Saturday, January 27, 2018

Rigging a 28mm Sloop for Blood and Plunder

One of my reasons for backing the Blood and Plunder Kickstarter was the chance to build and rig a tall ship, complete with sails and rigging. I've built plenty of model planes, tanks and vehicles as stand alone kits or wargame models, but I've always been too intimidated to tackle a classic tall ship. The Kickstarter seemed to be my opportunity to check an item off my hobby bucket list. Besides, it was going to be a stripped down wargame version with simplified rigging, how hard could it be? How little I knew about how little I knew about ships.

Follow along as I blunder my way through ship rigging and maybe pick up a few tips, all after the jump.

You Know Nothing About Rigging Ships, Jon Snow

I'm not a ship guy. I liked that Master and Commander movie, and I've been catching up on Black Sails in between our Blood and Plunder games, but I couldn't tell a frigate from a fishing boat. I figured with a little research though, rigging a wargame ship wouldn't be too onerous.

After months of research (yes, months), countless YouTube videos, blog articles and forum posts I managed to get my ship rigged. I can't tell if I did a decent job, but I wanted to collect my research into an article to help anyone else struggling through the same process.


To give credit where it's due, Firelock Games provides a decent parts and rigging guide. They're a good start, but I needed additional detail to feel confident in my mast build.

I cut out Firelock Games sail templates and used them during the build to get an idea of where to position my booms on the main mast.
There's also a detailed post on the forums by Adam Horton that I found particularly useful. 
A decision I had to make early on was wether I'd include ratlines or not. Ratlines are the ladder-like nets that form part of the rigging on tall ships that allow the crew to climb up into the masts. Firelock omits ratlines as part of their builds, but they seemed like such an essential part of making a tall ship look "right" that I decided to include them. If you decide to include ratlines you'll need to modify some of the parts early in the build.

To accommodate ratlines I decided I'd add a third rope to the lines running up the sides of the ship to the tops of the mast. To do that I used an electric drill to add a hole to parts RP4 and RP5. 

To attach the booms (the horizontal wooden mast things) to the mainmast, you're supposed to use parts RP3. Part RP3 just didn't look right to me. I don't know anything about ships, but part RP3 looked like a compromise to allow clumsy wargamers to get they're masts assembled quickly and robustly. I took Adam Horton's suggestion to pin the booms to the mast instead. I pinned the booms to the mast, glued them with two-part epoxy and used my handy 1-2-3 blocks to keep everything level and true while it dried.

As I continued to research rigging on real ships I began to sense that maybe RP3 wasn't such a compromise after all. I thought the booms were affixed to masts permanently, but it seems booms can be moved horizontally and vertically on the mast and aren't nailed to them after all.

My Osprey pirate ship book didn't go into fine detail about ship construction, but I kept discovering illustrations like the one below showing the gaff boom only loosely attached to the mast. Whoops!

By this point I had already glued my mast to the deck of my ship, and it wasn't possible to add parts RP3 back to the mast. The only thing to do was to scratchbuild the saddle and jaws in an approximation of the way they'd look on the real thing.

I cut the saddle from a length of plastic tube, and the jaws were cut from scrap MDF.
These bits replaced part RP3.

I cut the saddle in half and glued the two halves to either side of the pinned boom.
The jaws were glued and added to the sides.

Back on track I painted the new saddles and jaws along with the masts and booms. That disaster averted it was... oh God, it was time to tackle the rigging.

Rigging the Sloop

Honestly, it wasn't so bad. Adam Horton's guide is pretty thorough. The elastic ropes Firelock provides made rigging taut lines pretty easy, and having two sets of tweezers also proved invaluable.

While simple knots and double knots worked fine when running ropes through holes (like those in RP4 and RP5), I decided to use a halyard knot in places where I wanted the rope to be centered coming out of the knot. After tying each knot in the rigging I  brushed white/PVA glue thinned with water over it and let it dry before snipping off any excess string.


Most of the ratline tutorials I found were created by model ship guys. They build rigs, tie their ratlines precisely and then affix the complete ratlines to their ships. I decided to tie my ratlines on my ship directly, modifying the tutorials to suit my needs. Here are some of the ratline tutorials I found useful:
I thought the elastic line I used for the rigging was going to be too thick for the horizontal ratlines, so I picked up some black and white thread from the jewelry section of the craft store. 

To tie the ratlines, I first created a cardboard template similar to Anton's, with horizontal lines marked every 1/2 inch or so, and a cut a notch in each edge to hold the strings.

I knotted the end of each ratline, wedged it into each notch and left a sufficient length of string I was sure would be able to reach the vertical ratlines.

Now the tricky part. For each ratline I had to loop it around the vertical ropes and tighten it without introducing any slack. The first 5 to 10 ratlines were fairly frustrating and I was sure I had made a huge mistake, but once I got the hang of it the remaining ratlines were a breeze.

First, loop the ratline around the back of the vertical rope.

Next, loosely tie a knot.
The third step is the trick, and I wasn't able to photograph it (so the Photoshop mock up below will have to do). Insert your tweezer/chopsticks/etc. into the left side of the loop and pull to the left while simultaneously pulling the loose end of the knot to the right.

Once you get the hang of it the knot will tighten while keeping the line linked to the vertical rope on the left taut. Check Anton's Wargame Blog for his description of the technique (which is where I got it).

After tying all the ratlines I coated the knots in water-thinned white/PVA glue and snipped off the excess string. They weren't museum quality, but I was pleased with the outcome.

The ratlines on the far/starboard side were the first I tied. You can see they are a little janky.
The closer/port side lines are much cleaner, a result of having gotten the hang of tying them.


We're in the home stretch now! I did a lot of thinking about the sails.
Craft Foam: I know the Firelock Games guys use craft foam, and while I'm sure they are easy to rig and resilient, they just didn't look realistic enough to me. Real sails of the time were stitched together from long strips of linen about a yard wide. The natural offwhite linen color was weathered when exposed to sun, salt and water. Beaten and battered by the sea, I didn't think the craft foam captured the look I was hoping to achieve.

Paper Sails: Another alternative was to cut the sail templates directly from paper. The templates included stitch lines showing the individual cloth strips that were sewn together to create the full sails, but I was worried a single errant pointed object would surely puncture any paper sails.

Cloth Sails: I had settled on using cloth sails, weathered with tea as seen in Chef Andros' video, but I wasn't looking forward to finding the right type of cloth or getting a seamstress to cut and sew it:
but at the last minute I discovered an alternative: sails made from silkspan.

Silkspan Sails: Silkspan is the same material used to make teabags, and in the hobby world was used to fashion the skin of large scale model airplanes decades ago. In the tutorial below you can see that it's easy to cut and glue, takes paint and remains flexible, mimics canvas well at 28mm scale and is robust enough to resist light damage:
I followed the tutorial pretty closely. I sprayed the silkspan with water (be sure it's thoroughly coated in water, you want the paint to soak through and bind two sheets of silkspan together) and applied offwhite artists paint with a roller. When it was dry I flipped the silkspan over and repeated the process. I used the Firelock sail templates to cut out each sail, edged them with an additional strip of silkspan, and drew in the lines where each strip of linen was sown together with a pencil.

I had some white string that came in the same pack as the black string I used for the ratlines. I dyed it brown using Army Painter Strong Tone and tied the sails to the masts and booms.

Final Thoughts

And that's it! I spent a long time on this project, mostly in research and planning, but the actual build wasn't too time consuming. While I need to take a break from shipmaking for the time being, I'm not worried about constructing my next vessel. For now though, it's time to take my sloop out on the water and hunt some pirates! 


  1. Beautiful work! Rigging is certainly not for the faint of heart, I rigged some 1.1200 ships and it took every ounce of patience.

    1. Thanks! I couldn't imagine rigging anything smaller, or including more of the rigging on something this size. Deep respect for those ship builders who can manage it!

  2. What an great post John! Thanks for doing all the leg work lol! I've book marked this one for the future :)

    1. Hope it helps Ivor! Good luck on your own rigging!

  3. I also found the rigging on a 1/1200 model intimidating so a huge 28mm would be frightening! But I think yours came out really well and seems to have struck the balance between being pretty and still being useful for wargaming.

    1. Thanks Stew! With one 28mm under my belt I think I have the confidence to tackle another, but I can't say I'm looking forward to it. The things we do for our hobby!

  4. They look amazing but all that fiddly work would by my definiation of hobby hell.

    Well done on getting them finished!!

    1. Thanks Riot, it definitely tested my patience at times :)

  5. Nicely done and thank you for posting your technique.

    1. Happy to help, hope it proves useful for anyone attempting a similar project!

  6. Fabulous and and a real labour a love. I learned a lot and I've been rigging 1/1200 ships for a couple of years.

    1. Much appreciated Herbert, glad I could pass on tips you might fund helpful :)

  7. Darned fine looking model you have there!

  8. Your a better man than I Gunga Din!...WOW!

  9. Inspirational as always, John. Great work...and i already fear crossing paths with this ship in one of our future games.

  10. Great work. All the essential rigging is there and I agree with the other comments a gaming ship should be beautiful and functional and this ship is both.

    If you want to learn more on rigging small models check out Its mostly ships in bottles but has some wargaming and mini models as well and lots of rigging knowledge and techniques. Keep it up. It's an incredibly fun hobby.

  11. Looks great! really do appreciate the ratlining and how it turned out!! I just started planning my Sloop so this was super helpful!

    1. Glad it helped! We're looking forward to the arrival of the Blood and Plunder campaign book, so hopefully my sloop will be riding the waves again soon!

  12. Hi! I've been thinking about getting into Blood and Plunder recently, and I've been really eyeballing the fleet deal that Ainsty Castings has. However, I have no experience in rigging scale ships, and I want to go for that slick combination of rigging and play space, particularly on that awesome Man-O-War. To make it even more difficult, the Ainsty ships don't have any rigging supplied, apart from dowels for the masts. How would you recommend I tackle that? I don't have much knowledge of ship rigging, and have primarily been looking at other people's builds. Fist Full of Seamen did the Ainsty trio himself, but I haven't had much luck with a tutorial for something like that, such as what to do with adding additional parts of the masts.

    1. Hi Kortoffel! Those Aintsy ships look great, I can see why you'd want to pick them up. I put everything I could find about rigging into this article since I had such a bear of a time figuring it out myself. The Firelock Games don't come with a ton of extra rigging beyond what Aintsy seems to provide. I think the only extra bit Firelock provides is the stretchy black rigging ropes, which I think you could pick up at a hobby or craft store. You may have to buy a variety of string to find one that works best.

      I also found that rigging techniques can be referenced from a variety of sources, both game as well as ship modelers. I'd look at some of the plans and tutorials for the Firelock ships, which should be pretty close to the techniques you'd use for the Aintsy ships (I tried to include the links I found most helpful in the article above). And since there is so much rigging on a real tall ship, you'll need to decide how much to include which looks right to you. The ship will be unplayable if you include all of the "real" rigging, so you'll need to exclude some rigging as a necessity to make the ship a game piece.

      Finally, while I was able to paint and rig one of these tall ships, it did take quite a bit of time. Before tackling an entire fleet, you might want to try a single ship to see if it's something you'd want to pursue for an entire fleet. I still haven't gotten the nerve to tackle my second ship!

      Best of luck! May your ship's holds be ever full of treasure!

  13. Great tutorial, am going for the tea stained cloth.
    So wish me luck !

  14. Very nice! Learned a lot. Thanks for this.

  15. Great post. The link you refer to for rigging is now 404. It looks like it was on forum page at firelock games. Any chance you can show some closer pictures for the rigging. Especially how it done at the back of the ship. Thanks a lot.

    1. Rats! It looks like Firelock nuked their forums. That's a shame. The lines at the rear of the ship just head through a hole in aft and are knotted to secure them (along with a little superglue to keep the knot in affixed). Is there a specific area that's giving you trouble I can take a picture of for you?

  16. Great job and great tutorial!

    From the photos it looks like you might have put grommets in the sails for tying to the masts/booms. Is that right?

    1. Thanks! I only used string for this model. The brown bits holding the sail to the mast/boom are just string dyed brown. Hope that helps!