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Friday, April 27, 2012

IWC NYC - The Half-Hull on The Wall

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I apologize for obsessing. We have models all over the world and in some very special places, for example, The St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco or the one in Dubai. There is something about this setting and the quality of the surroundings that make this a particularly special place to have a model. It is in New York City in the place that people go to buy the finest things in the world. Indeed, IWC Schaffhausen is known for making some of the very finest watches in the world.

This is clearly an honor for us and it's also been fun to see the parade of Champion Boxers, Fashion Models and Movie Stars who have had their photos taken in front of our "little boat" as they attended the Opening Gala of the brand new IWC Boutique at 535 Madison Avenue which was dedicated to the Great Muhammed Ali.

The whole thing started when we were approached with a rendering of a room and asked if we could make the model in the image - with a few modifications. The model in the image is a full-hull model and we would be making a half-hull and the backing panel that fits within the frame, but not the frame. We were asked to work up a proposal, not aware of who the customer was and received quick approval. As the project progressed, we learned more and more about what we were really getting into.

We then had to design the model according to the specifications of a design team in Switzerland. Our plans and samples of materials to be used were all submitted to New York, from where they were sent on to Switzerland for approval. The model needed to be relatively lightweight, but would clearly be much larger than most model boats of the class. It was to be of a particular raceboat that is a prominent contender in the Volvo Ocean Race, which is a grueling race around the world involving 70' sailboats that are as "state of the art" as anything currently made by human beings.

Unusual for us was that both the boat and the backing board had to be pure white. In fact, a color that is classified under the European RAL system of colors: RAL 9016 - Traffic White. It was unclear whether or not this kind of paint would be available to us, but we found an expert in European colors at the Annapolis Paint Store in Easton, Md. who was able to create both water-based and lacquer paints for the job.

We were not able to procure drawings of the boat, so we used photogrammetry to develop the lines. You will find that they are quite accurate. The hull body was to be a little over 48" LOA (53" with bowsprit and radar arch). We decided to cut the hull from machinable foam, a material that is epoxy based with additional constituents to give it a density between pine and maple wood. It is preferable to machining wood because it is infinitely stable and there is no grain, which tends to cause print-through and does not take details as well. We have a small CNC machine that can cut a piece of material to a maximum length of 12". In order to cut the hull, we thought that we would have to farm the job out to someone with a much larger machine than ours.

We found that, for too many good reasons to elaborate on here, most CNC cutting companies did not want our job. Thus, we had to cut it ourselves with our small machine. This is actually good, because it allowed us to adhere to our rule of making every single part of the model ourselves.

We accomplished this by splitting the hull form into 3 two inch thick parts, divided along the buttock lines. The longest; the one closest to the centerline, required 5 operations in which an area was cut and then, using special alignment pins, the adjoining area was cut. In all, the hull body alone took 14 separate operations involving 64 hours of cutting. In order to keep the machine from binding an elaborate counterweight system was used. The hull could have been ruined at any stage for a variety of reasons, but we were able to keep problems under control. In order to reduce weight further, large holes were drilled into the hidden parts of the hull in much the same way as is done in the construction of aircraft parts. The 3 long parts were laminated with very slow epoxy and filled with a phenolic balloon/epoxy compound. When the surface was ready, it was finished with spray lacquer.

The mast and boom are steel. The majority of other parts are made from brass. The sails from rip-stop. Metal to metal connections were all made using hard silver solder.

From the deck to the top of the antenna at the masthead is 6'11", thus if you could stand on the deck, except for a very few people in the world, that point would be well over your head. The keel extends down from the hull by about 10 1/2". From the bottom of the hull to the top of the antenna is 8'2".

The backing board presented a different set of problems to overcome. In the interest of keeping weight down, it was decided to make the backing board from two 1/2" thick layers of Gatorfoam, a material that consists of a light foam core sandwiched between hard facings. The resulting one inch thick backing board might seem very sturdy until you understand that the panel is 54.73" wide by 121.65" tall or a little over 10'1" tall. Rigidity was enhanced by using cherry and baltic birch plywood in strategic locations so that they not only strengthen the backing board, but they strengthen the model structure and provide a hanging mechanism as well. Thus, the face of the backing board is only 1" proud of the wall.
Getting such a large piece from the Chesapeake Bay to 535 Madison Ave. looked like a logistical nightmare, but with over a week put into the creation of a very special container and good freight handlers, it made the trip in great shape.

We drove to New York with the model's components and assembled it on-site, at times with the assitance of others working on their part of the Boutique. What the site looked like when we got there was very different from what is being shown all over the Internet in recent days, but we knew the kind of place that was being built. We left the store as a protective cover was being placed over our model.

It's hard to explain the feelings when one leaves a model like that. We don't know exactly when we will get to see it in its full glory, but we're looking forward to our next trip to New York.

Take a trip to and check out the forums forums for more...

Identify Yourself!

One of the points that I make in our first book, Fundamentals of Model Boat Building, is to sign your work. Do it somewhere.

This arose out of frustration that most of the models that we have received for restoration have no indication of who made them. When I discuss this with other model makers their reaction is usually: "Why, nobody cares about me" or, "It's just a model."

I beg to differ on both counts. Model making is art. Sure there is technology of sorts in it, but it was made by someone and the work involved is no less deserving of recognition than other art. Perhaps I can add a caveat. When I am not so happy at the outcome of a piece, I might only initial it, but it still has my I.D. on it. I have also been known to use initials on very small pieces.

The fact of the matter is that there is a fair probability that a model that you made might outlive you. It might end up in the hands of someone that bought it from someone that received it from you. If it was worth making, there is probably something special about it. Even if it's just "going to the kids" an identifying mark will give it some provenance.

Again, when it comes to doing restorations, we have seen some truly outstanding models, aside from the dirt and damage we are supposed to be fixing. Many model makers know of August Crabtree and what an outstanding model maker he was. You may have some awareness of some of the contemporary model makers in the world these days, because of the power of the internet. However, have you ever gone into museums, such as the model collection at The Annapolis Naval Academy, the collection at the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia, Mystic Seaport or any of the other collections around the world and wondered who made those models? In such collections, there are many whose builders are known, but they also have many whose builders are, and probably will be, for all of time, "anonymous".

Every time I restore a model, I learn things. I like to know who my teachers are. I like to take time to give a bit of respect to the person or persons that made the thing I am holding. When I do a restoration, I am not the model builder and my belief is that it is not my job to do anything that the original model builder would not have. It is my job to try to see the model from that person's perspective and, to the best of my ability, return that model to the condition that they made it to in the first place. In this way, it is necessary to identify with that model builder and it's easier when you have some sense of who they are.

There are as many ways to sign a model as there are to make them. It can be obvious, or it can be something hidden for a future restorer to find. I like to sign mine on the bottom near the keel, where it can only be seen when someone looks for it. Our recent IWC New York half hull has our signatures on the rightmost corner of the backing board in very small letters, but also hidden inside where it will only be found if someone takes the model apart.

There are times when we encounter a model of something unusual, that might even be contemporary. It might be something that we would like to find out more about, especially if the builder is likely to be alive and consultable.

Let me add another thought... If we extended this idea beyond models and art and everyone signed the things that they make, the quality of the things around us and hence, the quality of our lives...

...well...   I'll let you take if from there.

Anyway, If you are taking the time and effort to make a model, whether it is from a kit, or scratch-built, do yourself and those who may come across your work, a favor. Sign it!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Update to "A Job That We'll Remember"

The opening of IWC Schaffhausen's New York City Flagship Boutique has been announced by IWC on their website as of today. We are proud to have created the half-hull on the north wall. It is over 8' tall and represents a Volvo 70' Class racing sailboat. If you get a chance, stop by 535 Madison Ave. New York, New York and take a look. For now, check out their announcement at

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Job That We'll Remember...

You probably haven't noticed that I've been away for a while. Writing time has been scarce, because among the many things going on here, we've been in the final stages of several projects. Our projects tend to be especially time and labor intensive during their final construction, and soon we will be posting photos of some things that have been in the works for a long time.

Among these, we have just finished one of the largest models that we have ever done. I can't really say much about it, because it is in a conspicuous location and we must wait for our client to make their own official announcements. What I can say is that it is in New York City and that our customer is in the business of making some of the finest things in the world. They are dedicated to beauty and precision. While it would be wonderful to be able to say exactly where and what I am talking about, I can't - yet.

Every model that we make has the aspect of being a learning experience. This was certainly no exception. Boats and their usage can always be classified in a number of ways and this one is extreme in that sense. The subject is a work of art, but also represents scientific "state of the art" at the highest level. The subject is in the world's headlines as we speak, but that is all the clue I can allow.

When the model's home is finally open, you will see that it is in a state of the art "place" containing many, many things that will make people say "wow!" The windows there are covered over for now, but when those covers are removed, everyone will be able to see in and it is exciting to know that our model will be among those things that people will see. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people pass by these windows on a daily basis. It's certainly an honor for us and, of course, we are waiting for the time that those covers will come down.

The materials we used in this project include machinable foam, steel, brass, silver, gator-foam, various kinds of wood, as well as rip-stop fabric andother things. It was necessary to make modifications to equipment that was never designed to handle the size of parts that we needed and to come up with some "unusual" methods of working specific only to this project. It could only be built in segments here. In New York, it all came together. I can tell you about the transportation logistics another time.

As with many of our models, there was a period of time when it was truly ugly. When its shape was rough or when it or its constituent parts were unfinished and/or full of putty. Sometimes it seems that the uglier a model is in its construction phases, the more beautiful it turns out in the end. There are times when I prefer that people do not see our models during construction for this and a host of other reasons. It's a funny thing. When seeing other works of art or things of beauty, I don't ever think of them as ever having been anything but beautiful.

When we installed this model, the room that we installed it in was going through the same thing. It was comforting to remember that other things that are truly beautiful must also have their "less than pretty" phases leading up to that beauty, when they are in apparent disarray, dirty, and to anyone who doesn't understand what is involved in making something special come together, it could easily appear to just be an aimless mess. Some people might have interpreted the rooms that we were in to be such. How wrong they would be!

If you know what you are looking at, you recognize that these are necessary stages in the construction of a beautiful place. The work involved is tremendous, fast and furious. There is noise, there is dirt and there are pieces of things everywhere. One can not stay in any one spot for more than a moment or you find yourself in the way. It is really a symphony, seemingly cacaphonous, but the finale will be spectacularly beautiful and those that enter this room after that point will be given no clue as to what it took to make it what it is.

I need to say some things about the team that is building this place. They include masters from several disciplines such as carpenters, electricians and others. The pride that they take, not only in their work, but in the fact that they are among the best in their fields and especially so in the City of New York, is well earned and it was an honor to work with them. I would love to list some of their other previous accomplishments, but to do so might give too many clues as to the place of which I am speaking. (Added 4/29/12 - Now that the IWC Flagship Boutique has opened in New York, I can say that those stores include Gucci, Armani, Tiffany and others of the type.)

They are focused, they are disciplined and they are knowledgable. They also showed us a certain kind of respect that comes from a knowledge of what it takes to make unusual things. I am very bad with names, so I won't attempt to use any here for fear of getting them wrong or omitting someone that I shouldn't. But our thanks to everyone that worked there at every level.

It is a complicated project. The number of things coming together at one time is staggering. People walking by right now may not even know that there are people inside the place. When it's done, most people will have no awareness of how it became the collection of great things that they experience. How it became will be forgotten, except by anyone who had any part in it's coming to be. I know that this has been the kind of experience that I will long remember.