Method 5. Great potential.

A ship in a bottle is not just a model of a sailing ship or a souvenir; it is a brainteaser which was made to puzzle people and delight them. A spectator should ask you: “How did you do that?”; and the more difficult it will be for him or her to find an answer, the more interest it will arouse.

This assembling method is the most interesting and unusual yet the most difficult and time-taking one. It gives you truly unlimited potential. Is it possible to thread a needle inside the bottle? Yes, this method will allow you to do that easily. After learning it, you can start making even the most complicated models. Though you will need a lot of patience, attention, and knack to achieve your goal.


Let’s start with the body. To make a model spectacular and mysterious, you should make the body as wide as possible. People shouldn’t have any doubts that the body is bigger than the bottleneck. For that sake it is useful to make the body even wider than it is shown in your drawing. It is even better to choose a model with round-bellied body. Of course, you will have to assemble such a model by piecemeal since only separate details can come through a bottleneck. Before you start, get some slats with thickness 2-2,5 mm. You can easily find different objects that you can use for this purpose, for instance thin veneer sheets. Glued together, they perfectly imitate ship’s skin. You need to make a brick gluing them to each other and marking a cutting line. This line should divide the body in horizontal plane around waterline level (pic. 14). The body will be cut vertically later.

Pict. 14. A brick – a work piece for a future model.

When cutting the line, try to make it as less visible as possible on the ready model. It’ll be perfect if you overlap the line with the waterline and even better if it is covered with rubbing strake.

After estimating the thickness of the upper and the lower parts of the body and getting a necessary amount of slats, start gluing bricks together. This is a very important part because if you do that carelessly, the patch spot will very noticeable.

The slats for the upper and the lower parts of the body are glued and made into bricks separately; you will get two work pieces with the widths of the upper and the lower parts of the body. Don’t let the glue dry up and put the upper and the lower parts together squeezing them with a screw clamp. Don’t let the glue get into the gaps between the parts. The work piece should be completely dry before you can take the loading off. Otherwise (especially if made of thin veneer sheets) it can cast any moment and spoil the whole thing.

If you do everything correctly, after you take off the screw clamp, you will get two halves of the body fitting each other perfectly. I want to emphasize the importance of that as it will allow you to make the patch spot invisible.

While working on your model, keep it away from uneven heat (such as sun or oven) because it can cause casting or even lead to gaps on the body.

Now you have the upper and the lower parts of the body but….they won’t go through a bottle neck even separately. You need to cut the work pieces vertically, but don’t rush to do that. I’m going to tell you how all four parts will be joined together.

To prevent them from falling apart , you need to join them so that the upper part holds the lower part and the right part holds the left part. You can find the scheme on pictures 15 – 19. The main point of it is that the left lower part holds the upper right part and the right lower – the upper left part. Moreover, the upper and the lower parts are joined together for more strength. Such a joint though seems complicated holds all the parts together and allows you to work on the model without any trouble. The parts are fixed with little pins which should be made of steel. In that way you will avoid expanding of wooden pins after contacting with glue. Besides getting bigger, there is another problem. Some kinds of glue can leave a thick joint which can lead to a visible gap between the parts of the body; epoxy adhesive (liquid) is probably the best choice for that.

I can recommend the following scheme of making a model:

1) Draw the outline of the model on the lower part of the work piece according to your working drawing, then cut out slots for inserts (pic. 15).

Pict. 15.

2) Cut the lower part axially (pic. 16).

Pict. 16.

3) Stick on the inserts , then drill a hole in them for main pins (pic. 17)

Pict. 17.

4) Drill through holes in the upper part (without cutting it) for additional pins to join the upper and the lower parts. Join the parts together and using one of those holes as a guiding one drill another hole in the lower part for an additional pin (pic. 18).

Pict. 18.

5) Insert an additional pin from one side, put the parts together and turn them over, then mark holes for the main pins (pic. 19).

Pict. 19.

6) After inserting the main pins into one side, repeat all the above with the other side.

7) After this rough work , cut the upper part axially.

You can work ou t a different work order, but it is better to work on a model without cutting the upper part. It will make your work piece harder and your work easier. While working you’ll probably appreciate the advantage of using thin veneer sheets as they not only imitate ship’s skin and make all the parts match, but also helps you make marks because the body already has all the lines.

Old sailing vessels dated XV-XVII centuries had tall and beautifully decorated superstructures; that’s why you’d better make their bodies using five or six parts, not only four. Not only are both the lower and the upper parts put separately, but also some of the details of the fore part and after part superstructures. It’s a good idea to make a part of the foredeck removable together with the latrine and bowsprit and a part of the after part superstructure. The whole rigging should look like a unit. Choose cutting line where run rubbing strake , in this case rubbing strake glued to the joint will completely cover the cut (pic. 20)

Pict. 20. Its a good idea to make a part of the foredeck removable together with the latrine and bowsprit and a part of the after part superstructure). Itll be harder to hide the cut on the deck which goes along it, but you can do that by covering the deck with planks made of light wood putting them butt-to-butt.

The structure of many ships with a weather deck allows you to make removable the whole middle internal part of the body together with the deck, bowsprit, and transom. It’s very convenient as the after-part with windows and decorations remains uncut. The rigging of the bowsprit is going to be easier too. And we got all the luck because most details are located axially (such as hatches, bitt s , tambours, capstans and many more). Thanks to this feature, many details are situated on the removable middle part of the model.

If it is impossible to make the middle part removable due to structural features, you should cut the whole upper part lengthwise. This cut will go along those elements located axially. It is still not bad, even vice versa. Don’t cut those details together with the body; leave them whole and, gluing only one side, stick them to only one part of the body. As a result, all the additional details like hatches, capstans and tambours will be attached to only one side of the upper body part. You can easily take them off or install again. When assembled, those details will hide the cutting line on a ready model.

On the pictures below you can see the steps of assembling a body.

When the body of the model is ready, its appearance won’t differ from a regular stand model. The only peculiarity is that the body of our model can be easily taken apart. Now let’s proceed to the spar, rigging, and sails. Before doing this, you need to look carefully at the spar drawing and make a plan how to put the riging through.

Spar and rigging.

The next important step is to make rigging. It doesn’t differ from that of a regular stand model except for a few details. Masts with crow’s nests and crosstrees are made according to your drawing; shrouds are attached to shroud plate fixed on shroud plate beforehand. Try to imitate deadeyes and blocks. The rest of the rigging is assembled in a similar way. A lot of methods used by masters who work with stand models can be used here too. I will give you a few pieces of advice on how to make miniature details of a ship.

Make sure the masts as well as all the rest of the details are made according to your drawing; they should be beautiful and refined. You won’t have to drill any holes in the masts, which allows you to make them thin without being afraid that they will break. You can make really good masts using beech wood. Ready masts are installed in special holes on the body; don’t glue them so far. To avoid drilling holes in the masts, you can use small loops made out of threads for putting the tacking through. Tie them to the necessary place on the mast, bowsprit or any other detail of the model. In that way, the treads of the rigging put through the loops will be able to slide easily. The threads will have to be bowsed inside the bottle.

Shrouds are made with a special instrument which is very popular among model makers (pic. 21).

pic. 21 – A device for making miniature shrouds

This device allows you to glue ratline s to the shrouds. The structure of the shrouds has a special feature: you need to tie a long thread to the spot where shrouds meet. This additional thread will be put through a hole in the crow’s nest. To do that, attach two loops on both sides or put a piece of wire on the crow’s nest (pic. 22-23). The additional thread will be pulled down and then out through a hole in chainwales or the body (pic. 24).

pic. 22 – To pull through the additional thread which holds the shrouds, glue a piece of wire to the crow’s nest.
pic. 23 – To pull through the additional thread which holds the shrouds, tie loops at both sides of the mast.

To make the assembly easier, fix the installed masts in the position which they will be in on the ready model. You can use wire with insulation. Take off the insulation and cut it into pieces of 5-6 mm. Put such a piece on a necessary rope, squeeze it and insert a piece of wire of 8-10 mm. Using this method, you can fix any rope, and if you want to release it, take off the wire (pic. 24).

pic. 24 – To fix tackling , temporarily use a piece of wire and insulation

After you temporarily fix the additional thread, shrouds strain and fix them to shroud plates. Try to make the stretching as even as possible; after that you can make tiny dead eyes (in the form of little drops) on the shrouds using PVA glue adhesive colored with dark brown paint.

When making miniature backstays , remember that lots of standing rigging can spoil the appearance of a model. Moreover, it’s impossible to find thread matching the dimensions of the model and you can only imitate topgallant stays. It is good idea to combine backstays threads together below so that through an opening there passed only one thread ( pic. 24). After that temporarily fix the backstays with a piece of wire as described above.

Now you only need to attach stays according to your drawing. There is a little secret here: to make the installation easier you can join some of the stays of the mizzen-mast, mainmast and foremast. For example, instead of a main topgallant stay to fix on fore topmast, it pass through an opening in a cross-trees, and this tackle, having turned already in f ore topmast stays , it is passed in a small eyelet on a bowsprit. You can repeat that with the rest of the tackling (pic. 25)

pic. 25 – You can join some of the stays of the mizzen-mast, mainmast and foremast.


Sails are an important part of making a model; filled with wind, they make it light and swift. That is why you should take it seriously.

As you already understand, the masts and sails are pushed through the bottle neck separately; sails are not creased which allows you to make them “filled with wind”. There are a number of methods to make them and every master has his own favorite one, but I am going to tell you about only one.

First of all, you will need appropriate fabric; the best will probably be white lawn. Bear in mind that only some clippers and modern ships had white sails; the sails of older vessels were grayish or yellowish. That is why you need to dye them first: to get light gray color put the sails into hot water with aniline dye. But the best hue you can get from a bag of black tea: brew some tea and then simmer it for 20-30 minutes. Filter the blend and soak the sails in it until they get a necessary shade. Wring the fabric out and dry. This color will be lasting and look natural.

The next step is to outline sails on that well-pressed fabric; you can make it with a pencil and prepared cut-out patterns. To avoid fraying out of the fabric, apply some diluted PVA adhesive to the edges. When the sails are dry, cut them out and glue or tie to the yards. But sails also have some tabs on them – robands, sail battens, ets. So try to imitate them and don’t forget about reef beckets.

To make those tabs, you will need a piece of your already made sails soaked in PVA-glue adhesive and dried. Cut out a thin stripe and glue to a sail from the outside. It is going to be robands, sail battens is glued from the inside of the topsail; it prevents the sail from fraying through the crow’s nest.

After that you can get down to making reef beckets. Put them through small holes made with a needle and fix with drops of glue. Of course, you’ll need very thin cotton threads (or you can pull some out of the fabric you are using for sails), and it will be better if you dye the fabric darker color. Moreover, all the threads used for your model should be soaked in glue to eliminate the nap which is not allowed in such tiny models. Trim the ready reef beckets with scissors. All in all, making sails isn’t easy; it takes time and patience.

Your sail is almost ready. To give it a filled-with-wind shape, you need to make a wooden, foam or any other form resembling it. You can make a few of them of different sizes if you are going to continue modeling. Put a piece of plastic film between the sail and the form so as not to glue them together. Press the sail with the attached yard to the form and fix with fishing line. The fishing line should go exactly along those lines where “seams” are; it will make the sail look more prominent (pic. 26). Soak the sail in PVA adhesive and dry to make it keep its shape.

pic. 26 - Press the sail with the attached yard to the form and fix with fishing line.

When attaching the sails to the masts and yards, don’t forget that the whole construction should easily go through a bottle neck; try to make it more movable and avoid stiff fastening of the spar. For yards lashing and lifting on sailing ships, luffing cables, halyards, gunter irons and other devices are used. For example, it is convenient to attach the yards of mainmast and foremast with the help of luffing cable whereas the yards of the mizzen-mast – with gunter irons (that is, just to tie them to the mast). Sheet corners of the sails should not be stiff either, otherwise when you push them through a bottle neck they’ll rumple. To avoid that, do not glue them to the yard; just do it inside the bottle instead. Or you can do it in a different way combining the functions of brace and sheet in one rigging. Tie a small loop to the yard-arm of the yard and put through it the rigging attached to a corner of the sail. Later this rigging will function as a brace and after covering will allow the sail to take up the right position (pic. 27).

pic. 27 - You can combining the functions of brace and sheet in one rigging.

When designing the spar, try to minimize the number of operations inside the bottle. First of all, it concerns a scheme of putting the braces through. The easiest way is to put the braces of the lower yards through the holes in the bulwark. The braces are often put through a block fastened to any of the stays. In this case it’s useful to join the braces of the right and the left sides so that after going through the block on the stay (it can be a small loop) the rigging will be put through another hole in the bulwark by itself. The braces of the mizzen-mast look a bit different; they are usually pulled to the bow of a ship, not to the stern. That is why you can fasten them to a certain stay of the mizzen-mast (pic. 28)

pic. 28 – A scheme of putting through the braces in the bottle

A ship in full sail looks gorgeous , but the lower sails hide the deck preventing you from seeing all the small details on it. To avoid that, you can tie them to the yards; it will also save you from making sheets and tacks of the lower sails. As a result, the number of operations inside the bottle will be less.

However, sailing vessels in 15-16 centuries did not have lots of sails, so you would better unfold them. Of course, you will have to make sheets and tacks; it is quite easy to put them through; and you just need to put the tacking through the holes in the bulwark.

The same should be done with the rigging of the staysail and jib. Their sheets should be joined together and put through a hole in the bulwark. The structure of the mizzen-mast is not complicated to make; and there is no need to make systems that fasten gaff and boom to the mast. You can just glue them to the sail leaving 1-2 mm at the edge. The sail is hard enough to hold the gaff and boom in the necessary position. The sail glued to the mast together with the spar will be supple enough to go through a bottle-neck.


Let’s have a look at what we have now after such long and laborious work. We have a model of a ship with long threads sticking out all over it. The most interesting thing starts right now. Take scissors and cut off all the threads leaving just 2-3 cm. The rest of the job will be done inside the bottle with short threads; unlike in the above described methods now no threads will hang down from the bottle neck. You won’t be tangled!

Until now I still haven’t shown you how to assemble a mo del inside a bottle. It would’t be sensible to hope to put all those threads into the tiny holes on the model. The secret is extremely simple: you need to make that tiny hole big. How? Put a loop made of thin thread through the hole. Now it’s easy to put the end of the rope into the loop and, pulling by the other side, drag it together with the loop outside (pic. 29). The loop will go through the hole easily drawing the rope. In this way you can put any thread through a hole even in a very difficult-to-reach place.

Before putting a ship into a bottle , you need to put loops into all the holes. The loops can be placed not only onto the body but also on masts and sometimes on sails. You’d better use colorful threads to make them more noticeable. Complicated model sometimes have 50-60 threads which requires a lot of efforts.

pic. 29 – the secret of assembly: you can make a small hole big in this way

Sometimes there happen unexpected situations such as accidental pulling out a loop without placing a rope in it. Don’t let them bother you; they are not hopeless. Instead of that loop put a wire one through a hole and use it to let the rope go through the hole. If that doesn’t work, place that “homeless” rope somewhere else.

The fifth method of assembling is in those loops. T here is nothing else left for you to do but push the pieces of the body inside the bottle, glue them together and install the masts and sails putting the ropes of the rigging through specially made openings with the help of those miraculous loops. Be careful when assembling a ship inside a bottle: keep the ropes on the body off the gluing spots and try not to stain them with glue.

Start installing the masts from the bottom (with the mizzen-mast if the ship bow looks at the bottleneck). After installing the mast first pull the shroud threads of the right and left sides through the loops on the mast, then after drawing them out put them through the holes on the body or chainwale. Make sure the mast is in the right position by slightly pulling them. Only after that you can glue the threads: loosen a rope, drop some PVA adhesive on a thread so that when you pull it on, the glue drop is inside the hole. When the glue is dry, the end of the thread should be cut off (pic. 30)

pic. 30 - thread gluing

Now you know almost all the secrets. I only need to tell you about the instrument which you will need for work. It is quite unusual and hardly reminds “long tweezers”.

Read more: Instruments