January 21, 2019
The next big step on the Fair American build is to frame the gun ports. The ship has 14 guns (plus 2 closed gun ports at the rear). The guns sit on the main deck, and the gun ports are the openings on the side of the ship that allow the guns to fire.
The gun ports need to be positioned just right. Too high or too low and the guns won’t look right. The plans provide details on the placement, but a number of the model builders have found that the guns don’t sit right if you build according to the plans. Many builders have had to enlarge the ports slightly, or change their positions just a bit.
A common suggestion is to build one of the guns, and use that to help properly place the gun ports.
So over the last couple of months, while I was slowly working my way through painting the hull, I was also working on building my first gun.
Each of the 14 guns is made up of several parts.
The Model Shipways Fair American kit provides laser cut pieces for the gun carriages and wheels, and includes brass cannon barrels. I started by taking a look at the laser cut pieces, and was quickly frustrated.
The kit’s laser cut pieces are pretty bad. Like all laser cut pieces, they have a lot of char that will need to be sanded off. Sanding something so small made of basswood is going to result in some poor looking pieces (especially at my skill level). Laser cutting also results in a slight bevel to the pieces, which gets pretty pronounced on pieces this size.
The base has extensions that form the axels. These don’t seem long enough, and they are poorly sized. They don’t fit nicely in the notches on the sides. They are also very fragile. The first piece I cut loose had one of these axels break off.
Additionally, these pieces don’t seem to be the right size. When laid over the plans, the sides are too long and too tall. This is going to result in gun assemblies that are larger than they should be, creating even more problems with the gun ports.
I realized that using these pieces to make the gun carriages would be challenging. I didn’t think I could sand them well, and my sanding would probably distort the pieces. Even if I got them nicely sanded, the resulting carriage would be too big.
The cannons were one of the reasons I chose this build, and they are a detail people will notice when looking at the finished ship. So, I decided to use some of my downtime during painting to try and build the assemblies from scratch.
After a lot of reading on Model Ship World, I ran across a video that shows a process for making gun carriages using a milling machine. (Here’s a link to the video on YouTube.) I love my Sherline mill and I’m always looking for things I can use it for. I decided to give this approach a try.
The pieces are being made from Swiss pear. Instead of using a flat base like the kit’s parts, I’ll be making separate ‘trucks’ for the front and back. The front truck will have a rounded cutout to accommodate the barrel moving. The rear truck will have a squared off slot for the quoin (an angled piece used to adjust the angle of the barrel).
For all the pieces, I’ll be milling a larger piece that will be sliced to created multiple identical parts.
I started with the front truck. A piece of wood was clamped into the mill, and slots were milled to make the outside edges.
The center was milled down to the correct height, and a rounded milling bit was used to create the curve in the center.
The outside edges were then cut off to bring the overall width to the correct size.
The same process was repeated for the rear truck, but instead of using a curved bit for the center, a simple straight cut was made.
Next, the cheeks (sides) were made. These were substantially more complicated, and several different versions were made with slightly different dimensions.
The first step is to cut two slots in what will be the bottom. These slots will match the width of the trucks.
Next the rounded milling bit was used to create an arch between the two slots.
The piece was then flipped over, and a series of cuts were made to create the ‘stepped’ look.
Everything was cleaned up, and the shape of the sides starts to become visible.
The pieces were then all sliced to the appropriate thicknesses, creating a huge pile of parts for multiple carriages.
With the parts prepared, the carriage is assembled. The slots in the bottom of the sides was matched exactly to the width of the trucks, so they fit together firmly.
Once the pieces were glued together, the outside parts of the trucks were rounded off. These form the axels, and needed to be rounded and sized to fit the inside of the wheels.
I decided to go ahead and use the wheels from the kit. They were all cut free and sanded down.
They were painted black, and installed on the carriage. The various eyebolts were installed according to the plans.
I also made the quoin from a small piece of Swiss pear, and placed a small belaying pin in it to simulate the handle.
To prepare the barrel, a piece of brass tube was slid through the hole in the barrel and soldered in place.
The barrel assembly was painted black, and the ends of the tube were cut to fit the carriage. The barrel was placed in the carriage and small pieces of brass strip were glued in to hold the barrel in place.
The paint job could have been better, but with this first cannon we’re focused on the size, not the finish, and the size is just right. A small section of fake decking was made, and I can now see how the cannon will sit on the deck.
Now that I have an accurately sized cannon, and my cannon process figured out, I can start working on the area above the deck.
Overall, redesigning the cannons took about two months. The work was done while the hull was being painted. In total, I made about 8 different versions of the carriages with slightly different sizes.
Next I’d like to start on the gun ports and bulwarks (side walls), but after staring at things for a bit, I think I’m going to tackle the deck next. The positioning of the guns needs to be just right, and I think I can do a better job of that with the deck in place. Plus, it should be a little easier to plank the deck before the bulwarks are in.