The materials used in rebuilding and restoring USS Constitution span from 45-foot-long, 12,000 pound white oak trees to three-inch copper pins. Currently, Stephen Nichols, blacksmith for the Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston, is finishing the last of 468 hand-made copper pins that will hold protective bronze plates to the forward edge of Constitution‘s cutwater.
For this project, Stephen uses a 100-ton hydraulic press, specially made dies, and an acetylene torch to form copper rods into finished pins. The rods must be heated to 1700 degrees Fahrenheit, just short of the melting point, to render them malleable.
Stephen made the dies for the copper pins from two pieces of heavy gauge steel. The dies are counter-sunk so that the head of the pin becomes flared by the force of the hydraulic press.
The headed pins are temporarily stored in a box before the final steps of the process. In the end, Stephen will have made 468 nearly four-inch copper pins.
Once the pins have cooled, Stephen uses the hydraulic press to taper the ends and then uses an angle sheer to cut the tips into points. It is important that the tips are cold-pressed so as to harden the soft copper, rendering the pins strong enough to be driven into the oak cutwater of Constitution‘s bow.
A series of large molded bronze plates are fitted around the forward edge of Constitution‘s cutwater. These plates cover the edge of the cutwater from below the billet head to the turn of the keel and protect this vulnerable, projecting bow structure. A dozen or more copper pins hold each plate in place. The red arrow in the photo below points to an area below the waterline where the old copper pins have been removed from a bronze plate. The plate above that area has already been removed. Once removed, the bronze plates are cleaned and prepped to be reinstalled on the cutwater later on in the restoration.
Constitution will leave Dry Dock 1 in the late summer or early autumn of 2017. The work on the cutwater will be complete, including the reinstallation of the protective bronze plates with the new copper pins.
Margherita M. Desy
Historian, Naval History & Heritage Command
Margherita M. Desy is the Historian for USS Constitution at Naval History and Heritage Command Detachment Boston.
Manager of Curatorial Affairs, USS Constitution Museum
Kate Monea is the Manager of Curatorial Affairs at the USS Constitution Museum.