hold the top yard and the others square to the mast.

Thread, hang and belay the main yard. When this halyard is belayed, you should have at least four vacant pins in the center of the fife rail and one on each (short) side. The truth of the matter is that you can belay any or all of the lines on the rail or to the posts however you see fit- once given the pins, the sailing master's choice applied.

I keep using the term sailing master because the captaincy of a ship did not necessarily depend on one's ability to sail the ship, fire its guns or inspire its crew. I rest my case with the 1844 history of another frigate, the USS Princeton. (By the way, to gain a fuller appreciation for the naming of warships after Ivy League colleges, focus your search engine on the USS Plattsburg and the USS Harrisburg.)

With the main yard at an angle and all the other yards square and level, slide the glass globe over the model. Reach down with a long stick or brush handle and level the main yard- the yards should all be level and clear the glass (but not by much). If the any yard is a bit too long, trim the tip of both arms (about 1mm) with the nail clipper. If a hole is going to be destroyed by this trimming, take the time to re-rig that yard.

Test Fitting the Running Rigging

The main yard, loosely inside the globe. The lifts and braces are threaded through the posts. It is difficult to see, but the top yard lifts are belayed to the side rail pins, and all of the halyards are belayed to the rear of the pin rail. 

Remove the globe. The main yard should rest very lightly against the shrouds- they provide the support necessary to keep the main yard square. To ensure that the top yard remains square, run either the top lifts (marked ends) or the top braces (unmarked) to the side pins on the rail and belay them to those pins. Either line should run between a set (probably the middle set) of shrouds. (The braces would have run to the mizzen mast, but they create a pleasant, if not correct, top yard profile.)


Loop the remaining ends around the top yard arms, reeve (thread) and then clip the bitter ends, just like the previous yards.


The main yard will be rigged somewhat differently. Be sure to pass the threads for the braces underneath the studsul boom and foot rope, and allow a longer bitter end (six inches or so. Hitch the braces and thread them through the main yard, leaving plenty of slack. Knot the lifts at the top of the main mast cap, and thread them through the main yard, also leaving slack and a longer end.


Thread each set of main yard lines through the front of a respective post, and back through and underneath the fife rail.


To finish the rigging and enclose the model in the globe, the globe will have to be supported on each side- ½ inch will provide the necessary working room. I’m using scraps of plywood, but a magazine or book will work just as well. Placing the model on the edge of the work table will create even more space.

Ready to Tighten the Rigging inside the Globe

Final fitting. The globe is raised near the table edge to allow space for belaying the final lines to the fife rail. The main yard is being trimmed (adjusted ) so that it fits within 5mm of the sides of the globe. The bulldog clips are holding the lines taut as they are being belayed.

Tilt the main yard and lower the globe over the model so the globe rests on the side supports. While pulling on the threads, use a long stick to level the main yard: all of the other yards should also be level.

Belay each set of threads on a different vacant pin on the fife rail. This is easier if the threads have a small weight (clip or clothespin) attached to provide a little tension. If belaying just does not seem possible, apply dots of nail polish at the pins to hold the threads.

Trim the ends and that's it. Sliding card stock underneath the globe will make it easy to move the entire model.



I'm going to mount the model on a 3/8th red oak scrap that I finished while building the prototype for this model. Rather than build a base, an unfinished furniture store or antique shop will have any number of things that might be just as appropriate. I think a wall sconce might be too much, but that's up to you.

Each of the original six frigates has a unique history. The Constitution survives largely as a result of efforts and small donations by individual citizens inspired by Oliver Wendell Holmes, among others. But it was restored based on the plans for its sister ship, the President. The Constellation survives as a smaller ship, recycled by its original shipyard, but, while decommissioned by the Navy, offers another priceless classroom for studying Joshua Humphreys. By 1850 all of the other frigates had been broken up, and probably recycled as well. It is not entirely whimsical to suppose that with a little care the live oak components on these ships could easily have lasted 200 years in or out of the water. 

This model is fashioned after the original design of the Constitution and it took a lot of patient and detailed work to build it. But I just can't accept the notion that it represents even a fraction of what is needed in order to appreciate the Constitution or her sisters. Name your model as you may, mine will simply be called Frigate under Glass.

Complete and on the wall

A Footnote on Blocks

Lines ran (and still run) on sheaves (wheels) that rotate on axles (rivets) and were held in place by wooden blocks (cheeks). In the rigging these blocks, much like the deadeyes, were round and thin, and presented a profile that was not much wider than the lines they served. The line (rope) pattern of a single block was triangular- the two ends of the line around the sheave went their separate ways and a single line went a third way. This single line was looped around the block, spliced (woven) back on itself and served (wrapped) with twine, creating a tye (tie) block.

If the tye blocks were pretty standard, the much heftier flying blocks, fiddle blocks, sheet blocks and others were the subject of controversy and personal bias in 1815 just as they still are today( if in doubt, consult John Rousmaniere). Mr. Davis devotes an entire chapter to the complexity of blocks, and their importance to a ship and any model.

Wood can tolerate a lot of abuse down to its fibers where it will become brittle and disintegrate. The hundreds of blocks that sat at the intersections of the spider web of rigging on the ship were thin- while the sheaves were 6-12 times the diameter of the lines that ran over them, the cheeks of the blocks were roughly 2 times that diameter. At our scale that would create a width in the range of .5mm, or about twice the thickness of our button thread or birch (1/64th, or .018 inch). As you probably have noticed, we've been working at tighter tolerances at each stage of construction, and the blocks would have been the tightest.

One fact is clear- the blocks found on most models are a compromise based on the tolerances of wood, plastic and metal. Very few model-makers do the research or take the time to accurately construct the hundreds of different types, shapes and sizes that were found on any given ship. If you study a model that was built with such care, the maker and the model deserve a salute when you visit that museum.

In building a prototype for the model we just completed, a number of alternatives were discarded, simply because the blocks looked, for lack of a better term, clunky. Even a 1/32nd  wooden block draws attention to the fact that it was not built to this scale and further, couldn't bear a load. The thinnest will still interrupt the clean tapestry of a solid rigging job on the upper yards.

Blocks deserve some recognition, so if you wish to explore the matter of tiny blocks, this is what I can offer.

If you haven't changed knife blades yet, this might be a good time for that.

Start with a standard toothpick. Unlike the oriental toothpicks, these are typically made of some variety of hardwood, and the grain is probably friendly for our purposes.

At a spot about 1/16th or so from one end, drill a hole (.6mm or smaller) through the toothpick. Thread 2 lengths of the appropriate rigging thread through that hole and snip off the tip (1/32nd or so from the hole). Tug on the thread. If it holds, fine. But if it doesn't, drill another hole in the other end of the toothpick at a spot slightly closer to the main shaft. Keep doing this until you have a block-on-a-toothpick that doesn't fail. Sand and dress the threaded block until you have a flattened, rounded, stained, block-looking block. Then cut the block off the toothpick and keep rigging.

You may go through a few toothpicks until you find one that holds.

Alternatively, cut a 1/8th strip of plywood, then cut and glue a 1/32nd strip of plywood onto the wider piece. Cut another 1/8th strip and glue it onto the first, creating a 1/8th sandwich with the narrow strip centered. Drill a hole crosswise through the narrow strip and thread 2 lengths of thread through that hole. Snip off one end of the strip and sand everything down until you have the threaded hole about 1/32nd from the end, and the sides are roughly 1/16th. Tug of the thread (if the glue and/or plywood hasn't already disintegrated). Snip what is now the block from the main strip, sand and finish the block and proceed with the rigging.

Keep in mind that in either case the block has to function more or less like a real block in that the threads will be tightened after the ship is under its glass enclosure. Also keep in mind that as the line decreases in size from bottom to top, the blocks will shrink proportionately.

Compare the last photo (no blocks) to the title photo (blocks rigged on the main), and decide how you want to proceed (or not).

Or just set the model on its perch, play with all this stuff and wait for a rainy day to dismantle it and play with the rigging.

Copyright 2010-2013  Dean A Beeman All Rights Reserved