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Bottled Ship Builder

Experiments in Card/Paper Ship Modeling

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I've been intrigued lately when viewing build logs on the NRG web site, among other places. Decided I would give it a try and see how it all works. I started by viewing the vast number of CAD ship plans I've developed over 40 years of modeling sailing vessels.


I was interested in something fairly simply, but one I had enough information already drawn up in plans. I ended up settling on the clipper Flying Cloud. I drew up the plans 27 years ago for a ship in bottle model at 1:750 scale. For a card/paper model I decided on a scale of 1:350, making the hull slightly over 8" long.


I spent a little time taking the original plans and adapting to a bulkhead type of model. My original was a carved solid hull. The following images show my drawings for a card/paper model. The .jpeg images were exported from QCAD, as exports the line weights are too heavy. I have the same images as PDF images if anyone is interested.



The solid lines are cut lines, the dotted lines are where parts get glued on. The "X"'s are areas that have added thickness, to make a solid area for the masts. The waterline is not a cut line.



The rectangles outside the hull lines designate where spacer pieces would lay.

The following drawings show the spacer pieces. These were drawn before I actually thought it all out. In the end, though designed to be single pieces that slide into the gaps between the bulkheads on the horizontal dotted lines, that would make it too difficult to glue and cutting it off later. I ended up simply cutting individual pieces and gluing them in place.


The material I chose to work with as the cardboard from cereal and facial tissue boxes, i.e. Special K and Kleenex. I cut large pieces from the boxes, then cut my plan prints to fit the cardboard pieces. I used Elmer's Craft & Art spray adhesive to attach the prints to the board. I sprayed the adhesive on the back side of the plan prints and the non-colored side of the cardboard. At first I sprayed the adhesive until I saw it clearly on both print and board, then attached them. Found out after the first one that I put way too much adhesive, and it was globby and stickier than heck. From then on I just did a quick spray about 4" from both, once left to right and once right to left, and that worked out well.


I then cut out all the individual pieces and doubled them with the print side out and slid them together to see how it would fit together. The fit was tight on places, but it did go together. I found that the cardboard used was not a really as solid as it appeared. In the tight fitting areas the board collapsed inward, which resulted in places like the outer edges of the bulkheads spreading apart a small amount.


The hull shape looked fairly good, but the collapse area of the keel piece caused it to curve slightly. Fixing the problem for me was to take an extra print of the page 2 plans and glue it to a much heavier piece of cardboard. Then gluing the square areas on the top of the bulkheads over the dotted lines of the print. That aligned things nicely, but found that the heavier board base went into a slight curve. So, used a few small screws to fasten the heavier board piece to a solid piece of maple.


Since this was my first foray into card/paper ship modeling, I did not take photos of the individual parts before assembling them together. I was not at all sure that this first attempt would turn out well enough to bother continuing with the build.


The photos above show the hull after the first layer of spacer pieces were glued in. You can see a few places on the first photo where the doubled bulkheads spread apart slightly due to being squeezed where they fit onto the keel piece.



The photo above shows the hull with the second spacer pieces glued in place. I made to cut these so that the bulkheads were pushed together. I then applied CA glue to all the joints between pieces and covered all the edges.      



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Very cool, I look forward to your progress on this. I was ironically just reading some of "The Bottled Shipwright " here on the site and was surprised to find a fair amount of construction here and there out of paper or cardboard. It seems like it would be so much easier to work than wood in certain circumstances. Looks great so far!


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I have also made these paper and card hulls for many years using similar items as John but download ship plans/drawings from the internet and then resize them through Photoshop to a scale that I need for a particular bottle. I don't do this for every model as it is very time consuming and rather tedious but its just to give an idea of what the shape of a hull should look like. In the photo l-r Mayflower,PT109,Black Pearl.




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On 11/4/2020 at 5:54 PM, Donald said:

Very cool, I look forward to your progress on this. I was ironically just reading some of "The Bottled Shipwright " here on the site and was surprised to find a fair amount of construction here and there out of paper or cardboard. It seems like it would be so much easier to work than wood in certain circumstances. Looks great so far!


Thanks Donald! It is easier than wood for some things, but more difficult for others. At least working with untreated card stock so far I find it lacks stiffness where one would like/need it, but it is easier to cut. Having no grain it certainly makes cutting curved surfaces much easier, and the pieces don't split as often happens with miniature wood parts.

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Continuing on with my card/paper Flying Cloud model build.

The next step was to fill in between bulkheads and keel at the bow and stern with layers of board cut to fit as I added them. Photos below shows the results after cutting and shaping them a bit, and applying CA glue to harden them. I also started sanding the bulkheads edges to fair in the hull shape. What I found was that in many places the weaker inner parts of the board would splay the outer harder parts outward as I sanded.411394487_cardpapermodel004.thumb.jpg.3e36f0bdd097cba4bfd10bda8e92ff50.jpg324748003_cardpapermodel005.thumb.jpg.385e4644614b77bebc2267d16cb12052.jpg


I continued sanding and fairing the hull, had to apply CA glue between each sanding session. It took quite a few sessions to get the hull as fair as I could. I then cut 1/16" wide strips from the board stock to use as planks. I found that as carefully as I could, using an X-acto knife and #11 blade, the cut edges were not perfectly vertical. I used this slight angle to close gaps while planking. To do this I alternated using the printed and non-printed sides of the strips on the outside.


At the bow and stern I used larger pieces of board to make it easier to plank above the deck line. The following photos show the first side planked.



I did not use a traditional planking style, I started at the keel, the waterline and the top of the bulwarks and worked my way with as long a strips as I could. Then filled in with individually cut pieces to fit.


One thing I learned was that this cardboard was not very stiff, had to be careful when holding the plank to a bulkhead edge, as it tended to push the board inward slightly between bulkheads. I used CA glued applied with a needle to attach each plank. I then coated the entire outside of the planking with CA glue to harden it. For the second side I decided to use a different cardboard stock, one without the colored/printed side at all. I planked it in exactly the same way as the first side. Not sure why I did this, except the stripped first side sort of looked odd to me. Following photos show progress to this point.


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Hi John.

A couple of years ago, one of the members of the European Association of Ships in Bottles (EASIB) had an article published in Bottleship, EASIB's 1/4ly magazine on making SIB hulls from card and paper. This was to introduce young children to the art safely by only having to use scissors and not sharp blades. The technique was to make a card laminate hull, the 'layers' being cut to shape using reducing sizes of deck outline or hull lines and using PVA glue to stick and harden. This block when dry could be sanded to final shape and drilled as required for masts, etc.  Photographic printing paper was used to cover the sanded hull and give a nice smooth finish. The results the children produced were quite credible. 

Nice work

Stay safe all


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On 11/11/2020 at 9:30 AM, Bernard Kelly said:

Hi John

Nice work. Very precise work, but I bet it was darned fiddly. Looking forward to seeing your progress.

Best of luck.



Greetings Bernard,

Thanks! And, yes, it is fiddly for sure. Because this was an experiment, I did not photograph the really fiddly parts, like cutting all the bulkheads and such. I am already working on an improved plan, and have photographed all the bulkheads and other pieces, but that is all for future posts.

Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III

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That looks great!! 

Paper is an interesting method. I did one similar a long time ago and at a much smaller scale. Had a guy in our club show us how to make long boats with a wood mold. He put a bit of wax on the mold and placed paper over the top brushing it with water downed white glue. After it dried it could be removed from the mold and you'd have a hollowed out hull.  I took the idea and made a version of the Queen Annes Revenge. The rigging wasn't great but the hull looked good. Having done a few minis since I should try it again. 

The part I found interesting was you need to be a bit more exact. I'm used to cutting a bit big and sanding to size but paper doesnt really sand. 


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  • 2 weeks later...

Greetings All,

The work on the hull progressed by sanding down all the planking, to get as smooth and fair a surface as I could. I sanded, then applied poly varnish thinned 50/50 with paint thinner until it no longer soaked in. Waited for the varnish to dry, then sanded again. I repeated this process many times. While sanding I could see areas where the planks pushed inwards slightly, and small gaps in the finish. I used Bondo glazing and spot putty, applied with a stiff piece of styrene plastic, to cover the gaps and low spots. Again, after Bondo dried the hull was sealed and sanded. I did this perhaps 3 or 4 times before I had a smooth surface over the entire outer hull shape.


Once I had a decent hull shape I used a razor saw to cut through the bulkhead extensions that held the hull to the cardboard mounted on the maple board. The following photos show the hull to this point.



Work on this first hull progressed with carving the insides of the bulkheads down to the deck levels. I used a chisel type blade in my knife to do this work. The raised forecastle and quarter decks were reasonably easy to work, while the lower mid deck was difficult. I did add some extra pieces of cardboard to the center keel piece in the locations that would later have holes drilled to accept the mast extensions. All the deck areas were then sanded down to the deck lines on the bulkheads, a small amount of Bondo was added as the extra pieces did not quite come flush with the deck level. The following photos show the work thus far.



I next worked on making templates of all the deck areas. I used thin paper cut to approximately the right size and shape at first, then pressed them into locations and creased it sharply at each of the bulkhead extension inside the bulwarks. The paper was removed and cut to follow the crease curves. I traced these templates onto thinner card stock and tested the fit on each deck location to finalize the exact shape for each deck area.


A piece of thinner cardboard was then soaked in a bath of maple stain, to saturate it completely and evenly with color. I had tried just brushing stain on the board first, but the colorization was too uneven. Lines were then drawn on the board, spaced 1/32" apart, and the thin board templates used to trace the shape of the decks onto the stained board. These were cut out and tested to fit in their places, but not glued down yet. I also traced the outside edges of the main, lower, deck onto a non-lined area of the stained board and cut waterways for the hull. Following photos show some of this work.






More to follow as I work along.

Anchor's A Weigh!

John Fox III

Edited by John Fox III
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