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USS Constitution by MEPering - Model Shipways - 1:76.8 (5/32"=1'0") - First build


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Salutations and welcome to my build log!

 

This is going to be an interesting experience for me.  I have never attempted a model ship before, but should probably tell you something of my modeling experience first.  This isn't my first model, though.

 

I come from the model railroad world, having scratch built around 30 structures of my own design.  Most have been from wood, but I have also made patterns and silicone molds for things like brick and cinderblock and other repetitive things like that.   Here is one example of a structure molded in resin:

 

 

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I don't happen to have an example of a structure that I have built from wood, but I do have an example of some of my relief carving:

 

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This is the sort of work I do on a daily basis, so I thought I would not be intimidated by the complexity of the Model Shipways model of the USS Constitution, which arrived at my door today.  I was wrong.  It looks like it is going to be an extreme challenge, and once I got over the initial shock, I started to get excited about it.  I found I had a new hobby, that is, checking parts against the parts list!  I am still not finished with that task.  But I don't see the amount of planking they included will actually do the job.  But then again, I am considering cutting my own decking from a pile of maple I have here in my workshop, so it might not be an issue.

 

The plans look absolutely excellent.  Though I would prefer a couple of sheets more, but I only spent 2 hours reviewing those, so I may have missed some things.  I have only rigged one other plastic model, so this is still intimidating, and I think a little more on that would have been good.  As for the instructions, I downloaded those a month ago from the Model Expo website, and they are a bit lacking too.  They assume you know more than you actually do, unless you are an experienced ship builder.  This is the one thing that has held me back from buying this kit for the last 10 years... They were not telling me how, but what to do. 

 

But then I found MSW, and was able to work up the courage to buy the kit.  This site is incredible.  I thank you that founded this as such a wonderful resource for those of us who never would have completed on of these incredible model, or would have even attempted one.  I thank those of you who post your build here as well.  I learned more on my first day here reading build posts than I did in a month of my own research.

 

Anyway, I shall soon be posting pics of my build, and will continue to follow others on this long trip.  I am going to try and complete the Constitution in 3 years.  I am not a fast builder, but I am a precise builder.  If you have the patience to see me through this, then we should have a complete ship then.  The woodwork should be easy for me, but the rigging still scares me to death.  We shall see how it goes, and it will be what it will be.

 

Matt

 

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Today, since it was cool and rainy outdoors, I decided to start work on the model.  Last month, I downloaded the instruction manual for the build, so I knew pretty much the work to be commenced.  So firstly, I glued the two halves of the false keel together, as well as the actual keel pieces.  While I waited for those to dry, I worked on bulkheads.  Pictures of the keel aren't much different than the others that others have already posted here, so no need to be repetitive here.  However, I do have a picture of beveled bulkhead A:

 

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This bulkhead took me about an hour to bevel... Told you I was slow.  ;)  But I think it turned out quite well, and I believe if done carefully and properly, should make for a solid gluing surface for the planking, after fairing, of course.

 

Tomorrow, I plan on connecting the pieces of the false keel, and starting to cut in the rabbet.  If I can get that completed, I will be satisfied.  I had better go and touch-up my chisels.  ;)

 

Matt

 

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Hi Matt,

Welcome to the forum and especially to the Constitution group! I've been working on mine for about 10 months. Parts of the model are challenging, but so far I've found it to be all doable and very enjoyable.  

 

It looks like you're off to a good start; I'm looking forward to following along.

David

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Thank you, David,

 

I have seen your log, and it looks like you are making steady and quality progress.  For just 10 months, to be getting to masts already seams impressive to me.  I am one who also doesn't care for working with styrene, but I am thinking of alternatives.  It seems to me like wood is my best option for the fishes.  So much head-scratching involved with this model, at least for me.  Perhaps that is best tackled when I get to that point.

 

I considered many modifications to the kit, like a full gun deck and Captain's quarters, but I don't know that I want to go to that extreme, since both would be difficult to see under normal viewing circumstances.  I really appreciate the efforts of those here who take the time to capture those details, but I come back to whether I want to finish this model before 2030 or not.  As it is, I estimate the hull alone will take me at least a year, unless things fall together better than expected.  As stated, I am more into precision than speed.

 

That being said, I do expect progress to be to the point where I am ready to plank by the end of the month.  This may be too ambitious though, I am not sure.  Just a guess based on how fast I usually progress with this kind of thing.  Then I expect things to slow a bit.  But I expect a complete hull in 12 months.  The thing that scares me to death is the rigging.  Looking at the plans Model Shipways gives, I am sure I am going to have to consult other resources too.  I can tie maybe 5 knots that I know of... Bowline, Clove Hitch, Square, Climbers and a hangman's noose.  Doubting those last two will do me much good, so make that 3 knots.  :)

 

Matt

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Hi Matt,

I'm not really at the mast stage yet. I have been skipping around a little bit. I still have much to do on the deck and hull. While the sequence for the build is important in many areas, there are still many aspects that can be treated like separate projects, worked on for a while and set aside without interrupting the flow of the work. For example I started working on the four boats ages ago, but still don't have any of them finished yet. Also, I build the set of gun carriages long before they were needed. I think I'll complete one mast and then set it aside and return to the deck details. It's just nice to have something else to turn to when the mood strikes. Of course, by the time you're at the rigging stage, most alternative options are gone and it's just rigging until the end. I wouldn't worry too much about the rigging though. I generally don't find it very hard to do but there sure is a lot of it on this model and it can be finicky and requires lots of patience. The main knots you need are the clove hitch for the ratlines and a seizing knot (I think this is the same as the hangman's) for pretty much everything else.

 

I'm not brave enough to start making modifications to the kit, so I have left that sort of thing for others; I'm happy enough to get through the build as it is.

 

Using styrene for certain components would never have occurred to me, but I've been working with the Bob Hunt practicum and he suggests it in several places, so that's why I've been using it. I find that I really hate using it too, but have to admit that it does seem ideal for some of the ship's features - detailing on the stern and head rails primarily. I have also made a couple of other very small components from it, when they're going to be painted anyway and the basswood would be hard to cut cleanly in such small sizes. I was really doubtful that I'd have satisfactory results with it for the chafing fish, but I was actually pleasantly surprised. I think it's a matter of what's going to work best for you.

 

I am really not in a position to share "advice" with anyone as I'm fairly new to the hobby myself and there are many more qualified people out there. So please understand that I'm just sharing my experience which I'm happy to do if it's of some use.

 

David

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David... I don't see much of anything here to be advice necessarily.  I find it hard to follow advice in these logs, since everybody has a different build, and thus, they have different experiences.  But it is the experiences that are important, because then we can form our own advice... Our own ideas.

 

Elijah... Glad to see you found my log. :)  As I see it, keeping the keel is not just good advice, but imperative for a proper build.  Like building a house, or any other structure, you must start with a foundation.  Without a solid keel/bulkhead structure, you are without a solid foundation.  More on that later.

 

What I found today while I was working on my bulkheads, is that they are way off from the plan drawings.  In some cases, by as much as 2mm in width.  Not only that, but I found discrepancies in the laser cut bulkheads as well.  I have read other logs here where they have noticed these errors as well.  After much head-scratching and cursing (like a sailor, even), I decided this will have to be taken care of in the fairing process.  Unless one bulkhead is totally off, then I will take my scroll saw and remake it.

 

A solid foundation starts with a straight keel, and here is how I have chosen to do it.  I have some marble tiles left over from tiling my bathroom.  These are marble and absolutely dead flat.  If you have marble countertops, they would work too.  Machined granite is also dead flat usually.  In the picture, which is just a mock-up, since I got too concerned about bulkheads today to get to gluing keel sections as I had planned, but this is how it shall be done tomorrow.  The 3 ingots on top are lead, 1 pound each.  The marble tile is a little over 5 pounds.  Make sure that there is no interference from wood splinters or dents to keep the pieces from lying flat.  Of course, if this were really epoxied or glued, I would use wax paper to keep anything from sticking to the marble or granite.

 

 

 

Matt

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Hi Matt,

I wouldn't worry too much about the bulkheads not matching the drawings perfectly. The main thing is their relationship to each other and that after fairing you have a good smooth contour. I paid no attention to the bevel lines on the plans and just glued the bulkheads in place on the keel and only then began to fair them, frequently holding a test strip of planking across them until I was satisfied with the contour. Something that is important is that they line up properly with the top of the keel and that they meet the bearding line. I think it's best to make them line up flush at the top first and do any fixing that's needed at the bottom. If one or more of them falls a bit short of the bearding line, which might happen, just glue a strip of wood along the edge of the bulkhead from about the middle point down and sand it into shape. I had to do that on a couple of mine. If one seems a bit too long, just sand it back. Similarly, as you're fairing and you hold a test planking strip along the side, if a bulkhead seems to cause a low spot, you can glue a strip to its edge and then sand it into shape. I think you'll find that approach will give you a satisfactory result and save some frustration trying to reconcile the parts and the plans.

David

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Welcome aboard Matt. You certainly picked a great ship to start with. There are so many knowledgable modelers here that any problems you encounter can probably be answered. Keep in mind that there is typically more than one solution. That's the beauty of this hobby. As a humble tip, I would suggest not pre-beveling your bulkheads. The plan drawings may not be accurate in this regard. Better to bevel all the bulkheads after they have been glued to the keel. This way the ship can be faired to take on the planking more smoothly. Good luck and may the wind be at your back!

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Thanks for the encouragement and the tip, Mrshanks.  I decided that was the way to go after beveling bulkheads A, B and C.  Bulkhead R on the other hand, I will bevel before fairing.  It seems silly to me to cut a 32nd off the rest of them, when fairing will do the job.

 

I did finally get my false keel glued up though.  And I decided it would make more sense to cut the rabbet before installing the keel.  If I did it that way, I could be sure to keep it even and straight.  I am deviating from the instructions here, but I am confident it is a better approach.  But it should make no difference structurally. 

 

I do have the false keel epoxied up, and weighted, but that is as far as I have gotten today.  But I did fit all bulkheads in their slot before I glued up the keel, since it made sense to do it earlier rather than later.  I may have saved myself some headache, or maybe not. 

 

Upon getting the false keel assembled, I am coming to realize what a huge ship this is.  I am now wondering if my wife will let me mount a case in the upper floors of my house.  Oh well... It is easier to beg forgiveness that ask for permission.  It is an impressive model.

 

I don't really have any pictures for this post.  There is really nothing to show unless you like to see epoxy setting.  I will have dry fitting of the bulkheads tomorrow though, I hope.  I like epoxy to set at least 24 hours, no matter how long it says it sets in, so it might be the day after.  But I am confident that the keel is absolutely straight, and that is the important thing.

 

Matt

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Looks like you are off to a good start Matt. It's been a while since I really watched this ship come together so I think I will pull up a chair and follow along.

 

I will also echo other comments on here that it is better to wait to fair all the bulkheads as one unit rather than individual pieces. The first wood ship I build that was a plank-on-bulkhead build had instructions that also told me to bevel all the bulkhead edges down first and even gave angles to follow. After I spent hours doing that and assembled all the framing and began to plank I quickly realized that I had basically wasted those hours. I still had to go back and fair the hull more and by doing them early I ended up over sanding many of them and had to use filler strips to build the frames back up. After that ship I learned a couple of different things. The first is to assemble the frames and then lay long strips of planking across the frames edges to check to see where I need to sand or fill. The second is that most ship plans and instructions that come in kits are more rough guidelines. They will allow you to make a decent model of your ship if followed but, to get a more accurate and often better constructed and detailed ship, looking for additional information and scratch building will be a large part of your time. Luckily for you you have a background in scratch building through model railroading, (I also enjoy that and have a nice HO scale layout in my basement) and you have chosen a ship in which there is extensive information and pictures easily available both on this site and the internet in general. 

 

I look forward to seeing her progress!

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Hello, all.

 

I have a question.  On the plans to this kit it appears there is a bevel on the sternpost and the stem.  There is no mention I can find in the instructions on this, and would like to know what others think.  AOTS shows it slightly in photos, but doesn't point it out well.  Another thing, is  does this bevel continue for the whole keel, or is it just the stern and stem?  The prints imply just the stem and stern.  The keel surely beveled, or is it?

 

Is this an oddity for American ships?  I have seen other plans where the stem is not beveled.  I am just curious.

 

Matt

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Hi Matt,

I believe the stem and stern pieces should be beveled, but not the keel. This is what I did on my model. Bevel them to about 1/8", leaving them full thickness (1/4") where they meet the keel. The bevel extends pretty much the full length of the stem piece and the leading edge of the stem piece is rounded over. The stern piece is beveled from the point near the top where it curves in slightly all the way to the bottom but the edges are left square. On both pieces just blend the bevel in where they meet the keel piece. Hope that's of some help.

David

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Yes David, you are correct.  I decided to study this fine drawing they included, and it is right there on the print.  There is an invisible line drawn that shows where the bevel starts on the stem piece, and at the sternpost, it also shows how far down the keel the bevel extends.  As many plans, blueprints and schematics I have used for most of my life, I should have known to study the drawing first.

 

Matt

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The stem is now tapered for the most part.  I did not round it over yet, so that it showed up better in the photos, but also because I don't want it getting dinged up during stages before painting.  The sternpost should be a bit easier to taper, though I haven't done it yet.  It just doesn't have the complexities of the stem.  I am not sure how well the taper can be seen, but here are the pics:

 

 

 

I know this might seem to be a minor detail to some, but I think it is still a detail worth modeling in a ship of this size.  Most people aren't going to notice it, though, I realize.  But then again, I think if I am going to model something, it is worth doing it as much justice as possible with the visible parts.

 

Next update should see the stern completed as well, and the bulkhead fixing begun.

 

Matt

 

 

 

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The foundation of any build is a great place to make sure things are right. The extra time is worth it later on. As for the extra little details, why not put them in. Yes it takes longer and no most people will not notice but they just might be the detail that sets your build apart from someone else. Besides, lets face it, when working on something that takes a thousand hours to build is a few more really that bad?

 

Looking great!

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 Thank you, David, Elijah and E.J.

 

E.J. ~ I totally agree.  If it is worth modeling, then I will try and get it as close to the prototype as is practical.  Coming from the model R.R. culture, I am very used to not modeling many details, since there is simply no room to do so.  Model railroaders often just model representations of certain structures to come close to the 'feel' of that structure.  Lots of things in RRing are done this way.  But when building a model ship, this is not the case.  With this model, I am trying for as much exactitude as I can achieve. 

 

Today I began permanent installation of the bulkheads, and ran into an issue I knew I would have when I was originally cutting the bulkheads out.  Bulkhead 'I' was cut from a piece of plywood that had a knot in the extensions above the spar deck.  So bulkhead installation got as far as 'H' before I had to correct this problem.  I could correct this after the bulkhead was installed, but it is much easier to do now, before installation. 

 

The first picture shows the problem, and the second shows the piece to be rabbeted into the plywood, and later shaped.  I know I could have contacted Model Expo and asked for a replacement, but this is a rather silly solution for an easy problem to fix myself.  Why cost them money, while at the same time delaying my build.  Here is the damage, and the piece which will be the correction:

 

 

 

Matt

 

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Breakage of the bulkhead extensions is a pretty common problem and can (and probably will) occur anytime until they are planked. Fortunately it isn't a difficult one to repair. Often the break will have a ragged edge in which case you can even glue the original piece back in place without any problem.

David

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Yesterday and today I have mostly been working on mounting bulkheads, and repairing the defective one.  This was just a process of fitting each one, squaring it and waiting on the glue to dry enough to unclamp it.  It is an easy process, if somewhat tedious, but it is done.  I intend on adding bracing between each bulkhead for extra strength, but the ones installed yesterday are quite stiff, and I doubt that it is really necessary.  But I am going to do it anyway... It can't hurt, and can only help or be an exercise wasted.  Perhaps it is just because I will feel more comfortable with braces in place.

 

While waiting on glue to set this morning, I decided to hack out the counter.  This is a deceptively complex piece, I discovered, as it has some curves that need careful attention.  I am happy I bought those belt sanders years ago now.  I did not finish it to final size at the side curves, since these will need to be trimmed to match the stern filler blocks.  But it was a lot of fun to build, and I think it turned out well except for the hole for the rudder.  Some sort of filler will be needed to clean up the tear-out caused by the drill bit.  I first drilled it undersized, and then went up a few sizes, and finally to the final size.  It still tore out.  In hindsight, I would drill it half-sized, and then use a needle file to open it up.

 

Looks like filler block construction and fitting are on the schedule for tomorrow.  I doubt more progress than that can be made in one day, since it is a new thing for me.  Plus, I am careful, since I don't like remaking parts.  But the counter was the hardest part of the five to construct, I think.

 

Enough of my babble though.  Here are some picks.  (apologies for using my dryer for my backdrop):

 

 

 

 

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Looking good. Those counter blocks can be a pain as they often curve in two or three different directions. Yours came out looking very nice. I've also had blow out problems while drilling holes on ships. Even with using smaller sizes and working up it can still happen especially with the softer woods and plywoods. Your idea of using needle files to reach the final dimension has worked best for me though I am curious to hear how others have dealt with the issue.

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Thank you, Ian.  :)

 

And yes, EJ... If I have to drill another hole in basswood, it will be small and taken out with files to proper size.  I probably could have done a better job with the drill press or the mill, but that too is hindsight.  Having never made a wooden ship before, it is a learning experience, and one I don't regret.  I am having more fun than should be allowed, as it is like scratch building with guidelines.  You can't really call the instructions included in this kit instructions.  Maybe that is what makes it so fun.  

 

Matt

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I didn't get much done today, since I had other work to finish first.  But I did get one of the stern filler blocks finished to rough shape.  Lots of filing and sanding involved, but I think it came out pretty close to final shape.  Now comes the tricky part... Making one just like it that is a mirror image of it.  This is the main reason I didn't have it attached to the ship, because I want to correct relationships between the two fillers and the counter all together, so that there will be less fine-tuning after they are mounted.

 

Here are a couple pics:

 

 

 

Matt

 

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