Revell 1/96 USS Constitution
The USS Constitution is America’s most famous warship. Launched in 1797, she was part of the birth of our Navy and constructed to combat the Tripolitan pirates and to prepare to defend our fledgling nation from European aggression. She was a frigate rated at 44 guns (though she carried around 50 most of her fighting days.) I will refer you to the Reference section for more history. To summarize, in her heyday of the War of 1812, the ship was undefeated in 3 major engagements with the British and this earned her lasting fame. In her 200+ years, she has been refurbished and restored a number of times and very little of her structure is original. She rests now in Boston and is the oldest commissioned warship in the world.
For the modeler, the ship presents difficulties. Her appearance changed many times. Each captain made modifications to suit his whim including repainting, adding cannon, etc. There are no photos of course so we have to rely on written accounts and paintings by artists of the time. In reading the book, A MOST FORTUNATE SHIP, by Tyrone Martin- you see that even from week to week, the ship’s appearance changed to disguise and cloak her identity as well as the effects of battle damage altered her look. And the worst part is that, as she appears now looks nothing like she was in her fighting days.
I had to make decisions from the start on how to portray her. I wanted a representation of her War of 1812 look so decided on the following:
White gun port streak (she wore yellow ochre at times- this was a ruse to confuse British ships)
Worn wood deck
Dark Green bulwarks- at times the bulwarks were white, black, or dark green. Luckily, the ship currently has dark green so color photos were helpful.
Terra Cotta (red brown) gun carriages- these were black, natural wood, or terra cotta at various times.
Stern Decoration- left as the kit has it because it looks much better than current look! This is another area that was altered many times throughout her career.
I decided to record the build in a day-by-day diary format- something I have never done but thought for this complex model it would be a good way to show progress.
Revell’s big Old Ironsides kit has been in production and continuously sold for over 40 years. The kit was designed from a detailed model built by the crew of the ship and presented to legendary captain Isaac Hull after his tour as commander was over. It now resides in the Smithsonian. The kit contains over 1600 parts and includes vac formed sails, 6 different rigging lines in black and tan, a foot long anchor rope, and pre-formed shroud/ ratlines. My kit was a newer boxing and it really shows its age. Some parts were short shot like the hoops on the lower main yards leaving me a smaller and more fragile attachment point. Many of the blocks were completely unusable due to being molded over their openings! If you have an older release- you should be fine. If you get a newer kit, be prepared to clean up and sand every single part. Still, the kit is a masterpiece and when done is in museum scale 1/96 (1/8 inch = 1 foot) measuring around 38 inches from bowsprit to stern and about 26 inches tall to the top of the mainmast. The main yard with stunsail booms is about 15 inches wide.
I started by assembling the cannon- this is not following instructions but thought it would be a good way to start- with the tedium! Each long gun is two halves. While they were drying, I mixed brown and red paint and proceeded to paint the long gun carriages. Wheels were painted a dull black.
Long gun muzzles were drilled out with Dremel tool. Then they were sanded to remove seams. I then stuck them on toothpicks in a foam board and painted the cannon with Model Shipways Cannon Black paint.
They dried quickly so I then CA glued them to the gun carriages.
After this I assembled the carronades in the same fashion as the long guns.
Carronades were drilled out and sanded. Painted same as above.
Painted the carriages red/ brown mix as above and when dry attached the carronades to their mounts. Used a black Sharpie marker to accent the front decoration on each mount.
I also took the two hull halves and after cleanup of the parts- I clamped them together (see pic) and placed the hull in my homemade hull holder- and upside down dish drying thingie I stole from my Mom years ago…I ran a lot of cement down inside the hull to ensure a strong bond…
Two rudder halves attached to hull
Stern Decorations- The very ornate decoration of the stern was accomplished with various paint pens bought at the art supply store. These are very good for thin lines. The raised lines would have been very hard to paint with a brush. This worked great with no masking needed- just a steady hand! Gold accents were added with a brush and other highlights added. Kit supplied clear acetate for windows was attached with Elmer’s glue.
Saturday Feb 21:
Time to paint the hull! After a long cleanup session of flash, painting proceeded this way:
Also painted the lower gun deck (3 pieces) with flat black, then when dry sprayed Dark Tan. When this coat was dry I misted on top a Sand coat. When all was dry, I used various sandpaper grits to bring out the undercolors and replicate a worn wood deck. The grates on this deck were painted flat brown with black screens. When dry the gun decks were glued into the hull. I did not worry about these deck seams because they would not be visible enough for me to deal with them.
Finally, I used the paint pens to detail the bow with gold for the inlays.
Sunday Feb 22:
Parts for the Captain’s quarters installed and painted in stern.
Extra spars attached to deck as per instructions.
Gun port lids: I chose to only install the forward 2 on each side. This is an area of much debate. The style of the lids changed often from split horizontally to vertically to swinging up as the kit has. There is evidence which was corroborated from some book excerpts I read that stated the lids were off and stored most of the time except in heavy weather or seas. One of the models in the Smithsonian is also portrayed this way. So I followed this path (it sure saves a little time!) I made a few stacks of the lids and glued them to the gun deck, which can be seen if you look through the boat spars.
Last step for today was to scuff the wheels of the long gun carriages on sandpaper and then CA glue them to the gun deck.
Long guns were rigged as per instructions using medium tan thread. CA glue used to seal each loop.
Spar (upper) deck 3 pieces were installed UNPAINTED. Many large elastic bands wrapped around hull to close the join tightly.
Stern was folded up and glued to hull sides.
Painting the Spar Deck-
I knew there would be seams to fill so I decided to paint the deck as I did the gun deck above. Before the 3 different paint coats, I used red putty to fill seams. When the sanding commenced, I thought it would blend nicely and hide the seams at the same time achieving the wood grain simulation. It worked well I think.
Inner bulwarks painted Leaf Green from small Testors bottle.
Spar deck fixtures painted Flat Brown, grates painted black wash mixture.
Large capstan installed and painted military brown.
All deck fixtures assembled, painted and installed. Includes ladders, wheels, boat cradles. These were painted various brown shades to show differing wood age and texture.
Saturday Feb 28:
Carronades CA glued onto deck edge pins.
Carronades rigged as per instructions. Each gun is tied to eyebolts (replaced with Micromark brass pins- kit plastic eyebolts are too fragile under strain)
Deck edge pinrails installed and painted flat brown.
3 ship’s boats on deck assembled and tops painted military brown.
Boats attached to cradles and then rigged and tied down as per instructions.
Sunday Feb 29:
Hammock rails attached atop bulwarks. Painted military brown.
Stanchions installed- painted black.
Instructions call for using thread for hammock rails. I used thin black stretched sprue. For the large mid-deck sections, I used some old screen mesh. I debated how I could replicate the actual hammocks- wet tissue, Styrofoam, but decided I do not have the skill to make it look realistic.
Installed 17 eyebolts to each side of hull as per instructions. Touch up with flat black. Had to cut the metal eyebolts down because they are too long.
Installed 3 large deadeye braces to each side as well.
Glue bottoms only of each deadeye assembly. Paint simulated ropes tan and then glue to braces on each hull side.
Assemble bowsprit parts and spray flat white. Lash yard to bowsprit with black thread.
Install bowsprit assembly to bow along with grating. Did not fit well- need to clamp to set.
Wrap “gammoning” using heavy black thread in figure eight pattern through hole on bow and around bowsprit.
Assemble and paint anchors- lash heavy anchor rope to each and cut excess. Rig anchors to supports and hook to hull side. Rig as per instructions to deck and supports.
Assemble foremast with brass rod trapped between halves for added support. Clean up all foremast parts including fighting top and crosstrees. Spray all flat white.
Assemble and paint tan rope on top deadeyes. Rig futtock shrouds and lash. The middle long line will tie off at opposite hull side eyebolt later after ratlines are added. Had to look ahead to see where these would tie!
Saturday Mar 6:
Spent a lot of time at the bench today. Assemble and clean up foremast yards. Lots of sanding required. Installing stirrups and footropes was a tedious and aggravating exercise. I am not too happy with the way they look but I did my best. Then tied blocks as noted to each yard.
Sunday Mar 7:
Finish footropes and touch up paint on yards- all black. Attach yards to foremast with CA glue. Paint military brown middle sections of mast. Later on I installed the foremast into the ship.
Assemble mainmast with brass rod for support. Clean up all mainmast parts. Lots of sanding needed to remove seams and flash.
Spray all mainmast parts flat white. Assemble deadeyes, paint ropes tan and rig futtock lines.
Assemble all mainmast parts and paint middle sections military brown. Assemble and cleanup all main yards- paint all flat black.
Work on all footropes and blocks for main yards.
Saturday Mar 13:
Go to MosquitoCon! Bought a lot of old models and some new decals- Lots of amazing models on the table.
Saturday night I finished the main yards, glued them to the mainmast and then installed the mainmast into the ship.
Sunday Mar 14:
Assemble mizzenmast same way as above- all yards also cleaned up and now that I am a pro at the footropes- they went rather quickly.
Late Sunday the mizzen was done and installed into the ship.
Spent some time touching up all masts and yards- especially the yards had to be touched up with black where some CA left frosty marks.
I cut out the lower ratlines and tied them to the mast tops. The ends thread through the open, unglued deadeyes and are tied individually then secured with a drop of CA.
The futtock shrouds were threaded through the ratlines and tied off on opposite sides of the hull to eyebolts on the deadeye braces.
Home a little early due to a damn snowstorm- I hate March snow.
The rest of the ratlines were installed - these do not tie at the crosstrees but are just threaded through. They tie as the others do at the deadeyes on the masttops.
Next it was on to the standing rigging starting with the bowsprit and head gear rigging. 12 small “A” blocks were tied to the jibboom, bowsprit and yard. Also tied the pulley contraptions to the knighthead and bowsprit.
Rigged all bowsprit stays as per instructions.
Foremast stays were tied to bowsprit. Thin thread wrapped around the lower stay and secured with CA glue.
Mar 19: SNOW DAY!
All forestays and backstays rigged and tied. By this time I have come to the conclusion that the rigging line in the kit sucks. There are 6 rolls- 3 black and 3 tan with small, medium and large diameters. The line is almost like wire and does not cinch easily during a tie- very hard to secure knots. The older Revell releases- like my Cutty Sark from 1974- contained excellent rigging line that was very supple and looked much more convincing. Luckily I had a lot left over because Cutty Sark is not done! One of the things I have read when doing a sailing ship of this complexity is that the lines should not look the same- use differing color shades and vary the thicknesses. I also had a lot of thinner lines left over from some smaller sail ship kits so I am using lots of varying line to rig the lines. The higher I go up the masts, the thinner line I use. All standing rigging is black- all running lines are tan.
Also rigged the jibboom stays and boomkin guys.
Saturday Mar 20:
Now the hard part really begins- the running rigging…started with jeers and halyards. This involves tying lots of blocks around the masts and then threading lines through the crosstrees and masttops down to pinrails. It quickly gets very congested and challenging to thread and tie these lines. Lots of things to get lines caught on so care is needed when pulling a line through to its end point. Also it is very easy to catch your tweezers or cutter on another line. You have to train yourself to move very slowly…at some times both hands are holding tweezers and you are fully inside the model trying to secure a line- not easy. And this is just the beginning!
Fore and Main jeers and halyards are done.
Sunday Mar 21:
On to the mizzen halyards…not too difficult after the fare and main the mizzen is a walk in the park.
DISASTER: snapped off the tip of the jibboom along with 2 stays…not too hard to CA glue the tip back in place- no other damage- expletives start to fill the air along with a crazed laughter…
I decided to skip sheets and clew lines since these were related to sails- I felt I could skip these. Looking ahead to ALL the rigging left to do- I felt these lines would not be missed.
I moved on to what are called lifts- these are used to move the yards up or down and all are tied to yard ends through blocks on mast then down to masttop deadeyes and pinrails on the deck.
I finished the royal and top gallant yards on fore and main. These are not too hard since they tie off at the mast top deadeye rail and not to the deck. The main yards need some looping and blocks added so I will try these over the next few days.
ANOTHER DISASTER: snapped off the top ½ inch of the mizzen mast…crap- no lines affected- repair commenced.
This lets me mention another point when into this rigging. The kit mast parts, especially the tops of the masts, are very fragile and bend too easily. With all of the tension that is to be mounted on the masts and yards, I have to be very careful when tightening a line. It is too easy to overtighten and pull something out of alignment or snap a piece. I have to resign myself to the fact that the lines are not all going to be nice and taut. Some will look better than others and some will just be a little slack- I don’t see how there is a way around this so I have to accept it….
Rigged lifts on lower two yards on Foremast.
Rigged portside Braces- from Boomkin up to lower yard blocks and using line threaded thru hull way back in early steps. These lines helped to brace and move the main lower yard. Starting to look pretty busy now- the directions are good but they don not tell you how to thread new lines between previous ones. You have to decide how best to thread lines without putting tension on a previously rigged line. Sometimes it takes two or three tries to look right and make sense.
Also started to build a display case tonight. To have a fully made case of these proportions costs $450.00 – that was my minimum quote. Too big and too heavy to ship through UPS- so I decided to try making my own. From Modern Plastics in my hometown of Bridgeport, CT I ordered 5 sheets of acrylic plastic at ¼ inch thick:
2 sheets of 40 inches x 28 inches
2 sheets of 16 inches x 28 inches
1 sheet of 40 inches by 16 inches
(these are inside dimensions)
They also supply a bonding agent and a needle applicator. I laid the first piece flat on a table against a wall to give me a 90 degree angle, laid a smaller 16x28 piece against the wall and taped it flush. Using the needle applicator, you run a bead of this powerful cement on the inner joint- the initial bond is instant and then it takes about 3 hours to fully cure. Before I went to bed, I swung it around and put the other small side against the wall. So I have the U- shape ready for the other big side tonight…looks good!
Finished rigging Mainmast lists on lower 2 yards- no definitive view on how to thread these lines through existing lines and shrouds so I did what I thought looked best…
Lower sheets and tack lines also rigged. These lines were knotted inside the hull way back in the beginning of construction and have been hanging out for quite a while. I wondered when and where these would be used! These tie up to the fore and main lower yard through blocks and tie back to eyebolts on the sides of the hull.
Also cemented another side to my display case- just have to put the top on and it will be ready for service. Also ordered a large piece of red oak for a base. My friend and highly skilled friend Doug Hamilton is helping me prepare a proper base. He convinced me to use screws to fix the case to the base and to permanently attach the ship to the base. We have not decided on a course of action but I am thinking of using the left over oak to make keel blocks and attach the hull to the blocks…
Mizzenmast lifts rigged on all 4 yards. By this point, it was fairly easy to rig these and I am getting pretty good at lashing the ends to the belaying pins!
Also, flipped over the display case and cemented the top of the case. One of my corners is not flush – it must have not been secured tightly enough during setting. Oh well- that side will I guess be the back!
I’m on the last page of rigging instructions! Next up are leech and bunt lines- more rigging of yards- now I get to use the blocks that were attached under the masttops way back in mast construction.
Fore and Main mast leech and bunt lines rigged- not to hard- they knot thru the blocks already attached to yards and then up to blocks under crosstrees- down to pinrails.
Another tip: drill out all the blocks while they are on the sprues! Profanity reigns when you are ready to thread a line and you realize the block opening is flashed over or is just too small to get the line through. Drill them out before you rig them! Makes threading a whole lot easier and faster.
Also attached studding sail booms to forward deadeye racks. Rigged the spritsail yard lift and brace on port side.
Spanker gaff and lower boom installed- impossible to glue them in place so you actually have to prepare the blocks and lines and hoist them in place- the lines support the booms just as on the real ship. Then when they are positioned you can glue them to their attachment points.
Saturday Mar 27:
All braces rigged port and starboard. These are additional lines running from the ends of the yards to blocks tied to ratlines and then down to pinrails. The lower main yard braces tie back to eyebolts at the stern.
Also completed all stern rigging. Glued davits to each side as well as supports for Captain’s gig. These need to dry solidly before rigging the boats tomorrow.
Sunday Mar 28:
Lifeboats rigged on both sides. Captain’s gig rigged to stern. Large US flag dipped in mix of Elmer's glue and water and wrapped around spanker line. Did not dry as well as I thought- I may make a new one and wrap it around tin foil so I can make it look rippled as from wind. Ensign also attached to tip of mainmast. That’s all she wrote as far as “decals”.
Then I spent an hour of touch up painting- repainting where CA glue was used a little to generously, covering areas where paint may have been scraped away on eyebolts, etc. I may go back and coat the heavier lines with water/ glue mix - I tested it on scrap line and want to see if it will tighten up the lines.
My odyssey is done…until I decide how best to mount the ship to its oak base and attach the massive display case to the base…
What a journey- the kit is so detailed and the rigging so complicated (at least for me) it really makes you learn a bit about how a sailing warship operated. The kit is old and takes a lot of work- no putty needed but lots of sanding and shaping of kit parts. I know lots of people who have this kit in the stash. It is huge and will take a long time to plan, build and decide where to display but what a feeling of accomplishment! I hope I can take it to my club meeting soon and maybe a show or two…It certainly will occupy the highest place of honor in my collection. I hope my ramblings can help out anyone from making the same mistakes and help you along when you decide to build this classic kit.
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