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Preussen Clipper by Chasseur - Ship in Bottle

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Preussen Clipper - Ship in Bottle - 1:857 scale




For about six or seven years I have wanted to get into modelling ships in bottles. The last few years I have been tied up with miniature wargaming, editing a Naval Wargaming journal, and writing for another journal. There is a season for everything in life and the latter chapter needed to end.


For the last 7 months I conducted extensive research into the hobby and read quit a few books on modelling ships, reviewed a few books in my current library, and read articles on the Internet.

Books reviewed or purchased are;

  • Ship models in miniature – Donald McNarry
  • How to make a clipper ship model – E.A. McCann
  • The ship model builder assistant – Charles G. Davis
  • The Nitrate Clippers – Basil Lubbock – courtesy of ‘Davyboy’ from MSW
  • Ships in bottles – Guy DeMarco
  • How to make a ship in a bottle – Clive Monk
  • Ships in miniature (a new manual for model makers) -  Lloyd McCaffery
  • Sailing ship rigs and rigging – Harold A. Underhill
  • Ships-In-Bottles: A Step-By-Step Guide to a Venerable Nautical Craft Paperback  - Don Hubbard

Internet Articles read are;

  • Preussen German 5 masted full-rigged ship 25’=1” – Robert A. Wilson
  • The Five Masters – Nev Wade
  • Recommended tools and equipment for scale modeling – Mike Ashey
  • The Esmerelda build on MSW - Dave Fellingham
  • BonHomme Richard as a ship in a light bulb model – John Fox III
  • Heather Gabriel Rogers – Facebook Page
  • Three masted ship in bottle – Michel Bardet
  • Numerous other sites and activities concerning ships in bottles


The Build


What I have come to realize is everyone is different when it comes to modelling ships in bottles. There are 3 basic techniques however there are different styles of building and displaying ship models in bottles. My motto for my build is; “Go big or go home.” I have always wanted to model the Preussen in a bottle and to display the vessel in a carved wooden sea with painted waves and wake. The clipper is a sailing machine and the German Preussen is no exception. She is built for speed and everything about her is designed to haul cargo. The biggest issue I debated over with her initially was how much detail was I willing to model and … at a scale of 1:857 this was going to get dicey in a big way!



  • Seas will be carved from Douglas Fir
  • Hull will be carved from Western Red Cedar
  • Masts, & bow sprit from aluminum, brass and steel
  • Yards and spars from cherry wood veneer laminated and turned
  • All running rigging, rat lines etc. from fly tying thread
  • Sails from expensive paper hand drawn pen and ink
  • Bottle is to be a 1.5 Liter wine bottle for display

One of the biggest errors I see, and please this is my own opinion is … some modellers “get stuck on too much detail.” At a scale of 1:857 how much detail is really necessary to get onto a model to get it believable? I looked at a lot of pictures of the Preussen on the internet whether by; B & W photos, paintings, and various models of her. It’s all about perspective and what the eye sees. The real ship has 1260 blocks and 248 rigging screws so there was no way on this earth I am going even to try to represent the aforementioned. I’ll put some detail into it where appropriate and skip the rest.


A bottle stand


I knew I needed to build myself a bottle stand so my bottle wouldn’t roll off of my work bench. I built the following stand from some left over balsa wood and made it to fit 2 common sizes of bottles for now.




Bottle in Position, note elastic band to secure it




Some wood to carve, Western Red Cedar on top, Douglas Fir flooring plank on the bottom




My home made stand to mount the hull on to work and keep all the running rigging from tangling up.




A close up




In my next post I talk about the plans, cutting the wood up and the carving details … Jeff

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I posted photos of the model of Preussen taken by Rob Mackie at the San Francisco Maritime Museum on one of the forums here on MSW. They might be useful.



I agree with your assessment that many ship bottlers try details that come out as clumsy and/or grossly out of scale when they should choose to leave them off. Those decisions can be very difficult to make especially when the builder has to admit to himself that he can't do them well. Believe me, I know.

Even the finest fly tying thread may be too large for some of the rigging. The finest I have at .002 in./.05 mm translates to 1.71 in./44 mm at 1:857 scale. You may want to "un-lay" the thread to get "rope" that is more to scale especially for the running rigging.

You might want to consider a thinner paper for the sails. You may find the thickness objectionable as ordinary printer paper is .004 in./0.1 mm (almost 3.5 in./88 mm to scale) and better quality papers are usually thicker. Archival tissue and cigarette rolling paper are about .001 in./0.025 mm. Most cigarette papers are made with a very faint water mark; the cheap Topp and Bugler papers have parallel lines as water marks that may serve for sail seam and/or buntline details.


This is a very ambitious SiB project. I see no less than 16 lines coming out the bottle for the forward stays alone, more if you decide to include the stays without staysails. 

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Dave B., Yes it should be an interesting build and challenge my skills as a miniature model builder. I have never done a ship in a bottle just lots of 1/700 and 1/1200 waterline ship models of which I threw out when I was a teenager. Epic failure on my part as I had a lot of great models back then.


Dave F., Yes I have thoroughly studied the photo's from the San Fran museum and there is another gent in Europe that has a fantastic model of the Preussen as well. Good suggestion on your part about the thread and I never thought about cigarette paper for sails. I will experiment with that medium when the time comes and I hope to include some stay sails however ... I will ensure that she'll not be flying a full compliment as she'll be in a bit of seas to add some action to the model. Thanks for that my friend.

Blessings to both of you ... Jeff

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I figured you had seen those photos - I know you're a solid researcher - I posted that link more for those not familiar with that spectacular model of Preussen. I think you're referring to the model by Robert Wilson, it's amazing especially when you consider that it's a miniature at 25 ft. to the inch (1:300 scale). I like your plan of showing her under shortened sail in heavy seas - very dramatic.



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Hi Dave,

Mr. Wilson's model is impressive however the model I am referring to is at:


Please hit the site and then you can scroll to the right and view all of the photo's of her. The model on this site is the best I have seen to date complete with riveted hull plates, rivet detail on the masts, complete with detailing for the wire and chain rigging. The model is outstanding IMHO.


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Jeff I look forward to seeing this build.  You've picked a beautiful ship and done extensive research.  I'm sure she'll come out beautifully.    


David B - That wouldn't be John Fox III would it.  Sounds like something he would do.  I've had a few conversations with him and he finds the most interesting things to use in his modeling.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

Life has got busy, and I got a new boss at work, however I found a bit of time to move my project forward. BTW my new boss is awesome! What an answer to prayer as the old boss was a professional bully. So here we are cutting up some cedar and Douglas fir.




I put a 7" 100 tooth fine blade for finish cuts and it worked beautifully. Also a bonus was the cut off pieces for detail work later on with deck pieces, structures etc.




I used an awl and a paint stick as a push stick to eliminate any risk to a hand injury. Also hearing protection, a face shield, and dust mask (N-95 respirator) was in order.




The fir cut beautifully however cedar has a natural oil in in so henceforth a little discoloration. On the blade is the oil oxidizing. I love the smell of cedar as it's almost aromatic.




I decided my clipper would fly a little less sail and be in a moderate sea with the intent of rounding the Horn. I wanted some action and she'll have a slight list as she tacks into the wind.




Sails furled or gasketed are as follows: Flying Jib. Fore Mast - Royal and Upper Top Gallant. Main mast - Royal. Mizzen - Royal. Jigger - Royal and Course. And the Spanker with Royal, Upper Top Gallant, and Course. Rarely did a clipper ever fly everything unless the ocean was totally void of wind. In fact, the Captain of the Preussen claimed there was so much wind resistance from all of the rigging, yards, and masts that she could sail with every sail furled and stowed with a moderate wind!


Sail Plans come from Mr. Underhill's book and the rest from the Internet. I used a printer to reduce to the appropriate scale, and an absolute must conversion tool is at www.craigcentral.com and mdmetric.com. I glued up the cedar in two sections so I can start the carving of the hull. I will use Lloyd McCaffery's technique for hull construction (page 57) and his sea carving and painting technique found on page 124 of his book. Of course I'll tweak the technique to suit my artistic needs. I bought his book exclusively for the aforementioned details. Below is a shot of the plans being developed. My motto think and plan ahead here!






The next shot I show the two half's of the hull gluing up on the bench. I purposely did it this way. The center here where the two pieces are glued is the natural waterline. Also when the two half's of the hull are glued together then I have an instant center line of which to mark reference points. locate masts, etc.




I'll post more in a couple of weeks.









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I had an opportunity to get into the man cave and do a bit on my project. The first image is a couple of custom tools I needed to make to work inside of the bottle to start measuring it up for the wooden seas and clearances etc.




Next is a close up of the fiddle tool made from INCONEL ERNiCr-3 Tungsten Inert Gas (tig filler rod). This stuff is bullet proof and perfect as it has virtually no flex.




Next is my flexible template tool made from some brass rod and a clip which came from the head phones of my BlackBerry cell phone. Perfect for slipping templates into the bottle.




Next I show the filler rod tool being used to remove some water from the bottle. Final clean up will take place at the end of the build before the seas and ship is placed in the bottle.




Next up I have my templates and I show my hand tool with a piece of razor blade for cutting out the templates.




Finally I show my Douglas Fir which will be cut and formed for the seas and then carved with waves/swells/wake etc. It has to go into the bottle in 4 interlocking pieces. This is going to be fun!




I also acquired some special dental bits from my Dentist to use to carve the seas with my Dremel tool. More to come ... Jeff


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  • 2 weeks later...

Today I finally got into my Man Cave for a bit. The last week saw zero modelling activity as I was fighting a bug I caught at work. I didn't miss any time just felt like crap for 5 days!




I took some time to figure out how the hull should lay in relation to the seas. I took some advice from McCaffery's book page 124 Ships in Miniature (display and care) and figured I would put the ship in on an angle in the bottle. Also once it's built, I'll put it heeled over and off center to create tension and give the viewer a sense of movement of the ship. Also in this picture I laid out the template to show how to center the hull in relation to the size/length the fir had to be cut.




Above just a close up of what I am referring to, to get the swells and waves right, and what the seas are going to look like close to the hull if ...  I get my carving right!




I must have cut out at least 8 templates, to figure out what the contour of the inside of the bottle shape actually is? Note to self ... bottles are anything but round and flat inside!




I scored two specialized drill bits for drilling holes through masts and yards from my local model supplier. Tamiya came through big time for me. These drills cost me $18.88 for two bits. Yikes!




Below is a close up. I don't dare remove this drill till I need it as it's really small and Murphy's law is... I'll loose it before I even need it. BTW who is Murphy anyway?




Next two shots are of some ultra fine fly tying tread I got from the Fishing Hole. I'll use it for running rigging, stays, etc.






So there you have it. Tomorrow I'll head out to purchase one specialized Dremel conical bit, (the one size I actually need I don't have) to start the carving process. I have everything else I need so "time to start carving," and making a big mess, with saw dust and chips in the Cave! Today more planning of how I am going to pin all four pieces of wood together in the bottle using a string and pin technique.



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Hi Jeff.  Off to a great start and glad that you're feeling well enough to get into the man cave again.  


The drill price is sure pricey!  I've bought a whole set of mini drills for not much more than that.  The idea of putting the ship on an angle in the sea would add a nice point of interest, as would heeling it over.  She should look really good when finished.


Good luck with the rest of the build!

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Here's a source for sets of re-sharpened solid carbide drills, all with 1/8" shanks. Most of the time I use the 1/8" collet from one of my pin vises as a handle. They're brittle and will break before they bend but they're tougher than tool steel drills. 



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  • 3 weeks later...

Today I was able to get into the Man Cave and do a little work. Life has been exceedingly busy however... I am in no rush and today was affirmation of that. Jo Conrad AKA Germanus saw my post and is going to send me prints of the Preussen from Konigin der See - Funfmastvollschiff "Preussen" by Hamecher in the post free of charge! "What a true Gentleman."


So when they arrive I will have an accurate scale print to work off of. Once the prints arrive, I am going to have everything I'll need to build an accurate scale model less the math work involved when scaling down the dimensions. Also I have the last week in October off, as well as the second week in November off to get into the Man Cave to get serious about this build. The prints from Hamecher will be instrumental when it comes to the running and standing rigging.


I decided to build a quick mock up of the hull section to see how to cut up the fir for my wooden seas. I just took some balsa and built a quick template, carved it up, and threw on some paint/varnish for the photo. I like doing stuff like this to get a feel of the lines and how things are going to break quickly at this scale. The aforementioned is critical as two things were learned.


1. The sheer at the rudder breaks quickly so less material has to be taken at this area from the fir wood.

2. The stem and bow area is a bit more blunt than I anticipated so care must be taken here when I build my hull templates for the final carve. Also while I was reading Michael Mott's post on his 1:500 cutter build he came up with a unique way to carve out the side of the hull by heating up an exacto blade to incorporate the bulwarks. Love it! Below a shot of the mock up hull.




I had been debating how I was going to line up the 4 pieces of fir in the bottle and decided a trip to the dollar store was in order to pick up a cheap set of magnets.




I'll cut the plastic off to access the magnets and mate them up with a steel plate in the adjacent piece of wood and incorporate a dowel effect. Next photo shows a typical school magnet.




Next shot shows the magnet removed from the plastic cover and I am gauging up how much will have to be removed if any from the magnet as there is going to be some undulations and swells to incorporate near the hull.




So now it's a matter of mocking up some modelling clay to see what my waves, swells, and hull wake will look like, cut the profile of the fir, get out the dremel and start carving, finishing up with aligning the magnets and steel plugs/dowels for final alignment for test insertion into the bottle. Once all is carved then she'll get some oil paints applied to depict the open ocean. Also I need to build some more bottle tools and working on some ideas for scale foam and wash next to the hull. Stay tuned!


Jeff AKA ... Monsieur le Chasseur :dancetl6:





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I like your methodical and carefully thought out approach. It's the way to avoid problems later.


You might also look for the much smaller rare earth magnets I've seen in the craft section of Wal-Mart. I don't recall seeing the use of magnets for segmented components before this. 

Edited by DFellingham
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This is very interesting Jeff I will be following along, and BTW it was great meeting you in Edmonton at the Edmonton Model Ship Society.


the Magnet Idea is neat, one work of caution those ceramic magnets can be quite stubborn in not wanting to separate, my thought would be to use a bit of tin can as a mating piece rather than two magnets of even fridge magnet material which is a nice thin sheet that you can cut with scissors, and they are a dime a dozen as well. The Tig filler rod is one I shall remember.



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Dave and Michael,

excellent tips!

I'll checkout Wallmart for the mini magnets as they could save a lot of time trying to shave the ones I bought. Yes Michael is was a pleasure meeting you and seeing your work! The tin seems like a great idea. I will investigate that idea.



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Great work so far. I have built with balsa before and found it extremely soft and brittle. I think you'll find the fir tougher to carve but more durable. You'll be able to leave smaller amounts in areas like the rudder. You probably already know this though. I look forward to seeing more of your work in the coming months.

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