USS Constitution – 1797

The plan I used to construct the hull was obtained from the National Archives, and is the “Doughty copy” of the original 1795 draft plan, probably reflecting the Joshua Humphrey design most closely, as William Doughty was his yard clerk and draftsman at the time.  This plan probably was the plan used to construct all three of the three heavy (44 gun) frigates, of the total of six frigates authorized by congress in 1794.  Although this plan survives, the frigates were built at different shipyards, and plans at that time may have been more guidelines than prescriptions.  However, it probably pretty closely reflects Humphrey/ Fox/ Doughty design and intentions.  It really is a revolutionary hull, as shown in the lines.  Further, the construction is massive.  Ribs are on average 22 inches wide with about 2 inches space between them.  They are 12 to 18 inches thick, and with 4 inches of timber inside and out, the ship had walls of about 24 inches of timber.  There were also other innovations in timbering as well as the shape of the hull.  The model shows the rather extreme “make and space” of the original, and makes a good contrast to other vessels of the era, such as 12 pounder frigates like Raleigh and Essex.

Here is a shot of the hull on the work bench.  The smaller hull on the right is the Benjamin Latham, a mackerel seiner in the same scale.   Another work in progress, the Latham is planned for use in a diorama of the boat at work catching fish.

In this photo also, there is a small bag on the left containing some previously done sub assembly work.  I had fabricated a transom for the model a couple of years ago, using various sources of conjectural reconstruction of what the original transom might have looked like.  I chose one from the Marquart “Anatomy of the Ship” series based on contemporary descriptions and a painting by Corne.  Since the Doughty draft showed very decorative quarter galleries, this conjectural reconstruction seemed consistent with that draft.  More on the stern and quarter galleries later.

The first steps included finish sanding of the inside of the ribs on one side for the ceiling planking.  Once the ceiling was done, the next step was installing the clamp to hold the deck beams for the spar deck.

The clamps are being glued in place.  Using lots of clamps.




The clamps are in place, and now details are added to the gun deck.  Hatch coamings, riding bitts, and bowsprit are being installed.


Next steps are to add the cap rail, then the cathead, and then start on the head details.


A shot of the head rails under construction.  The trailboard is installed, but the hawse holes not yet drilled.  The figure head will be discussed and modeled later.

Then to the stern.  Here is a shot of the transom installed.  It is carved into boxwood, then the windows fabricated and installed and the assembly installed on transom framing to give a nice curve.

I chose to gild the decorative carving on the transom.  It is not known what the original looked like, but the elaborate decorations described in contemporary accounts, and knowledge of practices of the time, suggest this is an appropriate way to proceed.

Quarter galleries are the next step.  The starboard side is the finished side, and will be completed first.  The port side will be framed only as described later.

The decorative portions of the quarter gallery are carved from boxwood.


The upper portion of the quarter gallery with gilded decoration.