Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship


Rigging is a significant part of the process of building a model ship. It can be tedious and time-consuming however putting the effort in adds to the beauty of your finished model.


In general, the instructions on rigging provided by the manufacturers of model ship kits are fairly sparse. Whilst there are several specialised and very detailed books on masting and rigging, they are more concerned with matters of historical and technical accuracy than with the sort of advice that might help the beginner to understand the best way of going about what might appear to be quite a daunting task.

Highly recommended is a 3 DVD set available from Modellers Shipyard on Masting and Rigging. This is a comprehensive set which shows all aspects of preparing the masts, spars and yards and the rigging for a period model. For further information call our office or visit our website.

We do strongly recommend “Ship Modelling Simplified” by Mastini – it contains excellent advice on ship modelling in general and has a good section on rigging. Modeller’s Shipyard has produced the following information as an introduction to the Rigging of a model ship. The following points should be noted:

  1. This is a general guide only and is to be used in conjunction with any instructions and plans provided by the kit manufacturer. In particular, it must be emphasised that any illustrations used in this leaflet are purely for the purpose of example and may not relate to your specific model.
  2. The approaches described are not the only way of doing things and the order in which the various processes are carried out may be varied, within reason, to suit the individual modeller.

Building a model ship is as much an exercise in using the mind as it is in using your fingers and hands. In this small leaflet, we can’t hope to cover all the problems and queries that may be encountered in the construction of your model. It is necessary to spend as much time thinking about the task at hand as actually doing it. If having thought about it, you still have a problem then contact us. We’ll either be able to advise you ourselves or refer you another modeller in your area who’ll be happy to help you with “hands-on” assistance.


The rigging of a ship can be divided into two main parts:

  1.  “Standing” or “Fixed” rigging, which is used to support the Masts and Bowsprit.
  2.  “Running” rigging, which is used to manipulate spars and sails.

On an “actual” ship any Rigging which didn’t pass through a pulley block was coated with tar to help prevent it rotting. For this reason, standing rigging is often, although not always, black on ship models.

If you do want your standing rigging black, and black cord is not supplied in the kit then you can consider these options:

  1. You can purchase Black cord. 
  2. The use of black rigging “wax” gives a very authentic tarred look but it is difficult to do well.
  3. The cord supplied with the kit can be coloured using black dye or “Raven Oil” as used by leatherworkers/saddlers.
  4. Black felt-tipped “Texta” is an easy way to colour the cord.
  5. Black “Padawax” shoe colour is also very satisfactory.

When any liquid dye has been used it will be necessary to stretch the cord by hanging it on a clothesline, with weights, to prevent it going slack after installation on the model. It will also probably be necessary to use clear wax to eliminate any furry look in the cord.


This includes the rigging of the Stays, Backstay, Bowsprit and Gammoning. This is fairly straightforward and should present few difficulties. Work from the centre of the ship out and try to avoid difficult and confined spaces. A Rigging Tool presented in the Tools section of our Catalogue will be helpful when rigging. The various names for the standing rigging are presented below.

  1. Fore stay
  2. Fore topmast stay
  3. Jib stay  
  4. Fore topgallant stay
  5. Flying-jib stay
  6. Fore royal stay
  7. Fore skysail stay 
  8. Main stay
  9. Main topmast stay
  10. Main topgallant stay
  11. Main royal stay
  12. Main skysail stay
  13.  Mizzen stay
  14. Mizzen topmast stay
  15. Mizzen topgallant stay
  16. Mizzen royal stay
  17.  Mizzen skysail stay
  18. Mizzen topmast backstay
  19. Mizzen topmast backstay
  20. Mizzen royal backstay
  21. Mizzen skysail backstay
  22. Main topmast backstay
  23. Main topgallant backstay 
  24. Main royal backstay
  25. Main skysail backstay
  26. Fore topmast backstay
  27. Fore topgallant backstay
  28. Fore royal backstay
  29. Fore skysail backstay
  30. Shrouds
  31. Bowsprit shrouds (bobstays)
  32. Jibstays
Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 1

Source:  “Ship Modeling Simplified” by Mastini Pages 143 –144


Before proceeding further fit all the eye pins and rigging blocks to the bowsprit, masts, yards, and deck – also to the insides of the bulwarks if required. Cleats may be required on the lower masts, deck or bulwarks. Pay particular attention to any area which will be relatively inaccessible once the shrouds and other standing rigging ropes are in place.

It is as well to drill out the holes in the blocks and deadeyes to facilitate the threading of the rigging cord when the time comes. 

For the most inaccessible blocks, insert a short piece of thin rigging cord through the hole and glue it to itself forming a loop. Later, when you wish to insert the permanent running rigging you cut the loop, glue the new cord to one end and pull it through the hole using the other end of the pilot cord. No awkward threading


In most models, the lower deadeyes are fitted into “deadeye loops” which are inserted into gaps in the outer edge of the “Channel”. Once the complete row of deadeyes are installed a capping strip is fixed along the front.

From the bottom of the deadeye loop either a straight ”Deadeye Strap” or a  “Chain Strap” goes to the side of the hull at a lower level. The style of this fitting will depend on the period to which the particular ship belongs and also the price/ quality of the ship being built.

Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 2

There are several points to keep in mind when setting up these “deadeye assemblies”

The deadeye strap (or chain strap) is rarely, if ever, perpendicular. Rather, it should be at an angle which is an extension of the angle of the shroud which will eventually be attached to the deadeye above it. The diagram on the left of this page should make that mouthful clearer!!

 The lower deadeyes, the ones being attached at present, should be placed so that the three holes are positioned with the lowest one being the centre of the three. When at a later stage the upper deadeye is fitted, it is equally important that the centre hole is the highest of the three. Refer to the diagram on the right-hand side of this page.

Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 3
Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 4


These together with the “forestays” and “backstays” are the ropes that support the masts. Shrouds, which are the group of ropes to which the ratlines are attached, are made up in pairs with a deadeye at each end of a single rope.

First cut a piece of cord to an appropriate length and with the help of an alligator clip or a small clamp glue one end around a deadeye. This deadeye should then be temporarily connected to the front portside (left hand) lower deadeye using a wire jig. This jig will provide the correct spacing between the upper and the lower deadeye.

Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 5

The loose end of the rope then goes up, around the mast and down to the position of the lower deadeye immediately behind the first. Using glue, alligator clip and another wire spacer, the upper deadeye is attached to the shroud.  At a latter stage, the double thickness of cord immediately above the upper deadeye will be bound with fine thread as shown as shown in some of our diagrams. The “Lanyards”, made of the thinnest rigging cord, are then installed as shown in the adjoining drawing. Because on the “real thing” the lanyards were constantly used to take up tension on the shrouds they were never tarred and should not be black.

Once the first pair of shrouds has been completed, the exercise is repeated on the other (starboard) side, then, back to the port side and so on.

If, when the others have been done there remains a single lower deadeye on each side then the final pair of shrouds goes from one side of the ship to the other with a large seized eye around the masthead. In all of this, it is important to ensure that the deadeyes are in straight rows parallel with the channels and with each other.

Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 6


Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 7
Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 8


The forestays should now be fitted paying attention to the particular fittings used.  Quite commonly  “heart deadeyes” and lanyards will be used for tensioning purposes.

Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 9


These are always rigged with a large seized eye around the masthead as with the “odd”  shrouds (if any). As with the shrouds they are rigged with deadeyes and lanyards but the upper deadeye will normally be at a higher level than that of the shroud deadeyes.  


The colour of the ratline cord is grey or fawn. The tying of ratlines can be fairly tedious but it is worth going to some trouble to ensure that it is done well.  Among the points to keep in mind are:

  1. They should not be too tight otherwise they will pull the shrouds together.
  2. They should be parallel to the waterline.
  3. On the “real thing” the spacing between each row was about 400mm  so, on a model at a scale of say 1:50, the gap would be approximately 10mm.
  4. Avoid tying knots tightly until all the ratlines are in place. This will allow some “fine tuning” before placing a tiny dab of glue on each knot. Placing a sheet of white plain paper behind the shrouds will assist with gaining contrast to make the tying of the ratlines a tad easier on the eyes.
Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 10


The adjacent diagram demonstrates clearly the method best used to attach the cord to the belaying pins.

If you have any difficulties determining which belaying pin a rope is intended to go to, a good rule of thumb is that the higher up the mast it starts then the further back it finishes.

Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 11


Plenty of rope coils draped over the belaying pins provide a finishing touch. These can be made from odd lengths of offcuts. If placed into the shapes you require they can be (fixed) permanently by using hair lacquer or nail polish.


In the plans or in the instructions there should be a key or description of the size of cord to be used for various purposes. In the unlikely event that no indication is given, then the following can serve as a guide: 

Forestays & Anchor ropes – Heavy cord  

Shrouds & Backstays  – Medium cord  

Ratlines & Running Rigging – Lightest cord


Once the standing rigging has been completed you can now start the Running Rigging. You will have enlarged the holes in the blocks which are already in place. Do the same with all other blocks as you come to use them.

When threading cord through blocks, you will find that a needle threader (available from sewing shops) will be very handy. Also, a smear of super glue on the end of the cord can stiffen it and make it easier to thread. Work from the centre of the ship out and try to avoid locking yourself into difficult positions. A Rigging Tool presented in the Tools section of our Catalogue will be helpful when rigging.

The various names for the Running Rigging are presented below.

  1. Fore brace   
  2. Fore lower topsail brace
  3. Fore upper topsail brace
  4. Fore lower topgallant brace
  5. Fore upper topgallant brace
  6. Fore royal brace
  7. Fore skysail brace
  8. Fore yard lift
  9. Fore topsail yard lift
  10. Fore topgallant yard lift
  11. Fore royal yard lift
  12. Fore skysail yard lift
  13. Main brace
  14. Main lower topsail brace
  15. Main upper topsail brace
  16. Main lower topgallant brace
  17. Main upper topgallant brace
  18. Main royal brace
  19. Main skysail brace 
  20. Main yard lift
  21. Main topmast yard lift
  22. Main topgallant yard lift
  23. Main royal yard lift
  24. Main skysail yard lift
  25. Mizzen yard brace
  26. Mizzen lower topsail brace
  27. Mizzen upper topsail brace
  28. Mizzen lower topgallant brace
  29. Mizzen upper topgallant brace
  30. Mizzen royal yard brace
  31. Mizzen skysail yard brace
  32. Mizzen yard brace
  33. Mizzen topmast yard brace
  34. Mizzen topgallant yard lift
  35. Mizzen royal yard lift
  36. Mizzen skysail yard lift
  37. Gaff vang
  38. Boom lift
  39. Boom brace
Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 12

Source:  “Ship Modeling Simplified” by Mastini Pages 145 –146


Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 13


  1. Fore lower mast
  2. Fore topmast
  3. Fore topgallant mast
  4. Fore royal and fore skysail mast
  5. Main lower mast
  6. Main topmast
  7. Main topgallant mast
  8. Main royal & main topgallant mast
  9. Mizzen lower mast
  10. Mizzen topmast
  11. Mizzen topgallant mast
  12. Mizzen royal & mizzen skysail mast
  13. Fore yard
  14. Fore topsail yard
  15. Fore upper topsail yard
  16. Fore lower topgallant yard
  17. Fore upper topgallant yard
  18. Fore royal yard
  19. Fore skysail yard
  20. Main yard
  21. Main lower topsail yard
  22. Main upper topsail yard
  23. Main lower topgallant yard
  24. Main topgallant yard
  25. Main royal yard
  26. Main skysail yard
  27. Crossjack yard
  28. Mizzen lower topsail yard
  29. Mizzen upper topsail yard
  30. Mizzen lower topgallant yard
  31. Mizzen upper topgallant yard
  32. Mizzen royal yard
  33. Mizzen skysail yard
  34. Gaff
  35. Gaffsail boom
  36. Flying-jibboom
  37. Jibboom
  38. Martingale boom, dolphin striker
  39. Bowsprit
Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 14

Source:  “Ship Modeling Simplified” by Mastini Pages 142 –143

Key Takeaways

Rigging Tips for Building a Model Ship 10

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