Tools and Techniques

Eye Splices for Model Ships

May 4, 2017

There are a number of different ways that lines are secured when rigging a scale model ship.  Sometimes I’ve taken a shortcut and simply tied little knots, but for my Bluenose build, I’m trying to do things more correctly.

The first bit of rigging I’m doing is on the bowsprit, and the various lines there all need eye splices.

An eye splice is when a rope is folded back on itself to form a loop.  In a real (life size) eye splice, the end of the rope is unwound and woven back into the rope (see here).  Obviously this is very difficult to do on a small scale model ship kit where the rope is only 0.018″ thick.

Based on suggestions from other modelers, here’s how I ended up making my eye splices…

  1. Wax the rope so it doesn’t get as ‘fuzzy’.
  2. Secure the end of the rope in some tweezers.
  3. Using a fine point, split open the rope.
  4. Run the end of the rope through the opening.
  5. Pull it tight and apply a little glue to secure it in place.
  6. Wrap it in smaller rope.

So, first I run the rope over a small block of beeswax.  I purchased this block a while back from Model Expo.  Applying a little bit of wax keeps the line from getting fuzzy while you work on it.  It also stiffens the line just slightly, which makes it easier to work with.


Run the line over some beeswax to prevent fuzz.

The line is then placed between two tweezers, holding it tight.  I left an extra inch or two on the end – this will be the part that we loop back.  I’m using two ‘helping hand‘ tweezers – these are tweezers that are mounted into heavy bases.


Start by securing the line between two tweezers to hold it tight.

Next I use a fine point tool (in my case, it is a scribing tool) to open up the rope.  Rigging rope for model ships is typically made from a few threads that are wound together.  I’m using the tool to get between the threads and separate them.


Use something sharp to pull apart the strands in the rope.

The next part is a little tricky, and took some practice.  While holding the opening with the tool, I grab the end of the line with some tweezers and feed it through the opening.  In actual splicing, you’d only feed one of the threads through here, and use other openings for the other threads (each piece of the rope is fed through separately).  This is where we’re simplifying the process due to the scale.


Feed the end of the line through the opening you created.

The end is then pulled tighter alongside the line until we get the loop (‘eye’) to be the desired size.

I apply a small bit of CA glue where the line passes through the opening to secure it.  Some modelers prefer not to use CA glue on rigging lines (it stiffens it), but I’m still new enough at this that I need the extra help.


Pull it tight and use a little glue to lock it in place.

At this point, the eye splice is ‘made’, but to make it look better we’re going to wrap it.  The extra line is clipped off so it ends right where it passed through the opening.  The rope is then transferred to my serving machine.


The rope is put on a serving machine to wrap it.

I’m using simple black thread to do the wrapping.  I prefer not to use glue for the wrapping, since this will be visible.  Instead I use the thread to secure itself.  I can’t remember where I saw this technique, but it is pretty common.

The ugly drawing below shows the basic concept…


I use the serving machine to rotate the rope, making the wrapping in step 2 easier.  However, you can simply wrap the thread around manually.

Here’s how this looks set up on the serving machine.  You can see one end of the thread taped to the machine, then running down the line (where it forms a loop and is taped to hold the loop in place), then running back up to the eye splice where I’ll start wrapping.


Prepared to wrap.

Once the wrapping is done and the ends are trimmed, the whole thing is removed from the machine, and the eye splice is ready to go.


The completed eye splice.