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Black or natural thread?


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All modelship I do in the "Nelson navy series" have a mixture of black and white/natural rigging thread. So is there any basic rules to follow here on when and where to use the different colours?

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Black for the static standing rigging, as it was tarred, and natural for running rigging. Most times, the ratlines were also tarred, but not always. I believe that Nelson's preference was to not have ratlines tarred, so the shrouds should be black, but ratlines natural rigging thread.

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Yep, there is: the so-called standing rigging (the non-moving parts like stays and shrouds) used to be more heavily tarred, so are darker than the running rigging (anything that is used to handle sails and spars), which was not so heavily tarred, to keep the lines plyable.



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Bright white should be avoided. Not only does it look “too clean” it doesn’t resemble actual natural fiber rope at all. It’s possible to find modern sailing ships with rigging that is very white, but these are all manmade fiber ropes made of Dacron or nylon, materials unavailable before WWII.




 Niagara USS Constitution 


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I run with the following scenario :

prior to 1860 and commercial petroleum, tar was obtained from conifers, with the Baltic region being the major supplier.

It is closer to dark walnut dye than  0,0,0 black.  A serious coat on standing rigging and a light coat on running rigging.

Hemp and later Manila hemp fibers are not white to begin with.

NRG member 45 years



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Here’s a photo of some pine tar out of a can. It’s very thick as can be seen and opaque. But the opacity is lessened when it’s painted onto a porous surface. It’s very sticky and very thick and viscous but it thins easily with turpentine. Painted onto some rope, it behaves enough like paint as to be brushablewith a brush or you can wipe it on with a rag. Asingle aplication to fiber rope will not render the rope black but successive coats eventually will. The successive coats eventually stop soaking into the rope and a crust is then formed and at that point it becomes opaque and nearly (but not 100%) black in color. The gloss only lasts until it dries after which point it loses it’s shine and can appear almost chalky after prolonged UV exposure. 


D15486EF-9A8B-4441-B658-8A19BF764CDC.jpegHere’s a shot taken on Niagara. Under the crew’s arm is a stay that’s been served with twine then given many coats of pine tar. The stay’s location low down on the Bowsprit means it’s often getting chafed by the sails and it’s a constant handhold for the crew. As a result it’s surface is scuffed and worn and it can not be said to be 100% Black in color, it’s a very dark brown or grayish-brown. It would only have appeared “very black” for a few weeks after its last aplication of tar. Aplying tar would happen fairly regularly as a daily chore on a sailing ship, but the tarring would be piecemeal not comprehensive. So most of the standing rig wouldn’t be black it would be this dark color.

Edited by JerseyCity Frankie




 Niagara USS Constitution 


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Thanks, Frankie! A picture's worth a thousand words. I really don't know why there's so much error, confusion, and controversy among modelers when it comes to cordage colors.  Could it be that many have never actually spent any time around sailing ships?


(P.S.: Just to avoid further confusion, the "white" or gray running rigging in the picture is apparently modern Dacron. Pre-synthetic cordage would have been of lightly tarred hemp and thus dark brown.)  

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  • 3 months later...

And one further precaution: if using the pine tar/natural fibers, etc. - make sure the NO SMOKING LAMP is lit!!!:Whew:

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