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What thickness rigging cord do I need?

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Now that I shall start thinking of rigging of my build, a wooden ketch Clara May which is in scale 1/48, I am totally confused about the thicknesses of the cords and threads which I need. I would like to place my order for all necessary cords at the same time, but what to order? There are hundreds of different materials and thicknesses available, but which of them to choose?



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That's a real good question, one that I cannot answer. Have you tried contacting Chuck @ Syren? I'm sure if you asked him he would be able to help you. He is the resident expert on rigging rope and his rope is fantastic.

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Although it is a little before the time period for the Clara May, David Steels The Art of Rigging gives a table of rigging dimensions for fore and aft rigged schooners of about 100 tons.  It may be a good starting point in your research.



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Current Build:  Le Soleil Royal

Completed Build Amerigo Vespucci

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In addition to Steel,  Lees Masting and Rigging  is also a consideration as he makes mention that all line sizes are appropriate for all rates for all time periods in the book which is a little before 1891 for Clara May.  With only a few exceptions such as ratlines and brails which are pointed out with given dimensions, the line sizes  are given as circumferences and are proportional based on the size of the appropriate mast stay and these were found in comparison to the lower stays which in turn are given in ratio size compared to the lower masts. While this may seem daunting it is easy to get the hang of it quickly.  I rarely rig, but when I have done so, I do all the calculations and write them down then write the scale size circumference then calculate the diameter.  That was  I have an idea on what line sizes Iwill need and how much of each.  Note that you will not be able to get exact scale circumferences/diameters as there are only so many line sizes that can be purchased, but will be close.




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I think about mid 19th century - steel cable started being used.  It migrated starting with the large commercial vessels and over time got to some of the small independents.  The metal would have smaller dimensions than fiber rigging. 


Another part that confuses me is the dimensions the rigging tables refer to.  For modelers, it is easier to measure diameter,  for full size line, I think they used circumference.  There is a potential to be off by a factor of 3 in rope size if you don't get that right.

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HMS Ajax 1767 - 74-gun 3rd rate - 1:192 POF exploration - works but too intense -no margin for error

HMS Centurion 1732 - 60-gun 4th rate - POF Navall Timber framing

HMS Beagle 1831 refiit  10-gun brig with a small mizzen - POF Navall (ish) Timber framing

The U.S. Ex. Ex. 1838-1842
Flying Fish 1838  pilot schooner - POF framed - ready for stern timbers
Porpose II  1836  brigantine/brig - POF framed - ready for hawse and stern timbers
Vincennes  1825  Sloop-of-War  - POF timbers assembled, need shaping
Peacock  1828  Sloop-of -War  - POF timbers ready for assembly
Sea Gull  1838  pilot schooner - POF timbers ready for assembly
Relief  1835 packet hull USN ship - POF timbers ready for assembly


Portsmouth  1843  Sloop-of-War  - POF timbers ready for assembly
Le Commerce de Marseilles  1788   118 cannons - POF framed

La Renommee 1744 Frigate - POF framed - ready for hawse and stern timbers


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Producing rope to match all the correct required sizes is not a simple matter - at least not for me.  Some up front work is required.  The process I have used in the past and am now into for Young America may be helpful to you:


The first order of business is to produce a rigging list that among other things specifies the size and type of every line.  Sizes can come from Steel, Lees, Underhill, drawings or other depending on the era and type of ship.  Although this may reveal the need for chain or wire, I will stick to rope.


From this, develop a list of all the sizes needed, whether the rope is right or left hand.  You may also want to distinguish 3 vs. 4 strand, but I find this hard to differentiate on models without close examination.  I assume you will be making your own rope and are able to turn out consistent sizes for a given recipe.


Rope sizes are given in circumference.  Divide this by 3.14 to get rope diameter. Convert the scale diameters to actual measure and add this data to your list.


Then determine the material you will use.  I prefer linen for hardness and stretch resistance, but good linen is almost impossible to get since Barbour closed their operations in Lisburn, Ireland. Some of their business was picked up by Coats, but the quality does not seem as good and the most usable size (100) is no longer (?) made.  There may be good lacemaking linen available and I would love to hear about sources, but I have found quality wanting.  Only the very best quality linen is free of fuzz and slubs (bumps of fiber).  This leaves cotton, which commonly used by many modelers.  I have not used cotton, but expect to use it on some smaller YA running rigging.  Use long staple (Egyption) cotton to reduce stretching. I used mercerized cotton polyester on my 1:96 Victory model for small lines (<4").  It worked well and has not sagged in the last 8 years, but can be somewhat fuzzy.  


When you have decided on material get some of the smallest size available.  I use 4 different sizes of linen, some very fine crochetting cotton and some quilting cotton, which has a smooth finish.  I use white thread then stain it later.  Then start making rope.


I start by making the small sizes.  One thread times 2, 3 and 4 strands.  This yields three sizes of rope.   Two strand rope is inauthentic but spun tightly produces a better looking model rope than most plain thread. Measure these with a micrometer and match each size made against the list.  Repeat this with heavier thread, using multiple threads per strand, or using some of the small made rope sizes to produce larger (cable laid, opposite hand) rope until you have found a ropemaking formula for each required size.  You may not get perfect size matches and some made rope may need to be used for more than one required size.  The smallest sizes may required the used of plain thread.


This testing and tabulation may seem like a lot of work, but once done you will have a recipe for each size rope, will know how much of each thread to purchase and will be able to quickly crank out what you need.  I spent a week before Christmas doing this analysis for YA where rope sizes go from 3/4" to 11" and use almost every size in between - including fractional inch sizes.


Good luck.



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