Models in Bottles

Building ships in bottles from scratch

Tools and Supplies

I plan to update this from time to time in order to provide a current list of tools and materials that I like to use. Although, to pay homage to one of the worst phrases of all time, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

As far as craft stores I only have Michael's, Hobby Lobby, and Wal-Mart's craft aisle in my area, but you might have good luck at any local craft stores in your area.

The most expensive thing is optional, or you might have another solution already: a Dremel tool. I have a Dremel 200 that I got from Lowe's or Home Depot for about $45. I also have a drill bit set for $10 that includes a 1/32" bit needed for drilling into toothpicks (Dremel part 628-03) as well as additional collets to hold those tiny bits (Dremel part 4485).

I make the hull out of wood from a craft store:

wood model ship hull

Description: ArtMinds Clear Pine (balsa seems too flimsy, never tried it). Eyeballing it, probably quarter inch thick, 12 inches long, 1.5 inches wide.
Where: Michael's has this exact product. Hobby Lobby has similar.
Cost: Two pieces for $2.50. I expect to use half a pack per ship.

If I need thin decks I use large popsicle sticks as part of the hull. The width is a great starting point for most ships. Also helpful in creating a base within the bottle to mount the ship onto:

popsicle stick

Description: Woodpile Fun large popsicle sticks
Where: Michael's, Hobby Lobby, craft aisle at Wal-Mart
Cost: Bag of 75 or so for $3 or so

Random wooden sticks that I use for random details (keel, rudder, sometimes part of the base I mount the ship on)

skinny sticks

Description: Skinny Sticks / random ass sticks
Where: Michael's, Hobby Lobby, craft aisle at Wal-Mart
Cost: Bag of 75 or so for $3 or so

I use wood glue that comes out white and dries clear, like Elmer's. In fact, I know some other people just use Elmer's. It's important that it dries clear and I think it's a safe bet that hardcore carpenter's wood glue from a hardware store is overkill. I've been impressed with how secure this glue is. When the bottle runs out I will be using the same brand again.

aleene wood glue

Description: Aleene's Wood Glue
Where: Craft aisle at Wal-Mart but you could probably get similar stuff at Michael's or Hobby Lobby
Cost: I don't remember but it was probably $3 - $6.

I use these acrylic paints, and you'll almost definitely want white and black, but I think I might try stain instead of brown paint on my next build. I use those idiotic 15 cent foam brushes and a small cheap brush from one of my wife's watercolor kits, they've been fine for me so far.

acrylic paint

Description: Acrylic Paint, any brand
Where: Michael's, Hobby Lobby, Wal-Mart craft aisle
Cost: 50 - 80 cents each. They will probable harden / spoil / melt before I use their full contents.

I use craft wire for some of the details like anchors. You might not need this, but I got fed up trying to repurpose paperclips and staples.

craft wire

Description: Craft wire (I don't know the gauge)
Where: Michael's, Hobby Lobby, Wal-Mart craft aisle. This might be the same stuff you'd find in a jewlery making aisle of a craft store.
Cost: I feel like it was $3 or $4.

You'll need some super awesome long pokey things. I like the different ends and find these really helpful for working inside the bottle to tweak sails, set the mounting base into the bottle, and more. Different lengths and shapes are a big plus; you'll never know when you need an 8 inch curvy thing instead of an 8.25 inch straight thing. I'm slowly realizing you can never have too many of these because you'll encounter so many different scenarios.

ship in bottle probing tools
Marker for scale.

ship in bottle probing tools

Description: Long pokey things
Where: Garage sales, auctions, ebay (maybe search for surgical supplies?), buddy's junk drawer...
Cost: Mine were free from a buddy who bought too many at an auction

Just some other tools like an x-acto knife, nippers, and tweezers.

ship in bottle misc tools

This is the stand I made in about 5 minutes that I use to hold the ship while I rig the masts and sails. There is a screw on the left that fits into a shallow hole I drill into the bottom of the deck. I wrap the lines of thread around the screws on the right to keep everything taut while I work.

rigging stand

ship model on rigging stand
Work stand in use

Additional items not pictured:

  • Normal sewing thread, I like a tan (windings on spars) and a dark brown (stays)
  • Sand paper
  • Ordinary toothpicks
  • Dremel 200 plus drillbits (Dremel part 628-03) and collet kit (Dremel part 4485)

I'll add, since I'm pretty excited about this Christmas present my wife just got for me, that you need a decent place to keep your shit. I had been keeping it all in a series of shoeboxes until now. I really like that the toolbox on top is removable because every time I sit down for a working session I need a handful of tools, but it's always different whether I'm painting or sanding or rigging sails and masts, etc. This allows me to load up the toolbox with whatever I need today and then carry it to the kitchen or porch to fart around with my ship. Awesome.

model ship toolboxmodel ship toolbox moneyshot


  1. Do you make sails and if so, what material do you use?

  2. I do make sails! I make them out of normal printer paper soaked in coffee, then dried. The top half of this post discusses how to make sails in detail. Please let me know of if you have other questions.

    And I'd love to see some of your work!