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Original Ship in Bottle Methods, Materials, Tools


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I've been doing some research and interviewing some older ship in bottle builders and thought I'd open this discussion up on this forum.  I'm gathering information on how some of the first ships in bottle were built in hopes of using the same materials tools and techniques and documenting the experience through a build log and my blog.  It seems to me a lot of this information is fading in time or at the very least hard to find.  I'd like to contribute another source to make it that much easier to find and keep it alive.  


Here's what I have so far.  


Wood used was mainly pine.  While not used for actual ships it had a lot of other purposes and was widely available.  Hulls were often thinner then what would be scale.  Segmented hulls were not often if ever done in older ship in bottles.  I have heard of old ships in bottles being made from bone as well.    


Masts and yards were made from either splintered wood or match sticks.  Both would have likely been sanded down with dry sharkskin.  


Glue was made from different fish parts boiled down.  There's youtube videos on this I'd have to dig around for them again though.  


Thin thread may have been hard to find but wax from candles could have been used to strengthen pieces enough to use.  Don Hubbard had a thought that Baleen from whales could have been used for thread but there's no way to know for sure.  


Sails were not common among old ship in bottles because they were harder to do.  Usually the ship was just shown with the bare yards.  When it was done they used paper or some times wood shavings.    


Sea is tricky and I think it depends on the time period.  Michael Bardet suggested that seas were made of wood in old ship in bottles.  I've seen some of the old ships he restores, some as old as 1895, and have seen how that was done.  His work is incredible I highly suggest seeing it.   http://michel.bardet.pagesperso-orange.fr/indexa.htm


Other methods for sea was some kind of putty with pigment in it.  Don Hubbard theorizes that green copper oxide could have been used as well.   


As far as bottles I found an interesting idea from an article by Louis Norton.  He says that most alcohol would have been transported in wood barrels on sailing ships so the bottles used were more likely medicine or spice bottles.  I wouldn't doubt that a sailor would keep a clear liquor bottle he picked up in port though.  Most of the old bottles I've seen have mostly been wine bottles.      


I've looked around a little bit in regards to tools.  Sailors definitely had knives and this would have been a primary tool. Other things I found were surgical scissors and Sail Awls.  Tweezers or forceps could have been carved out of wood.  I'm not sure yet on drills.  Don Hubbard uses a technique where you sand down a needle and use it as a drill. This may have been the tool used.  Shark skin for sand paper.   


From what I can tell sailors were quiet resourceful.  Just about anything and everything could have been used.  I'm sure there's ideas I haven't thought of or possibly books I don't know about.  If you have any ideas please post them.  




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  • 1 year later...

And people think it's difficult to build a ship in the bottle now! Didn't know about the shark skin for sandpaper or boiled down fish parts for glue- wonder how well it held? I have done a sea bed out of wood before. It doesn't look as well as putty but it works & it is easy to glue the ship to the wood sea. I actually did a better job with the wood sea than I did with the ship but that was my first attempt many years ago.

 Current build: Syren : Kit- Model Shipways


Side project: HMS Bounty - Revel -(plastic)

On hold: Pre-owned, unfinished Mayflower (wood)


Past builds: Scottish Maid - AL- 1:50, USS North Carolina Battleship -1/350  (plastic),   Andromede - Dikar (wood),   Yatch Atlantic - 14" (wood),   Pirate Ship - 1:72 (plastic),   Custom built wood Brig from scratch - ?(3/4" =1'),   4 small scratch builds (wood),   Vietnamese fishing boat (wood)   & a Ship in a bottle






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One of these day's I'd like to try it out.  I"m not sure how my wife would feel about boiling fish though.  :P

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