Colossal Pirate Ship Decor




About: A lowly geologist who likes to build stuff.
It was a very rainy night, but enough kids braved the weather to make it all worth it. The pirate ship decor was huge success, we even got several parents that came out after their kids came home and convinced them to take a look. The projection caught people's attention and the Smoke-Ring-Cannon knocked them off their feet. 

The objectives of the project were to make as big a pirate ship as feasible all the while minimizing the storage necessary to hide it between events (we might set it up for birthdays, or even camping. We used some cheep fabric and tent poles for the construction, it was a little flimsy but held on this very wet night. We also wanted to use the sail to project Halloween images onto it; including our very own floating skulls effect.

Step 1: Plans and Items

Fabric is expensive, and cheap substitutes are not readily available in these dimensions so we plopped 60$ on 20 meters beige rip-stop. I had the tent poles from a failed project (giant smoke ring cannon). I had most of the other items on hand.
  1. 10 meters of 2 meter wide fabric (60$) (we doubled up 20m)
  2. 3 tent poles (≈5m, 5m and 3m in length)
  3. Brown paint or stain
  4. Wide sharpie marker
  5. 1/8 inch steel bar (5 inches)
  6. 8 foot long 2 by 4 (mast)
  7. Scrap wood to make the base of the mast (including bamboo, or broom stick for the flag pole)
  8. Wide bucket for crow's nest (6$ at dollar store)
  9. Pirate flag
  10. White bed sheet
  11. Closet rod
  12. Projector

Step 2: Cut and Sew the Fabric

The shape of the cut fabric is basically a cross section of a boat, not really any potential pitfalls. The length of the pieces is limited by the length of your tent poles, the keel length can be adjusted by shortening the third tent pole to the necessary length. To shorten the tent pole just pull the pieces apart, use some vice grips or extra hands to hold the elastic so it doesn't escape back into the pole, and tie a few granny knots. I tied off both sections to save the other half for any future projects.

See the notes on the figure below to see what types of seam are necessary.

Step 3: Plank-Up the Fabric

I tried a few technique to get a wood grain texture on a big scale. I ended up using a foam roller with some string wrapped around it. If you apply very light pressure the string transfers the paint and makes some interesting stripes. As with all painting, start in a corner where your errors wont show as much. After the paint dried I recruited my girls to help me draw the contacts between planks.

Step 4: Joiner Pin

Bend the end of the 1/8 inch rod to leave about a one inch straight end. Cut off the other end of the bar to make a boomerang shape with about 70º angle and two one inch ends. Cut another end of the rod about one inch in length, weld the whole thing together.

If you don't have a welder, than you can probably duct tape something together.

Step 5: The Mast

I used pieces of scrap wood to make the mast. I made sure to have a wide and stiff base (1 meter round with strong angle supports). Remember this will have an actual sail attached to it!

I also attached a crows nest complete with pirate flag and skeleton pirate; although I am not sure anyone noticed.

Step 6: The Sail

Bed sheets tend to have some very pronounced creases. If it is store-bought, then a washing cycle will help get those "made in China" (or Bangladesh) folds out. A quick iron will help get a nice substrate to project onto. I was going to use a piece of wood to hang the sail from, but ended up using a closet rod, which has the advantage of being lighter and extendable. I checked the length I needed and put a couple rounds of packing tape where the two ends met. I taped the bed sheet to the rod in four places before rolling it to ensure that the ends did not unfurl in the wind. After making sure the rod was centered, I then simply used some 2 inch nails on either side, and bent them over to hold it into place. I wasn't sure that it would hold fast, but it was good enough. 

Step 7: Setup

Check out the image below to see how we set it up. I expected that extra support would have been necessary to hold up the keel, but the base of the tent pole dug-in enough with the tension from the back to hold it all together. Two dining room chairs were used to prop up the sides of the ship. I used PowerPoint to show a series of animated gifs I found on Tumblr as well as the floating skulls video we made.

This was a very fun project that is sure to be used at least once a year!!!



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    10 Discussions

    Maybe I can help... have a look at my animatronic chicken. Hehehe, every pirate needs one :P

    It was made as part of a machine featured in Beauty and the Beast here a couple of years ago. I built a BIG car with a ship's wheel, smoke ring cannon, huge gears, explosions... and a chicken :P Thanks for looking!


    5 years ago

    That rarity IS what makes Halloween so great.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Very nicely done! Love the rip stop, paint technique, and tent pole combo... It really is a fantastic effect.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, I just put it away, and it fit snug in the bottom of a plastic bin! We are very happy with the results.