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Hello All ,

I am fairly new to wood model boat building but have other modelling skills and was quite interested to find out how many modelers use either the copper tape (is this real copper ?) or the real copper plates for the bottom of the ship hulls . I do think it gives an authentic look to a good ship model . My next build (I think) will be either MSW Benjamin Latham or Bluejackets Smuggler , would I be right in assuming that both these original boats would have been copper bottomed ? If so what size plates would I use on either of these two model boats ?

Thanks .

Mike

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I used the same type of copper tape as YT.  It has worked beautifully for two models now.  It also patinas beautifully in a few months, even under sealant.

 

Speaking of which, make sure that you wipe the copper plating down well and seal it to prevent a thumbprint from oxidizing into the hull and only becoming visible two months later.  I may or may not know from personal experience.

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The copper nails were not rivets.  They were flattened near flush with the copper sheets.  They would be

all but not noticed below the extremely large scales.

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The photos of HMS Victory and USS Constitution in dry dock - the copper - did not seem to be dented

like that in the photos here in previous threads about this subject.  Did I miss that?

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6 hours ago, Jaager said:

The photos of HMS Victory and USS Constitution in dry dock - the copper - did not seem to be dented

like that in the photos here in previous threads about this subject.  Did I miss that?

Nope. A real coppered bottom looks like the pictures you've seen of the real thing. It's the models you've seen that inaccurately portray their subject. At "model scale viewing distances," it's actually practically impossible to discern any 3-D surface detail on a coppered bottom.  Step back from a real vessel as far as you need to so you can take in the entire ship in your field of vision, as when viewing a model. You lose a lot of surface detail at that distance. This picture is maybe twenty-five yards from the ship's bottom, no? No "dents," no "rivets." The copper plating seams are barely visible and only because they are either still damp as the dock is in the process of being pumped out, or perhaps because there's some dark colored sealer on them.

 

See the source image
 
An accurate portrayal of a coppered bottom on a model requires little more than a competent "weathered" paint job. The bottom of a model is actually best appreciated for its lines and not its detail. In my not-so-humble opinion, It is counterproductive to draw the viewer's eye to exaggerated out-of-scale "detailed" coppered bottoms on a model when the viewer's eye should be drawn to the far more complex details of the deck and rig.
 
I realize that I may tread on some toes saying this, but I think the sort of coppered bottoms we see on so many models in recent decades are affectations foisted upon modelers by manufacturers who found including some copper foil in their kit boxes allowed them to claim "Real Copper Bottom!" as some indication of quality and sophistication. Somehow or other, some modelers believe this marketing hype and believe it's necessary to put "real copper" on the bottoms of their models if they are to do a proper job of it. Too often, we see wildly exaggerated and over-sized "rivets" standing proud of the surface, sometimes carefully spaced to show the fastening patterns dutifully recorded in some dusty tome of nautical lore.  If one felt compelled to do so, the above appearance of Constitution's scrubbed down coppered bottom could be far more accurately depicted to scale with overlapping pieces of thin paper, glued in place and then primed with thinned shellac and painted as seen in the photograph above. That is really what a scrubbed coppered bottom looks like in real life. Even when a bottom is freshly coppered, it never really looks evenly "brightly polished" as many try to depict. The copper plates may be shiny at first, but exposure to the elements (particularly salt air and salt water) quickly oxidize the surface and plates at the top of a pile will have their exposed faces oxidized to a greater degree than those in the middle of the stack. In short order after application, though, the elements even it all out and what we see above is what you get. Coppered bottoms simply don't shine like polished brass. (And I have no idea why folks go to the trouble of trying to get their copper foil to develop a patina like the real thing, either. Such products are often treated in one way or another to stay shiny, so trying to patinate them is pretty much a fool's errand anyhow.)  I have seen my share of real coppered bottoms in the boatyards and I've seen a lot of contemporary models in maritime museums and, while there may be some out there,  I can't recall ever seeing any sort of coppered bottom on a contemporary model. 
 
This is just my opinion, so nobody should have hurt feelings if they've got a different one. I just offer this comment as grist for the mill. I'd be interested in hearing what others think in this regard.
 
 
 
 

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I can see and understand why modelers would want to authenticate their boat or ship models by using real copper tape or thin plates and especially if they use copper plate as surely this is just replicating the real thing in miniature apart from using copper nails to affix them. But I would have

Thought that when a model boat is being admired, as you said, your eye should be drawn to the lines, shape, deck details and rigging which are all integral parts of any boat model, but surely that would include the copper plates or indeed the wood planking that is a feature also. For all it is pleasing in some peoples eyes to look at a Shiney copper bottom, I agree with you that it is not happens in reality and as such unrealistic. I suppose it all depends as to how far one is into model making but I appreciate your post was a well  intended one and was very informative. 

Thanks

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5 hours ago, Bob Cleek said:

... often treated in one way or another to stay shiny, so trying to patinate them is pretty much a fool's errand anyhow

Got a good example to illustrate the point. I use copper self-adhesive tape around flower-pots to protect plants from slugs (it works very well: the slugs don't like crossing copper). Three years ago I did a pathetic job of putting on one of the bands of tape but left it anyway. See photo below. The bare copper side has patina, the glued side is still bright. I did nothing to the tape after installation and why the exposed sticky side didn't get covered in muck is a riddle, but the picture shows how even the glue coating protects and preserves the bright finish despite spending years on a patio. As far as I know, none of the contributors plan on subjecting their models to the same environment as my tomato plants but you get the point.

copper 1.jpg

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12 hours ago, Bob Cleek said:

I'd be interested in hearing what others think in this regard.

I can't think of anything to add to what you have said, which I feel pretty much echoes my sentiments on this subject.

 

I don't know if you are familiar with the coppering  technique that is suggested with some of the Mamoli kits,  but it consists of applying green wood strips that are cut to the supposed length of copper plates.

Some of the finished examples I have seen, look a lot like the image of the Constitution you provided..

 

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PS. By the way real ship hull bottom looks exactly this shiny when copper plates were just applied in dry dock. 

Might that depend on how long the plates had been kept after delivery from the rolling mill?  Our "just in time" system is a very recent development.

The mills were probably lower in rate of production,  delivery time and weight per load,  the inverse of now.

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I wouldn't be surprised if there was considerable difference in appearance between groups of sheets at the time of installation.

 

I recall seeing a model a while back where the builder used a propane torch  to change the color of random plates, to create a sort of brickwork pattern..

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1 hour ago, Jaager said:

Might that depend on how long the plates had been kept after delivery from the rolling mill?  Our "just in time" system is a very recent development.

The mills were probably lower in rate of production,  delivery time and weight per load,  the inverse of now.

Exactly. The purity of the copper varied as well. Smelting techniques weren't as technologically developed then as now. Impurities affected the appearance of the patina as well.

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On 8/28/2019 at 12:35 PM, Y.T. said:

Heads would not be seen but the dents from nailing surely will.

 

image.png.2675af6f09d7dd07010d3faae8220b6f.png

Certainly not dents like these! A hundred years ago, these monkeys would be sacked on the spot for this job!  Obviously, and perhaps understandably, they have never done it before and don't know what they are doing. Copper plate was fastened to ships' bottoms with a coppering hammer, not the carpenter's hammers that these clowns are using. Note how the dents have sharp edges, creasing and weakening the copper sheet. Look at the dog's breakfast the guy on the left has made of the area above his left shoulder. They are using modern copper roofing flashing in long pieces off of a roll and have not shaped the copper to fit the curve of the surface. (Note the "ruffling" at the edges.) A proper coppering job does not look like this.

 

Coppering hammers have a large slightly convex face which permits setting the nail practically flush with the surface without the sort of excessive dimpling from hammer strikes obvious in the picture above. The coppering hammer's face is also designed to be used to shape the sheet at the edges to accommodate the curved shapes of the surface. The claw was designed not only to pull copper tacks and nails, but also to get under the edges of the copper sheets for their removal. Their handles are relatively short and designed to drive the copper nails with a series of lighter taps that won't bend the soft copper nails, unlike a good whack with a long-handled carpenter's hammer, designed for hard iron nails, is likely to do. Coppering hammers came in different weights to suit the weight of the copper being hung. 

 

C. Drew and Co. were America's foremost maker of traditional shipbuilding tools in the age of wooden ships. Here are pictures of a Drew coppering hammer: 

 

s-l1600.jpg
s-l1600.jpg

 

s-l1600.jpg

 

s-l1600.jpg

https://www.ebay.ie/itm/252074819437?ViewItem=&item=252074819437

 

More photos and information re: Drew coppering hammers and other shipwrights' tools:

 

http://www.numismalink.com/drew.note6.html

 

If anybody wants to read an academic paper on the history and practices of copper bottom sheathing, check this out: https://www.academia.edu/358814/The_Introduction_and_Use_of_Copper_Sheathing_-_A_History

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I'm pretty sure that copper plates would look exactly like the photo when first mounted (although I do agree these seem to perhaps be a little more slapdash, but who knows).  The copper sheets are simply too thin to mechanically maintain a flat profile when a nail is driven through.  Simple water pressure and forces when afloat would very quickly flatten the plates to be absolutely flush with the hull given coppers great malleability.

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44 minutes ago, Beef Wellington said:

I'm pretty sure that copper plates would look exactly like the photo when first mounted (although I do agree these seem to perhaps be a little more slapdash, but who knows).  The copper sheets are simply too thin to mechanically maintain a flat profile when a nail is driven through.  Simple water pressure and forces when afloat would very quickly flatten the plates to be absolutely flush with the hull given coppers great malleability.

Nails weren't driven through the copper plates. The holes were pre-drilled. Copper nails weren't much good at piercing the copper plate. The plate was too thick for that.The copper had no problem maintaining a flat profile because it was backed by solid wood. The thin Irish felt underlayment is relatively hard as well and essentially is what we would recognize as roofing tar paper material. (It's not soft "felt" like felt cloth. The term "felt" here refers to the method of making it by compressed matrix, rather than by weaving.) 

 

"Simple water pressure and forces when afloat would very quickly flatten the plates to be absolutely flush with the hull given coppers great malleability." And you know this how? :D The copper plating used by the Royal Navy weighed between 20 and 32 ounces per square foot, depending on the size of the vessel. That's two pounds a square foot for a large ship. This isn't the copper roofing flashing they are putting on Constitution.

 

Here's another photo of Constitution's 2015 coppering job. (Note that the shipyard worker here may be using a proper coppering hammer.)

 

 

img_7670

 

And here's a photo of Cutty Sark's newly coppered bottom in her new below-the-waterline-enclosed exhibition building without weathering exposure. (It has since darkened to a copper penny brown.)

 

400px-Cutty_Sark_stern.jpg
 
Cutty Sark has apparently been properly "coppered" with "yellow metal," one of the alloys that quickly replaced pure copper (which apparently was used on Constitution) as it had greater longevity and anti-fouling properties.
 
Neither bottom had seen a drop of water when these pictures were taken. Notice any differences between the surfaces of the two?
 
In defense of the U.S.Navy, though, given the cost of copper today and the fact that Constitution will not be doing any extended sailing at this point in her long life, their apparent use of roofing flashing is understandable. 

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Having worked with both thick and thin copper I would be very surprised to find any professional driving a nail through a plate of that material. You drill a hole first, to a clearance that allows the fastener to just enter without binding: the head of the nail/rivet/screw does the work of holding things in place. I doubt if the dockyards of 19th century thought differently but would be interested if anyone knows better?

 

EDIT: Bob posted his comprehensive comment above while I was writing mine.

 

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Just because that is what happens to copper plates on a floating ship, it doesn't seem to me that it is a good reason to try to model it..

I don't think I have seen any model ships with barnacles on them, and if they exist it wouldn't be something I would find appealing.. 

 

Here is a thread I came across:

 

The Best Copper Plates?

 

Has some impressive examples..

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On 8/29/2019 at 4:47 PM, bruce d said:

Having worked with both thick and thin copper I would be very surprised to find any professional driving a nail through a plate of that material. You drill a hole first, to a clearance that allows the fastener to just enter without binding: the head of the nail/rivet/screw does the work of holding things in place. I doubt if the dockyards of 19th century thought differently but would be interested if anyone knows better?

There's a video of the machine they use to punch holes in the copper for the Constitution. 

 

Some one needs to build one of these but a bit smaller (say 1/48th).

 

2 hours ago, Y.T. said:

Copper plated bottom looks terrible. Is not it?  Imagine this is how your model would look like if following "do as history tells" rule. Grandchildren would think it got bad and threw it away?

For the coppering on my cutter, I've pretended that it's just been done and hasn't been in the water yet 😀. This also matches the "new" look of the rest of the ship.

 

Richard.

 

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Since this discussion has gone wildly off-track, I thought I'd answer the OP's original question about whether the bottoms of Latham or Smuggler were copper plated. The answer is no. They were painted with anti-fouling paint (which sometimes contained copper). If you plan on building either of these models, get yourself a copy of Howard Chapelle's book, The American Fishing Schooners. There are a couple of pages in the book about the paint schemes of the Gloucester fishing schooners.

 

Cheers -

John

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