How I Made a Complex Model with NO PLANS. For Pramad Agrawal.

by John

Well, that heading is bit misleading. I had no pre-existing plans. I drew plans up myself, using the original cannon to measure, scale down and get my model dimensions.

In my posts over the past 18 months you have seen plenty of pictures of the original cannons, and the models.

I decided to model the particular cannon because I liked the shape, the degree of mechanical complexity with gear trains, riveting, etc, and because of the association of the town (Port Fairy) with my son in law. Also, because Port Fairy is within driving distance, if further dimensions and details should be required, which they were.

I thought that a model would look interesting and impressive. And it could be built in 3 distinct stages. Chassis-slide, carriage, and barrel.

So, in the order in which things happened……. (this info is all in older posts, so turn off now if the repetition is boring. I am writing this post for an overseas reader who wants to know how it was all done.)

  1. I used a digital camera and iPhone to take photos of the entire cannon and its components. Close up, and from a distance showing the relations. The straight lateral, front and rear photos were particularly useful. In total, about 200 pictures. The photos were printed A4, and catalogued. As the model building progressed I realised that I had missed some components, and 2 further photo sessions were required. That was complicated by the Covid restrictions, but managed with some delay. The best photos were in overcast weather conditions, with and without flash.
  2. I measured as many dimensions as possible, using a builder’s tape measure. The dimensions were recorded on hand drawn sketches in a note book, and a phone app (<My Measures Pro>. Very useful). On a later trip I used digital callipers for some small details. The barrel was measured using circumferences, and calculating diameters from those.
  3. Using AutoCAD, I drew up a simple side profile plan. In that process I realised that many more measurements were required, and repeat visits were made. Actual components were later modelled using 3D CAD and saving as STL files. The STL’s were used to make 3d prints for casting, and in some cases just to see how the part would fit into the cannon assembly.
  4. I searched the Internet for any references to the particular cannon. In that process I discovered that the particular cannon was unusual, and it appeared that all 26 examples from the Royal Gun Factory had been sent to colonial Victoria. Identical cannons were to be found in 2 other towns close to Port Fairy, and in 2-3 locations elsewhere in the state of Victoria. The design (of the 80pr original) was very close to a smaller capacity cannon (64pr) of which examples are still located in Hong Kong, Singapore, UK and probably elsewhere. It gradually dawned on me that the differences between the 64pr and 80pr related only to the construction method of the barrel, and not its appearance. Google, Google Images, Wikipedia all had information. I even discovered some images of simple plans with dimensions of the 64pr cannon, which corresponded very closely to the dimensions which I had obtained from the Port Fairy original.
  5. As I posted progress of the model build on this blog, various readers offered further information, some of which was very useful. I have had some very satisfying subsequent correspondence with model cannon builders. In fact, the blog correspondence has led to some very useful experts who have been of immense help. One even supplied me with a copy of the original operating instructions for the Warrnambool 80pr cannons.
  6. Searching for books on the subject of artillery in the 19th century has produced two which were published in 1877 and 1897. These are available free of charge as downloads, and bound reprints were purchased in addition. The cost of the bound books was very reasonable ($AUD20, and $AUD50). These have been thoroughly read, thumbed, dog eared, and used. So much so, that one of them is due for replacement.
  7. Discussion with several experts has provided further great information, and resolved some of my questions. I had been mislead by some inaccurate restorations of the cannons at Warrnambool and Portland, and my suspicions about the restored details were confirmed in those discussions. The cannons at Port Fairy have had no restoration, which has resulted in severe rusting, but at least the remains are original and genuine.

Steps 1,2 and 3 occupied me on and off for about 5 days. 4,5,6 and 7 occurred progressively over the following 12-18 months during the model construction.

Regarding the accuracy of my scale models compared with the originals, I make the following observations.

  1. As far as possible the linear dimensions are at a scale of 1:10. That was the scale of the first cannon I modelled, and I have stuck with that 1:10 for consistency, comparison between different cannon models, and simplicity of conversion. Of course that means that surface areas are 1:100, and volumes and weights are 1:1000. I have made some compromises to enable use of standard fasteners, shafts, and bevel gears, but have kept the compromises as small as possible consistent with the visual appearance.
  2. Materials. The original cannon was constructed of wrought iron, cast iron, bronze/brass and wood. Steel was used only for the top surface of the slide. I used mild steel for the slide, the chassis, the carriage and the barrel. I used bronze or brass where the original had bronze. The wheel assemblies were cast iron on the original. I was restricted to cast aluminium and later cast bronze, but since these components were painted, the exact metal is not detectable, and probably irrelevant. The original wooden chassis/slide was made in the UK. The later iron chassis/slide was ,made in the UK but modified in Melbourne. That is the slide which I modelled. I imagine the original wood components to have been oak, but with no certainty. Scaling wood is difficult, due to the problems of scaling the figuring. I have some European oak offcuts, but decided to use Australian jarrah, because of its fine grain and attractive reddish colour.
  3. Colours. I could find no reference anywhere regarding original colours. The experts had no hard information about colours and neither of the books mentioned colours. Some opinions were that black was most likely, and for cooler climates that seems reasonable. But in a hot Australian summer, black iron objects can be too hot to touch. I therefore suspect that white or at least a lighter colour would have been most likely used. But, you know what? SWMBO offered the most sensible advice. She said that if the model is to be on display it has to look attractive. She recommended painting the boring bits flat black (carriage sides, recoil tube, wheel assemblies), and leave the remaining metal uncoloured. Even the copper rivets, which would have been iron in the original. And to polish the bronze and brass components. So that is what I have done.
  4. The base. A lot of thought went into this. The original ran on circular iron tracks which were set into concrete slabs. I rejected a circular track on the grounds that the model would have been too wide for convenient storage and display. I also rejected concrete or model concrete in favour of the eventual choice. That decision, (incidentally, not “set in concrete”…. might be changed at a later stage), was for a single piece of 12mm thick gloss black cast acrylic Lexan, sandwiched to a piece of thick plywood which is painted flat black. It looks good IMO, is hard wearing, and reflects the internal components so they can be seen. The first model Armstrong which I made was set on a wooden base with oil polished top and black painted sides. That also looks quite good. (IMO).

I might add to this list if further memories surface of the various processes used in the planning stages.

Just one picture for those readers who never read the text….

the Armstrong 80pr model cannon sitting on its Lexan/plywood base. The name plate has subsequently been moved to the back end to be less intrusive. Can you see the “Marshall’s Iron” lasered to the muzzle? If so your eyesight is very good. Sorry about the flash shadow. And that theatrical degree of barrel elevation would rarely have been used. Most shots were fired within 2º of horizontal.