How to Create a Ship in a Bottle

Updated on March 22, 2017
Ship in a Bottle
Ship in a Bottle

The beautiful shape and proportions of jars and bottles we see on a regular basis are often disregarded because they are such common objects.

Once the contents have been finished, they are either disposed of in the trash or hopefully, put into the recycling bucket.

If you are patient and prepared to take the time and trouble, a rewarding hobby is making a ship in a bottle. Once completed you can display it on your mantle, a masterpiece to be enjoyed by generations to come. A legacy, if you will, of time spent in patient concentration.

Preparing the Bottles

Always be sure to clean the bottles well before you re-use them. It is usually sufficient just to rinse the bottles with a warm, soapy solution. Soak them overnight if labels prove stubborn to remove.

In extreme cases, remove fragments with a pot scourer. I find it easier to put the pot scourer in the bottle and then use the handle of a wooden spoon to scour the inside.

Some liquids, particularly wine, can discolor a bottle inside. Add a tablespoon of bleach to hot water and soak overnight to take care of those stubborn stains.

A denture cleaning tablet dissolved in water in the bottle will usually remove all traces of lime. Leave for 48 hours, shaking intermittently.

An alternate cleaning solution can be made by dissolving egg shells in lemon juice. It will take the egg shells about 24 to dissolve naturally. Using the same method as the denture cleaning tablet, leave for 48 hours, shaking intermittently.

Nelson's Ship in a Bottle - Huge!

What you will need to make a ship in a bottle

  • 1 clear glass bottle at least 9½ inches tall by 4 inches in diameter, with an internal neck diameter of 1 inch.
  • 1 - 6 inch by ½ inch by ¼ inch piece of balsa wood
  • 1 - 6 inch by ½ inch by 1/8 inch piece of balsa wood
  • Balsa cement
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Fuse wire
  • Bamboo cane
  • Black thread
  • Stiff Wire
  • Small striaght pins
  • Household cellulose filler
  • Enamel paints in red, black, brown, and gray
  • Poster paints in sea blue and white
  • Tracing paper
  • Adhesive tape
  • Craft knife
  • Small paint brush

Figure 1
Figure 1

Making the Hull of the Ship

Draw deck plan X (Figure 1a) on ¼ inch balsa wood, and waterline plan Y onto the underside of the same piece (Figure 1b). Also draw the waterline plan on the 1/8 inch balsa wood.

Figure 1 shows the side and top view (profile and plan) of these two balsa pieces which form the hull.

Trim around the deck piece X with craft knife (Figure 2a), cutting vertically down, and finish shaping with sandpaper to give a smooth curve.

Model shape, tapering away underside at stem and stern, so underside will eventually fit waterline piece

Sand away deck to curve up toward stem and stern (Figure 2b), leaving forecastle and poop deck standing up 1/16 inch higher. Use fine sandpaper wrapped around a pencil for modeling.

Cut out waterline piece Y (Figure 2a) in same way, but omit modeling.

Stick small squares of 1/16 inch balsa to represent cabins, etc. (Figure 2c). Make davits from small bent pins and safety rails with 15 amp fuse wire.

Cut small lifeboat shapes from 1/16 inch balsa and stick.

Mark mast positions on deck (Figure 1) and groove deck to represent planks. Paint cabins brown, hull grey and black, with a red line round Y for Plimsoll line.

Figure 2
Figure 2

Preparing the Bottle

Clean bottle and dry. Mix cellulose filler and add blue poster paint for 'sea'. Make mixture wetter than normal so it will flow like thick cream. Using piece of stiff cardboard curved in bottle neck, carefully pour in filler, raising bottle neck as little as possible from horizontal position (Figure 3a). Leave until almost set, then model surface with a piece of bent stiff wire, to stimulate waves.

Figure 3
Figure 3

Inserting the Waterline Section

Keeping the bottle horizontal, insert waterline section Y, stern first, while cellulose filler is still unset. Locate centrally (Figure 3b). Best way is to attach bow of ship to a piece of 1/16 inch balsa with a touch of glue, push in place and press down with a skewer while you gently twist off bamboo. Use a fine brush to fleck sea with white paint.

Figure 4
Figure 4

Making the Sails of the Ship

Draw the sails in Figure 4 on tracing paper.

Square sail 'bank' (c) should be placed on fold along line X-X. Cut square sails (c) three times, foresails (a) four times and spanker sail (b) once. Cut out sails and spaces. Do not cut right to outer edges of sail, banks of square sails should be in once piece.

Cut slivers of bamboo about 1/16 inch thick for spars (the horizontal pieces for square sails) 1/16 inch longer than the width of each sail. Taper each spar with sandpaper. Stick carefully along top edge of each sail with balsa cement (Figure 5a). Curve sails out with fingers.

Cut four masts, three 1/4 inch longer than banks of square sails (c) and one 1/4 inch longer than spanker sail (b) in Figure 4.

Thread needle with long length of black thread and push needle through top center of top square sail, up around yard, knotting it to yard, and leaving a 12 inch loose end above it, then down to next yard, knotting it again, and so on (Figure 5b).

Do this so that the thread between each pair of yards is a fraction shorter than the height of each sail, to hold it in a curve. Leave loose end trailing from final knot at center of bottom yard. Loose ends at top and bottom will be used to hoist sails.

Strengthen bottom corners of lowest sail with adhesive tape, then pass needle through each of these, taking a small piece of thread with it. Tie off at sail corners, leaving about 3 inches trailing (Figure 4c).

Figures 5 to 10
Figures 5 to 10

Building Your Ship

Sharpen one end of each mainmast to a point which will push into hull. Carefully mark position of lowest yard on each mast, then cut a groove all round, about 1/8 inch from sharp point. Wrap adhesive tape from point of lowest yard down towards sharpened end. Mark deck where each mast goes and dab glue on point of each.

Push 1/16 inch into deck, taking care that masts are parallel. When glue has set, carefully bend each mast right back, holding firmly between finger and thumb as near deck as possible. They will break and bend back to deck level without snapping off because of tape (Figure 6).

Take bamboo 1 foot long by 1/16 inch and rounded, to make bowsprit. Sharpen one end. glue point and drive 1/16 inch into hull at correct angle (see Figure 1). Then cut a groove round it 1 inch from where it enters hull, so the surplus can be easily snapped off later.

Bind with thread behind groove and tie off with loop for rigging threads to pass through (bs in Figure 7). Reinforce bottom and top front corners of spanker sail with tape and fasten front bottom corner to mast 4 using thread (Figure 7).

Take thread up and tie to top corner with a length 2 feet long. Leave trailing. Bind another length of thread several times around top of this short mast and tie off with a small loop (Figure 7). Cut off.

With masts upright, take long loose thread from top of spanker sail with a needle through loop at top of mast then tie firmly to top of next mast, again tying off with a small loop. Do not cut thread, but take on to top of next mast, loop and tie, proceed to foremast, taking thread down to end of bowsprit and through loop bs there.

Now wind thread several times around the surplus bowsprit (do not tie) to hold masts up temporarily. Check all loops are well made and thread tied to masts at the right places.

Tie on shrouds as shown in Figure 8a (five on each main mast and two on after mast), passing thread right round hull. Stick shrouds with tape to hold in place.

Fix bottom yard on each bank of sails to its mast by firmly tying length of thread hanging from center point to the mast just below shrouds and cutting loose end off (Figure 8b). Yards should cross deck at angle shown in Figure 8c.

When all yards are set, drive a small pin into the deck on each side about 1 inch behind mast and fasten 'ropes' trailing from bottom corners of lower sails tightly to the pin on appropriate side (Figure 8b and 8c), to ensure sails set correctly when raised.

Pass thread from center of top yard on front mast through loop 1 at top of that mast and down through loop bs, then pass thread from top yard on mast 2 through 3, 2, 1 and bs (Figure 7 shows mast numbering).

Attach foresails (Figure 5c) together with thread as shown and tie lower ends to bowsprit, and upper thread to center of third yard down mast 1.

Inserting Your Ship into the Bottle

Fold five top sails on each mast down against bottom sail accordion fashion, making sure no yards are caught behind masts (Figure 9).

Fold masts right down backwards, carefully coaxing sails into correct position so they do not protrude too much at sides of hull, but are not caught so they will not haul up.

Get someone to hold bottle firmly. Smear adhesive thinly on underside of hull X, then holding the still unshortened bowsprit in one hand, insert mizzen mast, top of next mast and stern very carefully into into bottle, adjusting each sail's position as it goes in (Figure 10).

With a long skewer, press hull down on base, using bowsprit to ensure registration on bottom section is accurate. Let glue set.

Moisten binding and loops bs with glue, find the thread attached to spanker sail on mast 4 (Figure 6), and gently haul. This will cause all masts to rise so shrouds are tight and the spanker and foresails will assume their position.

Pull on each of the other threads in turn until all sails are hoisted. When you are sure all threads are held by set glue at bs gently twist cane until surplus bowsprit breaks off. Cut off threads as close as possible to bowsprit.

Close bottle with stopper and proudly display.

Video Shows You Steps

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Dawn


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      • profile image

        Lukas Mauch-Bailey 

        4 years ago

        The most awesomest site that you don't have to buy THANK YOU GUYS

      • profile image


        4 years ago

        It's good to see someone thinikng it through.

      • NatashaHand profile image


        5 years ago from Mississippi

        So cool I always wondered how they made these. It seems a little hard but I will for sure have to try this.


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