Model Ships

You were 11 years old, and the cover of the box featured a battleship churning upon a raging sea, guns firing with fury. You opened the package, revealing hundreds of plastic pieces, and readied your handy tube of cement. Making that scene come to life was in your hands, and you bent your head to the task.

If this memory makes you smile, you're a prime candidate for a promotion to high-end ship modeling, in which wood and metal replace plastic, some techniques are borrowed from actual shipbuilding and the detail replicates tall ships and other vessels to far more sophisticated levels. It can take months, but in the end you've created a work of art.

BlueJacket Shipcrafters Inc., founded in 1905, calls itself the oldest maker of models in the United States. BlueJacket's pride and joy, a model of the U.S.S. Constitution (the undefeated warship called "Old Ironsides," pictured) is meant for expert craftsmen. Replicating the ship in its 1812 heyday took three years of researching deck logs and maintenance records to get right. The kit consists of 2,600 metal fittings and 20 different sizes of rigging cord, not to mention the myriad pieces of wood. Not just gluing, but sanding, cutting, clamping and bending are all part of the job as well.

"A competent modeler," says owner W. "Nic" Damuck, "will take 500 to 750 hours to build it." The kit sells for $650; having BlueJacket put it together, an option the company provides, makes the price jump to $12,500. But some kits are meant for newer modelers and smaller budgets. A simple, barebones skiff (suitable for your own young ones) can be had for $35.

At BlueJacket, 16 workers build the kits and models, crafting 95 percent of the products in house. Many of the kits have solid wooden hulls. But a more intricate and maddening option—called plank-on-frame construction—involves attaching individual boards to the hull's skeleton.

BlueJacket offers dozens of models, including replicas of power vessels and models that can be radio controlled. Have a yacht of your own? The company can build a scale version, down to the last detail.

Damuck has owned BlueJacket for two years, but he has been around the company for decades. "I've been a BlueJacket customer for over 30 years," he says. His father gave him his first model some 60 years ago.

The finished product shouldn't be left unprotected. "Fine ship models really should be cased," Damuck advises, to keep away dust, grime or wayward cats. His company also does a brisk business in model repair.