Unusual ship models in bottles.

A ship-compass.

From time to time every boat model maker has a desire to create something extraordinary; in this chapter I will reveal some of the methods to make such ships.

What does a compass look like? It is very simple: a magnetized arrow revolves on a non-magnetized needle. Due to the magnetic fields of the Earth, the one end of the arrow always turns to the south, the other to the north. You are going to make the same thing, but a ship model will stand for an arrow (pic. 58).

Besides the model itself, you will need a small magnet and a durable brass or copper pin (or wire). If you can’t find a magnet of a necessary size, do not worry – the magnetic fields of the Earth are so strong that you will need only a couple of them to turn the arrow. If you have a large magnet, you can break into pieces by wrapping it into a piece of cloth and using a hammer.

pic. 58 – a structure of a ship-compass

Then take two pieces which should fit into a stern and a head part of your model. How to locate the north and the south? Pour some water into a saucer and place a piece of foam plastic there, then place the magnets from the opposite sides of it. After that, turning the magnets in different ways, try to make the foam plastic turn one end to the north and the other to the south. After you find out the poles, mark them with paint.

Now you can make a model which is going to be quite unusual as it will freely revolve on a thin needle keeping balance. Seems impossible! But let’s remember a law of physics: a body keeps balance if its center of gravity is lower than the point of support (in your case, you need to make the center of gravity lower than the needle which stands for the point of support).

However, do not forget about friction force: the model should be light enough to revolve freely without pressuring the needle. To sum up, the model should be light weight and its upper part (masts and spars, rigging, sails and shrouds) should be lighter than the lower one (the body itself). Weigh the parts to determine which one is heavier, but take into account that the masts are long and the body is short. This might distort the balance. To avoid that, I’d recommend to make the sails and masts as light as possible.

To make the model stable, raise the point of support as high as possible. You can use a piece of thick copper or brass wire (never use any iron details since they can interfere with the work of the compass; use only non-magnetic materials like wood, copper, brass etc.)

Take copper or brass wire with the diameter of 4-5 mm, grind its butt end and drill a hole with the diameter of 2-3 mm and the depth of 3-4 mm. Cut the wire so that it looks like a reversed glass; it will be a bearing for your ship model.

The body can be cut out of soft wood like lime or pine. Drill a hole in the center of the body with the diameter a bit less than that of the bearing to make the former sit tight on the “glass”.

Make openings for the magnets at the bottom of the fore part and the stern-part. Make sure the magnets are not seen and completely fit in holes.

The little wire glass is attached to the top of the body; put it not very deep into the hole in the body. Place one magnet into the hole in the fore part and the other into that in the stern part. Don’t forget to point them to the right directions: the marked ends the then should look on the same direction, which is either the fore part or the stern part. It is not very important if your ship chooses north or south, but it is crucial that it accurately turns to one of them.

Before gluing the magnets , try to experiment: attach the needle with the point up and place the body on it. Balance the ship by putting pieces of wire on its deck. Check the magnets orientation; if it is wrong, you can use bigger ones.

After the body is ready and the magnets are accurately orientated, it’s time to equip it with masts, shrouds and sails. You should choose the method of assembling in advance. Since the size of the ship-compass is about 2-3 cm, the best one will be “the joke” method. It’s extremely easy and suitable for miniature models. The construction of masts, shrouds and sails was described above; the only difference is in the central mast which should be taller than usual. Why? The answer is below.

Before you put the model into the bottle, y ou’ll have to perform a few actions. Balance it on the needle with pieces of wire again (those weights can be made in the form of anchors, cannons or chains and should be glued after the balancing); it should sit firmly and be able to turn from side to side.

Now you can make a base for the needle; it can be cut out of wood in the shape of a disk with the diameter less than that of the bottle neck. Make a hole in the middle, insert the needle and stick it to the bottom of the bottle. Polish the tip of the needle with sandpaper to make the ship spin easier; the tip should be sharp and rounded at the same time and should not scratch your nail when you run it across. Actually it would be great if you polish the inside of the glass; however, it is a difficult task which can be done only by a skillful person.

Seems like the model is ready to be put into the bottle, but did you question yourself how you were going to straighten the sails and raise the masts if the ship was not fixed and looked like a vane? That’s why you need to secure it temporarily inside the bottle. Use double-faced adhesive tape: take a piece a bit larger than the bottom of the ship and stick it to the bottom of the bottle, then place the model onto it. Such a tape will be enough for that small ship and simple operations. Also, I’d recommend to make the bottom part of the model as flat as possible to make the areas of contact big enough to fix the vessel.

After installing the masts as it was described in the method called “a joke” and fixing the ship inside , remove the model from the tape by using a sharp instrument.

Put the ship onto the needle by gripping by the mast and discard the tape, you won’t need it any more.

Check the balance once again; the model should turn freely. If necessary, add some weight.

Now everything seems to be ready, and you can boast with your model to your friends, but imagine a situation if the bottle is turned upside down and the ship jumps off the needle. To avoid that, you have to limit its movement inside the bottle.

How to do that? You remember that the central mast was unusually tall which, together with the cork, enables to keep the vessel in its place. If the bottle is turned upside down, the mast will set against the cork preventing the model from moving further.

As you ca n see now, all the parts fit each other well. The cork is no exception. A s you remember, its main function is to prevent the model from falling off the needle. For that purpose, make a deepening in the butt end of the cork; it should let the ship spin freely yet keeping it from falling.

Finally, your unusual model is ready. Of course, it won’t be as precise as a real compass, but at least it can show you where it is “not-south”.

After learning the method of using a double-faced adhesive tape, you acquired a technique of making other rare models. Here are some of the constructions where a ship is placed in an unconventional position.

Ship hung on chains.

What if you try to make a ship hanging on chains attac hed to the stock of the cork? It won’t be difficult for those who have read this book carefully.

Assemble a model using one of the described methods (for instance, “A Joke”), attach pieces of thin but strong chain to the front (the bowsprit) and the back parts of the vessel. Affix wooden stoppers to the other ends of the chains (pic. 59).

Cut a cork and a stock out of wood like it was described in the chapter “Corks”. Drill holes in the ends of the stock for the stoppers, the latter should easily get inside with the glue which will be applied in the last minute.

Also , make openings for fishing line in the stoppers and the holes for them to install all the details inside a bottle. The technique was described in the chapter “Corks”. To put it briefly, its point is in putting the fishing line through so that you can install a part in its place by pulling both ends of the line and then remove it by pulling one of the ends.

As you can see, it’ s sim ple. The structure is clear from the picture. Assemble the model on the table, cut out a cork and a stock and make sure all the details fit each other well. Remember that during assemble inside a bottle the stoppers will be covered with glue which can make them swell, that is why the whole process should take no more than 5 minutes, otherwise the glue will dry o ut and the stoppers may not fit into the openings. So try to rehearse this procedure beforehand.

pic, 59 – A scheme of a ship hung on chains

Put the fishing line through the holes in the stoppers and the cork, fix the parts of the ship inside a bottle with a piece of double-faced adhesive tape and assemble the model. Remove the tape and , applying some glue to the stoppers, install the construction by pulling the fishing line. Make sure all the details are in their place, and pull out the fishing line. The model is ready.


A cork is an essential part of all our ship models in bottles; it is an element of design as well as the ship itself. Let’s make them even closer to each other. What if a ship will become a stock which “lo cks” the bottle from the inside? Your knowledge is already enough to carry that out.

Place a bottle with the neck down; in this case the cork can also be a stand. The model is put on the end of a vertically standing cork.

Make a model using one of the described methods. It will mostly be usual, except for it should sit firmly on the butt end of the cork. For that, make a hole with the diameter of 4-5 mm in the bottom of the vessel and attach a pin to the end of the cork. You will have to join them well to securely fix the model inside the bottle. After that it will be impossible to take it out without breaking it (pic. 60)

pic. 60 – a scheme of a ship-cork

The main difficulty in this work is to join the cork and the ship since you will have to do that in almost completely sealed bottle. Here you can use the already known method of using fishing line.

Drill thin openings for the fishing line: it should go through the pin, then go to the deck through the hole in the body, after that return to the hole, but in another way, and go through the pin once again. You will get a loop which will put the model onto the pin if you pull both ends of it, and it will go out if you pull just one end.

Put the fishing line through the openings made for it and make sure you will be able to install the ship onto the cork. Without pulling out the fishing like, assemble the ship using the tape. Then remove the tape, glue the pin and drag both ends of the line joining the model and the cork. Take out the fishing line.

Wait till the glue is dry and seal the bottle. The model is ready.

Read more: Stands, drawing and bottles