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Specifications for Construction of U.S. Navy Ship Models

Rob Wood

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Dana M. Wegner (Museum Standards and Ship Models: The Influence of Professionalism. Nautical Research Journal, Vol. 39, Everett, 1994. pp 44-49, ill.) 

In the journal entry referenced above, Mr. Wegner reports that the standards used by the U. S. Navy and Smithsonian have been relatively unchanged since 1945.


From the the Curator of Navy Ship Models, U.S. Department of the Navy Ship Model Program


PART 1: Durability of Materials


As part of the permanent collection of the Department of the Navy, it is reasonable to expect a new ship model to last one hundred years before deterioration is visible. Therefore, resistance of models and parts to the actions of temperature, humidity, and light is essential. Extreme care must be given to select materials which are known to be compatible and will not, in time, interact chemically.


Although only a few materials are prohibited in "Specifications for Construction of Exhibition Models of U.S Naval Vessels," some recently developed model-building materials and techniques should be avoided until sufficient time has passed to properly evaluate their longevity. Though some of these recently introduced materials may ultimately test superior to more traditional techniques, substances of unproven longevity should not be employed in models built under these specifications. It is advised that fiberglass resins, styrene, expanding foams, casting resins, and cyanoacrylate glues be avoided when other materials can possibly be used.




Workmanship shall be in accordance, in every respect, with the best model-building practices. Hulls shall be smooth, fair, and symmetrical; without blemishes, sap pockets, or tool marks, and shall be scraped and sand-papered to smooth surface. Machined parts shall bear no tool marks. Castings shall bear no visible mold marks. In no case shall glue alone be deemed sufficient to hold deck houses, fittings, or other appurtenances in place. Mechanical fastenings such as screws and pins shall be used in addition to adhesives.



Models shall be museum quality and shall consist of the whole exterior of the vessel from keel and appendages to the top of the highest antenna or fitting, and shall include interiors of such enclosures, conning stations, deck house topside stations, gun and missile stations, hangars and bays as are accessible to weather without opening watertight doors or ports. Generally, all items on the prototype twelve inches or larger for 1:96 scale (six inches or larger for 1:48 scale) will be reproduced.


Rigging. Running and standing rigging and cable antennas shall be represented. Windlasses shall be wound with appropriate cable or line.


Ports and Windows. Large windows shall be indicated on the model by clear acrylic plastic. Ports shall be transparent, and shall have a hole bored behind them to give an appearance of depth.

Gun Turrets. Gun turrets shall have the openings in face plates required for elevation of the guns. Where required, gun shrouds shall be represented.


Aircraft and Vehicles. Where appropriate for the mission of the actual vessel, and visible on the model, scale aircraft or vehicles will be provided. Landing pads shall be provided with at least one representative scale aircraft.


Small Boats. Small boats shall be mounted on davits or otherwise as actually carried and shall show all details, motors, and equipment twelve inches or larger in actual size. If represented with weather covers, gripes and all fastenings visible are to be shown. Landing craft and whale boats shall be without covers and shall show all exposed details and equipment.


Special Features. Special functional features peculiar to the vessel (for example: stern doors, towing devices, special antennas, fire fighting gear, etc.) shall be shown.


PART 2: Durability of Materials




Layed rope shall be represented with first-quality, twisted, linen line. Wire cable will be used to represent wire cable. Wire will be used to represent wire. Care shall be given to insure the proper color of all rigging. Knots and seizings may be secured with thinned white glue.



Flags shall be such material that a natural appearance as in a calm is achieved.

Deck Covering


Deck covering shall be represented as installed on the vessel, including safety treads and nonskid areas. Decks which are bright shall show planking, seams, scarfs, butts, and miters, and shall be rubbed to a dull finish. Paper shall not be used to represent deck coverings.



Hulls shall be built up in lifts of clear, first-grade mahogany or basswood; doweled and glued together with water-resistant glue. The wood shall be completely free of knots, checks, and sap pockets and shall be thoroughly seasoned. Models over 12 inches beam must be hollowed for reduction of weight The hull shall be composed of the least number of parts necessary to achieve the proper shape. An excessive number of glue joints shall be avoided. On models less than 12 inches beam, hull lifts shall be cut to the full body shape: lifts shall not be cut in halves, thereby creating a glue seam along the vertical centerline of the model. The lifts shall conform accurately to lines of the vessel as shown by the plans. A stable, durable, flexible body putty may be used in moderation to fill gaps.


Hull Inspection

Prior to applying any sealer or primer to the hull, the hull shall, at the builder's expense, be crated and sent to the Curator of Models, Code 301, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, West Bethesda, Maryland 20817-5700 for inspection and testing.


The Curator of Models will inspect the hull for wood-type, grain, seasoning, putty, glue-type, checks, excessive glue joints, and conformity to plans. Samples of wood, glue, and glued pieces may also be required for destructive tests. The Curator of Models shall return the hull, collect freight, as certification of compliance.

Hull Fittings


Propeller shafts, struts, bearings, bilge keels, etc. will be made from brass, aluminum, or stainless steel.




Propellers should be cast in bronze. If another material is used it shall first be copper plated and then brass plated. Plastic propellers are not permitted.

Ship Fittings


Fittings and accessories shall be of metal or other suitable material which will permanently hold its shape and will not deteriorate from temperature, humidity, light or chemical reaction with other parts, paint, or the atmosphere. Lead or lead-bearing compounds are not suitable for any component. No ferrous materials shall be used.


Masts, Antenna Masts, Yardarms, etc.

All masts, antenna masts, shafts, yardarms, booms, etc. less than 3/16" diameter shall be metal.



All solder points shall be silver soldered wherever possible.


PART 3: Paint


General Requirements


Painting of models shall receive careful attention. Special care shall be given to select compatible paints that demonstrate the best resistance to color changes, cracking, peeling, and fluctuations in temperature and humidity. All parts of the model shall have a surface treatment representing the appearance of the actual vessel if reduced in scale. The Curator of Models, NSWCCD, may provide paint chips upon request. In all cases, the models shall be spray painted with opaque lacquer. Paint shall be applied thinly and evenly so that fine detail will not be obliterated. The use of metallic paints such as silver or gold is discouraged. The use of white enamel or natural varnish is not permitted. See also "Schedule of Materials."

Painted Wood


Wooden parts shall be sufficiently filled, sealed, and primed so that when rubbed down, the wood grain is not visible.

Painted Metal


Metal parts shall be well-cleaned and then primed before painting.

Stripes and Markings


Hull numbers, ship's names, flight deck and draft markings, as well as any other prominent signage, shall be carefully applied in paint. Tape, paper, or decals are not permitted.


PART 4: Inspection


Beyond the hull inspection required in section 2.4.1, the model may be inspected by the Curator of Models or his designate during construction and upon completion at the contractor's plant.


PART 5: Delivery



Schedule of Materials


The contractor shall provide, at the time of delivery of the model, a schedule of materials and brand-name products employed in the construction of the model. The schedule of materials will be added to the historical file retained for each model.


Sample Schedule of Materials.The schedule of materials written in tabular form by the contractor should include, but is not limited to, the following data: A. Type of wood used for hull. B. Type of wood filler used. Include brand name. C. Type of primer used. Include brand name. D. All paints used. Include brand name and color designation. E. All glues used. Include brand and areas where employed. F. Any other significant materials. Include clear sprays, stains, waxes, and the types and application areas of any sheet, cast, foam, or resinous plastics (if any).



The contractor shall be responsible for delivery of the model and exhibition case in good condition to the location designated in the contract.



Desired deviations, if any, from these specifications will be enumerated on a case-by-case basis through the normal contract process.


Reprinted from http://www.navsea.navy.mil

Edited by Rob Wood
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Guess none of my models are US Navy good enough! But on the other hand I will revel in the freedom to use any adhesive material or paint technique that I feel gives the best results. 

Nothing against the Navy for insisting on standards though, certainly you have to have controls in place for Museum work.

On the other hand I can fault this list of requirements for including such a vague language as "Models shall be museum quality". Is the phrase "Museum Quality" the most abused term in all of ship modeling? I would say its in a dead heat with the term "master Ship Modeler". Both of these terms are overused and neither has an agreed upon standard definition. Whenever I read these two terms I instantly assume the person using them is not as fully informed of ship model concepts as they should be.

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If there is anyone who can define "Museum Quality" it is Mr Wegner. He curates, possibly, the largest ship model collection in the world. That includes the Rogers Collection, ship models in the White House, Congressional offices, Naval offices and all other ship models owned in the US Navy. His definition is for the Navy and Smithsonian. Obviously, they have the highest standards. So, in his area of responsibility, he gets to define the rules.

I have interacted with Mr. Wegner on many occasions, and I can assure you that he is as informed, as anyone in the world, of ship model concepts.

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I have no doubt that Werner would know "museum Quality" when he sees it! But can he, or anyone, define it? In my opinion you have to have a definition everyone can agree upon if you are going to use a term (as it is used above) as a criteria to be met. Without a definition of what "museum Quality" means, there is no fair way to include or exclude a model based on this nebulous idea. Without an exact definition there is no way to say a model falls short of, meets or exceeds the criteria, since no criteria has ben defined in an unambiguous language.  Its like saying "models must be really nice".

Within the document above are listed MANY criteria, but the term "Museum Quality" is ADDED to those things, not defined as being MADE UP of those things. In other words, they appear to be saying that not only must the model follow the listed use of materials and practices, it must ALSO be "museum quality". Which suggests your model could meet and exceed all the standards listed above, but if it isn't also "museum quality" it will fail to meet all the requirements.

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In 1980, Mystic Seaport published the, “Ship Model Classification Guidelines″ - attached.  Includes some 1961 specifications from Howard Chapelle at the Smithsonian.


In its simplest terms, “Museum Quality Model” means that a model has been built to a set of standards as set forth by a specific museum with regards to scale fidelity, materials, methods, research, historical accuracy, and so on.


Or, as has been pointed out above,  'I don't know art, but I know what I like'.


I also like this description - 'A museum quality ship model is whatever a museum director accepts for a museum collection'



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I read the article as defining museum quality by Mr Wegner. Seems we are being a bit picky. If you read his publication, "Fouled Anchors", available online, you can get a sense of his expertise. He, almost single handidly, took on the Government, the Navy and the City of Baltimore, and proved that the Constellation in Baltimore harbor was not the 1797 frigate but rather, a sloop of war built during the Civil war era.

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You appear to think I am attacking the reputation or knowledge of Mr Wegner but this is not the case.  I'm pretty sure everything I have to say about the issue is clearly laid out in what I have written above, without ambiguity and certainly without criticism of mr Wegner. 

I think there IS reason to question the use of the term, and it is not nitpicking. One has only to casually glance at ship models being offered for sale online to see the term "Museum Quality" used liberally to describe any sort of ship model regardless of quality. 


Thanks Trippwj, the PDF document you posted  is the nearest approach I have seen to clearing up the definition. But I see Chapelle himself  writes: "The workmanship to be of museum quality throughout." without providing the definition. 

Edited by JerseyCity Frankie
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You appear to think I am attacking the reputation or knowledge of Mr Wegner but this is not the case.  I'm pretty sure everything I have to say about the issue is clearly laid out in what I have written above, without ambiguity and certainly without criticism of mr Wegner. 

I think there IS reason to question the use of the term, and it is not nitpicking. One has only to casually glance at ship models being offered for sale online to see the term "Museum Quality" used liberally to describe any sort of ship model regardless of quality. 


Thanks Trippwj, the PDF document you posted  is the nearest approach I have seen to clearing up the definition. But I see Chapelle himself  writes: "The workmanship to be of museum quality throughout." without providing the definition. 

Yep - the term in question is defined by citing the term to be defined as the definition!  It was interesting to do a web search on the term "museum quality ship model" and see this lengthy listing of retail websites selling museum quality ship models (or even kits tagged as museum quality).


I think I'll stick with building mine to the horse at a gallop standard.

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I posted this info simply as a basis for discussion about the various materials and construction standards used by the U.S. Navy and the Smithsonian. I also posted it because I recently learned that this info had been available on the old MSW site, "before the crash."


I was hoping we might discuss the nuts and bolts of the requirements, and not engage in debating semantics.


For example: The idea that a ship model is expected to last at least 100 years before deterioration is visible. It suggests that ship models, at least those accepted by the Navy and the Smithsonian, must be constructed with posterity in mind. Whether or not we as model builders plan on donating our models to museums, I think it's worth discussing why we build them in the first place. What happens to them? I can tell you one thing that happens to old ship models: the heirs of the builder's estate are left to deal with them. If they aren't built with posterity in mind, the heirs can't find a museum that will take them. That might be OK with some of us, but it places an unfair burden on our families after we're gone.


I now own 3 such models. In all three cases, the sons and daughters of the builders couldn't find museums that wanted them, but they didn't want to try to sell them on eBay or dispose of them, because the models were labors of love, and the heirs didn't want to dishonor the memories of their fathers. They found me, instead, so now they're my burden, and they're damaged because the heirs had no idea how to care for them.


Just food for thought.



Edited by Rob Wood
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Well, on eBay "Museum Quality" usually refers to over-scale models lovingly hand crafted by well paid Philippine artisans (@$50/month) who have been extensively trained for at least two weeks and who use walnut and other exotic over-scale woods, cloth and real brass cannons (one size fits all ships). At least this was the case in 1976 when I visited a ship model "factory" there (actually a combined Nepa hut and Sari-Sari store).


Seriously, there are many modelers on this site who build museum quality ship models but it is hard to define precisely what makes them so. You just know them when you see them.  A study of The American Marine Model Gallery website http://www.shipmodel.com/index.php will provide numerous examples, as well as the costs of such models. 

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Rob Wood expressed some dismay I took the topic over to "Museum Quality" and we should never hijack a topic so I apologize. Maybe that nomenclature topic needs its own heading.

Back to the other issues:  like the ban on cyanoacrylate glue. I have seen many examples of people claiming it is not stable and that over time it will cause rigging fiber to fall apart or some other awful thing. This is the chief reason none of my models could be accepted by the U.S.Navy. ALL my models have relied heavily on cyano glue as I suspect many of the models of those reading this do too.

I remember seeing television ads for Crazy Glue as a child in the 1970's and I would bet that most ship models built from 1980 on use the stuff. Have any of you guys had a cyano built model show signs of deterioration due to the glue?

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A fellow member of my local club also belongs to a few clubs around the country.  He *has* seen rigging come apart at the CA/non CA line.  Maybe they're better formulated now, but I, and Mr. Wegner, will probably stay away from them.  Likewise with lead-bearing cast fittings.

A lot of his restrictions are based on longevity concerns.  It takes 100 years to test whether a material will last 100 years, so be patient, or be willing to take the chance.  Your heirs can always have a nice Viking funeral for your work if it falls apart.

Another part of Mr. Wegner's requirements is for detail.  He sets a minimum size for representation of items.  If you take a careful, objective look at old models, such as the basket case in Rob Woods photo, there are a lot of things we would include today which are not on that model.  Wegner's requirements are for models of Naval ships in a Navy museum which are usually highly documented and are basically builder's models.  It is important for that purpose that the model serve as a record of the actual ship, down to a certain level of detail.

In this particular instance, while we can take guidance for our own work, it is his museum, and he gets to define what is suitable for inclusion (and payment) and what is not.

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Hmm... interesting discussion.  I wonder also about some of the new technologies and the longevity of them.  Such as 3D printing.  The metal might or might not hold up but what about the plastics?  Some 3D people I've run across are touting "bio-degradable" plastics because apparently there's a bunch of waste generated.  This might be fine for quick prototyping but not much else, yet they want everyone to go that direction. 

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Keep in mind that the information that I posted here that started the thread was narrowly concerned with model ship standards of the U.S. Navy. According to Dana Wegner, both the Navy and the Smithsonian follow these guidelines. To me, it's common sense to define what "museum quality" means to the Navy and Smithsonian curators. One merely needs to visit those museums for an education on what it means within this narrow scope.


On the subject of "modern" construction materials and adhesives: I have certainly had some CA wood joints fail over the years, and even more metal-to-metal and metal-to-wood joints delaminate. As to why, I have not undertaken a scientific analysis, mainly because I don't have the knowledge or time. The guidelines above don't say that a CA joint won't last 100 years, just that there is no empirical evidence to argue that it will. To further complicate it, there is no standard by which CA is made. Different formulas have different characteristics, and there is no way to predict either its holding ability or its chemical stability over time.


I will relate one personal anecdote about one adhesive, though. I used contact cement to affix the finished layer of planks to the hull per the instructions in the Swift Virginia Pilot Boat kit. The hull was beautiful for around 12 years, when - one by one - the planks began to peel off the substrate. It all now needs to be stripped down and re-planked.


And this is the point behind the guidelines. Most museums are understaffed. No one wants to take a ship model out of its glass case and rebuild it. Merely removing a model from its case exposes it to a slew of new environmental variables, and even touching the rigging of an old model can be enough to break it.



Edited by Rob Wood
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I feel that at some point,this criteria will need to change,certainly when looking at adhesive and paint technology.On the basis that all materials need to be time proven,I feel this is unsustainable.Rapid advances in materials technology has also been shadowed by environmental concerns.

To some extent,our hand if slowly being forced to embrace new paints and adhesives as the preferred product is withdrawn from sale.Only a couple of weeks ago,I had a struggle to find matt polyurethane,the majority is now acrylics due to the lower VOC content.

Surprisingly there is no mention of PVA glues.PVA was discovered in 1912,at the time this article was penned,it hadn't been proven for 100 years.Cascamite used to be a woodworkers favourite(also not been around for a century),I haven't seen that around for a while.Availabilty has possibly been reduced due to its Formaldehyde content.,


Kind Regards




Cascamite. Now that immediately took me back many years to mixing the powder with water. It's funny how a single word can take you back (for me it's 40-45 years). Apparently you can still buy it - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cascamite-Powdered-Resin-Wood-Glue/dp/B0001OZI98 - not sure if it's the same.
As to the details of acceptable materials and methods - I found "Hulls shall be built up in lifts of clear, first-grade mahogany or basswood" the most surprising. Where's the boxwood, pear, and holly?

My current build (and I fully expect all the others I will hopefully make in the future) will not pass muster. That's fine by me. As to what happens to them after I'm dead - I can truthfully say I don't care. I'm building them for the enjoyment (and frustration); money, posterity, or display in a museum don't enter into it. The only thing I've told my family I'll come back and haunt them for is if they spend too much on my funeral  :) 


None the less the information was interesting - thanks for posting it Rob.



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I think I'm at a point in my life, maybe due to age, where I think a lot more about longevity and sustainability than I did when I was younger. I did build a model that was displayed (briefly) at the Smithsonian Air & Space museum, so maybe that experience has helped shape my thinking now.


I doubt seriously that any model I build in the productive model building years remaining to me will find its way into a museum of the caliber we've been discussing, but I certainly don't want any model I build to delaminate 10 or 12 years from now. I like the idea of building things that last, whether a model, a piece of furniture, or a friendship. CA glue has its uses, for sure, and the main reason I have used it - and I'm sure it's a common one - is speed. I build combat warship models, and would never have a ship ready for the next event if I didn't have CA for repairs.


But what I think we're talking about in this discussion are static display models. I can see using CA or other time-saving adhesives if there's some kind of deadline, but otherwise, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. What is the logic behind speeding up the build, if the experience of the build itself is the main reason behind the project?



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