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About Half-Hull Models

Half hull w/life preservers

Half-hull of the antique oyster boat Anne, on loan to the

Custom House Maritime Museum by Stephen Jones.

     Visitors to maritime museums often encounter a display of "half-hulls"  -  models of hulls mounted on wooden plaques and identified with the vessel's name or type, the model-maker, and other information. They vary in size, color and finish, and range from the simplest hull shape to models with selected details such as a rudder or deck fixtures. A model at the Custom House Maritime Museum sports three bumpers and a rudder.

     Whether adorned or not, the purpose of a half-hull is to display the graceful curvature of a boat's lines and sheer (the upward slope of lines toward the bow and stern). The original purpose of a half-hull was to help a builder achieve the design represented by the model. The Encyclopedia of American Folk Art and other sources describe half-hulls as scale models created to plan the design and sheer of the hull and to ensure that the vessel would be symmetrical. 

     In our own time the half-hull has become a form of nautical art and only rarely is it a construction template. Models may be created after boat construction, not before, and are now collectible, as the inventories of auction houses, antique dealers and purveyors of nautical memorabilia clearly show. By the time Rob Pittaway wrote his "how-to" instructions in the 1970s, presented on the following pages, half-models (as they are also called) had become a genre of nautical art built on the honored legacy of their utilitarian origins. Half-models are now the exacting goals of woodworkers who take up the challenge of shaping a beautiful form with special tools, templates, drawings, sandpaper and, above all, skill.  

     Our purpose in presenting Rob Pittaway's hitherto unpublished manuscript, BUILDING THE HALF-MODEL, is less an expectation that readers will undertake a half-hull than an opportunity to convey a sense of the special skills required to carry such a modeling project to completion. These are skills few of us possess, but all of us admire. Rob's lucid, thoughtful instructions, peppered now and then with distinctive nautical nouns, are fun to read even as their challenges give pause. Indeed, they are an eloquent testament to his own skill and we hope readers will enjoy them as a glimpse of this rarefied niche of creative endeavor which so tightly matches art with science.

---- Brian Rogers, Online Exhibits Curator


Tug half hull

Tugboat Nathan Hale

Custom House Maritime Museum

Gift of the Thames Tow Boat Company

About Half-Hull Models