Ahoy, me Hearties! Have you ever wondered how they make those "ship in a bottle" displays, you know, the ones that look like it's impossible since the ship is bigger than the neck of the bottle? I know the ship would have to be broken up into smaller pieces before they're assembled inside the bottle. So since LEGO can be broken up into pretty small pieces too, I thought I'd try to make a LEGO ship in a bottle. I quickly learned that it was tough! Snapping the pieces together was harder than I thought since I didn't have a lot of leverage when working inside the bottle. It took me two days but I did manage to get my pirate ship inside that bottle. Below, I'll share the tips and tricks that I came up with for making a LEGO ship-in-a-bottle. You'll need steady hands, some ingenuity, and a lot of patience!
If you'd rather watch than read, check out my how-to video below:
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Step 1: Select & Prepare Your Bottle
My first piece of advice is to select your bottle before building your LEGO ship. That way you'll know how big your ship can be and still fit inside when assembled. Check the neck of your bottle to make sure that it can fit the biggest LEGO brick that you plan to use for your ship. For my ship, the biggest piece was three studs wide. For my first attempt at a ship-in-a-bottle, I went with a bottle that has a shorter neck because it would give me more room to maneuver my tools. After looking around at several thrift stores, I ended up using a BBQ sauce bottle that I found at my local grocery store. It measures about 7" long and 3" wide at the body. The bottle neck is about 1-1/2" wide. If your bottle has a label on it like mine did, you can use nail polish remover to remove the sticky glue on the bottle.
Step 2: Build Your LEGO Ship
With your bottle ready, it's time to build your LEGO ship. To make it look "impossible" or impressive, I tried to make the ship as big as I could and to fill up as much space inside the bottle as I could. But I made sure that each piece could fit through the neck of the bottle. TIP: Try to use pieces that are easy to snap together. Avoid pieces that do not have studs - they're really hard to snap on, unless they're already assembled before you slide them into the bottle.
This is the pirate ship that I created for my bottle. It's about 5" long and about 1-1/2" at the widest part. If you like this ship, you can find the step-by-step video tutorial here:
Step 3: Tools & Tips
Now for the fun part of squeezing the ship into the bottle. Here are some tips that will save you some time and frustration:
TIP #1: Assemble as much as possible outside the bottle. This means inserting as many whole, assembled parts as possible. So I started by I breaking up the ship into the biggest chunks that could fit through the neck of the bottle. I found that if I broke the ship into single pieces, it was way too hard to put them back together inside the bottle. I tried to keep the hard-to-snap pieces assembled as much as I could, that includes any single-stud pieces.
TIP #2: Start from the back of the ship, building forward and up. So the sails were the last pieces that went in.
TIP #3: Secure the bottom of the ship once it's assembled. This will make your life so much easier because things won't be moving around when you're trying to snap pieces together. To secure my ship, I attached a foam stickie to the ship's bottom, but you can also use silly putty, Play-Doh, or something similar.
TIP #4: Double-sided tape is your friend. I used the tape for holding pieces together and for moving smaller pieces around.
TIP #5: Be prepare to redesign some parts of the ship if you can't get it to fit or assemble once inside the bottle. I had to rework the back of the ship to use fewer pieces and less difficult pieces. The strings that went on the sails also gave me lots of problems, so I had to change how they were held together.
TIP #6. Make your ship as fold-able or collapsible as possible. The sails were the hardest to assemble inside the bottle since each stood on a one-stud mast and the sails were so close together that they were touching. I actually had to redesign the sails so that they were fold-able. This let me insert a whole sail unit into the bottle and then unfold the sails once inside.
You'll need some tools to help you recreate your ship inside the bottle. See photo for the tools I found helpful for inserting, moving, and manipulating the LEGO pieces inside the bottle.
Here's the list of tools I used (as shown in the photo):
A. long plastic stick
C. wooden stick with rectangular end
D. thin metal stick
E. long LEGO stick
G. handle that broke off of a kitchen strainer
H. knife with hook
I. electrical tape
J. sticky foam
K. double-sided tape
The sticks were mainly for moving the pieces around in the bottle to the right spot. I used the ruler to slide pieces inside the bottle and also for pushing pieces down. I used the edge of the ruler to secure the pieces together. I wrapped double-sided tape around the rectangular wooden stick to hold onto smooth-top LEGO pieces that don't have studs. The long LEGO brick was for snapping on pieces and inserting them in the bottle. The tweezers were for grabbing and moving pieces inside the bottle that were close to the neck of the bottle. The strainer handle, which were like tongs, was great for holding and moving pieces deep inside the bottle. I added electrical tape at the ends for extra grip. I also found the hooked knife to be really useful for straightening the masts which tilted often while I was putting the pieces together. The sticky foam was to prevent the ship from moving too much inside the bottle.
Step 4: Tutorial Video - LEGO Pirate Ship in a Bottle
Again, the whole process of putting the ship into the bottle can be viewed here:
I hope you enjoy this Instructable and please let me know if you do make your own LEGO ship in a bottle.
Have fun and good luck! :)
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