Tools and Techniques

Making Turnbuckles

May 2, 2017

Turnbuckles are commonly found in scale model ships rigging.  The exact design of a turnbuckle can depend on the time period of the ship and where it was made, but generally all turnbuckles are very similar.


A turnbuckle is a metal device that allows a rigging line to be tightened.  It is basically a tube, with a ringed screw in either end.  The rings allow lines to be tied on, and they can be turned to tighten or loosen the lines.

Turnbuckles are difficult to represent on a scale model.  Many common scales are simply too small to accurately replicate the a turnbuckle, so there are a number of techniques for getting close.


Two common methods involve using wire and brass strips.


The first method simply uses wire, shaped into rings at either end.  The second method adds two brass strips, bent into shapes with holes drilled for the wire to pass through.

For many scales, either method will look fine.

For my 1:64 Model Shipways Bluenose build, I decided to try something just a little more involved.  I wanted to try using my Proxxon milling machine and some brass tubing to make it look a little more accurate.

I started with some brass tubing.  The tubing I’m using is about 1/16″ in diameter – just large enough to fit the brass rods that I have.  Both the tubing and rods can be found in nearly any hobby store – often packaged on a red or blue card.


1/16″ diameter brass tube will be used to make the turnbuckles.

I mounted the tubing in a vise and put it into the milling machine.  I’ll be using the mill to cut away the tubing on one side, creating an opening.  The opening is very small – only about 1/8″ wide.  I made several of these cuts in the tube all at once, spacing them out a bit so I could cut the pieces to length.

Without a milling machine, this could still be done.  You would simply secure the tube into a vise, then use a metal file or a suitable Dremel tool to file away the brass and create the opening.


An opening is cut into the tube using a milling machine.

Once the holes were made, the tube was removed and cut into pieces.  I made them about 1/4″ long, and tried to cut them so the hole was centered.


After being cut to length, the tubes will form the body of the turnbuckles.

Next I took my brass rod, and cut several pieces.  The exact length doesn’t matter at this point, as long as they are a good bit longer than the tubes.

I used a pair of round needle-nose pliers to bend one end of each rod into a ring.


Brass rod is cut and shaped to have a ring in one end.

The rods were then slipped into the tubes.


The rods are slipped into the tubes.

Finally, the rods were trimmed down in length and a ring was shaped in the other end, and I suddenly had a small pile of turnbuckles.


The other end of each rod is trimmed and shaped into a ring.

Of course they aren’t perfect – the opening is only in one side and they aren’t functional.  But when rigged up on a ship with all the lines, rings, shackles, etc., I think they’ll look great.


Tiny little turnbuckles.