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Shipyards and Shipwrights

2010-07-18-practical-shipbuilding.jpg10-17-2012 6-13-08 PM.jpgShipbuilding is the construction of ships and floating vessels. It normally takes place in a specialized facility known as a shipyard. The yard builds the ship from the ground up, creating the hull and configuring the interior of the ship to the owner's specifications before launching it and fitting the ship out.

Shipbuilders, also called shipwrights, follow a specialized occupation that traces its roots to before recorded history. Shipbuilding and ship repairs, both commercial and military, are referred to as "naval engineering". The shipwright is the soul of a ship. While anyone who builds a boat can be called a shipwright, the term most frequently calls tall ships into mind, because they involve a lot of handwork, time, and love. In the same way, ship in bottle builders are the shipwrights who build their wonderful models in the shipyards and dockyards.


Meet some of the builders and learn more about their shipyards. (if name is in blue, click to go to artist page)

Greg Alvey

Greg and his wife, Patty converted a fourth bedroom into a shared hobby room when the kids moved out. Greg’s “L-shaped” space gives him a combined area of nearly 16 feet of table top workspace, table top bin storage, ample room under the tables, and generous shelving above each table.  The room also has a 2 x 8 foot closet where he keeps as 2’ by 4’ table, tripod, and infinity board for taking pictures, a scroll saw on a microwave stand that can be rolled out for cutting, a small shop-vac, and good floor and shelf room for storing bottles and materials.  Even with all of this space, he still finds ways of encroaching into his wife’s area of the room. His favorite tool is usually the one he is using at the moment, but overall, he loves his surgical endo grasp (polypus) above all others.

One of the best features of his work station is a window in the center of his work space, great lighting, and room for a TV and MP3 player.  The worst part is the floor where he reports that there must be several thousand small pieces needed for his models that are forever lost in “carpetland.”

Currently, Greg is building a World War II fleet tender, the Tsingtau. The Tsingtau was the first S-boat tender (Schnellbootbegleitschiff) which was built for the Kriegsmarine.  However, most of his time in the workshop is taking pictures for the website, or restoring bottles with broken, damaged, loose, or missing pieces. In addition to his ships in bottles, he also has an extensive collection of 1:1200 wooden models of military vessels, mostly from World War II, which are displayed in wooden cases on the walls of his hobby room. Most of his ships in bottles are displayed in the family room.


 Gwyl Blaser

Gwyl has a desk work area with several lights that he uses to really illuminate things so he can see better with his natural eye and also while using a magnifier of some sort.  One of his bookcases in the hobby room is used for his books and reference materials so he does not have to go into the library.

Gwyl gives most of his ships in bottles away and only has a couple that he has kept for himself. Those he displays in a case.  In addition to his ship in bottle building, he also enjoys collecting cars and for the past 55 years or so he has amassed quite a collection.

His hobby room is around10 feet by 10 feet with some irregular shapes but it works for him. The floor is linoleum so it is very easy to clean with a broom and shop-vac when needed. Also, he has a sky light in the hobby room so during the day he can get some real nice sunlight while at his desk.

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Keith Brown

Keith Brown submitted the following information about his workshop: “My work space is anywhere I can get enough space to work. I have a two car garage that hasn't held a car for over 20 years, but holds all of my tools from table saws to wood lathes and I will always say "I don't have too many tools, I just don't have enough room for too many more". All of my big tools are on wheels so I can move them to my working space, most of my work tables are also on wheels to make the work space. Most projects end up being done in a sort of human run 'tetrus' game.

Like any dedicated artist I have always been able to find a spot of my own to do my work, whether it be on a T.V. tray in the living room as a youngster or a study desk as a young adult. Having been raised in a single parent household with two other siblings on a yearly income well below middle class, I learned a valuable lesson. Ten dollars will hardly get you anything fixed, but a ten dollar wrench will let you fix a lot of things. Working at a career for over thirty years, using tools every day I guess you could call me a 'tool guy'.

A shared space for all of my smaller projects is more like a 'hobbit hole' way back in the corner of my garage where I have to be yelled at to be found. A mish-mash of tables, shelves, file cabinets, boxes and organized clutter of parts, paints, glues and odd materials, well lit with the best garage sale lighting I could find. I'm a sucker for bargain older tools with character. Draw knives, spoke staves anything sharp catches my eye, and if it's rusty and I can give it a new life all the better. The tools I like to use the most are the self-made ones that are only good for the one thing they were designed for. Adult play time, toys are not tools, but tools are the toys of creative people.

My bottle whimsey projects are constantly changing and hopefully improving with my creative spirit. I challenge myself to do original, captivating pieces that I enjoy, and love to watch people’s reactions when they first see my work. I enjoy doing miniature pieces because I can't seem to part with them and they are a lot easier to display and store than say larger works like cabinets or furniture. Space can sometimes be defined as a ‘void’; my work space is many things, but it is never void.”

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Terry Butler

Terry’s workshop is 6 feet by 6.5 feet. Besides the generous space, Terry likes it because it is a well-lit area and allows her easy access to everything, and she doesn’t really want to change anything about it. 

The amount of time Terry spends at the workplace varies but has been a little less in more recent time due to a wide variety of other interests, including her musical endeavors. In addition to bottling, Terry uses this space for other craft projects and repairs such as working on her jewelry, miniatures, and she is currently working on one ship with plans to build a miniature bowed psaltery in a bottle soon.  Her favorite tool is her surgical polypus in different sizes. In addition to her workshop area, Terry has several small tools such as a scroll saw, belt sander, and bandsaw in her garage for the more messy needs, and there is a walk in craft closet nearby for storing materials used in her crafts.  Terry has displays of her bottles in other areas of her home.

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Nelson Heddle

Nelson creates his ships in bottles on an old dining room table in his basement that he calls his “man cave.” In addition to his ship in bottle building, he uses the table for his plastic and vinyl models or any small job that requires a table to work on. Alongside the table, he displays his non-SIB models, which include Star Wars spaceships and 1/6 scale plastic and vinyl figures, die cast cars in 1/64 and 1/43 scale and a few 1/25 scale cars he built. The room also includes a stereo, Foosball game and treadmill. With his large table he can have more than one project going without disturbing anything when he stops. He does wish that he had natural light to work under.

The Dremel is his most important tool and he uses it for shaping, sanding, and drilling. His reference materials and SIBs are stored upstairs in the TV room (once a bedroom). He has one case with all the SIBs he has built and a Barrister case for SIBs he has bought. He also has a sewing box for threads, tool box for tools and another box with wood and paper supplies. Additionally, he has a cart with plastic drawers where he keeps his paint and sea material.

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Jack Hinkley - deceased)

Jack built his ships in bottles at a workstation which at first glance may have seemed a little cluttered and somewhat disorganized. But always the masterful builder, Jack knew where everything was and he arranged and equipped his work area with just what he needed, and always in arms reach.

His actual building area was made using a large table top laid across two, two-drawer metal file cabinets which were full of his plans and drawings, and then across another shelving unit full of miscellaneous materials on the shelves and bottles and more on the top. On top of the table was a shelving unit holding his books, miscellaneous tools and parts, glues, threads, and more. A fluorescent light stretched across the work area providing great lighting for building and the nearby window let in the fresh air and natural lighting. His reference books were immediately in front of him on a shelf and a smaller cabinet. with multiple drawers to hold the many small materials was to the right on the top. Nearby, we can see his magnifying visor which was a favorite tool for his building. 

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Clay Rakes

Clay Rakes writes: “My work area is totally contained within a cabinet. With the doors opened my potential work surface is about 2’x3’. I have the benefit of the shelf space for books and tools, as well as the corkboards to pin up project plans and ideas. As can be seen I installed an old pair of computer speakers so that I can use my MP3 player to help with focus and relaxation. What his likes best about it is that when he is done at the end of the day it’s nice to be able to close the doors to keep things from being accidently knocked over and dust out. He would like to have a little more space, but the cabinet forces him to keep the clutter to a minimum.

Probably like most SIBers, Clay really likes his custom made tools the best, because he designed them to fit his personal needs. An idea Clay uses that others may have not considered is to make his own plans, and after sketching out an idea he uses the drawing tools in MS Word to draw up his final plan. Among the many benefits, Clay has the ability to make corrections and alterations very easily, use multiple line colors, and shrink/expand the plan as needed to fit any bottle size.

He probably spends 80 – 100 hours a year building but the time he spends tends to be sporadic and he may go weeks without sitting down at his workspace.  Currently, in an effort to do something unusual or different from the standard SIB project, he is working on a cross-section of an 18th century sloop (in a bottle).

While Clay doesn’t have a name for his workstation, he laughingly admits that his wife has a few choice nicknames for it. Although 99% of his time is at his workspace, he does use tools in his garage for building, and a box in the top of his cabinet for storage of wood, bottles and other materials.

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Marcus Schormann

Marcus calls his workshop “SCHORMANNS DOCKYARD” and it measures 2m x 2m. He keeps it filled with the necessary tools and materials for his ships and he only uses this space for building ships in bottles for himself and his customers. His actual building is done on a table 1,20m x 0,80 m, which allows him to reach all his tools such as his 12VAC Dremel. The best part of his workplace is the height of the table. At 1,30 m high, Marcus can work in ergonomically.

Marcus spends 8 to 10 hours a week at his “Dockyard” in his basement building. Right now, he is working on his newest projects: a sailing buoy-tender, a shipyard model for a real project; and, a salvage tug like the one he last worked on in his seaman’s life. Some of his models he sells, some are given as presents. Several times a year Marcus participates in public exhibitions where he builds his ships in bottles in front of audiences. 


Daniel Siemens

Daniel uses a card table for building but has creatively adapted an area he sometimes refers to as the “man cupboard” for his storage. The space is a 2 by 3 foot area with a slant ceiling for his workshop that his wife didn’t use because it is a little “awkward” for her needs. He hopes that in the future to have a garage or a shed where he can do all sorts of projects with a good supply of wood and a scroll saw.  

His favorite tool is his Dremel and he reports that it has literally transformed the way he shapes his ships and his detailing has greatly improved with it. His other most used tools are an exacto knife and a bent coat hanger that he uses to maneuver the ship in the bottle. The time he spends depends on the week. When he gets the kids to bed early he can spend two or three hours building ships in the evening maybe twice a week. 

He has just about finished his current project, a ghost ship, and it will be complete as soon as he works out a couple of problems with how it's displayed.  His next project is for his sister’s birthday. He intends to build something similar to the “Star Flyer,” a beautiful ship that he hopes to be able to cruise on someday.  He also has plans for the “Santa Maria” for a co-worker who middle name is Maria and of direct Spanish descent.

His bottles are displayed on a shelf in the living room and a few more on shelves at the office, which draw a lot of attention and makes for a good talking point. Daniel also has his list of future projects he wants to build which includes the Constitution, Columbus’ ships, the Mayflower, the Lawson, and the Cutty Sark.

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Cecil Tiller

Cecil builds his ships in bottles in his “Man Cave” on a 36 inch by 20 inch old desk converted into his worktop. He likes it because it is out of sight, and when need be out of mind. While it works well for his needs, better lighting and having a Dremel Drill Press attachment and a disc sander nearby would be great. His favorite tools are coat hangers and his Dremel.

Cecil estimates that he spends in the range of 750 – 800 hours a year in his Man Cave. In addition to his ships in bottles, he uses his work area for fly tying and other model making. Currently, he is working on the Preussen, a mini Brig and a fishing skiff, the Sea Ox. In addition to these new projects, Cecil has bottle ready:  2 Galleons , a mini Galleon , a steam launch, the Columbia 22 sailboat , the USS Constitution , the USS Hannah , Monitor and the Merrimac (CSS Virginia). He keeps his extra materials in his shed along with his homemade disc sander. You can find his finished bottles proudly displayed throughout his house.

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