Studio Time Project - U.S.S. Monitor model steel fabrication

Meet 10 year old Chase. Chase has been studying the U.S.S. Monitor all year in his 4th grade class at P.S.110 in partnership with The Greenpoint Monitor Museum. The U.S.S. Monitor was an iron clad, steam engine war ship built by the Confederate Army during the Civil War. For Chase's end-of-the-year project, he chose to build a steel replica of the ship. Welding wasn't yet invented in 1862 and the real U.S.S. Monitor was built with rivets, not welded. Chase didn't have enough time to explore rivets so he took the modern welding approach.

In full disclosure, Chase is my kiddo and grew up in Metal Shop Fantasy Camp. Chase took the Boy Scout Merit Badge class last year, so he's been welding for a little while. Ground rules (by mom) are: no kids are allowed to operate the plasma cutter, band saw or grinders. Scott helped him with those processes.

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To get started, Chase first found a 3D open source rendering of the ship on the internet. Thank you Sam D. and 3D Warehouse. Chase resized the model in SketchUp and exploded the drawing into each separate piece. Step two was turning each piece into a .dfx file that the plasma cutter could read.

We chose a pretty thin sheet of steel so that it could be bent and shaped without needing to use a bender or roller. The steel sheet is laid on the plasma cutter. Then each .dfx file is laid out in PlasmaCam, the plasma cutter software. Position the torch on the sheet, press start and watch the magic happen.


Once Chase had his individual pieces, he sanded the edges and prepped for welding. A few of the boat curves needed to be hammered to bend around the boat's haul. Scott clamped the parts down and held the pieces in place while Chase tack welded the pieces together. Scott helped with a few of the tricky, blind welds and ones that needed to be spot on accurate and shaped the gun turret into a circle.

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Once welding was complete, Scott smoothed out the welds with a grinder. Chase cleaned the boat with alcohol. And boom! He's got a steel boat. With a little adult supervision, kids can really do anything. Studio time is exactly for projects like this where there's a vision and some basic welding skills but a little assistance is needed. Trick is to keep it simple.

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