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.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Stephen Nichols works in a purpose-built blacksmith shop near USS Constitution in the Charlestown Navy Yard. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
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.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
An acetylene torch is used to heat copper rods to 1700 degrees Fahrenheit. Stephen can tell the approximate temperature by the color of the metal as it heats up. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
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.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
As the hydraulic press lifts, the headed pin is released from the die. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
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.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
A box of newly headed copper pins. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
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.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
Three copper pins showing the first two stages of manufacture. The pin on the left is headed. The two pins on the right show the cold-pressed tips before they are cut into points. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
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.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
This view below the waterline shows the beginning of the cutwater restoration in the summer of 2015. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
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.

[Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]
USS Constitution‘s cutwater, as seen in 2009. [Courtesy Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston]

-M. M. Desy & K. Monea

The Author(s)

USS Constitution Museum