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Bottled Ship Builder

Tapering the yards

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Hi All,

I am in the process of starting my second SIB.

I intend to use bamboo skewers for the masts and yards, etc.

I can taper the masts easy enough, using a drill and sand  paper, they taper from one end only.

 But tapering the yards, which go from big to small, from the center outwards seems to be a challenge.

Apart from just sitting down and sanding them, is there an easier way to get an accurate taper on them? 

If I had a lathe, it would be easy, but I don't.

Any thoughts or pointers would be greatly appreciated.





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It's not all that difficult to do but remember like most of our work there is a certain amount of touchy-feely that has to be employed as well as patients with yourself. This is the process that I use to make my yards. I'm sure it's not the only way to do it but it works pretty well for me.

This first picture is a standard bamboo skewer that I have in my 3/8 drill motor. First I sand it to the diameter and overall length I want my yard to be. Next picture, Then I take the skewer out of the drill motor and lay it on my print where I mark it with a pencil at the center line and at the end of it's overall length. Next picture then I put the skewer back into the drill motor and I sand the taper I want on the end.




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Hi Mick,

If you are using a drill, chuck the yard just before the middle and sand, then reverse and repeat. I don't taper mine at small scale because I don't think its noticeable and the yard is then fragile. I've also found that using a drill to spin the yard can take too much off too quickly and it breaks, so I made a jig for hand sanding to finish to size. Its reasonably quick to use. See attachment.

I use 'Masting and Rigging' by Robbert Kipping, my copy was printed in 1928 by 'The Technical Press, London' to give me an idea of sizes if the plan is a bit vague. This has tables that give dimensions for masts and yards for all types of ship, types of rig, eg schooner or square, tonnage, wood or steel, etc. It also gives sizes and types of rope and blocks. I've just checked online and its still being printed at a reasonable cost, and second hand copies (like mine) are still available.

I've dug out an example: A ship of 500 tons, length 130 ft, breadth 30 ft. The given dimensions for the main yard are 57 ft long, not counting the arms,13.5 inches thick at the middle reducing to 9.5 inches at the 3rd quarter, ie 3/4 of the way between the middle and end.

If you are doing them to a scale, eg; 1/250, then that comes down, for round figures, to slightly under 1/16 inch reducing to just over 1/32 inch at the 3rd quarter.

Given this sort of scale thickness, I don't take them down to this because they would be very fragile, just to what looks reasonable without breaking, and very gently round over the ends. Once sails are on, unless really thick, then they will look fine, especially in the bottle. 

A tip is to drill any holes before sanding/or tapering because its a lot easier on thicker stock with less chance of splitting. If very thin after sanding, then you can strengthen them with CA glue or thinned acrylic varnish.

When all is finished and rigged, the lack of a taper is not noticeable, and there is a lot less chance of a break when putting into the bottle. 

I only used it myself once, and used thin brass tube and rod for masts and yards on the Colvic Watson SIB to obtain scale size. I know this method is used on other ship models.

Hope this helps you a bit



PS   Just discovered it free as a download from Google Books    Mast and Spar

mast and spar jig.pdf

Edited by exwafoo
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Next picture. Once I get that taper where I want it I take the skewer out of the drill motor and I carefully trace the profile of that half of the yard I just tapered. That profile has to match up size for size so you may have to trace it a couple times till you get it right. Next picture. At this point I cut the skewer off at the overall length mark I made earlier from the print. Next pictures. Now here's the thing, at this point the diameter of my yard is too small to chuck up in my drill motor so I have to chuck the part up in a pin vice. If you don't have any of these then you gotta get some. Micro Mart sells them and most good hobby stores. Anyway you chuck up the yard so that the end you finished is inside and the end that isn't is on the outside.





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Next picture. Now I chuck up the pin vice in my drill motor. Now I cut the template tracing I made out of the paper I drew it on and hold it up to the Yard as I am sanding it till the end matches the drawing. Once it does, you're basically done. You might have to touch it up a little but you should be good to go.

Hope that helps you out. Good luck with your new build.

Regards Bruce





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Just wanted to touch base with you about yards and how I incorporate my making of them with my building practices, at least so far, with respect to square sails and their rigging management goes.

Some guys drill holes through the ends of their yards for their rigging purposes. It's part and partial with their building technique. I don't use that method. I use " thread blocks", at the end of my yards for the purpose of rigging. A different technique.

I have to say that I'm only just beginning to build ships with square sails so I've got a lot to learn yet about the different approaches to rigging that guys here on the forum use. But that said, thread blocks seem to work okay for me at this point. 

Here's a picture of one of my yards with the thread blocks attached.

I wrote a thread under the menu selection on Forums, called "Build Logs". Search for the tile of the thread , " Trials And Tribulations With A Brigantine, Or Beginners Paradise" , It might give you some ideas.

There is so much information available on this forum it staggers my mind. I've been exploring these endless pages for months since I joined up. There are so many techniques and tutorials and videos and references. Just keep looking at the site in your spare time. It's a wonderful thing we have here. And you'll learn so much.

Again, best of luck to you on your new venture and please take pictures and show us your progress in "Build Logs", ether as you go along or when you're done. We all learn from each other here.

Have a problem? ask a question. It works that way. We're all in this together.

Regards Bruce.


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Thank you Bruce, 

I've practised those thread blocks, you can make them incredibly small, and also either upright or  horizontal. I'm also heading toward the idea of no drilling of the yards, and only a minimal no. of holes in the masts. Mainly for strength purposes, and also it seems that most full size ships always used blocks, tied to the spars etc, instead of boring a hole through the mast.

And I like the idea of putting the pin-drill into the big drill, that makes heaps of sense!

Thank you Allan, 

for the link to "Mast and Rigging".

I'll investigate downloading the ebook. That site might disappear, and all will be lost!

either that, or I'll buy a hard copy.

I will start a thread, I want to do a bit more research first.

Thank you



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  • 1 month later...
13 hours ago, Tubjugger said:

 I rough split and then use a draw plate to size the bamboo for the spar, then taper the spar either with a slip of fine abrasive paper or with a Jacobs chuck that fits my Dremel.I also generally favor eyes on the masts rather than drilling.


This is the way I do it as well.  It's worth noting that it depends on the dremel.  I have an old one that has only one speed, super crazy fast.  If you are not extremely careful spinning a yard or mast in a dremel can send it shooting across the room or worse into an eye.  I found it way to unpredictable to sand spars at a dremels super fast speed.  If you have a dremel that can slow down the speed then it's probably alright.  I prefer a drill because I can control the speed easier and it's not so fast.  Maybe it's the Jacobs chuck on the drill that can fit most of the spar that probably really helps as well.      

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I've noticed that the hard spot you are talking about, ( I'm assuming you are using a bamboo skewer), when using a draw plate is a result of how the bamboo grows and when I come across that situation, I often times have to pick another piece of bamboo skewer and start all over again. Even though it means more work for me, cause you can't always see that that growth ring is there when you start out using the draw plate. I would rather have a nice straight mast or yard than one that has the growth ring kink on it. I'll always use whatever I got out of the draw plate somewhere down the line.

Regards Bruce

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