Building ships in bottles from scratch

December 2, 2015

Ship in Bottle 1 (part 3/3)

Let's add some details to our ship.  See those brown dots going all the way around and the three white dots up front? I dotted those with a toothpick.

I also bought some craft wire in WalMart's craft section and bent that into an anchor shape. I wrapped some wire around a toothpick in order to create a spool that the anchor is laying on and then I painted them gray. Finally, I glued these items to the deck.

model ship details
Added some dots and an anchor and stuff

Let's make some sails. There are going to be 7 of them on this design, but you should be aware that I've decided to add a square sail to the foremast, facing forward. I just cut two toothpicks to size and glued them onto the foremast. You should be able to see that in this picture:

model ship sail construction
Planning out the sails

To make the sails, soak some regular printer paper in coffee. You can dry it in the oven at like 200 F for a few minutes or just wait overnight. Once the paper is dry, make a bunch of parallel lines roughly a quarter inch apart, covering the front and back sides.

Next, you can cut the sails out of plain printer paper until you like the size you have and use those white blanks as templates to cut out from your coffee paper.

Gluing the sails on is pretty simple, but you can only glue one side of each sail at this point. On sails 1, 2, and 3 (referring to my drawing above, or the three largest sails) I glued the left side along the mast. The square sail in the front can actually be glued top and bottom right now though since it doesn't need to contort when we fold the masts down.

I made flags by coloring a piece of printer paper red using a Crayola marker, both sides, letting it dry, and then cutting out a pair of flag shapes with an x-acto knife. These are glued to the masts. The American flag was a real struggle. I sharpened colored pencils as much as possible and just tried to make parallel red lines over and over until I found a good run of them. Added some blue and cut out my flag. That's glued to the line and conveniently, the backside is hidden by the sail since I didn't draw on that side.

model ship full sail
Those little details go a long way. Oh yeah, sails help too.

Let's get this bad boy in the bottle. Here's a tip I wish I had thought about: square bottles are way easier to work with than cylindrical bottles. Having a flat base instead of a curved base would have made my life a lot easier.

You should be able to use your imagination in order to come up with a good way to mount your stuff to the inside of the bottle, but here's what I did. 

ship in a bottle mounting view
What a stupid picture

Basically I took a big popsicle stick and cut it to the length I wanted, yielding a rectangular plank. Then I took a smaller popsicle stick cut to the same length and glued it down the middle of the larger stick, like a spine. Now if you refer to the picture above, where we are looking at the bottle head-on, you'll see it allowed me to use the small popsicle stick to make contact with the bottle. That's where I spread some glue. This gives me a decently wide and flat base to set the ship on. I could have skipped all of this by choosing a rectangular bottle with a flat inside base.

I decided some "skis" would look nice, so I drilled two holes in the keel of my ship and inserted toothpicks and glued them into place. You can see them in this next picture.

ship in a bottle mount construction
Note the toothpicks sticking out of the keel

Then I made some skis that are just popsicle sticks cut down to an inch or so and re-rounded. I'm going to put the hull into the bottle and then I'm going to put those skis onto those toothpicks. I will then glue the skis to the base I made a moment ago.

inserting ship into bottle
Wow that was a tight fit.
That's what she said.

building ship in bottle
Oh yeah, you need some pokey things. This is me getting those skis on.

building ship in bottle
See those skis turned perpendicular to the ship? That's what we're shooting for. Slather on some glue, flip it over, and lay it down on the base.

ship placed in bottle
The bottom of the ship is done.

This image reminds me, and I apologize for not getting to it sooner, but you see the areas on the face that I dug out? There are three of them: one circle in the back and two that are basically under the masts' locations. Remember how we made the masts hinged with wire? You should dig out some space where that excess wire can go so you're not compressing it between the top and bottom halves of your ship. And the hole towards the back corresponds with the knot you made while you were rigging the back mast. Basically I had a big ass knot hanging off the under side of the deck and I needed a place for it to go.

Anyway, game on...

fold down model sails
This part feels like you're doing something wrong.

Remove the top half of the ship from your high tech stand and loosen the threads that are holding everything tight. Fold down the main mast, then the foremast. Let the biggest sails hang over the side of the hull, it's okay. 

insert ship into bottle
Giving birth in reverse

Now, with one swift move and minimal thinking, just jam everything into the bottle. Or do the opposite, your choice. A little side to side wiggling goes a long way. Make sure the bowsprit is facing the opening. You probably should have made sure of that when you put the bottom half in the bottle now that I think about it.

You're reading a guide from an absolute amateur and you're about to pay for it now. Should you put glue on the top face of the bottom of the hull before you try to get the top half in the bottle? I don't know. Probably. But that's not how I did it. I'll probably be refining this crucial moment during my next build.

building ship in bottle
You'll need to fix your sails. Pants are optional.

Once the top and bottom halves are securely glued (as in, the glue is dry enough that you trust it) you can pull the threads to erect the masts to their final positions and tape them to the outside of the bottle temporarily. Then fix the sails and/or make whatever other adjustments you need to. Maybe you want to glue the other sides of the sails at this point. Maybe they're fine already. 

Once you're done with this session, put some glue on the thread running through the bowsprit. Do this on the top of the bowsprit. Tomorrow morning, pull off the tape holding those threads and make sure the glue held. If so, use a razor blade to cut off the excess thread at the bottom of the bowsprit.

Cork your bottle, Windex it, show people, and start your next one.

I sincerely hope that I've helped someone by taking the time to type all this out. Please feel free to ask for any clarifications or post any other comments.

model ship in bottle
I didn't really like that netting, but it came on the bottle.

ship in a bottle finished
I finally ditched the netting. I'll make a stand eventually but I'm too excited to start my next ship in a bottle project.


  1. This is really nice. Thank you. I am going to attempt making my first ship in the coming week and this will be my advice centre.

    1. I'm so glad to hear that, that's exactly why I made this site! Please if you have any questions, ask away.

      I'd love to follow your progress or at least see the end result. Good luck.