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  • TUTORIAL: Anatomy of the Head

    Since we get questions about this fairly often, and it's one of the areas most commonly in need of extra work during reviews I decided to write this tutorial. I know that not everyone here needs all of the info it will contain, but I wanted it to be applicable to everyone, including novices. Each post will be one section of the tutorial until I've added all of it.

    1: Overview

    The head is one of the most complicated and easily mixed up parts of a ship. Not only is it a highly detailed portion, but also has several structural elements that are required for the safe and efficient operation of the ship. It holds the bowsprit steady, provides belaying points for the main stays, and contains the seats of ease (omitted in my model but they'll be explained toward the end).
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  • #2
    2: The Stem and Cutwater

    The head begins with the beakhead bulkhead at its aft extremity, and the cutwater at its lower. You can see clearly in the first image how bare the ship looks without the head attached.

    The stem is the continuation of the keel up to the top of the bow. It is the forward-most element of the internal axial frame. Everything forward of the stem is the cutwater, though the cutwater itself consists of several sub-parts.

    The second image highlights the cutwater above the waterline, the third is a portion of the cutwater known as the "head piece" which is somewhat self explanatory as it holds the figurehead. The fourth and final image in this segment is the stempost.
    Attached Files

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    • #3
      3: Knightheads

      While a relatively unobtrusive portion of the head, the knightheads are one of the more important structural members. It consists of two vertical timbers which are a continuation of the "apron", a pair of timbers parallel to the stem which begin the frame of the ship and attach to the hawse pieces on the their outboard side. Where the apron extends beyond the top of the stempost it is worked into timberheads which can be used as belaying points.

      Often in english and scandinavian (perhaps other countries I don't know) designs, the knightheads had another connecting piece of wood between them to help secure the bowsprit against vertical movement.

      They are named knightheads because often the timberheads at the top were worked into the shape of mens' heads. Sometimes even the lower portion was worked so that it looked like a man's body in armour or livery.
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      • #4
        4: Cheeks, Figurehead, and Knee of the Head

        Our first two images in this section are the lower and upper cheeks respectively. In essence these are horizontal knees which stabilize the cutwater against horizontal movement. They were often worked into decorative rails that continued the curve of the headrails, as you can see in the upper cheeks.

        The figurehead sits vertically within the curve defined by the cutwater, the head piece, and the cheeks. This allows it to sit firmly within the structure of the head for maximum stability. If it were not attached in this manner it would be in danger of falling off in heavy seas, and even with this reinforcement it still sometimes did fall off of ships.

        The final image in this section is the knee of the head, an integral but oft overlooked structural member of the head as a whole. Not only does it provide reinforcement in two directions to both the cutwater and the stem, but the main stay is rove through it, and its pressure holds it firmly against the stempost. Without this piece the mainstay has no favorable locations to go through unless using the dutch deadeye-like method. With hearts as in the bristish method, it is absolutely necessary for structural integrity.
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        • #5
          5: Headrails

          The headrails provided decoration, while also forming a support framework for the head grating as a whole.

          The lower rail was often connected to a knee which supports the cathead. These were two pieces of wood, not a single rail, but for game purposes there's no effective way that I can think of to depict this without going far over budget. In cases where the hawse holes could not be fit between or below the headrails, the lower rail was sometimes split to accomodate it.

          The upper headrail was worked at its top into a timberhead for use as a belaying point. The middle one simply ran from the hull along with the others to end at a curving timber running up from the upper cheeks. As a whole the headrails follow the curve of the cutwater, cheeks, and headpiece.
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          • #6
            6: Top view of what we've covered so far

            To summarize what we've covered so far, in a top view so you can see it from a different angle to better understand it in three dimensions, we have the following:

            First, the headrails, at least in English tradition, from above form straight lines at equal intervals radiating from where they connect to the upper cheeks out to where they reach the hull. They curve only two dimensionally, not in all three dimensions.

            Second, the knee of the head. Here we see it is equal to the width of the stempost and cutwater.

            Third, the upper cheeks. We can see they (and the lower cheeks below them) curve outward to meet the curve of the hull smoothly. Ahead of where they meet the cutwater they run parallel to it, curving only in two dimensions like the head rails.
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            • #7
              7: Head Timbers

              Not to be confused with timberheads, the head timbers are the vertical timbers which support the head grating. As seen from above in the same view as the last section, they form straight lines perpendicular to the cutwater.

              From the front they form a series of straight lines which appear to curve because of the curving nature of the points which they connect. Each edge forms a straight line connecting its base at the upper cheeks to its horizontal and vertical intersection with the upper rail. The middle and lower headrails went through these, though in truth the head timbers were more stair-step shaped with a facing attached to their lower side which was often decorated and gilded and gives them their lower edge. They should be flush on their lower side with both the upper cheeks and the upper headrail.

              Finally In a pair of renders to show coloration, we can see that their insides were usually painted with the interior hull color (red in the british navy) or black, and gilded or decorated (often with carytids) on the outer/lower side.
              Attached Files

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              • #8
                8: Beams of the head

                Attached to the fore side of the head timbers were deck beams which followed the camber of the deck at the beakhead (that's the vertical upward curve toward the center line of the ship from the outer edge). These were connected and further reinforced by a pair of longitudinal beams called "carlings". This is also the term for any longitudinal beams which support a deck, grating, or hatch.

                In the side view we can see that the carlings along the center line follow the curve of the headrails plus the height of the camber (upward curve of the deck). This forms an arch for added stability and durability.
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                • #9
                  9: Knees and Lathes

                  Starting in the early 1700s many navies began adding horizontal knees that followed the curve of the headrails to reinforce the horizontal beams and the headrails. These made the entire structure more rigid and less likely to break.They also provided additional support to the gratings. Note that they are set in a little bit below the level of the beams, this is to provide room for the lathes that make up the gratings.

                  resting on top of these knees, and set into the beams, were longitudinal lathes (note that there were no horizontal ones like there would be on a hatch). Also note that as a whole the grating curves in three dimensions: longitudinally and vertically along the curve of the headrails, and horizontally and vertically along the curve of the deck. This makes it a somewhat difficult shape to master, but as long as your other components are placed correctly it should largely form itself.

                  The spacing and number of the lathes, and the arrangement of the knees (or their inclusion at all) varied from time to time and from one navy to the next (perhaps even from one shipwright to the next). I chose my arrangement based on evidence from contemporary models for my ship's class and nationality. Later ships (around 1730 or so) started introducing hatches to replace the lathes, and even later as the head and beakhead began to shrink and ultimately vanish altogether, arrangements of the grating changed drastically.
                  Attached Files

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                  • #10
                    10: Finishing Touches

                    Seats of ease were primarily located at the bow and stern of the ship. In the stern they were located in the quarter galleries. In the bow they were located in the head, hence toilets on ships are to this day called the "head".

                    Officers got their own enclosed seats (sometimes called roundhouses which can be confusing as roundhouse is also a name for a cabin sitting above the quarterdeck). These were half-cylinders which sat at the outermost extents of the beakhead, between the timberheads that comprised the structure of the bulkhead. The door into this tiny closet like structure was inside the forecastle. A general rule of thumb is, if a door cannot fit between the timberheads large enough for a man to walk through and sit in, there cannot be a seat of ease there. This is the reason that Centurion's seats of ease are inboard so far, precluding the use of bow chasers.

                    Officers did not share facilities with the general crew, who were left to do their business outside on external seats sitting on the framework of the head. Ususally there would be one seat to either side of the bowsprit, and sometimes another one to the outboard side of the officers' seats.

                    To protect these outboard seats (presumably against both gunfire and to keep sailors from falling overboard) a squared panel was sometimes added above the upper rail. This panel also provided belaying poins for ropes, and became more and more decorative over time.
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                    • #11
                      11: Summary, Final Notes, and Closing

                      In summary, the head provides both structural support and decoration, places to tie off ropes, locations for both sailors and officers to take care of bodily functions, and is an overall integral element of ships of the period. A mistake on the head can make a ship look very out of place and unrealistic (certain non-user-content ships and kit models shall go unnamed). Correct construction of the head can add a lot to the realism and elegance of your model.

                      Some notes to keep in mind with this tutorial: Only the british method of the first half of the 18th century for ships of the line and frigates has been described here. It may not be applicable to all nations, time periods or ship classes. Many small vessels did not have a head at all!

                      In the french, spanish, and dutch traditions, the head timbers were shaped differently. The French used vertical head timbers, and flat headrails that only curved in one direction except for diagonally at the bottom (making a bit of a V shape with straight vertical lines above). The dutch used curved head timbers in a U shape. The spanish used a method that transitioned from more french-like in the beginning of the century to more english-like by the middle of the century, with many variations in between. Danish ships seem to have used all the methods interchangeably depending on which sailing properties were desired.

                      With the head completed including masts and rigging we can see how all these elements work together to create a unified whole which is structurally sound and pleasing to the eye.
                      Attached Files

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                      • #12
                        Ok done, let me know what you think! Any questions? Do you need more examples for your project specifically?

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                        • #13
                          Kriswood, you are fantastic.

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                          • #14
                            That was an incredibly detailed and through description of 18th C. naval architecture. Thank you!

                            Originally posted by KrisWood View Post
                            In the french, spanish, and dutch traditions, the head timbers were shaped differently. The French used vertical head timbers, and flat headrails that only curved in one direction except for diagonally at the bottom (making a bit of a V shape with straight vertical lines above). The dutch used curved head timbers in a U shape. The spanish used a method that transitioned from more french-like in the beginning of the century to more english-like by the middle of the century, with many variations in between. Danish ships seem to have used all the methods interchangeably depending on which sailing properties were desired.
                            One question - how did the arrangement of the head timbers affect the sailing properties of a ship?

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                            • #15
                              @Josh: it didn't terribly much as far as I can tell, but the hull type mattered a lot, and ships built from french style hull designs tended to get french style heads. Likewise with plans based on other nationalities. The Poseidon in-game is an example of a danish ship built to a french style design.

                              @Xaphod: Glad to be of service!

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