Fair American

Keel Assembly

May 5, 2018

Day 2.

The first part of a plank-on-bulkhead build is to assemble the center keel.  The Model Shipways Fair American provides the center keel as a laser cut part.

The instructions explain how to glue the two parts of the center keel together, but the kit provides the keel as one piece that doesn’t require assembly.  I’m guessing that the laser cut pieces were updated at some point but the instructions were not.

The center keel was sanded down to remove the laser char.

The center keel will be combined with three other parts to form the ‘spine’ of the ship: the sternpost (at the back), the stem (at the front), and the keel (at the bottom). Each of these pieces are provided as laser cut parts in the kit.  Unfortunately, there is a problem with the sizing, but I’ll get to that a bit later.


The center keel, sternpost, bottom keel, and stem.

The rabbet cut needs to be made along the edges of the center keel, to allow the hull planking to sit flush.  The center keel is 3/16″ thick, and we want to end up with a 1/16″ thick edge on the center keel, so lines were drawn on the edges of the keel set 1/16″ in.


Lines are drawn along the edge of the center keel to aid in cutting the rabbet.

The center keel has some laser etched markings to indicate the bearding line (the top of the rabbet).  Cutting the rabbet is just a matter of giving the center keel a nice slope from the bearding line to the line on the edge.  This is done before the other parts are glued on.

Once the rabbet was cut, it is time to glue the pieces together.

This is where I ran into my first problem with the kit.  (That was fast.)  The kit’s laser cut parts for the keel and sternpost are the wrong size.


The sternpost and bottom keel aren’t the right size.

In the above photo, you can see that when the pieces are up against the center keel, there are gaps.  The sternpost isn’t tall enough to reach the bottom of the center keel.  The keel (long strip along the bottom) isn’t long enough to reach from the sternpost’s outside edge to the stem on the bow.

To fix this, I’m going to remake the sternpost and keel from some wood I have laying around.  Since the stem is a complexly shaped piece, I’m going to use it as-is, so it gets glued on first.


The stem is glued in place on center keel.

The stem was sanded down to remove laser char, and the inside curve where it meets center keel was fine-tuned until it had a good fit.  The pieces where then glued together and pinned down until the glue was dry.

Also note that in the photo above you can see the impact of cutting the rabbet.  Where the center keel meets the stem, you can see the center keel gets narrower between the bearding line and the stem.

Once the stem was securely in place, I moved to the stern and worked on fixing the size of the sternpost.

The sternpost isn’t a very complex shape, so I simply traced the original onto some 3/16″ thick basswood I had laying around.  Then I just extended it the tracing to make it longer.  The new piece was then cut out using my scroll saw and sanded down.

The new piece is longer than the original, and will be trimmed to fit when it gets glued on.


A new longer sternpost is made and will be trimmed to fit when it is glued on.

The sternpost was then glued onto the back of the center keel and trimmed to fit.  Once the glue was dry, it was sanded to form a smooth, straight line across the bottom of the center keel.


The new sternpost is glued in place.  This one reaches the bottom of the center keel.

Finally, I made a new bottom keel from a strip of 3/16″ thick basswood.  It was sized to fit, sanded, and glued on.


The completed keel assembly, with a new sternpost and bottom keel.

The newer pieces turned out great.  There are no longer any gaps, and everything came out smooth and straight.