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Ship Rigging with Nylon Mono-filament
by Bob LaPadura

Quite a few people have asked me how I do my ship rigging. This is a brief description of the technique I’ve picked up from some very helpful modelers. As always, this is how I do it, you may disagree with it, but it’s what works for me. So, use this as you see fit.

List of tools and supplies:

1. Different grades of nylon mono-filament – Invisible sewing thread for 1/350 and larger, one to two pound clear fishing line for 1/700. The fishing line can be purchased at any good sporting goods store and the Invisible thread from any crafts store or any store with sewing supplies. Don’t use cotton sewing thread, as this will change considerably depending on the humidity. Also, because it’s opaque, it appears more like 12" cable rather than _"wire in scale. Many people use stretched sprue, but I’ve found this to be way too fragile and difficult to keep a consistence width.

2. Ceramic wire purchased from Precision Enterprises in Vermont. This is excellent for mast spars and other supporting wires which are thicker than rigging in real life. Extremely thin and resilient. It can take a lot of abuse.

3. Thin set CA (Cynoacrylic or Super Glue) and zip kicker.

4. A set of locking tweezers, needlenose tweezers, and small scissors.

5. A piece of thin wire or stretched sprue, or other CA applicator.

6. A set of small twist drills. These can be found in some hobby stores or from the MicroMark catalog.

7. Some reference material, either plans or pictures. The final product doesn’t need to be perfect (especially in 1/700 scale), but should convey the general layout of the real rigging.

8. A bottle of acetone or other CA debonder. Don’t use nail polish remover, as the concentration of acetone is too low to debond CA glued pieces (or fingers!)

First, I’ve always saved the rigging as my final step, after the ship has been built and painted. The main problems I’ve run into, is that fingers looking for support will enviably find photoetch to lean on. Some people rig before some of the more exposed railing has been applied, as on the main deck for instance. I think this creates other problems, and instead I try to be EXTREMELY cautious of what I’m leaning on. Also, rigging is easier to do if the model is attached to a board, or in some way anchored so that it doesn’t move around. Generally speaking, the less you handle a model, the better off you are. If you’re not ready to mount it permanently, mount it to a piece of scrap. Mono-filament is very tough stuff, and will stand up to a great deal of abuse. On the other hand, it doesn’t have the same amount of "adjustment" as stretched sprue has. Like stretch sprue, you can use heat to tighten up a sagging line, but only to a limited amount. A six inch run of mono-filament may have a 1/16" of adjustment in it, so it’s essential that the initial application be as taut as possible. If you see the line starting to kink where you’re applying heat, remove the heat immediately, you are Moments away from the line melting. Also, the thinner the line, the less heat it will take to melt. Try testing the different types of mono-filament to get a sense of how much heat they will take.

To begin, I try to anchor the rigging line to the resin or plastic deck. Quite often, lines will run from the bridge, up to the fore mast, and along the length of the ship to the main mast. Drill a small hole at point where the line attached to either a horizontal or vertical surface. The hole shouldn’t be much larger than the thickness of the line, and about a 1/16" deep. Cut a sufficient length of mono-filament; this stuff is fairly inexpensive, so cut more than you need. Position the end of the line in the hole and apply a small drop of CA to the hole. I use a thin brass wire with a small loop as an applicator. If necessary, apply a small drop of zip kicker to speed the curing process. Once the line is anchored, it can then be positioned at the next point, which is usually on the yardarm attached to the foremast. Position the line where you want it to attach to the yardarm and grasp a section of the line just beyond that point with the locking tweezers. What you want is for the tweezers to act as a weight to keep tension on the line before you glue it. Let the tweezers rest on the table with enough tension to keep the line taut. Apply a small drop of CA to the yardarm, and let it cure. Important Note: If for some reason you need to redo a step, it is essential that you removed as much of the dried CA as possible before you attempt to reattach. CA will not stick well to itself, and will take far longer to cure. Brush some debonder over the area or sand to remove the dried glue. You can always retouch the paint afterward.

Continue the process of positioning and attaching until you get to a point where the line ends. If this is at a yardarm, wait until the glue has fully cured, and then trim the excess line as closely as possible. If you’re ending at a deck, drill a small hole and measure the remaining line so as to allow for a small amount of slack and cut off the excess. Remember, measure twice and cut once!

Put a small drop of glue in the hole, and using the needlenose tweezers, position the end of the line in the anchoring hole. Don’t get any glue on the tweezers! Holding the line put a small drop of kicker in the hole. Don’t let go of the line until the CA has cured. This final segment may be a bit slack; if so, apply heat using a glowing match head being sure not to get to close to the line. Signal flag lines can be accomplished in the same way, the exception being that the line will only be running from the flag bridge to the yardarm on the foremast. You may want to use a different width (or test) of line for this, but it’s not essential. Again, cut lengths of line longer than you need, drill an anchor hole and glue one end, position the other end over the yardarm using the locking tweezers to apply tension, and place a drop of glue to the yardarm. When cured, trim the excess as closely to the yardarm as possible.

Often, you’ll see lines that attach to other lines. Again, the process is the same, with the exception of gluing the new line to an existing strung line. Stretch the line taut with it lightly rests against the second line. Put a drop of glue where the two lines cross, and then add a drop of kicker to cure. Release the line and Carefully, trim the line as closely as possible. Obviously, you Don’t want to cut the line you’ve attached to. Put a small drop of black paint on the attachment point to replicate a coupler or an insulator.

Be very careful not to bend or flex any masts out of alignment (this is one of the first things judges look for). Nylon line and CA are strong enough to bend photoetch and brass rod. If you see a mast or yardarm flexing, STOP. If necessary, replace the line causing the problem.

The last step is to check your work: Are the lines all taut; are there any pieces that need to be trimmed; are there any glue spots that need to be flatted; is there any paint that needs to be retouched. Finally…take your time. Rigging can take me two or three nights to finish. Go back and look at your work; is it busy enough. You can add as many lines as you like as long as the final result looks authentic. On the other hand, don’t overdue it. You don’t want to end up with a Fletcher class destroyer that looks more like a sailing ship!

About the author: Bob LaPadura is a member of NJ IPMS, and an accomplished ship modeler. Bob recently took First Place at the IPMS National Convention in Virginia Beach with his Blue Water Navy IJN Furutaka in 1/350, which is in the gallery.