Historic Ship and Display Models
Museum quality ship (and other) models custom made by Jarod Matwiy

How they are made

The first Constitution I did was completed in 2001 and is the subject of the construction article below. 9 years later I did another and updated this page with some photographs of the more recent work.


2010 update! 
This wheel that will be installed on my 2010 model is made entirely out of Swiss Pear wood. I think it is much better than the earlier one.


2010 update! 
The windlas was scratchbuilt from Swiss Pear wood and is much more true to scale than the kit parts.


2010 update! 
The galley stack was scratchbuilt out of sheet brass, then chemically blackened and aged. Much better than the kit parts!


2010 update! 
My client didn't like the stained wood look of the deck so it was redone in a grey wash and is much more to his liking.


2010 update! 
Hatch coamings, fife-rails and most other hardware are all scratchbuilt in Swiss Pear wood. The brown patch of deck was done as a sample for my client to consider as a replacement for the wood deck.

Below is an example of the steps involved in the construction of a ship model. The subject is the frigate USF Constitution, a large and complicated subject that demonstrates the construction procedures very well. These photographs, plus many more were sent to the client during the construction progress to keep him updated on the progress of his model.

Framing and planking the hull

  The basic hull shape is made up of bulkheads or frames that are attached to a false keel running longitudinally over the length of the ship.     Framing for gun ports, sweeps or any other openings in the hull is installed and then the whole structure is sanded to provide a good surface to attach the planks to.

  Planks above the main wale are installed and cut to match the openings left in the framing.
  Soaking planks in water, and then bending them over a hot iron makes the extreme curves at the bow and stern possible.
    The planking is near completion in this photo. This is not the way planks were laid on the real ships, and it wouldn't do for a model with a bare hull, but in this case they are covered with copper plates later on in the construction.     Quarter galleries are framed at this point and the rest of the planking is nearing completion
Hull preparation and finishing

Once the hull planking is complete, the whole thing is sanded smooth and primed to prepare it for the final finish coats.


 Another shot of the primed and sanded hull. The main wale (thicker planking) down the length of the hull can be seen here.


White is first sprayed on, then masked and then the black finishes up. The red band didn't need to be here as it will be covered up by red-painted copper plates....


 The hull painting is finished, except for the lower hull that will be covered up with copper.


 Copper tape is imprinted from the back to simulate rivet patterns before being cut into individual plates. I made this tool out of an old clock gear and some scrap plastic.


A tool used for cutting horizontal blinds to size works great for cutting plates of equal length. Adding a fence to the tool ensures a square edge.


The completed copper hull is cleaned with steel wool, leaving it very shiny and not very natural looking, even for a vessel right out of the shipyard.


The whole copper bottom is treated with a chemical called "Patina-It" to give it an aged look.


 The painted and coppered hull. The bulwarks have been painted green in this shot as well.


 There was a space here so I filled it with an overall shot of my workbench. Wow... it was pretty clean that day!

Deck and things on the deck


Gratings were important on warships for ventilation, especially when the big guns were being used in the confines of the lower deck.


 The Constitution carried mostly carronades on the upper deck, and long guns below. Some gratings and the capstan are also visible in this shot.


 View of the carronades through the upper deck gun ports.


Fife rail (around the mast hole), pin racks, gratings and some of the carronades installed on deck. Breeching ropes still have to be fitted to the guns.


 All of the stern deck carronades installed and rigged. The three thimbles standing tall behind the mast hole will anchor the mizen mast stays during the rigging process.


 Kit parts for the ship's wheel were discarded and this one scratch built from Yew wood. The wheel is one of many focal points on a model and needs to look good.


 Another view of the wheel, fife rail, gratings and carronades


 The two vertical structures adjacent to the ship's wheel are called binnacles. They housed the ship's compass and other navigational gear.


Boats are another one of those focal points that can't be rushed through. It seems that if someone is going to comment on a certain part of a ship model, most often it will be the ship's boats.


 Boats are time consuming to make. More often than not the boat will have to be scratch built, including all of the accessories that may be inside the boat.


 The Constitution's boat sitting on deck, ready to be lashed down.


 More deck fittings attached later on in construction include the galley stack, cannonball racks, and rope coils hanging from the fife rails.

Hull detailing


 The scroll pattern was taken from a digital photo of the actual ship, was traced over in a cad program and printed out with extra fine lines. These lines were then painted with a fine-tip paintbrush.


 Headrails are always a difficult thing to make. They often curve in more than one plane and have to be built up or carefully soaked and bent with a hot iron.


 The Head gratings were scratch built out of Pear wood. The original kit part is shown as a comparison. It was a lot of extra work, but I think the result was worth it.


Though later in construction, this is a good shot of the headrails and bow scroll. The hull is not as shiny as it appears in this photo. The flash is only a few inches away creating the glossy appearance.


 The run of the copper plates toward the stern is shown well in this photo.


 Constitution's stern is not heavily ornamented like vessels from earlier times, but is interesting nonetheless.

Masting and rigging


 The fore, main and mizzen masts during construction. Several blocks, eyes and other rigging attachments will be installed before these are mounted on the ship.


The tops were used as lookout platforms and a perch for sharpshooters to fire from during battle. Note the octagonal upper section of the lower mast, transitioning to square as it is anchored to the crosstrees.


 Another view of the tops, this time from the underside.


 The lower shrouds are attached to the mizen and main mast in this photo.


The deadeyes and chainplates attaching them to the hull are shown here. The run of the rigging is carefully planned so as not to interfere with the guns.


 The topmast shrouds are installed on the mainmast in this shot. Notice the way they all come to a ring that is attached to the deck to withstand the strain of the upper rigging.


 The headrails would normally be installed before any rigging goes on, but in this case I was missing some materials needed to complete that part. The foremast rigging was left off until I could finish working at the head.


 Partly furled sails were made from a tissue paper material called "silkspan". This stuff has almost no stiffness when wet and hangs very realistically as it drys.


This shows sails in different stages of the furling process. The upper sail on the mainmast is still dry and hanging down, the one just below it has been wet and tied up with the appropriate lines and the sails on the mizen mast are completed.


Here, most of the standing rigging (black ropes) is complete and with the installation of yards, the running rigging that controls the sails is being applied.


 During construction, the ship can be a rat's nest of lines. It's easy for it to become a tangled mess if you are not careful.


 Most of the sails are installed at this point. This is a very big model (48" long), so I left the jib boom and flying jib boom off until late in the project to make it easier to turn the model around.


 The brailed spanker sail is shown here.


 The lines terminate at the pinracks on the bulwarks and fife rails surrounding the masts It looks complicated, but if followed, each line has a purpose. Sailors knew instantly which line was attached to what in the rig, even on the darkest night.


 The inverted V shaped structure below the bowsprit countered the pull of the foremast stays and was called the martingale boom.


 Since it often plunged into the water as the ship nosed into a wave, the martingale boom was given the obvious nickname "dolphin striker".


 A close up of the main top looks almost impossibly complex, but everything had a purpose. Had this ship been rigged with full sails, there would have been about double the number of tan coloured lines (running rigging) in the photo.

Finishing off

 I usually leave things like boat davits and boats, anchors, gun port lids and sometimes even the flying jib boom off a model until the very last steps. They are easy to knock off and aren't covered up by much rigging making them easy to install at the end.


 Small things like the netting in the open stern ports make a big difference in the overall appeal of the model.


 The Constitution's masts nearing completion. The addition of the flag gives it some color and a sense of motion.


Another view of the main and mizen masts. I like the way the flag looks here. If this shot were taken outside against the sky as a backdrop, I doubt anyone would know it's a model.


 I tend to be clumsy, so once again, things like gun port lids and the studding sail boom are a sign that it's almost finished. Easy to install at the very end, and easy to knock off if installed too early.


 With only the quarter gallery windows to be installed, the model is 99.9% complete.

Finished Constitution made in 2001
Finished Constitution made in 2010
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