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CSS David, Scratch-Built

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"New MSW Crew-mate Arthur Macon (ArthurSC) sends us his first submission, a mighty fine scratchbuild of the Civil War vessel CSS David in this "On Display" feature!"


CSS David, a 50-foot steam torpedo boat of "cigar-shaped" hull design, was privately conceived and designed by Dr. St. Julian Ravenel, who recruited David Ebaugh to build her near Charleston, SC, in 1863. A number of vessels were built; some believe 4 to 50 versions, as the exact numbers are unknown.

The basic design had an open cockpit and powered by a small steam boiler. She was designed to ride very low in the water and attack by ramming with a spar torpedo.

The little David operated around Charleston about the same time as the Hunley; one may have been used as a towing vessel for the submarine. She made a daring spar torpedo attack on the Federal ironclad USS New Ironsides at least damaging her enough to cause her to withdraw and make repairs. This was the first successful torpedo boat attack in history.

While researching and building the C.S.S. Palmetto State from Flagship Models, I visited the Old Santee Canal Park at Moncks Corner, SC . This is the site of the Ravenel plantation location of the C.S.S. David boats construction. This is a great place to visit for an easy afternoon on the river with the two museums which are free to visit after paying a small fee at the park gate.

Scrap box scratch build

The goal: build a C.S.S. David class torpedo boat without spending a penny.

When building models you will almost always have spare parts. Most people I know have boxes full of stuff collected over the years, those “some day I may need” kind of bits and pieces left around. I challenged myself to build a historical model with only parts I found in my box without buying anything. Maybe you can do the same; the subject matter is endless when thinking “out side” the kit.

I started with a 1/48 scale F-4 Phantom wing fuel tank as the basic shape. The fuel tank is 5 inches long which is perfect for a TT 1/120 scale model of the 50 foot David. (TT scale is a common engineering scale where one inch equals ten feet) You’ll need to remove the pylon and open the top of the tank area for the crew compartment. I overlade the tank with strips cut from Evergreen Plastic corrugated sheets to form the wood panels for the outer skin and for the interior ribbing. These panels were laid end to end, but I also used sheet styrene cut to form the metal plates over the boiler and crew area running left to right (port to starboard).

The forward and aft end of the boat was shaped by using the nose and tail of a 1/72 AGM-12 Bullpup Missile from Hasagawa weapons set glued on and then shaped with putty and sanded.

After the fore and aft brass rings were installed, which separates the wood hull from the sold wood fore and aft sections; I cut two more ribs to run the longitudinal side rails down each side. The ships steering wheel was made with plastic rod, and stretched sprue. I used a highly modified cover plate from the side of a Testors 1/35 scale M4 Sherman tank for the boiler face, along with wheel hubs for the main boiler body. Tin solder formed the steam lines from the boiler.

Next, was the upper deck area where I used scrap sheets of Evergreen Plastic to build the box and supporting side panels. I cut seven triangle supports for each side and fixed those to the side of the box, then sanded until I had a uniform shape. This was easier than trying to cut all fourteen parts the same.

The left over photo-etch brass parts tree from my Palmetto State formed the brass ring at each end of the boat (mentioned before), the two bladed propeller, the interior floor and the chain left over from the Palmetto State gun ports for raising and lowering the spar torpedo. Brass and aluminum tubing made up the smoke stack, air vents fore and aft, spar torpedo pole, and sold brass rod for the spar torpedo mounting supports.

After an undercoat of grey I applied the Liquitex Basics Matt Acrylic’s by mixing various shades of black, brown, yellow and red, thinned to be somewhat transparent giving the effect of heavy weathered use in muddy brackish water as seen in the period photographs around Charleston Harbor.

Paint: Model Master Titanium Buffing Metalizer, Ghost Grey FS3620, Testors Model Master Enamel Wood 1735, Testors Model Master Acrylic Leather 4674, and various mixes of Liquitex Basics Matte 6 Primary Color Set for weathering.

And there you have it, one C.S.S. David Torpedo boat in 1/120 scale for free!

Now what can you do with those scrap parts?

Historical references:

DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER. CSS David (1863-1865?).Also other Torpedo Boats of the "David" type. 805 KIDDER BREESE SE WASHINGTON NAVY YARD WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060


CSS H.L. Hunley - August 8, 2000 Last updated 11-Apr-2006. John Morris, Morris+Bailey Industrial Design, LLC. www.csshlhunley.com
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About the Author

About Arthur Macon (ArthurSC)

My first model was a WW I four stack destroyer, the maker I have long forgotten but the ship I will always remembered. This was about 1960 and my grandfather was working on the naval base at Pensacola Fl. After that I was hooked on building and have never given up trying to make better models. I ...


Nice looking build. Thank you for sharing!!
JUL 15, 2008 - 03:26 AM
Thanks It was a fun build.
JUL 16, 2008 - 02:50 AM