by Patrick Matthews
We amateur model ship builders fumble along at our own speed and occasionally produce some pretty nice work. But at the other end of the spectrum lay the professional builders, those who supply museums, shipyards, and private collectors with works whose values would represent a sizable fraction of the amateur’s annual income. Along with fine manual craftsmanship, these model builders can utilize professional manufacturing tools and processes that are simply out of reach of most amateurs. Here is one such example from Fine Art Models in Birmingham, Michigan.
Fine Art Models is known for modeling transportation subjects to the highest standards. I had the privilege recently of photographing their new 1:48 scale USS Nicholas, a highly decorated WW2 Fletcher-class destroyer.
Nicholas was actually the first of the Fletchers laid down and commissioned, predating Fletcher herself by several months. She also had one of the longest careers, not being stricken until 1970. Awarded sixteen battle stars in WW2, she was honored to be in the vanguard entering Tokyo Bay.
Fine Art Models (FAM) worked to original Bath Iron Works drawings and numerous photos, and also received input from many veterans who had reviewed 1:96 scale development models. The research led to the construction of just three 1:48 scale models, although more may follow in limited runs. I was able to photograph the third model just as it was received from the construction team in Latvia. Freshly uncrated, there were still a few details to attend to, but it was wonderful to view the model before it went behind glass.
FAM is a professional model constructor, and of course has access to resources that most home modelers can only dream of. But that can’t detract from the modeling skill displayed here—such models are researched and constructed by craftsmen, and even the best tools are only as good as those who wield them. Owner Gary Kohs illustrated the point when asked if computerized “rapid prototyping” tools were used for making detail parts. Yes, for some; but normal stereo lithography, often used to make mock-up parts in the automotive industry, didn’t have the resolution to recreate the fine detail needed for miniatures. Gary funded the refinement of one such tool so that it could define parts three times smaller than previously possible.
Looking at the 1:48 Nicholas, we can see some of FAM’s typical construction techniques. The hull’s detail is actually a skin, over-molded onto a former using an aerospace resin that Gary says will exceed museum standards for longevity. This allows for finer and more stable details in a steel hull than possible with carved wood. The decks and superstructure are all in brass, made with traditional metal working techniques and loaded with hand-applied rivets. Details, including the guns, are all investment-cast in brass—no resin fittings or photoetchings are used. Paints are created from printer’s ink and alcohol in order to avoid masking details.
Given the level of research and fidelity apparent in this model, I think it can serve as a fine 3D reference for us amateurs, along with the several great print references.
To find out more about Fine Art Models, visit their web page at www.fineartmodels.com .