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Building the Half-Model

By Robert A. Pittaway     

     This monograph is a "how to" publication intended to help the reader explore the art and science of making a half-model.  A solid half-model was often the sole means of designing the hull shape of a vessel and is still used by successful designers.  It is important to remember that this is a description of only one method of making half-models and can be a starting point from which to explore other methods. The procedure outlined in the following pages is drawn from L. Francis Herreshoff's method of making solid half models.

      The tradition of half model making was very strong in the Herreshoff family, and the collection of models left by Nathanael G. Herreshoff, father of L. Francis Herreshoff, is a monument to one designer's craftsmanship and imagination. Anyone who stops to think about the form of any kind of floating craft must be inspired by these models.


Half hull-Chester Rm

Half-model of the Grandma Sue. The gift of Archie Chester in memory of his grandfather, who built the protoype.

Custom House Maritime Museum

   "There are a great many forms and types of model making," wrote L. Francis in "Some Hints on Model Making," in The Rudder in 1948, "perhaps as many as there are different schools of painting, and that fact is a very fortunate thing, for tastes and skill vary so greatly that some can do best at one form while another's dexterity will allow him to enter the more artistic fields of the craft. But quite apart from the skills of craftsmanship or perfection of manual dexterity is artistic skill, which when present makes the model a joy forever, but when lacking (as I am sorry to say is the case with most models) then the model maker has produced only a gewgaw and a dust catcher, and his pains have all been wasted. Nevertheless, all forms of model making are so much to be recommended that I do not want to belittle any of the types. Working on a simple model that can be completed before it becomes tiring is a most exhilarating, healthful pleasure. When the model is also durable (not easily broken), interesting, or even artistic, then it is really one of the most satisfying endeavors the sailor can attempt in the winter months."

Rob's Winde Whitehall

A Winde Whitehall rowing boat

Model by Rob Pittaway

    The Rudder article goes on to point out the particular value of the half model to all who are interested in boats and boating. "After some experience at making models of different types," wrote L. Francis, "I am so impressed with the advantages of the so-called designer's half model that generally speaking it is the only type worthwhile. The half model can be hung on the wall like a picture, and it can stand a certain amount of judicious handling, dusting, etc. If a half model is nicely made, that is, shaped exactly like some existing yacht, then it has a personality and is of great value as a standard of comparison in evaluating the characteristics of other models or yachts. However, if it is not accurately made, then it is of no value in these respects and we might even say it is an evil thing; it is nothing but a lie that deceives the eye. While models of existing yachts are quite necessary for comparison's sake, and of decorative value if the prototype is beautiful, still making models of contemplated yachts is by far the most fun, for if the shape represents some carefully thought out combinations of curves to give stability, seaworthiness and grace with little head-on resistance, then the model represents a solution of these scientific and complicated problems. If the model maker or designer has made a logical shape to best perform the functions of some special type of yacht, the model at once becomes a piece of sculpture of absorbing interest. Not only will it have a never-ceasing fascination to the sailorman, but if it is graceful and functional it will also be of much interest to the artist."