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USS Constitution by usedtosail - FINISHED - Model Shipways - scale 1/76

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Beautiful work Tom.  I am excited for you.... just to see your mast rigging coming together so nicely.

Few people in the world could possibly understand the amount of time and precision crafting that goes into the rigging of a tall frigate.  I am always as impressed as if I have never done one.

Looking great!



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This is one of my favorite build logs to follow.The Connie is next,and I will probably start preliminary work on the hull soon,as a diversion from rigging the Morgan during those times when I need a break from it.I plan to do my Connie as near to the 1927 restoration as I can.There are quite a few differences from the MS kit,which reflects some of the alterations made in recent years as they are trying to work their way back to the actual war of 1812 configuration.The reason I have chosen to do it that way is because I believe the 1927 rebuild may be one of the more important historical periods in the life of this ship.Of the total cost of this restoration,($921,108.49) only some $271,023.01 was provided by the congress.The remainder came from public donations,and the sale of souvenirs.some of the donations coming from school children.Had all this not come about when it did,the onset of the depression years,followed by WW2,MIGHT well have delayed the work until she was just too far gone to save.As it was ,90% of the structure had to be replaced. The Boston Public Library has a collection of, photos viewable online which offer some very detailed images of the ship before,during, and after this restoration.They are well worth having a look.

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Thanks so much, Al, Popeye, Dave, GMO, and kmart, plus the likes. GMO2, I like your plan to model the 1927 restoration version. I agree that it is a great historical event for this great ship. I will look forward to following your build, as I am to other builds that are in progress or about to be started.


I finished up the mizzen topG shrouds, back stays and stay. I found that if I tensioned the stay first, then the back stays, then the shrouds, they look better than tensioning the shrouds first. I did it in this order on the main topG mast, but not the fore topG mast. Not enough of a difference though to redo them, though.


I promised to take pictures of the rope coil jig I use, but have not made any new rope coils yet. Here are some pictures of the latest ones I made, along side some older ones that I don't think are as good. The older ones are the two on the left in both pictures. The others are all the newer ones. I think the main difference is that the newer ones hang better. The other difference is that the newer ones are made from cotton rope while the older ones are nylon rope. I plan to use mostly cotton rope for the running rigging.DSC_0004-149.JPG.774ca582aad105265279b7c49e3bd7ff.JPGDSC_0005-134.JPG.1c6fc4386813dfd3a56e68ae6362614e.JPG

I am now working on the three Jacob's ladders that hang on the topG masts to the topmast trestle trees. I was going to make these by gluing wood strips to the line, but decided to try drilling holes in the strips and threading them through the line, which to me seems more secure. I set up the mill with the sensitive drilling attachment and used some parallels with 1/32" wood strips between them to make a jig for holding the 1/32" square basswood for the rungs. There is a slot at the top of the vise that these strips fit into. I first tried drilling through multiple strips, but after the first two, the drill bit wandered enough that the holes were coming through the sides of the rungs. I then drilled each strip individually. I used a #77 drill bit, which left enough "meat" on the sides of the holes, but makes stringing the rungs onto the line a bit difficult. I have to keep dipping the end of the lines into thin CA to harden them after adding a few rungs, as the ends want to fray. Because the vise is not actually holding the strips down, I used tweezers to hold the strip as I drilled each hole, especially when removing the drill bit from the hole. After drilling the holes for 4 rungs, I removed the strip and cut the rungs off. With this process I was able to make about 20 rungs in 30 minutes. I need about 70 rungs for the three ladders. I also used a small drill bit holder so I could center the tiny drill bit in the sensitive drilling attachment more easily. Here is the mill set up:DSC_0002-180.thumb.JPG.0b484268fd7ceaaafc90aa899319d722.JPGDSC_0001-169.JPG.e04312894b418f5d6e187518914a9979.JPG

Here is the first batch of rungs and the start of assembling them. I did not trim the rungs to length until after they are strung on the lines, then I slide the rungs together and trim the ends with a scalpel.


I am currently putting a jig together with a piece of graph paper that will secure the lines while I glue the rungs in place. Look for that in a future post.

Edited by usedtosail
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My father went in the navy in 1937,just out of school,at the age of 17.The first ship he was on was an old WW1 four-piper destroyer enroute across the  Atlantic to join the USS Trenton.He had to climb the mast to pull lookout duty up in the "crow's nest". He said that old ship rolled like a pencil,and that the lookout was expected to carry a bucket up the mast as it was considered poor form to just heave over the side. At least the ladder was a rigid steel affair instead of a swaying rope contrivance like those guys had to deal with.Also he was lucky in that it was a time of year such that he didn't have to chip ice on the way up.

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Thanks again Al, Popeye, and GMO2. Welcome Hal.


I made up the three ladders over the weekend using the jig shown here. Along with the post to hold the loop at the top of the ladder, there are two eye bolts that the ladder lines are threaded through and the lines clamped. I could have also tied the lines around the eye bolts, but the clamps made it easier to get the ladder off the jig. I was going to put plastic over the graph paper, so the glue would not stick the ladder to the jig, but the ladder was held just off the surface so no glue got to the graph paper. The jig worked really well to align the rungs and hold them while the glue dried.DSC_0001-170.JPG.ac086b7f6ba271fe5b5e8735ea1e2645.JPG

I stained the rungs with oak stain and hung the ladder on the fore topG mast.DSC_0002-181.JPG.cd63afa0212a0f5d32953f6689bb02e1.JPG

If you look closely at the above picture, you will see a block sticking through the rungs near the bottom of the ladder. The main topG stay was formerly in that block, so I had to remove it, put the ladder in place, then replace the stay. No big deal, but I should have known the order and held off on the stay. It is back in place now, but I took the picture before I added it back, and before I trimmed the loose ends of the ladder lines. I kept those lines really long, which helped when I had to seize them to the eyebolts at the back of the trestle trees. I threaded the line through the eye bolt, then left it very loose, which meant that I could put the seizings on well a way from the mast, then slide them into place while tightening the lines, and fix them when the ladder was at the proper tension. I have to stain the other two ladders and add them to the main and mizzen masts. I can also now start on the fore royal shrouds, back stays, and stay.

Edited by usedtosail
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nice job on the ladders...they look good in place on the mast.   it's sometimes hard to stay within scale,  so I give myself a sort of + and -     they don't look too bad - you did a great job  ;) 


it's added detail that some would never put in there......

Edited by popeye the sailor
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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks Popeye and Ken. And now after almost 4 years of work, I have come to a major milestone - the standing rigging is completed! In honor if this event, I set up the back drop and put the Connie on the stand I made for her, and took some glamour shots. It was nice being home for Thanksgiving so I had tome to do this. Enjoy.


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she looks superb Tom.......really nice that you left the aft battery of guns closed.   I had posed a question about that in the past........never really got an answer for it.....so cool to see the effect  ;)     you've done an amazing job.......she'll look even better with the yards !  

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Wow, thank you all for the very nice comments and the likes.


Shane, I have been holding the ship in an ugly but effective working cradle as I outfit it, and it is back in the cradle now. I made that stand a couple of years ago and this is the first time I used it since it was built. The base is indeed walnut. I bought it from Model Expo many years ago for a different model, then went with a different approach for it. I made the supports from walnut sheet, and it is finished with hand applied wipe on polyurethane.


Popeye, I was uncertain about the closed gun ports too, thinking that if the ship is going into a fight why would they limit the guns that could be brought to bear. But, I really didn't like the looks of the dummy gun barrels with the port lids open, so made the decision to keep them closed. Maybe those gun crews were just a little slower to get ready then the others, and they are about to open. Yeah, that's it. I'll go with that.


Now, as Ken says, there's yard work to do...(the best kind in my opinion)...

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Before we get to the yards, I found this picture on the camera, which shows how I made the man ropes that are on the royal masts. I tied knots in some line, then hung them and coated them with diluted white glue to straighten them. When they dried, I seized one end to the topG top crosstree and the other end around the royal mast.


For the yards, I am making heavy use of the Sherline lathe and mill combo that bought over the summer. I am learning a lot using them for these and the results are soooo much more precise than I have ever done by hand. I started out by using a steady rest with chisels to turn the yard arms, but I am using basswood for these and had a few tries where the chisel would dig into the wood and break off the ends. It took me a few tries to realize that I shouldn't cut the wood to length until after one end is done, and that hand chisels were not the best approach. So, I ended up using a right hand cutting tool to cut the round sections. I first drilled a hole into one end of a square piece of wood, using the tail stock, for the stunning sail boom bracket. This is a lot easier to do when the wood is still square. The size of the square stock is equal to the size across the octagon section of the finished yard.


After the hole was drilled, I cut the circular section of the yard arm, then the smaller section at the end. I used a file to give it a very slight taper and round the end. I then cut the wood to length and did the same on the other end. 


One of the nice features of the Sherline lathe is that you can take the key out from under the head stock and rotate it to cut tapers. I did this to turn the round section between the octagon in the middle to the yard arms. The head was turned about 0.5 degrees - the width of the index line from 0 - and the taper cut. I left it a bit full, then did the final shaping using a file and sandpaper, to get the curved taper needed. I finished up with medium and fine sandpaper, then turned the yard around in the chuck and tapered the other side. This is what the yard looked like at this stage.


It was now time to cut the octagon section in the middle. I could have used the mill for this, but I had such good results planing this on the masts, I decided to stick with that approach. I marked the 7-10-7 lines on the square part of the yard, using a compass and a 7-10-7 fan, then put the yard in a V-groove jig I made for the masts. I planed down to the lines, using the small plane shown in the second image. This plane works really well for this task.


After planing, I put the yard back into the lathe and cleaned up the transition area from octagon to round with some light sanding.


The next task was to drill the holes for the jack stays. These are on the top face of the yard, but offset from the center. For this I put the mill attachment on the lathe, and put the yard in the tilting table with the top facing up. The tilt was set at 15 degrees, so the holes would go in toward the center of the yard. I used a #77 drill bit with the sensitive drilling attachment, which is another absolute dream tool to use for this kind of work.


I then drilled a series of holes 3/32" apart, or as I have stuck in my head, three full turns (.150"), three increments of 10 (.030"), and one increment of 5 - 0.385". I already know that I will be buying the DRO kit in the future. I also used the mill to make the sieves in the ends of the yards, but that was done after I took these pictures. That completes the fore yard (for now), and I am drilling the jack stay holes in the main yard today, so that one is almost done. Two down and 12 more to go.

Edited by usedtosail
Bad math
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From the pictures, it appears that the square stock passes through the chuck and through the rotary motor so you could work the wood at the end. Is that correct? I know that Ken would sometimes drill a center hole for a pin to attach two pieces. Since you didn't mentioned that, I assumed you didn't attach the tapered ends to the yard ends.


I don't have a Sherline lathe, but want one. I have no real experience with a lathe/mill.  Did you get a package deal on the lathe and mill combo? Was there any additional accessories that you bought that I should also consider and is there any accessory you did buy (or came with the lathe/mill) but have not found a need for? Ken told me not to buy a toll until you need it. I have learned that to be very true. I've purchased many a tool/gadget for this hobby only to find I've had to use it. On the other hand, I don't want to start something only to find I'm missing an important accessory to do the job right.


If you feel these questions are off course for this log, could you PM me? Thanks



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