The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

James H. Hastings

Added to museum: 12/11/2018

A ship modeler since childhood

James Hastings is shown receiving his award for the Joe Martin Foundation’s Craftsman of the Year. The award was presented by Craig Libuse on February 13th, 2019 at the Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum in Carlsbad, California. Attending the awards ceremony were the members of the board of directors of the foundation. Mr. Hastings gave a short presentation on how he constructs a “ship’s boat.” He also donated an example of a boat he had made as well as the solid wood form he used to bend the ribs and planks.

2019 Craftsman of the Year


Jim Hastings holds the partially complete hull of his latest project, the Granado. Following the article about Mr. Hastings are photos of some of his projects.



When craftsmen of the caliber of Jerry Kieffer and Roger Ronnie (both former winners of the Foundation's highest award for craftsmanship) recommend that you take a look at the work of a particular model maker, you do just that. After the Black Hills Model Engineering Show in South Dakota in 2009, I asked each if they had seen any work recently that we should be aware of. Both mentioned the ship models made by James Hastings. Here Jim tells in his own words how he got started and offers in conclusion some good advice for craftsmen. His story is typical of one who goes from assembling kits to eventually building each part by hand in the quest to make his models better and better.

Growing up with model building

by James H. Hastings

I don’t recall any particular time when I decided that building wooden sailing ship models would become my lifelong hobby, or at least no road-to-Damascus moment. I just sort of drifted into it. My father and his father before him were ships engineers, which may explain the salt water in my arteries, but they were engineers first and foremost and I’m sure never went to sea in a wind powered ship in their lives. As a child growing up in New Jersey during World War II, my friends and I built models of planes, ships, race cars, tanks, trains—anything the local hobby shop had for sale that we could afford. A few of my early efforts were sailing ships, but I didn’t notice any addiction taking effect. Apparently it had.

When I was about 13, as a Christmas present, my parents gave me my first serious ship model kit, one put out by the now defunct Marine Model Company. I gave it my best shot and remember how proud I was of it. Fortunately, it no longer exists. As the years went by, I built several more of their kits.

After college I was faced with the military draft and went into the US Air Force, surprising myself by staying in for a twenty year career. Since frequent transfers and a living-out-of-a-duffel-bag existence aren’t conducive to a ship modeling hobby, things were put on hold for several years. Then, recently married and transferred to Whiteman AFB, Missouri as a missile launch officer it seemed that I might stay put for awhile. So I packed up the unfinished model I had started in college and brought it with me to finish. This led to another, and another, and so on. But I noticed a growing dissatisfaction with kits in general. I found myself replacing the kit fittings with things I made myself and buying books about the ships I was working on so I could verify some of the questionable instructions. In the hobby, this is known as kit bashing, and, unchecked, it leads to scratch building.

Graduating from kits to scratch built models

In 1972, recently transferred to Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, I decided to take the scratch building plunge and bought Harold Underhill’s two volume work, Plank-on-Frame Models. This was a fortunate choice. Simply stated, I know of no better introduction to ship model building at this level. He taught me a great many things I didn’t know and, more importantly, a great many things I didn’t know I didn’t know. The volumes take you through the building of a model of a Norwegian brigantine named Leon, including everything from deriving from the lines drawings the shape of each individual frame in the hull, how the frames were built up piece by piece, techniques of planking and details of rigging that I never would have learned from kit building.

Jim Hastings' first ship model that was entirely built from scratch...the Leon, the subject of Harold Underhill's book,
Plank-on Frame Models. Leon was a Norwegian ship that sailed for many years, mostly in the North and Baltic Seas.

By the time this project was finished I was unashamedly hooked on scratch building and have never looked back. I was ready for anything. Transferred again, this time to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, I decided to go for the gold. Longridge’s book The Anatomy of Nelson’s Ships is comparable to Underhill’s, but for the 100-gun, three-decker HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship at the battle of Trafalgar.

Five and a half years later, it was finished. Since then, and having retired from the Air Force, it has been a story of one ship model after another. Harold Underhill wrote several other books with excellent drawings of sailing ships, especially those built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are a number of books published in the Anatomy of the Ship series, each one devoted to the construction of a model of a particular ship. I have done a number of these, with emphasis on the wooden sailing ships of the 18th and 19th centuries which have always been my favorites.

Mr. Hastings presents a model of the Windjammer Barefoot Cruise ship Mandalay
to the ship's captain, Matt Thomas, and crew in 2004. He certainly knows
how to get in good with the captain! The model was built from data
gained during his 2003 voyage aboard this ship.


Tools for woodworking in miniature

I am sometimes asked what tools are required for scratch ship model building. Since a great deal of the work is very small scale carpentry, basic wood working power tools are a good place to start, with the emphasis on small size. I do have a standard size band saw for ripping thin planks off billets of hard wood, but my circular saws both take a blade only 4 inches in diameter. One table saw even has a micrometer attachment. My thickness sander is comparable in size. I have two lathes, one of standard size for turning masts and spars and the other a Sherline for the small things, both wood and metal. Dremel makes a number of small power tools which are nearly indispensable. In the way of hand tools, there are probably no surprises: X-acto knives, small hand saws, small vises, many styles of tweezers, many styles of clamps and, if your eyes are getting as old as mine, some magnification capability is nice to have.


Frequently Asked Questions

People viewing my models have a number of questions for me, and they tend to get a bit repetitive. I am often asked how many hours of work it takes to build one of these ships. I tell them none. When they react questioningly to this, I add that there is no work involved. A great many hours of pleasure, to be sure, but no work. Then I add that I have a great many tools in my shop, but I do not have a time clock. 

I am also asked from time to time what is the hardest part of this hobby; is it the framing, or the planking or the rigging? Well, it’s none of these things, although they do have their moments. The hardest part is to look at something you have worked on for a considerable time, see it in the cold light of dawn, and realize that either (1) that is not how they built things in that time period, or (2) quality-wise what you have just done is the dog’s breakfast. Then you have no choice but to either fix it or replace it, and it may well take days or weeks to get back to where you thought you were. This is the hardest part by far. However, if you don't do this, every time you walk by your finished model, it will whisper to you. It will say something like, “Boy, you sure made a mess out of my rudder,” or “Why didn't you fix my after deck house when you had the chance?” While there is no such thing as perfection in this hobby, one should always strive to do the best work they are capable of doing at that point in their development.



Photos of Mr. Hastings' Projects
HMS Beagle—1818-1870, home to Charles Darwin during the voyage when he conceived of his theory of evolution.
HMS Bellona—1758-1814, a 74-gun ship of the line.  Admiral Nelson once served as her captain and she was reportedly always one of his favorites.
HMS Blandford—1720-1739. One of many ships of this class that were used for convoy escort and message dispatch. They were the forerunners of the larger frigates.
Joseph Conrad—A training vessel of iron construction.  She did a round-the-world voyage in the 1930's, and can be seen today in Mystic, Connecticut.
Susan Constant—Flagship of the small fleet that brought the first settlers to Jamestown in 1607. Built in 1605, no one knows what happened to her. A full scale replica of her was built by the state of Virginia and sails periodically from Jamestown.
HMS Diana—1794-1815, when she was sold to the Dutch. Originally a British frigate, she served long and well, but in relative obscurity.
HMS Endeavour—Captain James Cook's first ship of exploration in which he discovered the Great Barrier Reef off Australia the hard way—by crashing into it. Only great seamanship skills and good fortune saved the ship and her crew.
USS Essex—A US frigate in the War of 1812, she was built 1799 and captured by the British in 1814. This was Jim's first attempt at a cut-away model.
Mandalay—A 3-masted sailing ship used as a cruise ship by Windjammer Barefoot Cruises. This model was presented to the captain and crew in 2004. Jim came to know the ship well while taking a cruise aboard her in 2003.
Parma—German built in 1902 as a long haul carrier of bulk cargo. Sadly, she was scrapped in 1936, but a sister ship, the Peking, can be seen today at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City.
HMS Victory—Admiral Nelson's flagship at the battle of Trafalgar and scene of his death in that battle.

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