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Rat line tension tool


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First of all, I hope the pictures are attached to this post. It is my first try at it.


I have seen the experts tie rat lines and I am envious of their skill.


I have some experience but not much and became frustrated with the poor quality

I could achieve. I dreaded tying ratlines and almost gave up.


This might not be new but I finally stumbled on a simple idea and I am now happy with my work

[although my speed remains poor].


It is simply two pieces of square stock the size of the ratline spacing clamped in place

to use as a guide. I cemented a strip of fine grit sandpaper to one side of each square.

In clamping the squares together with the sand paper on the inside the lines are held

firm and I did not have to worry about the "hour glass effect" to the main lines. I also found

I could easily tighten the knots to secure them in place.


If you are a novice like me and have issues with your rat lines this may work for you like it did for me. 





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So simplistic it hurts, I had to tie the ratlines on my HMS Vic twice the first time I went the lined paper guide route, to tedious still had an inward pull. When I finished they looked bad and I cut them all some many hours down the drain cut them all out. I then free handed the lines I placed the bottom line, one 1/4, one 1/2 and one at the uppermost line, and eyeballed the spacing got really good, it was very quick too.


I like your idea have you tried to clamp the bottom and uppermost only then fill in???


Kudos you have come up with a keeper this buds for you :cheers:

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Great idea John.  I hope you don't mind a question.   Is your model a kit?  The reason I ask is that the ratlines appear to be rather heavy compared to the shrouds.  Mondfeld and others calls them out at about 1.5" circumference or just under 1/2" diameter.  Surely these varied from era to era and nation to nation, but probably not much. This may seem small but the linear breaking strength of 3 and 4 strand 1/2" diameter hemp rope is over 2000 pounds.   Regardless, thank you for sharing your idea!  The clove hitches are a treat to see.



Edited by allanyed
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Yes, this is a model, the Prins Willem @100:1 scale so some things are not in exact scale. 


I am quite happily surprised at the positive response to this simplistic idea.


I hope it works for others as it has for me. Believe me I am a novice and before this my rat lines made me want to give up building tall ships.


You will also find you can tighten the knots easily without moving the vertical lines and keep the rat lines nice and tight.. After I tie a knot and snug it up I tap it down to the bars with my tweezers and it seems to nest slightly between the bars giving a nice straight and tight rat line section.  If you do notice the rat lines are going up or down hill you can easily edge one side of the bars up slightly to get you back to level. I am able to use the tensioner all the way from the bottom to the top and get a very consistent look to all the lines. 


Thanks for you comments








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I have tied hundreds ratlines over a 20 year period and the first thing I realized after my first attempt at it is that ratlines do not have to be overly tight and the cross pieces should have a slight stirrup effect to it if you are looking for realism. Your rig looks promising and I will give it a go on the Monte that I'm getting close to the ratlines process now. Anything to make that process easier is a win win.




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Hey JMS, you might also try a little bees wax on the line, which will take a lot of that loose hair look out of the line and give the line a little more smooth look. I have also used aquanet hairspray on my rigging line, which stiffens it up a little and also helps with fraying. I used to use stuff called liquid tar that was sold by Model Shipsway's if I remember correctly and would coat the ratlines with it, which is what they did on real ships to help preserve the lines to keep it from rotting. But alas, they don't make the stuff anymore.



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This is an excellent idea.


I wonder how it would work out to use the paper grid and with this tool,

instead of working from the top and bottom, to do

top-bottom- middle - and then the mid point of the two open

spaces. then fill in.  This could reduce the effect of a creeping

compound error.


I am also wondering if the result would look better if the size of

the ratline rope was somewhat less than the literal reproduction

of the actual scale diameter.  The horizontal lines would then fade

into the background a bit - which I am thinking would be the way

it would have actually looked.


Looking at grid-like components - such as window muntins  and

gratings - given scale effect - would they look more pleasing to the

eye if they had reduced scantlings from actual scale?

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Mike and Jagger


I hear you. This is really the first build I have done that has any rat lines to speak of. And I

am a complete novice.


When I started I did not even realize that a clove hitch was the best knot to use. I had a mess

and it looked more like a spider web was being woven. I cut it out and started over.

Since I am still getting better I see a number of things I would do better now and I think I will cut

out the standing rigging I have and start over again.


I have a Batavia kit ready to start and that is the one I want to be in top form for.


I do use bees wax on the lines and they don't look that fuzzy even up close. I think the camera

accentuates the fuzz.


I do agree the rat lines need to be smaller and blackened and I am planning to correct that if

I decide to start over.


I worked bottom to top. I found that it worked best for me because with the knots on top it was

easy to see what I was doing and I could tap the knot down into the space between the boards

wth my tweezers to kind of set it in position and tighten it.



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My comments on size were not directed at your work. I apologize for

my wording that makes it seem so.  I was influenced by pix of

recently finished models.   I am thinking that in general,

the ratlines should be much less than the shrouds they are tied to.


Your jig is very clever.  It would also work well with a bubble level to

assist in keeping the line horizontal.


An old technique was to sew the actual ratline thru each of the shrouds

and then cover the join with a knot from a separate line trimmed off.

I had dismissed this, but with your jig and using a line that is finer than

the ratline itself to make the knot, the result may look better. 

The clove hitch using the actual ratline has always looked a bit "fat" to me

and has done for about 40 years now. Using a thinner line should fix the problem

of scale with the knot.  If the knot material was saturated with diluted

neutral pH bookbinders PVA, it should hold well and the ends trim off cleanly.


Sorry, more arm chair experimenting here.

Edited by Jaager
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To all


Bruce you are correct. I picked the strips I used because it is the width of the spacing I felt was correct

for this project. I am sure I will use different stick sizes for my next projects. I did not use a paper jig. I tried

a paper jig before and in the hands of a novice, like myself, found it to be more trouble than it was worth. And

quickly abandoned it. That said, I am sure it has merit it just did not work for me. 


I also found it is easy to 'eye ball' keeping things pretty level, and you can sight across the ship to stay even with the

rat lines on the other side. At one point I felt I was a little off bubble and simply raised the low end up off the lower knot on

the outside to get me going level again. A small incremental move you can't see can make up a difference and get you

back to what looks good.



I assure you I take no offense at all with comments like yours that are presented as observations. I like to here the opinions of others. A little secret I have is I learn more by listening to others than I do on my own. 


Thanks so much to all who commented. It is appreciated



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It is such a simple and easy solution for making the ratlines!  (and sorry to say John - I did it in exact the same way as you did  - already some years ago for my Batavia  :))


And you say you are a novice - but seeing your pictures I don't believe you... :P


Regarding the space between the ratlines we've had some discussions here the last years.  Was it a step of roughly 30 cm - or 1ft. (and many steps to get up) or was it more onto a step of 50 cm (1,5 ft.) 


The Dutch were known as a bit scrooge, frugal (well, let's say economical) and bigger steps meant quicker on top, so less time wasted - and less rope! So I go for the 50 cm.


If you use a 6 mm plank (how many inches is that?) on a scale of 1 to 72 (which the Batavia kit is) you end up with a distance of 43 mm. Including the knot and correction in level to my opinion you are pretty good in line.


If you have a 1:50 model  take 8 mm planks, and if you are building at a 1:100 scale a 4 mm plank is the right one.

Edited by *Hans*
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Thanks Hans


I have learned along time ago that there is not much really new out there. We seem to reinvent all the time.


I was sure that someone must have done this before because it is so simple.


It was well worth mentioning again seeing the response's seen here.



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