Pirate Ship Helm




Make your living room into the deck of a Pirate Ship starting with with this Pirate Ship Helm - It's great for photo ops during your pirate party.

Step 1:

Step 2: Materials

The wheel is made from Styrofoam and the spokes are made from wood spindles. The center is made up of thin plywood and cardboard.

I started work on the Styrofoam wheel

Step 3: Cutting the Styrofoam

I bought a 4 inch thick rectangular block of Styrofoam from A.C. Moore art supply store. I marked off arc shaped pieces and cut it with a band saw. The Styrofoam is easily cut, so you could use a hacksaw blade to cut it if you don't have access to a band saw. Another method involves a hot wire which I did not try.

The arc shape pieces are then assembled into a circle and glued together. I used a water based wood glue which was not the best choice - it took several days to dry.

I used 'hot glue' sparingly to hold it together while the wood glue was drying. Too much hot glue can cause the Styrofoam to melt!

Apparently there are glues available at the art supply store that would have been more appropriate.
(lesson learned!)

This was actually the most expensive part of the project - about $15.00

Step 4: Wheel Spokes and Hand Grips

I found some wooden spindles at Home Depot that were exactly what I needed. They cost only a few bucks and had the shape that I was looking for without needing a lathe!

The spindle must be cut in half, and the ends sanded smooth.

I needed to buy only 4 spindles to make the eight spokes and hand grips.

Step 5: Adding Detail to the Wheel - the Cove Cut and Holes Drilled

After the glue was dry, I needed to make a cove cut along the inner and outer edge of the wheel. I considered using a router and a cove bit, but I decided on using a hole-saw bit. I held it on its side and twisted it with my fingers and cut through the soft Styrofoam.

The Styrofoam wheel also needs holes for the spokes to go through. I used a hole saw for this too, and a hacksaw blade to make the holes square.

Step 6: Center Hub

While the paint was drying I worked on the center hub which is a sandwich of 3/16 inch thick plywood on the top and bottom, and several layers of corrugated cardboard in the middle. The cardboard is glued together and then cut as shown to provide a place for the spokes to fit into.

Why cardboard? It's cheap, lightweight and I happened to have some lying around the shop.

The plywood top and bottom is glued together forming a sandwich. The rough edges can be filled in with wood putty or spackling compound.

(Note: I erroneously said 3/8" plywood in the video... it should be 3/16 inch)

Step 7: Filling in the Styrofoam Holes

I didn't want the Styrofoam to look like 'Styrofoam', so I filled on the holes with several layers of latex wall paint.

The Styrofoam really soaks up the paint. Allow for time to dry between coats.

Step 8: Assemble

Assemble the spokes through the wheel and glue into the center hub.

Do a dry fitting first, and trim the length if necessary.

Step 9: Painting With a Rustic Look

I painted it with a very dark brown latex paint, but I wanted more than a flat look to it, so I added touches of lighter brown paint to give it a more rustic look.

Instead of a brush, I used some electrical ribbon cable to give the paint a scratched effect.

Step 10: Mounting

I cut and painted a 4 by 4 post to mount the wheel to and attached it to a sheet of MDF using four angle irons at the base. A piece of cardboard covers the nuts.

I made a cap to cover up the Hex head of the bolt from a scrap of MDF.
I cut it with a four inch hole saw in my drill press. It is held on with hot glue.

And it's done - just in time for the party!



    • Tape Contest

      Tape Contest
    • Trash to Treasure

      Trash to Treasure
    • Jewelry Challenge

      Jewelry Challenge

    19 Discussions


    9 months ago

    This is amazing!!! What are the diameters for the styrofoam cuts and length of the wood spindles? Thank you.


    9 years ago on Step 1

    I'm using your method for constructing a ship's helm for a drama production.
    What is the outside & inside diameter of the styrofoam wheel? Center wheel?


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Great job...
    Who says big kids can't have fun??? LOL


    11 years ago on Introduction

    yarrrrr this is great matey. all ya needs is a bucket o seawater over the rail and yer there.

    8 replies
    frank farrelllennyb

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    A million thankyous... we live not far from an historic seaport and do you have any idea how hard it is to find one of these things??? Mate, you have to be joking... they just dont exist anymore. I've no option but to use your idea, but making it out of plywood and blocks of pine and glue n screws n paint

    BrianHfrank farrell

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks - glad you liked it. Let us know how your version of the helm project works out... Take some pictures during construction and post em up!

    Your version sounds like it should be more hearty than mine. Good luck

    If you get a chance please vote on the video at:

    frank farrellBrianH

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Mate, I must be the photo uploader from hell. I just can not make it happen here !!!!!. BUT if you look for me on FACEBOOK, you will see the pix we took of our helm. Really, I have tried to upload to the Instructables, but it wont do it. OR I have been doing it the wrong way. But Look in facebook. Cheers matey Frank Farrell, Kulin, Western Australia.

    Dwriterfrank farrell

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Frank, There are 248 Frank (or Francis) Farrells on FACEBOOK. Got a link to your profile? Help! Deb

    frank farrellDwriter

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    all right !!!! I have discovered the magic wand ( lol ) AT LONG LAST I AM SUCCEDING AT UPLOADING MY PICTURES TO THIS SITE YIPPEEE! Still a few to load, but for now I will sleep easier knowing I am on the right track. Will update soon Regards Frank


    9 years ago on Step 1

    Dude, that is an amazing reproduction especially when you learn it’s made of Styrofoam. And using the rails cut in half is a fantastic idea as well. All in all you made a ships wheel which is really authentic looking out of seemly un-authentic parts. GREAT Job!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    That is awesome! I've always wanted to make one and connect it to a drive, attach a skeleton to it and put some scrim in the background...

    frank farrell

    11 years ago on Introduction

    G'day shipmates My version of your ship's helm has now been constructed. I used it as a stage prop at my daughter's school graduation ball. My wife and daughter had to take the photos as I am somewhat of a neanderthal when it comes to these things. However.... I managed to load the pictures into my computer and at this point in time am attempting to upload to my site in the Instructibles...avast!!!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Yar, I have 18 real ones, but this is great for ya landlubbers who haven't plundered ships.