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The Beginner's List of Ship in Bottle Building Tools and Materials:

By: Gabrielle (Heather) Rogers


Wood for the Hull:


Woods that I have used:

                     Basswood – From the linden tree, this wood has a very close grain, is soft and pale in color.

                     Black Walnut – This is a very dense and tight grained wood, however it is quite hard and the color is very dark brown.

                     Teak – This is a dense and tightly grained wood that is slightly oily to the touch.  It can have a golden brown color, and like black walnut is fairly hard.  It is commonly used by boatbuilders for deck plankings.


Woods suggested by carvers: (I have no experience with these)

                     Aspen – this is whitish in color.  It is stronger than basswood but easy to carve.

                     Butternut – Also known as white walnut, it carves easily and has more color than basswood and aspen.

                     Pear Tree – Great wood for carving because it is dense, though you may need sharp tools to carve this.

                     Some others include: Chestnut, Apple, Sycamore Maple, Plum, and Mahogany.


Wood For the Cabins and Hatches:


                     The same woods as above can be used to carve and shape cabins and hatches.  You can purchase veneers or cut your own if you have a table saw.  Different types and colors of woods can be used to accent certain parts of the build like hatches. 


Tools for Carving the Hull:


                     Small hand saw – I use this to rough cut the shape of the hull as well as create the angle of the transom.  A japanese pull saw is the best.

                     Chisels – I like to carve by hand as opposed to machine carving, so having a small variety of chisels is important for me.  These tools can also be used throughout the construction so they are versatile. 

         1 inch flat chisel – excellent for carving the shear and hull form.

         Quarter inch flat chisel – great for working inside of areas like the deck where you are carving the bulwarks. 

         1/8 flat chisel – getting into small corners and detail work.

         Quarter inch scoop – Necessary if you hollow out an open boat like a dinghy or row boat.  Also great for shaping the bulwarks on a rounded stern.

         As you work, you'll find a need for other chisels that perform special tasks.  This comes from experience working with the tools.

         Dremel Machine – Some people prefer to use a dremel tool as opposed to purchasing hand tools.  You can use the different attachments to shape the hull and various parts and I imagine this goes quickly although I don't use this method.


Tools & Materials for making Masts and Spars:

                     Bamboo Skewers -  You can find these in different sizes.  I like the ones I find at the chinese stores which are often thinner and a bit darker in color.  They are very flexible and strong so have little chance to break when inserting the ship into the bottle.

                     Turning the Mast & Spars with a Dremel – using the lowest speed insert your skewer into the dremel collet.  Fold a piece of sandpaper 150 grit no less and insert the stick in between the fold, then lay it flat on a table edge, turn on and run the skewer back and forth length wise putting more pressure (not too much to break it) or running it longer in certain sections (always moving back and forth) to form the mast taper.  Never allow the dremel to spin the stick without holding it as it will break and become a dangerous projectile.  You can run it through a finer sand paper if sanding marks are apparent.  A long skewer is harder to manage so cut in half to start.



Drilling Holes for Rigging Lines to Pass Through the Spars & Masts:

                     Sharp Pointed Awl – This is very important! Wherever you need to drill a hole us a sharp pointed awl or any metel pointy tool (like a pointed drill bit) to mark where you will drill.  This will create a small indention so when you drill the hole the bit won't slide off the spar, breaking, damaging, or either making it impossible to drill where you want.

                     Drill bits – Find the tiniest drill bits you can.  These you may need to special order, .5 mm or smaller

                     Dremel Tool – You can use a dremel tool to drill your holes but be careful as the high speed can get out of control and you can damage the spar.  If you use this you must make an indention in the spar before drilling.

                     Hand Drilling Tool – There are various types, some are spring loaded and require you to push up and down, some you just hold with the end in your palm and turn with you fingers to drill holes.  This is slower but can be more accurate, though your drill bits need to be sharp.

                     A sharpened needle – The old salts used this technique as drill bits and hand tools weren't available.  Sharpen a triadic on the tip of a needle with a hand file, turn with your fingers to drill the holes.  I find this difficult personally.


Other Hand Tools:

                     Exacto Knife – Or a carving, sharp pointed knife.  Use this for cutting out the bulwarks and trimming and shaping various pieces.

                     Tweezers – You fingers are just too big to hold and place pieces.  You'll use these to aid in tying knots and many other tasks.  I actually use one in each hand.  They need to be sharp pointed tweezers.  Jeweler's tweezers are the best.

                     Various Pliers – I use small nippers for cutting wire and a round tip pair (jewelry) pliers for forming curves with wire.  These aren't always necessary; it depends on the materials you want to use in your model.



                     Acrylic Paints – These are water based, quick drying, and easily cleaned up.  There are many brands of hobby acrylics.  The one drawback is the finish isn't always smooth and superglue with sometimes eat through the paint or damage the surface.

                     Enamels – These are harder paints, slow drying, and clean up with thinner.  I use mostly these. You can choose from a variety of finishes (glossy, satin, flat) and they lay very smooth.  I prefer Testor brand.  They handle superglue well.  However clear nail polish may dissolve the paint because it contains acetone.

                     Varnish and Polyurethane – You have two options if you need a clear finish.  Those that clean up with water or thinner.  This can but a nice glossy surface on surfaces where you want to see the wood.


 Threads and Wire:

         Thread - You'll use this for standing and running rigging.  It can also be used for detail work on the hull like adding a stripe.  Basic sewing thread of the thinnest size in polyester is fine and you can find all sorts of other threads from beading thread, fly fishing thread, elastic, or metallic threads

         Wire – Mostly used for railings, davits, and hinges to raise and lower the mast.  Various thicknesses can be used for different parts or different scale models.



                     Super Glue – Super glue is great for securing rigging lines, stiffening thread, attaching pieces, and gluing the forestay after inserting the ship in bottle and raising the mast.  It's also great for repairing breaks in the wood when carving.

                     Wood Glue or Paper Glue – Great for attaching cabins and other parts that require more time to line up properly.  Also can be used in attaching sails, but nail polish is preferred here with its quicker dry time.  Make sure it dries clear!

                     Clear Nail Polish – This acts as a nice glue and is sometimes preferred over super glue because it dries quickly but not immediately.  I use this for gluing the sails to the masts and stays, it is excellent here.  It can also act as a clear varnish over wood.  Be aware the acetone will potentially dissolve enamel paint.  It can be used to glue the forestay before cutting after raising the masts in the bottle (make sure you put enough). 


Paper For Sails and Other Details:

                     Paper – There are many types and color of paper that can be used for sails and various details thoughout the project.  Use your imagination here. You can stain it with coffee to get a weathered look.  Colored paper can be used for details like windows and portholes.  Bend it back and forth like a fan to create a staircase, etc... Thick water color paper can be stained and used to mimic wooden parts, like railings.  Non-acidic paper is best because it won't deteriorate over time, but any paper will do.


These are the basic tools you can choose from to get started in building your very own ships in bottles. You don't need all of these things, but choose 1 tool from each sub-topic to get you started.  As you get used to handling the basic tools and materials, you'll find uses for nearly anything and everything.  Building ships in bottles is an excellent way to involve your imagination and creativity, as the fun part is figuring out how to mimic different parts of a ship with any material you can find.  You'll need a small space to work and everything can be packed up and put in a single box to take with you anywhere or just store safely away if you don't have a permanent workspace dedicated to the project.  I hope this has helped!