Saturday, February 18, 2012

How to Build a Schooner in a Bottle

Welcome to the world of building tiny ships and putting them into bottles.  Before we get started I’d like to direct your attention to the About & Gallery pages.  There you can learn a little about me and why I started this blog as well as see some of my work.

To start off I wanted to show you how to build a simple ship and get it into the bottle.  I will use later post to explain some of the more detailed work you can put into these ships.  One of the easiest types of ships is a schooner.  I find that schooners have the simplest rigging with the least amount of knots needed to make it work.

The first thing you will need is the bottle.  The type and size of bottle will determine how big you can make the ship.  For this ship I used a flask but I suggest you start off with a regular bottle that can be laid on its side and has a wide mouth.  Not too wide of a mouth, you still want your friends to be awed with how you got the ship into the bottle.

Next you will need a thin piece of wood, about a ¼ in thick. I got a $.35 slat at Home Depot and it’s lasted me a while.  Cut it to the size you want and that will fit in the bottle.  For this ship I used about 2in of wood.  Be sure, as you work with the wood, to check it against the bottle and make sure it will fit through the mouth with some room to spare for your mast.

Begin shaping the wood by sanding each side smooth and then draw out the front of the ship so you know where to carve.

You can use something as simple as a pocket knife to do the carving.  Then carve out the rest of the ship, rounding out the bottom so that if you turn the ship on its side it looks like a “D”.  To make it look even more realistic sand the front and back so they curve up.

Once everything is sanded smooth you are ready to paint.  I suggest staining the ship to bring out the wood grain and then painting the sides (if you choose to).  If you do choose to stain, this would be a good time to stain the tooth picks or skewers you plan on using for your mast.  After the stain dries then you can paint the sides.

The next step is putting on the bow.  Start at the point of the ship, drill straight down about 1/16in, be sure not to drill all the way through. Keeping your drill in the same hole, turn the drill to the angle you want the bow and drill in about ¼ in. Then trim a toothpick to the desired length of the bow and glue it into the hole. 

While the glue is drying, use needle nose pliers to bend a piece of wire into a metal loop with a straight piece that will run against the bow.  Place the loop on the tip of the bow and make sure there is enough room between the loop and the bow to run lines through the loop.  Glue the loop down and secure it with a whip knot.    
Now, using a #61 drill bit, you will drill holes into the deck for your mast.  Mark out on the deck where you want the mast to be and then drill two holes on each side of the masts.  Again, do not drill all the way through the deck.   You will also need a #61 drill bit to make tiny holes in the toothpicks you use for the mast.  On the toothpick you plan to use as the foremast you will need two holes, one near the bottom and one near the top.  The bottom hole needs to run side to side compared to the deck for the hinge.  The top hole needs to run back to front for the line you’ll thread through it later.  On the toothpick you’ll use for the mizzenmast you just need one hole near the bottom for the hinge.

Next you will put the mast together.  Using the bottle to give you an idea of how tall your mast can be, trim your toothpicks to length.  Be sure that the top of the mast won’t actually touch the top of the bottle.  Then trim a piece to make the gaff and lay it out next to the mast at the desired angle (I generally eye ball this to whatever length/angle looks good).  Do the same with the boom.  You will now tie the gaff and boom to the mast using a whipping knot.  Start the knot at the top of the mast, glue the ends to the gaff and then tie a separate whipping knot around that.  Use the same process for tying on the boom. 

Once you have your masts put together you can make the sails.  Lay down the mast on to the cloth you plan to use for sails and trace the inside.  Cut out the sails and glue on. (stripes/design optional)

Now that you have mast and sails all put together, they’re ready to attach to the deck.  Using a 1 ½ in piece of wire, hold the middle with needle nose pliers and bend wire in half, making a “U” shape.  Have the bottom part of the “U” wide enough to support your mast.  Thread the wire through the mast, trim the wire so that the bottom of the mast barely touches the deck, and then glue the wire ends into the holes. You’ll want the mast to be able to swing easily on the hinge, so give your self plenty of room.

Next comes the rigging, which is the hardest part.  The secret to doing some of these tiny knots is to not be afraid to use and maybe waste a lot of thread. You’ll want to make large loops so you can get the thread through and then pull everything into tight little knots. To start off with you’ll drill holes into the side of the ship, two on each side.  Place the holes just behind each mast.  Then glue some wire into the holes, it doesn’t matter how long the wires are, you’ll trim them later.

Start with the back stays.  These lines will tie the masts to the side of the ship and keep the mast upright, perpendicular to the deck.  I like to use dead eyes to make the back stays adjustable.  Thread the line through one of the holes in the dead eye and out another hole.  Then loop the line around the wire on the side of the ship. Then use a slip knot to go around the out side of the dead eye. Adjust the dead eye to be centered between the top of the mast and the wire.  Make sure the mast is perpendicular to the deck and then tie off your line near the top of the mast.  Bend the wire back so it’s tight against the side of the ship and keeps your line in place, but loose enough to adjust the deadeye; then trim off the excess wire.  Once the back stays are done on both sides, adjust the dead eyes so when the back stays are tight the masts are straight up and down. 

The next part is the stays.  This is the line that runs along the top of the ship and pulls the mast forward.  The stays pull forward while the back stays pull back holding the masts up.  Tie the stay to the top of the mizzen mast.  Then run the line through the hole in the fore mast.  The line must be allowed to move freely through the foremast so that everything can fold down against the ship.  Now thread the line through the metal ring on the bow.  Keep around eight inches of extra line off the bow so you can pull the sails up once the ship is in the bottle.  Next, tie a line to the fore mast just below the stay.  Run this line through the metal loop in the bow and again keep eight inches of extra line.  Cut out a jib sail that will fit between the fore mast and the metal loop on the bow.  Glue the jib sail to the second stay.  Make sure not to glue it to the first so that it can move freely through the foremast.

This next part is purely decorative, but I like to make these SIB’s as realistic as possible.  You can put in running lines by ting a line from the back of a sail to the wire pieces on the side of the ship.

You are now done with building the ship!  

Now it’s time to prepare the bottle.  I use blue clay for effect and to help keep the ship in place.  Start by flattening out a piece of clay that will fit in the bottom of the bottle.  Then take your clay and carefully roll it up so you can fit it through the mouth of the bottle.  Once it’s in, use a hook to unroll and press the clay into the bottom of the bottle.  You can make a good hook by cutting apart a wire hanger and bending the end at a 90 degree angle.  I recommend having two hooks; what I call a clean and a dirty hook.  Use the dirty hook for maneuvering clay in the bottle and the clean hook for maneuvering the ship in the bottle.  That way you don’t get clay all over your ship. 

Time to put the ship into the bottle.  Fold the mast down against the ship and carefully put the ship in back end first.  It might be a tight fit but don’t force it too hard.  

Once it’s in the bottle, pull your lines so the mast pops up.  When you’re sure everything looks as you want it, use a hook to put a dab of glue onto the end of the bow where the lines are coming out.  When the glue is dry you can cut the excess line. With the help of your hooks, maneuver the ship to where you want it and press it down into the clay.

In the case of a flask you do need to turn the ship so that it rest on the bottom properly.  This can be a little tricky, thus why I suggest using a bottle that can lie on its side.

You have now made a Ship In A Bottle!

Thank you so much for reading!  I hope this has been helpful for you.  If you have any comments, questions or suggestions please leave a comment. Also, we’d love to see your finished works.  We plan on making a “Fan Gallery” page so if you want to send in a picture e-mail it to

Monday, February 13, 2012

Under Construction

This blog is new and under construction.  We should be up and running by Feb. 18th.

See you then!