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As far as I know this is the first log on this site for Model Shipways’ cross section of the USS Constitution.  I bought the kit last summer, when I think it was pretty newly released, and when I was about midway through my Spray build. I have never done a cross section, and I was attracted to the novelty (for me), the detail, and the fact that I wouldn’t be spending many months simply building a hull. So far I am not in the least disappointed.

 

Upon opening the relatively small densely packed box I soon realized this was not going to be a simple, quick build.

 

There are five sheets of plans (although only two are really plans; the smaller three show the location of  the hundreds of laser cut parts as laid out on their sheets of wood as well as some photo-etched brass fittings).  The two plan sheets are three feet by almost four feet (that’s a two foot ruler in the photo of them laid out on my floor). I found a couple poster hangers  on Amazon and hung them on the wall to better view them.  The fittings are extensive, as is the number of laser cut wood parts.  The only thing that seems underwhelming in volume is the number of wood strips and dowels, but that kind of makes sense for a cross section.  

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The really amazing thing for me are the instructions.  Almost 100 pages, with an average of 3 or more color photos per page!  As with most Model Shipways kits, the instructions can be downloaded as a pdf from their website, which makes choosing an appropriate build a lot easier.  With instructions this voluminous, it is helpful to have them on a computer and able to be searched, if there is a specific issue you want to look ahead about (as I mention below).  

 

First step is to cut out the three frames, or what I might have called ribs, which are the skeleton of this part of the hull. The laser cut pieces are securely attached with a minimum of tabs, and the laser cutting is sharp, precise and complete -- well done.  All three parts are attached to a building stand, that will be cut off later in the build. Two lengthwise pieces connect those stand parts, and the slots all need to be sanded so they fit.  I made those connections quite tight, as they will not be disassembled for quite some time. Eight additional crosswise laser cut pieces (identified as spacers) are provided to connect the frames and to keep them a precise distance apart at the level of each deck. These will be moved around a bit from time to time during the build, and I sanded their slots so they are a little looser.  The instructions assign six of them to what seems like a random distribution among the orlop, gun and spar decks (there is also a berthing deck, which for some reason gets none of these spacers). Interestingly, I haven’t found anywhere in the instructions or the plans where the deck names are expressly identified, but it is pretty easy to figure out by looking ahead at the pictures in the instructions (orlop, berthing, gun and spar, from bilge to sunshine).

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Assembling and gluing the keel (which needs a rabbet cut in it), the keelson pieces, and the keelson cap is all quite straightforward. The instructions suggest, and the pictures show, writing “B” on the bow end of the keel to assure that it is properly installed. That struck me as a bit odd, until I realized that the three frames vary fairly significantly in shape and that things are not symmetrical for and aft.  No big deal as to the keel, but a good habit to get into when dealing with other pieces later in the build.  The slot in the frames for the keel is a loose fit, and I used a couple of rubber bands to press the keel up against the frame when gluing it in place (careful to glue it to the frame and not to the building stand).

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A mast step is then made out of a 1½” length piece of the remaining ¼” x ½” strip.  To avoid chewing up the soft basswood with a large bit, I drilled the ¼” hole for the mast by starting with a ⅛” bit and working my way up to ¼” with the three or four intermediate bits I own. I then chamfered the hole with a Dremel tool.  Note that I did not cut the mast step off of the ¼” x ½” strip until I had finished all of this -- it’s nice to have something to hang on to when working on a piece like this.

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Limbers (I had to look up the nautical definition) on either side of the keelson cap are shaped from ¼” square strips.  Here the change in shape of the hull fore and aft makes shaping them a little like shaping a propeller.  The instructions complicate that quite a bit by having the limbers slope up to the base of the mast foot where the two intersect, but the plans show the mast foot simply continuing straight down on each side to intersect with the limbers.  In one of the photos below I tried to draw in red what the instructions direct. I chose to follow the plans instead, and added a 1/16” strip to the bottom of each side of the mast step to fill the gap between it and the limber below.

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The most challenging step to date was installing what the instructions refer to as the hold walls (hold floor might be a better description, but they do run from the keel to the ceiling above). The are laser cut pieces, with laser etched details (individual planks and trenails). As the instructions warn, they are cut a little large and must be trimmed to fit.  The challenge comes in part from the compound bending that must occur to fit -- they obviously curve upward running from the keel to the intersection with the deck above, but they also curve upward running from bow to stern. The Catch 22 is that it must be fit in place to know how much to trim and where, and you’ll never be able to fit it in place until you do the trimming. I boldly cut the first plank off along the keel, and found that was maybe a milometer too much at the bow and not quite enough at the stern (a small notch where it meets the deck above took care of the latter problem).  

 

The instructions suggest dampening the wood some to make it take the necessary shape a little more easily.  There are many theories expressed on these boards about wood bending, but what I have usually found to be the most effective is the school of thought which says it is heat which makes wood more pliable, and that water merely helps spread the heat into the interior of the wood.  I have an old modeling iron purchased years ago to apply Monocoat to RC gliders, and I was able to slide it in between the frames, but just barely.  Whether it helped is harder to say. In any event a lot of clamping got it all in place and glued down.

 

You'll see where I did some stain testing on the underside of the deck.

 

It all came together pretty well for the portside piece (right side of the picture since you’re looking aft). I was not happy with the way I did the starboard side, since I did not get the deck all the way down against the bottom of the frame and the side of the limber at the stern, something I didn’t notice until the glue had set. Fortunately that gaffe doesn’t show as badly as I feared it would, and by the time I cover it with ballast gravel and barrels, and put the orlop deck in place, not much of the work I’ve done will be visible at all.

 

As mentioned before there is quite a bit of laser etched detail in these pieces, and the instructions suggest using two coats of well-diluted paint so as not to obscure that detail.  I did as instructed, and did not apply a primer coat. On application much of the detail disappeared, but within a few moments the wood absorbed the paint and the detail reappeared.

 

Three center-lined posts and diagonal planks provided additional detail, which will probably be largely hidden by the barrels and the deck above.

 

 

Next installment . . . . ballast and barrels.

 

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Looks like you got those pieces in there quite nicely.  For applying heat to a large or difficult to get to part in the future, give Chuck's method a try and use a cheap blow-dryer (or heat gun) and just blow hot air over the entire piece!

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Like most others I imagine, I have never had to install gravel on a build before, so adding the ship’s ballast was a new experience.  Following the instructions I used painters tape to block off both ends of the hold.  I went one step further and put wax paper on the tape to make it easier to pull away from the gravel when finished . . . in retrospect probably not necessary.  The instructions say to take a “small amount” of the gravel, soak it in diluted white school glue, then pour it into the hold.  I used about 1/3rd glue and 2/3rds water, soaked about a quarter of the gravel in it for a moment or two, and used a plastic spoon to dish up portions of the gravel, being careful to drain off the excess glue.  I then poured the gravel where needed around the keelson and mast step, using a plastic spatula to rearrange and level (somewhat) the gravel.  I set everything aside to work on something else, then about five minutes later noticed that there was a pool of diluted glue gathering below each end of the building stand, on my self-healing mat!  Fortunately I mopped it up before it made a permanent mess of the mat, and I moved everything to a large piece of wax paper.  The assembly continued to ooze sloppy glue for another 30 minutes or so but eventually stopped. I let things dry overnight, then pulled off the tape and everything held in place.  Just to add a bit of security, I painted a coat of clear matte polyurethane over all the gravel.  An hour later I turned the whole thing upside down, and all but three or four tiny rocks stayed put!

 

I put “small amount” in quotes above since reading the instructions, I realized that they said nothing about following up with more small amounts. I decided the initial amount was all I needed, but in retrospect I might have tapered the gravel pile toward the stern (as instructed) a bit less. Not a big deal though since so little of the hold is visible when the barrels and orlop deck are in place.

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I set up a barrel factory some time ago -- the work being somewhat tedious, I wanted to break it into smaller segments.  I drilled pieces of wire into one end of each barrel so I had something to hold on to, gave them a coat of matte polyurethane (to avoid ink bleeding), and blackened the iron rings with a felt pen.

 

Installing them was a little more difficult than I expected, in part because the gravel bed isn’t as level as it should be, and in part because I put a dab of gap-filling CA glue on the barrel, and found as I tried to put in place I either dropped it, or it immediately rolled out of place, spreading glue everywhere.  When I put the dab of glue in the rocks instead, and held the barrel in place for several seconds, things went a lot better. The frames and spacers create a bit of a challenge sometimes -- I often find myself thinking it's like trying to work on something through the bars of a bird cage. 😊

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Jumping ahead a bit I have installed the deck and sidewalls for the orlop deck, and worked a bit on mast alignment, but I don't have time at the moment to add any narration.  I have added the photos below (bow and stern views) to show how little of the hold detail is really visible once the orlop deck is installed. As I have thought about it, I seriously doubt the barrels on the real ship are neatly arranged in rows every other rib.  More realistically, but unnecessary in the model, the entire hold should probably be full of barrels.

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Orlop deck and sidewalls, and mast alignment, will be in my next installment, which won’t be for several weeks, as other interests and activities will pull me away from the shipyard for a while.

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

I’m back in the shipyard and can report on my work on the orlop deck level.  The instructions suggest using Model Shipways English Oak stain. I have an 8 ounce can of Minwax Golden Oak stain (which will probably last me a lifetime), which I used and liked on my Spray build, and I used that instead.  I first applied a coat of stain conditioner, which is supposed to assure a uniform color when the stain is applied, but it didn’t seem to have much effect. The end result is not too bad though (better than the picture below once thoroughly dry), especially since the lower decks will only be partially visible.  As with the hold, I used a diluted white paint on the walls, thin enough to let the etched detail show through.  I have chosen to use actual planks for the deck on other builds, but the detail on this is good enough that it has overcome my bias against pre-printed sheets for decking. 

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The lower mast is a 7/16” diameter by 16” long dowel. The kit also supplies another dowel about half that length to use as a placeholder while installing the decks and the pieces which surround the dowel on each deck.  The instructions have you taper the lower 4” of the placeholder dowel to 3/8”, then carve and sand a 45 degree chamfer leading to a ¼” locating pin to fit in the already installed mast step.  That seemed like a lot of work for a placeholder, and being lazy, I simply found a screw with a head diameter slightly less than ¼”, and screwed it into the bottom of the untapered dowel.  I figure that if a dowel without taper fits through the holes in all the decks, then surely a tapered non-placeholder dowel will fit with just enough wiggle room to assure that it is exactly vertical cross wise and has the desired rake aft.

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Just to be sure I could align the mast vertically, I spent some time with a small level and a small T-square lining everything up when I first dry fit, then glued, the orlop deck in place.  In the process I discovered that part of the middle rib frame is cut slightly out of shape. As laser cut, each one has a brace across the top that will be later removed.  Unlike the other two, the brace that is part of the middle rib frame is not exactly horizontal.  That could have led to an unhappy result if I had used that brace as my reference to place the mast vertically.

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  • 2 weeks later...

At each deck level the place where the deck meets the sidewall is covered by a waterway (in the instructions referred to as a “stringer” at the orlop deck but everywhere else, including all decks in the plans, referred to as a “waterway”). Sanding the sidewalls to fit between the deck and the ribs above and then gluing them in place to the inside of the ribs, I wasn’t very careful about how the sidewall met (or didn’t meet) the deck, figuring gaps would be covered by the waterway.  The waterways are supplied as curved laser-cut pieces (which need to be bevelled lengthwise to fit), and when I cut the two out for this deck, I discovered that due to my lack of care, the curve for the waterway was much greater than the curve where the deck and sidewall met.  The discrepancy was great enough that the laser cut pieces simply wouldn’t work.

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So I cut a 1/16th” by 3/16th” strip and beveled it lengthwise with a Dremel to fit between the deck and the sidewall.  Only problem was that I occasionally let the Dremel run off the end I wasn’t holding at the time, accidentally shaving off the corners resulting in a pointed end, which wouldn’t do at all. So I cut two new strips, about half an inch longer than needed, beveled them (again making a mess of the ends), painted them dark green, glued them in place, and cut off the excess.

 

 

Also laser-cut are three “mast surrounds”, which not surprisingly surround the mast on the orlop, berthing and gun decks.  As instructed, I shaped them and painted them the same dark green as the waterways.  I slipped one of them onto the placeholder mast and slid it down to deck level, but I decided not to glue it in place just yet.

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I like to occasionally read a few pages ahead in the instructions to see what is coming up, and doing that I noticed a picture with the next deck glued in place and with a post midships on the orlop deck.  The instructions don’t say anything about putting any posts at that deck level (unlike the posts in the hold) and the pictures don’t show a post there until the berthing deck is in place a few pages later.  But the plans show 3 posts down the center line of the orlop deck. 

 

Reading ahead, the instructions get interesting.  They say to shape 13 posts (or “stanchions” as they are referred to) from a 1/8th” dowel, then install 8 of them between the berthing deck and the beams above, and to set aside “the remaining four” to be installed on the gun deck.  I pulled out my trusty HP 12C calculator and confirmed my suspicion that that left one unaccounted for.  But even more puzzling reading ahead in the instructions about the gun deck (and doing a search in the digital version of the instructions), there is nothing said about installing four (or five) posts (or stanchions) on any other deck at all.  The plans are more helpful, showing 3 posts on the gun deck, in addition to the 3 on the orlop deck. Adding those to the 8 shown in a picture of the berthing deck, it looks like I’ll need 14 of these things.

 

I don’t own a lathe, but I fashioned a reasonable facsimile of one with my drill and a block of wood which conveniently has a lot of holes in it. I then shaped three of them for this deck, stained them with the same stains I used for the posts in the hold below, and set them aside to be glued in place later. That would be 3 down and 11 to go.

 

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Thanks Matt.  The glue held the gravel quite well.  I turned everything upside down after the glue had dried, and only 2 or 3 individual stones fell out.  Just to be sure, and probably unnecessary, I added a coat of matte polyurethane.  As for the barrels, just last week two of them came loose and I pulled them out.  Something of a blessing in disguise because it enabled me to see where the placeholder mast met the mast base, and I discovered I was not getting the screw I put in the end of the mast into the hole.  I think I will leave those barrels out until I install the mast permanently, just so I can view what's going on in there.

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