Gene Larson's Shop Notes

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RIGGING MATERIALS FOR SHIP MODEL BUILDERS

By: Eugene L. Larson
Former NRG Chairman of the Board of Directors
Copyright (c), August, 1998 Updated December 1999

There are about as many thoughts and opinions on the "best" rigging line as there are model builders. Therefore, the following is meant to present thoughts to you on some possibilities for sources for rigging materials. If anyone reading this has additional ideas please contact me and I will include them here as appropriate.

After constructing and testing your ropewalk (see Shop Note on this web site), you are now ready to use good material such as linen to lay up the required rope for a model. The model rope laid up on a ropewalk will have an appearance similar to the full-scale rope, and will be much better than large diameter single thread material available in sewing shops. Even much of the old, out-of-production and highly coveted Cuttyhunk fishing line does not have a nice laid up appearance to it. Most of what I have from several years ago looks squashed and flattened. One caution should be noted. The number of turns in the rope laid up on a ropewalk is about half of the full-scale counterpart. In other words, if the full-scale rope has 14 strands per foot, the model rope might have only seven per scale foot. This difference is not noticeable, and is far outweighed by the better appearance. However, when doing splicing, such as an eye splice with this model rope, a three tuck splice will be about twice as long as its counterpart in the full scale rope. This will look odd, and the correction for the scale rope is to take fewer tucks.

The coveted linen line is difficult to find. It is sold in bulk to linen mills, but small bobbins are usually not available. As a decent substitute polyester, poly/cotton, and some cotton will do, but granted, linen is the best if it can be found in the thinner diameters.

In preparing for the NRG Conference demonstration I found it advisable to test different thread material in order to make an informed judgment on some of the better products to purchase. The results are given below, but first some general and detailed comments from some renowned model builders.

The following is quoted from NRG Director Phil Krol of Wheaton, Illinois:

A good alternative (to linen) is Egytian cotton, which differs from regular cotton in that it has long fibers. Two good brands of tatting thread in this material is DMC Cordonnet Special, and Anchor Cordonnet Crochet (made in Germany), generally available in stichery stores and especially those catering to the bobbin lace folks. Both the DMC and Anchor come in 10 diameters from #10 thru #100. Three strands of #100 yields .018" to .020 depending on counter weight used in twisting. They also have finer Egyptian cotton such as 80/2, 3 strands of which will twist into .010". That is as small as I go in twisted line, as any smaller, you can not see the twist, so there is no point in trying. Just use the finer material as is. This Egyptian cotton I speak of takes dyeing beautifully, and produces first rate rope, and is readily available.

The NRG volunteer for shopnote editing, W. Kelley Hannan of Dedham, Massachusetts, says,

While linen is the standard, I have used surgical silk because it is available in smaller diameters. The source is Deknatel, Inc., 600 Airport Road, Fall River, MA 02720, 508-677-6600. The last time I ordered size 600 was the smallest available. I measure that at 0.005. It comes in black or white in spools of 100 yards. It lays up very nicely. Rigs as easily as linen.

Comments by Rob Napier, former Editor of the Nautical Research Journal, former Secretary of the Guild, and career ship model professional. (9/99)

I do not have a "primary alternative" to linen. I am not a linen purist. I use whatever comes to hand that will do a rigging job well, whether building or repairing a model. This is what happens when you do lots of rigging repair. You learn that linen was not the defacto line used in ship model work. People used anything they had. In model ship repair, you have to match existing work so you learn to have a lot of other fibers around. I've rerigged models with everything from commercial fisherman's heavy cotton or polypropylene gangin (pronounced gan'-jin) line to fly tier's nylon. In addition to linen, I have used braided nylon fishing line, cotton kite twine, crochet cotton, cotton and nylon carpet thread, furrier's cotton, silk veterinary suture, buttonhole twist, silk and cotton embroidery twist, monofilament fishing line, carpenter's cotton chalk line, sailmaker's dacron cord, hemp marlin, sewing threads of all types, etc., etc., and several types of wire.

Fly tiers' nylon is very fine and strong and comes in a bevy of colors. I don't know any brands, but check with Cabela's or L.L. Bean's or the like.

Regular cotton-polyester sewing thread is ubiquitous and sometimes works pretty well for me and can be used right alongside other lines with success. It comes in a gazillion colors. It can be colored and slight fuzz can be laid down in the traditional manner with beeswax. Avoid fuzzier types.

I like working with silk because it is hard. But it is also slippery. Its elasticity lets you set rigging up taught without too much strain. I bought tons of silk from Model Shipways years ago when they first offered the silk veterinary suture as a substitute for the rapidly vanishing Ashaway Cuttyhunk linen fishing line. With luck, the quantity will last my lifetime.

Actually, the obsession with linen line surprises me. I agree that it is wonderful in the right applications. However, the passion for it works against modelers to an alarming degree. Because a modeler might think linen is better, he might go to terrific lengths to use it simply so he can say he used it. But linen is only better if it makes the model "work" better; in and of itself it does not make a model better. Because the linen which is generally available today in the United States is so poor, and because of the linen mystique, modelers tend to purchase and use poor, soft-laid, fuzzy linen thinking it is good because it is linen. Then they show the models and don't necessarily win prizes or make sales. I have not found a domestic high-quality linen line source that is reliable and that will sell in small quantities.

Modelers would be better served to study the sizes, textures, and colors of real rigging in person or in artwork or photographs so they can see what it looks or looked like on the prototypes of the vessels they are portraying. If they visit actual vessels, they should study rigging at close range and from a distance. Remember that viewing a model is like viewing a ship from a distance. Then they should look for the material that will do the right job. Look beyond hobby oriented mail order catalogs and shops. Look in hardware stores, notions stores, sporting goods stores, tackle shops, leather worker's shops, tailor shops, cobbler's shops, chandlers, anywhere that line or string or thread is used or sold for holding things together.

Believe it or not, I have occasionally found at flea markets good line on large spindles used in manufacturing. Sometimes it is slightly, meaning irregularly, discolored, which adds flavor for some types of atmospheric modeling. I have found cotton and linen and nylon thus, hard laid, no fuzz -- good looking rope-like line.

A LOOK AT THREAD MATERIALS
by Gene Larson

As has been stated there are many places to look for suitable materials for rigging ship models. Linen is not the only material that will produce high quality rigging. In fact some linen is worse than many of the alternatives

While picking up dry cleaning I noticed the seamstress area and on the shelf of the work bench there were large cones of thread. I asked where they were purchased, and I was told that they order them from a supplier. This supplier could be pursued further, but perhaps a request to the seamstress to order some cones for "ship model rigging" would be acceptable. At least it is worth a try. The various types available could be looked at on the workbench, as well as the variety of colors. It should be easy to find a thin, smooth appropriate color. The larger cone is the way to purchase thread since so much of it is used up on a rope walk. The small spools do not last long.

A NEW FIND

cotton thread

The photo shows recently discovered high quality YLI's 100% Glazed Cotton Quilting Thread (left) in 1500 yard and 400 yard spools, hard surface and unwaxed, but containing some washable starch. Twenty four colors are available, but the best are white (015), ecru (002) and black (020). They have a smooth surface, and the diameter is .008".

There is also shown Heirloom Cotton Thread (right) in 200 yard spools which is available in natural (020) and white (021). The diameter is .005" for the 70/2 size and .004" for the 100/2.

For the miniature warship buffs, shown third from right is a cone (1500 yards) of "Invisible" soft, fine (.004") nylon in smoke color (249004)

The thread is available from Beacon Fabric & Notions, South Pasadena, FL. Free catalog. Web site link: http://www.beaconfabric.com/, e-mail: sales@beaconfabric.com
Phone orders: 1-800-713-8157

Note: Neither the NRG nor the author have a financial or personal interest in this company.

 

The following table has been compiled by me based on experience with preparing a demonstration of the rope walk. The highly scientific approach; feel in fingers, a calibrated eyeball, and a single opinion, has yielded some suggestions for where to start. The point of the exercise was to determine if there is anything available that will produce the desired results.

The best approach is not to necessarily look for the specific brands listed below, but to look in many places, spend a dollar each for spools of thread, and experiment yourself to obtain the rigging you need.

Avoid the white threads. There are cream colors that are very suitable for running rigging. The blacks are all good colors, except for the shiny black. I did find some very dark brown thread that is excellent for representing tarred rigging. It has to be held next to black to be sure it isn't black. Look for Gutermann CA 02776 in polyester or cotton, color 596.

One criteria, however, is that the finer the starting thread the better the end product. Anything over .012 inches is probably too heavy to produce good rope on a rope walk.

 

MATERIAL

SIZE

MAKER

RATING

REMARKS

LINEN

.012

Old, from Model Shipways

Very Good

 

COTTON (100%)

.008

YLI Quilting Thread

Excellent

From Beacon Fabric (see photo above) No fuzz

COTTON (100%)

.004

Heirloom

Excellent

Also in .005, from Beacon Fabric (see photo above) No fuzz

COTTON (100%)

.009

Gutermann CA 02776

Very Good

 

COTTON

.011

Coats T16

Very Good

Glace finish, hand quilting

COTTON/POLYESTER

.012

Coats, Dual Duty

Very Good

cotton covered for buttons and carpet

COTTON/POLYESTER

.011

Coats T8

Very Good

dual duty cotton covered poly, Glace finish for quilting

COTTON/POLYESTER

.009

Mettler hand quilt waxed 997

Very Good

33% cotton, 67% polyester very good

NYLON

.012

Conso #69, color 751

Very Good

heavy duty

SILK

.010

Pearsall's - J.P. 210

Very Good

Chinese Twist Silk

LINEN (marked 6/60)

.016

From a large spool of unknown source

Fair

a little too heavy to lay up

LINEN

.012

Fawcett

Fair

a little rough (large spool)

COTTON (100%)

.016

Cabella 30, (France)

Fair

slight fuzz

COTTON

.010

Coats Super Sheen

Fair

Heavy Duty mercerized with Silicone, slight fuzz

POLYESTER (100%)

.009

Gutermann CA 02776

Fair

slight fuzz

POLYESTER/COTTON

.009

Mettler 137 #40

Fair

slight fuzz - waxed for quilting

POLYESTER (100%)

.009

Mettler 1161 Metrosene plus

Fair

slight fuzz

POLYESTER (100%)

.010

Magnolia Mill

Fair

slight fuzz

LINEN (marked 3/4)

.020

From a large spool of unknown source

Poor

a little too heavy to lay up

POLYESTER (100%)

.009

Maxi-Lock 32599 natural

Poor

fuzz Maxi-Lock brand

 

References

There have been articles in previous Nautical Research Journals on ropewalks, all very informative and accurate. You might want to read them for further reference.

  • 17:124-128 "How to Make Model Rope" by Harold Hahn (Also in NRG's Ship Modelers Shop Notes)
  • 28:7-8 Ropewalk by George Dukes in article "Restoration of Ville de Paris.
  • 36:98 A brief description by Lloyd Frisbee in article "A Model of 32-Gun Continental Frigate Hancock"
  • L2:102-104 Ropewalk for the Modeler by William Honey (Also in NRG's Ship Modelers Shop Notes)

Other references include:

  • The Ropery, Visitors Handbook, The Historic Dockyard, Chatham, Kent ME4 4TE, 1991, available at 1.50 English Pounds. 3.50 English Pounds total including postage and packing. Will accept International Reply Coupons (postage) for payment. Recommend writing first to confirm quantity.
  • The Anatomy of Nelson's Ships by Longridge, C. Nepean
  • Modelling the Brig-of-War IRENE, by Petrejus, E. W.
  • Ships of the American Revolution and their Models, by Hahn, Harold M.
  • Ship Modeling from Stem to Stern, by Roth, Milton
  • "Make Your Own Rope", by Huettner, Daniel F., Ships in Scale magazine, September/October 1985
  • "Miniature Rope", by Rose, Dr. Robert M., Ships in Scale magazine, November/December 1987 and following three issues.

Sources of materials for rigging are numerous. Some of them are listed on the NRG web site.

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