Fair American

Fair American – Model Ship Ways

May 4, 2018

Day 1.

Next up is the Fair American, an American war brig from around 1780.  After finishing my Bluenose a few months ago, I started working on an 18th Century Longboat build, but I was’t happy my planking and ended up putting the build aside.  A few months later, I’m ready to get back to work and start a new build.

About the Fair American

The Fair American kit from Model Shipways is a little different than what I’ve tackled before.  Instead of being a model based on a specific, well-documented ship, the Fair American is actual a model of a model.

The Rogers Collection of ship models at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum has a model of an American war brig called the Fair American.  It is not clear exactly which ship the model represents, but it is believed to show a typical American war brig from the period.  It also isn’t clear what purpose the model was made for, or how accurately it shows certain details.

This is one of the reasons I chose this as my next project.  Since this kit is based on a model that is representative of the time period rather than a specific ship, I feel that it gives me some artistic license when implementing the details.  Unlike the Bluenose, which was very well documented and photographed, the Fair American has more freedom in what would be correct or historically accurate.

About the Model Shipways Fair American Kit

Another thing that makes this build different is the nature of the kit itself.  The Fair American seems to be one of Model Shipway’s oldest kits.  The original plans were prepared in 1952 as a solid hull kit, then modified later (1987?) to be a plank-on-bulkhead kit.  This comes together as a kit that feels dated, and plans that feel a little awkward.  I’m a big fan of Model Shipways, but I do believe some of their kits should be modernized, and this kit is one of them.

Since the kit was modified from solid hull to plank-on-bulkhead, the plans are a bit out of order.  Typically, plan sheets are numbered and begin with the bulkheads and end with rigging.  With this kit, sheet 1 is the various sections (deck, profile, etc.).  Sheet 2 contains masts, booms, and yards.  Sheet 4 contains the belaying plan.  Three un-numbered sheets contain the rigging, framing, and bulkheads.  This odd order appears to come from the fact that some plans are from the original solid hull model, while other plans were added on for the plank-on-bulkhead update.

The plans are hand drawn and have obviously been photo copied many times.  The sheets are different sizes, and the drawings feel cramped.  I think this kit would feel considerably more ‘accessible’ if the plans were redrawn and provided on consistently sized larger sheets with a little more space.

The instructions are in a book or ‘practicum’ format, which isn’t my favorite.  It makes finding information about a specific piece or step difficult.  The instructions go into great detail on some things (3 pages are dedicated to assembling the keel and installing the bulkheads), but other things are glossed over (only two sentences are dedicated to all the various deck fittings).

The metal castings in the kit are made from white metal, and are similar to those found in other Model Shipways kits.  These pieces aren’t great, but they are usable.  Some of the stickers and packaging would seem to imply that this kit has likely sat on a shelf for a very long time.

This kit is in 1:48 scale, so 1/4″ on the model is 1′ on the actual ship.  This makes it the largest scale model I’ve made yet.

Parts Inventory

The first step, as always was to inventory the parts.  As I normally do, I printed labels with each part’s number and description, and placed each part into a small plastic bag as it was counted and marked off on the parts list.  Wood strips were placed into long plastic tubes for easy storage.


The kit parts after being inventoried.

This kit contains over 700 pieces.

All the wood is basswood except for the hull planking, which is provided in walnut.


Hundreds of little pieces.


Wood was labeled and organized.

Build Books

I spent about a week prior to the build preparing my build books.  The six sheets of plans were scanned in and digitized, then cut an arranged to fit normal 8.5 x 11″ paper.  These plans, along with copies of all the illustrations from the instructions, were spiral bound together into a book.  A book of plans is much easier to work with on the workbench.

A second book includes a copy of the instructions and the parts list.  Keeping these separate allows me to have both the plans and instructions open to a given task at the same time.


Build books I made for the Fair American.


On my Bluenose build I found it very helpful to have a detailed plan to follow.  For that build, I made the plan by listing out and reconciling each step from the plans and the practicum.  I then went through the plans and identified every part, and added them into my plan where appropriate.  The plan was continually modified as I added or reordered steps.  Overall, I ended up with over 300 ‘steps’ in my plan.

I haven’t yet compiled my plan for the Fair American build.  I’m working on it, but I decided to go ahead and start the build since the first few steps are obvious.  I’ll work on the plan during down time (waiting for glue to dry, etc.).  Given the nature of the plans and instructions, I think it will be absolutely critical to have my own detailed list of steps for this build.