Bottle Ship




Introduction: Bottle Ship

I used to do quite a few bottle ships as a kid. But I'd use rubber thread instead of real sewing thread so I wouldn't have to construct the ship to accommodate the complex rigging necessary to pull up the masts and sails. The rubber thread would do the job by itself once the ship was in the bottle.

That was good fun then, but it goes without saying that these ships weren't made to last... So I have always wanted to do a bottle ship by the book. – Well, here it is, documented and all. Have fun.

Step 1: The Secret Behind the Bottle Ship

When I saw my first bottle ship as a kid, I was puzzled how it got into the bottle. Well now I know. You have to construct the ship in a way that allows the masts and booms to collapse. This way, the ship can be made small enough to enter the bottle through the bottleneck. Furthermore the rigging has to be made so you will be able to erect the masts again, once the ship is inside the bottle. The trick here is that the rigging to the left and right of the masts must be places a little behind the masts. Otherwise the masts won't be able to collapse and will not be kept in the right angle once they get erected into the upright position.

Other than you think, the sails have to be glued to the masts and not the booms to do the collapsing trick.

Fixing the treads is done with a tiny drop of wood glue.

Check out the principle drawings and you will understand.

Step 2: Materials and Tools

You need the following tools:

  • Coping saw
  • File
  • Electric Jig Saw
  • Power drill
  • Planer
  • A pair of scissors
  • A pair of home made "mini" drill (see instruction...)
  • Sanding Paper
  • Stanley Knife
  • One or two pliers
  • On long tweezers
  • A vise

You need the following material:

  • Pine Wood
  • Balsa wood
  • Bamboo barbecue sticks
  • 0.08 inch steel wire for putty tool
  • 0.04 inch steel wire for "mini drill"
  • 0.02 inch steel wire for hinges
  • Sewing thread
  • Blue/green Oil paint
  • Wood Glue
  • Linseed oil putty
  • Typing paper
  • Ethanol to clean the bottle with
  • Baking paper

Step 3: Making the Hull

Before you make the hull, make sure you know the diameter of the bottleneck :-). Also make sure you have a good idea of how tall the masts should be and if the fit inside the bottle.

For the hull, I use balsa wood. It is easy to carve and drill holes into. (In my first attempt I used much harder wood and then the drill broke while inside the hull, so I had to start over again)

I draw the hull shape onto a suitable size of wood (side- and top view). Then I use the coping saw to cut it out roughly.

Next I file and sand it into the desired size and shape.

Remember to check if it fits from time to time...

Step 4: Making the Masts

The masts and booms are made from bamboo barbecue sticks. If the sticks are too thick you may mount them in an electric drill and use the sanding paper to make them thinner.

Once the masts are in shape, use a 0.04 inch drill to make the holes according to the drawing.

The hinges are made of 0.04 inch steel wire.

The holes in the hull are best made with a "mini drill". You make it by "hammering" a small piece of 0.04 inch wire into a handle. Sharpen the "drill" with the sanding paper.

Step 5: Booms and Rigging

The boom hinges are made with 0.02 inch wire according to the principle drawings. After you have tied the ends of the wires to the mast you add a drop of glue to the string to fix it.

At the outer end of the boom you tie the rigging by cutting a short slit through the boom and pulling the thread through it.

Step 6: Building the Bottle Stand

The bottle stand is made of pine wood or what ever hard wood you have (not balsa wood). The bottle I used was a bit special, so I decided to make the stand in an angle to accommodate it.

Step 7: Preparing the Bottle

The bottle has to be absolutely clean AND dry on the inside. Use the 0.08 and soft 0.04 inch wire to make an appropriate tool. Always have one or two pliers at hand to make adjustments to the tool if needed. The bottle is best cleaned using ethanol.

To avoid the greasy putty to make marks on the bottleneck, make a tube out of baking paper.

Step 8: Modelling the Water

The water is made out of putty. Use oil color to die the putty in the appropriate color.

Use the wire tool to model the putty to your liking.

Step 9: Setting Sails

Before the ship can be launched remember to make some sails and glue them onto the masts.

To give the sails the right looks you may die them with coffee and draw some stitches onto them with a pencil.

Step 10: Launching the Boat

Ready for launch! Collapse the rigging. Then gently slide the ship through the bottleneck. Use the wire tool to move the ship in the right position.

When the ship is where you want it, press it into the putty.

Then gently pull the pull lines to erect the masts. It is advisable to use the wire tool to hold onto the ship while doing this so the ship doesn't slip out of the water by accident.

Now tie of fasten the pull stings to the bottle stand and glue the strings to the bowsprit.

Once the glue has dried up, you can cut the remaining pull thread of.

Before you cork the bottle, make sure the putty has dried sufficiently up.


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    5 years ago


    please tell me which software do you use for make instruction tutorial nice pictures?


    Reply 4 years ago

    Sorry for the late reply. I use Illustrator to do the drawings and the photographs are done with an Olympus with a external flash pointing to the side. The photos at shot as raw and processed in CameraRaw and Photoshop...


    Reply 6 years ago

    Wonderful ship you are doing! And thanks for the response – make it even more rewarding to know I inspired someone out there :-)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Great job, and very informative. Working on one right now, not sure if rigging is all one piece, or many. I realize pull lines are separate. Thank you again for posting your very fine instructable


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Not sure if I get your question right, but maybe this answer can help. Every line in the cordage needs to be equally tight, when the masts stand, so that they support the masts. If one of the lines is tighter than the others, it might pull the mast to that side.
    At the same time, you might want to have as few knots as possible to achieve a more beautiful look. I found it easiest achieved by using a long line and tying it to the mast so there would be enough line to both sides. This way I was able to tighten each side separately to adjust the mast's angle. – However, I missed one line and had to cut that line and make a new one for that side and that worked out ok too... :-)


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Oh, and btw. I would appreciate it, If you would post at picture of the finished piece – Good luck :-)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    It's been awhile, but I finally completed project, actually made Four (4 Grandchildren). They are in a YooHoo bottle, which is a chocolate drink.

    Enclosed are pix's, and again, Thank You for your very good Instructable.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome!!! Beautiful work. You have some lucky grand children :-). Thanks for the pix! Cheers


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for reply, think I got you, rigging seems to be hardest part (@ least for me). As for pix, that depends on outcome, thanks again


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Very succinct set of instructions. I've seen a book take several chapters to cover this.
    Here are some varistoons you can do: Make 2 hulls and use one to press into the putty, so that when the putty is set you can paint it to represent whitecaps. Make a seaside landscape. Make a modern vessel in layers and introduce each layer through the bottle neck.
    Have fun!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the tip! Good point about painting the water – I didn't know that one. I knew the layering technique but didn't have the time to try it this time because the bottle had to be complete quickly for an exhibition (I did it in just seven hours over two days). – I'll have to try the layering next time.

    where did that bottle come from? I've always seen bottle ships in long wine bottle and never found them that appealing but the small bottle is incredibly cool. Thanks