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Bottled Ship Builder

Thread, Silk, Rope, etc

Gwyl Blaser

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  • 1 month later...

Greetings Gwyl,


How did you find the silk fly tying thread to work out? I only ask because I won't use silk thread because it has a certain elasticity which makes it difficult to get taught lines without putting too much pressure on them before gluing. I almost always use fly tying threads, except on the largest models. Almost all standard fly tying threads are not round in cross section, partly due to being tightly rolled onto the bobbins, but also because the smaller threads are meant to lie as flat as possible on the fly body, so as not to add too much thickness to the delicate flies.


That being true in every case of fly tying thread I've purchased up to 00 size, mostly I use 6/0, 8/0 and 10/0 and even 14/0 if I can find it, it makes twisting up any semblance of rope difficult. Even twisted up on itself during the rope walk process, it simply is not round in cross section, so doesn't "lie" like real rope would. Now if one wanted to make larger scale rope one could use thread, which mostly is round in cross section. Also, most fly tying threads have very little twist to them naturally, which sort of works against rope making.


Just to prove my craziness, I often will take 10/0 fly tying thread and separate it into two, or three, smaller threads by separating bundles of threads at one end and carefully pulling them apart down their length. This is the most fine stuff I use, and mostly only use it to wrap knots around thicker threads when wrapped around something like a spar.


Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III

Ladysmith, WI

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I have had some experience with silk but not a lot.  For me it seemed to work fine, as I was able to tease the silk and split it for my desired application.  I used it for sheets on a small schooner.  I like it more for the reason that I was able to get it small enough to fit the scale.  I didn't put  much tension on it so I really can't speak to that part.


Here is a product that I have not used yet, but is seems intriguing.  http://www.jsflyfishing.com/blog/nano-silk-worlds-strongest-thread/



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My first criteria for thread is its size at scale followed closely by color. Most sewing thread is .006 inch / 0.15 mm with some special purpose thread at .008 inch / 0.2 mm and .012 inch / 0.3 mm. Fly thread is sized by "oughts" as John mentioned with 16/0 being the finest and 6/0 the largest I've seen. The sizes are only comparable to other sizes by the same manufacturer. There are no real standards for size in thread, at least in the way they're sized for general purpose use. Measuring thread diameter with calipers or a micrometer is difficult because it crushes with either measuring tool. I lay a thread lengthwise on one of the caliper jaws then close the other until I feel a slight resistance and repeat several times until I get several repeated measurements.


I greatly prefer Gutermann sewing thread because it looks the most like rope of the brands available in the US and seems to me to be less prone to fuzziness than Coats & Clark. Never use a no-name brand thread, it is guaranteed to be nothing but fuzz.



In this photo you will see Coats & Clark black sewing thread for the two topmast stays. You probably notice they are rather fuzzy

compared to the darker tan Gutermann thread in the running rigging. The lighter tan threads are Coats & Clark and I think you

can clearly see the difference between it and the Gutermann. The shrouds and back stays are black Gutermann with 6/0 ratlines.

The deadeye lanyards are fly thread about 10/0. The sails were sewn to their spars with 10/0 fly thread colored with a light tan art

marker. I had to treat the same fly thread with thinned acrylic matte artist's varnish for the reef points in the sails to prevent them

from unraveling. This brings up one downside to fly thread - it's relatively stiff causing loose ends, like these reef ties, to unravel at

the slightest touch. The stiffness and springiness of fly thread can also make tying knots a bit of a challenge at times. Above the

yard, parallel to the black stay, is the jib sail up-haul from 16/0 fly thread which measures about .002 inch / 0.05 mm. For size

comparison, the deadeyes and most of the blocks are .040 inch / 1.0 mm in diameter and the rest are .032 inch / 0.8 mm.



The main mast head with a black Coats & Clark stay, a tan Gutermann peak halyard and a fly thread gaff topsail up-haul.

Note the fiddle block, a sister block made for two different size ropes.



These four masts for another project at 1/640 scale are rigged with fly thread which will be used throughout. Here's a good

example of the thickness of a coat of paint. The topmast shrouds were rigged with a continuous thread starting at a hole in

the mast below the top, over the edge of the top, through another hole in the topmast, back down over the edge of the top,

through the starting hole and repeated for the two or three pairs of shrouds needed. I painted the futtock shrouds to match

the mast and simulated the turnbuckles (the 20th century equivalent of deadeyes used with wire rope) with a coat of white

paint. Notice how much fatter the painted portions look than the black shrouds. There's also a bit of illusion going on here

with the white.



The foremast with some basic running rigging. Here's another example of the illusion. The very pale gray lines are the same

size as the black but they don't look like they are. Also notice that the white spar tips look larger than the spar but they aren't.



Bowsprit rigged entirely with fly thread. I replicated the solid steel rod bobstay with a piece of copper wire but didn't allow

for the paint thickness in selecting the wire gauge so now it looks a bit too big..



One of the other three masts with the gaff rigged with peak, bridle and throat halyards. You may notice that I used

sistered (double) thread blocks in the bridle halyards at the bridles and eye bolts at the mast, and that the bridle

halyard line passes through an eye bolt and then becomes the throat halyard - kind of a cheat but this reduces the 

control lines needed by one at each mast. The two lines will continue through the boom and hull and out the neck.


I've been using Veevus fly thread mostly because it's available in the widest variety of sizes and colors. It doesn't seem to have the draw-backs of the brands John has encountered. Most sizes are three strand except the 16/0 which is two strand. I don't think you can tell it's only two strand - and not twisted very tightly - in the two macro photos where I mentioned using it. I have separated the two strands, as an experiment, and they measure .001 inch / 0.025 mm - finer than human hair but haven't found a need to do that but may need to for the ratlines on the 1/640 scale model. .001 inch line comes to about 5/8 inch / 16 mm at this scale.



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Hi All,


As related above (super pictures) it is not an easy process to measure the width of fine thread, because of its nature and the many gauging conventions used by manufacturers.


I picked this tip up a long time ago, not sure where. It is a small, easy to make tool that will give measurements directly in either metric or imperial units.


It works by winding a number of turns round a defined space on the tool, counting the turns, and then performing a simple division to give the diameter.


Carefully measure and mark two segments on a dowel about 6 inches long, 1 inch at one end, and 2 centimetres at the other end (or a sub-division of these measurements). Don’t use the ends of the dowel as the ends of the measured segments - start about ½ an inch in from end of the dowel as illustrated below.


Decide whether you want to know line diameter in inches or millimetres. Wrap line around the appropriate area until it’s filled. Keep the line snug on the dowel and against itself as you wind it.


Count the number of passes of line between the marks defining the segment.


For line diameter in INCHES:


Divide 1 by the number of turns counted on the 1 inch segment marked the dowel; e.g. if you count 31 turns, divide 1 by 31 to get 0.03225 - the diameter of the line is 0.03225 inches.


For line diameter in MILLIMETERS:


Divide 20 (the number of millimetres in 2 centimetres) by the number of turns counted on the 2 centimetre segment; e.g. if you count 40 turns, divide 20 by 40 to get 0.5 - the diameter of the line is 0.5 millimetres.


For best results, repeat two or three times and use the average.


If the line is treated with beeswax, stain, or other substances, then measure the line AFTER it has been treated.




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I learned the left-handed version of Alan's suggestion back when I built static ship models - same idea, but measure X turns and divide that measurement by X (I usually measured 10 turns to keep the math simple). It takes a little bit of practice to get uniform snugness of turns, but any of these methods work well enough. I'm most comfortable with the calipers but I used calipers and micrometers frequently in my work.



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  To get back to your question, i've broken down cotton thread to get thinner material for Sibs. I'd unspin heavier thread by holding it vertically with a small weight attached at the end and prying it apart with a needle as the weight spun. It wasn't my favorite activity though, and i switched to Madeira # 80 cotton for a while as a substitute before moving on to fly line. Like John i've been known to pick Veevus 16/0 apart, it's lightly spun up out of two air-entangled yarns and much easier to break down than cotton.



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In case you guys are interested ... Free Time Hobbies has an Artwox line of scale wire rope. They have it as thin as 0.5 mm. I thought about it for the standing rigging on the Preussen until I started pricing it out. At 30 lines per mast X 5 X 5.5 centimetres in length, it got stupid real quick. I'll stick to tying thread.


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The Veevus fly tie thread does have some properties that are a little bit different from sewing thread. Like fly tie silk (which is now almost impossible to find because it's been replaced by synthetics) Veevus is rather stretchy and if care isn't taken during rigging (just relying on look and "feel") stresses on spars can get severe. I've taken to using mini clothespins (about 7/8 inch long by 1/8 inch thick / 22 mm by 3 mm) to weight the loose ends of my lines while rigging. I mentioned earlier that it's somewhat stiff and can be a little bit challenging to tie knots - a half hitch or single overhand knot usually won't stay if you drop the loose end while tying the second half hitch or overhand knot. Neither is no where near objectionable, just a bit of a surprise when accustomed to sewing thread.

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Here's a wild idea I thought I'd throw out there.  I'm not sure if I'd try it myself but it makes me wonder.  Any one consider EZ line?  My understanding is that it's super stretchy.  While this is not good for standing rigging I wonder if it can be used for running rigging.  The idea being that you wouldn't have to tighten and cut off the lines in the bottle just glue them on and let the line stretch into place.  Probably a horrible idea but it made me wonder.     

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I'm not sure I would try that either, but it does give something to think about.  I look at Bob's (shipbuilder) models and I really like the realism in his running rigging.  The slight slack in his lines are very life like.   I would wonder how much the EZline would stretch?



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EZ line is available only in .010 inch and .020 inch diameter (0.25 mm and 0.5 mm) which are way too big for all but the largest stays at typical SiB sizes and scales. Most often ordinary sewing thread at .006 inch diameter (0.15 mm) is too large for reasonably close to scale running rigging. The EZ line might work as masts in micro SiBs instead of a brush bristle.


The only way to get a realistic catenary in running rigging is the way Bob does it - with stiff wire - which is not practical on our SiBs. The only place it might work is on foot ropes on yards at large SiB sizes and scales.


I attempted to get a realistic catenary in two topsail clew lines (see first photo in post #4, above) by stiffening the thread with acrylic matte varnish with only partial success and after hours of fiddling to get them to hang right. In that photo the starboard clew line has a decent catenary but the port side has a bump in it (partially concealed by the port topmast shrouds) that took what seemed like hours to only partially correct.

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Noted from the above that fly tying silk is getting scarce, so I asked my wife for some info on silk thread as she does a lot of quilt making. If you search on 'silk thread for applique', there's lots of hits. She uses YLI, which, having now examined a sample is very thin indeed. I haven't measured it yet, but its own advert states '#100' and 124 denier. Also pointed me to the following PDF on thread sizes (it explains everything except why they don't just give sizes in fractions of an inch or mm) 




I know where I'm getting my future supplies from now ;)



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Dave there is one other way I've heard of to get catenary in lines. I don't know all of the logistics to it though. Heather Rogers mentioned using super glue to stiffen thread so it appears to fall realistically. I don't know if she did that before it after the ship was inserted into the bottle. Heather if you read this can you give us more info on that technique?

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I didn't have much luck stiffening thread with ca while experimenting - it tended to break rather than bend, making a sharp kink. Decided that repairing a kink would be harder than repairing a bump. I also tried thinned pva but the result wasn't as stiff as the varnish. I'll do some more experimenting the next time I need to do lines with a catenary.

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When I built Mamoli's 1/93 USS Constitution I distinctly remembered that I used Bee's wax to achieve the proper catenary on standing and running rigging as well to eliminate fuzzes. I am wondering if Bee's wax would work here as well?

I need to purchase some Bee's wax for another project so I will experiment and report back to the group.

Respectfully ... Jeff

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