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USS Constitution
1:93rd Scale Mamoli Cross Section Kit
Joel Labow

boxsmall.jpg (7178 bytes)There are a number of kits of USS Constitution available today. BlueJacket Shipcrafters offers a solid hull version and Mamoli and Model Shipways both offer plank-on-bulkhead versions. All three kits are quite large and expensive and require a great deal of space for both construction and display. A convenient way to obtain an interesting model of this famous ship in a much more reasonable size range is to utilize the Mamoli Cross-Section kit. This kit is usually available from Model Expo and other large hobby shops for considerably less than $100. As with most European sailing ship models, the plans and fittings are rather generic and evoke the general appearance of the prototype, rather than being an exact scale representation. The biggest deviation from scale is the fact that the kit cross-section at the mainmast is shown as being dead flat (i.e. with no taper of the hull lines): in fact reference to official drawing shows that there should be a fairly pronounced taper towards the stern at this point. The other 'major' error is the fact that the chain pumps on the gun deck are not connected to anything belowdecks as they should be. Since I was building the kit as a presentation model on a short time line I elected to live with both these shortcomings.

The kit consists of a well-packed collection of stripwood and brass and cast metal small parts and three sheets of plans.  Hull frames and main top are laser-cut from soft plywood. As may be seen from the plans, the hull is laid out on a full-sized template and trued up with a small right angle tool which is provided in the kit. In general the kit is a fairly straightforward project. I recommend replacing the coarse open-grained walnut stripwood that comes with the kit with appropriate sizes of model railroad basswood.

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Small Parts
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The frames were laid out as per the template. It is essential to make sure that this structure is absolutely square and true: any irregularities will be glaring in a large scale cross-section! When the planking is complete, only the endmost frames will be visible. Full-sized frames were built up from multiple 'futtocks': I laminated thin maple veneer over the plywood to simulate this effect. When the interior framing was squared off I planked the hold up to the level of the lowermost (orlop) deck. One of the challenges of building a model with interior detail is the fact that each deck with all fittings must be completed before the deck and hull planking is added for the next level. The large U-shaped piece of timber visible at the end of the hold is termed a floor rider: these were important stiffeners of the hull structure and I added one at each end of the section. They also serve the purpose of holding in the ballast, which is HO scale roadside ballast secured with Elmer's glue. Hold planking was stained with Floquil oak stain.

Deck planking was typically 3"-4" thick and 10"-12" wide: HO scale (1/87) lumber sized in inches is available from Northeastern Scale Models and is ideal for this purpose. The decks were stained with Floquil driftwood stain with a touch of flat white added: the caulking was simulated with dark brown magic marker along the plank edges. Gun deck and spar deck bulkhead interiors were white. Interestingly, Constitution appears not to have had hinged gun port covers like most sailing warships. When not in action the ports were covered with shutters which attached to the port with sliding latches: when the ship cleared for action the shutters were removed and struck below. I elected to add rope breechings and and handling tackle for the main deck guns and spar deck carronades: this necessitated placement of multiple small brass eyelets in the bulkheads.

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It is crucial for the final appearance of the model that all paint borders be crisp and sharp: also, the demarcation between the painted hull surfaces and the oak-stained framing must be crisp. The kit provides a bag of thin greenish stained wood rectangles to simulate the hull copper plating: I didn't much care for the appearance of this and used BlueJacket photoetched plating instead. The hull cradle was constructed from Northeastern stripwood.

The box art and plans show the model with a fully rigged mainmast. In my opinion this creates a rather bizarre appearance as well as making the model top heavy and unstable and very difficult to case. I chose to build only the lower mast and rest it on it's side in front of the hull as might have happened in a shipyard. I built the top up from individual pieces of stripwood rather than use the laser-cut plywood supplied. A longboat and anchor from my scrap box completed the layout. I placed the model on mirror finish Plexiglas to facilitate viewing of the hull detail.

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In summary, this kit can build into an unusual model of a famous ship that can be accommodated in a relatively small space.....and sawdust smells MUCH better than powdered resin! Two excellent references are "The Frigate Constitution and other Historic Ships" by F. Alexander Magoun (Bonanza Books, N.Y.) and "The Anatomy of Nelson's Ships" by C. Nepean Longridge (MAP ltd.). Both of these books are readily available from both hobby stores and Advanced Book Exchange (www.abe.com).

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