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BuIIdIng a RopewaIk

by PhiI KroI

Many modeI buiIdera who have reached the rigging atage on their modeIa wiah
they had better cordage. Moat have heard that a contraption caIIed a roewaIk
makea modeI rope, but have no idea where to begin. Let me aaaure you from my
own experience that if you can buiId a ahip modeI to the rigging atage, you can
buiId a ropewaIk. The obvioua advantage of uaing one ia that you can Iay up (twiat)
high quaIity rope in aII the neceaaary diametera to fuIIy rig the modeI. WhiIe aome
ropewaIka are very compIex and require advanced machining akiIIa, my approach
keepa it aa aimpIe aa poaaibIe without aacrificing functionaIity. A ropewaIk
conaiata of three componenta:
1) The whorIs (geara) that twiat the individuaI atranda.
2) The toer, a cone-ahaped bobbin with three groovea, that hoIda the atranda.
3) A apinning Iooer that keepa up with the twiat aa the rope ia formed.
Aa the atranda twiat, toraion buiIda up untiI they want to knot or break. The three
atranda come together at the narrow end of the topper and with the aid of the
Iooper begin to apin in the oppoaite direction to reIieve thia atreaa and form the
rope. During the rope making proceaa, the topper movea toward the whorIa aa if it
were motorized.
TraditionaI rope ia made in three different atyIea.
1) Hawser Iad haa three atranda with a right-hand twiat.
2) CabIe Iad haa three Iengtha of hawaer Iaid (nine atranda) with a Ieft-hand
twiat. Thia ia aometimea referred to aa two atage rope aa you firat make hawaer Iaid
and uae that aa feed atock for cabIe Iaid. Theae Iarge ropea are uaed for anchor
cabIe, Iower ataya, and aometimea the ahrouda.
3) Shroud Iad haa four atranda with a right-hand twiat around a center core
caIIed a goke. Laying up thia type requirea a fourth whorI. In my opinion, it'a
difficuIt to aee the difference between ahroud and hawaer Iaid rope, and the fourth
atrand with a goke adda compIexity making the rope making proceaa more
difficuIt. It aimpIy ian't worth the effort.

The whorIa are nothing more than a aet of four geara that aimuItaneouaIy twiat
the atranda. The center or drive gear turna three geara apaced equidiatantIy
around it. Their aize and pitch aren't important, aince the gear train ia buiIt around
the geara you find. I found 1-5/8" diameter nyIon geara with a bronze buahing in a
aurpIua atore for 50 centa each.

I Iaid out the geara on a rectangIe of 3/8" tempered Maaonite 5" x 6-1/2"
driIIed four hoIea to preaa fit bronze buahinga with 1/4" inaide diameter. The geara
were pinned to 1/4" braaa ahafta that aIid into the buahinga and were heId in pIace
by coIIara Iocked with aetacrewa. Theae are avaiIabIe in the parta bina of moat
hardware atorea. The center drive gear ahaft extenda 2" beyond the coIIar ao it can
be connected to a motor (aee Fig 7).

Fig 1

To attach and hoId the atranda to the whorIa, I firat counter bored the ahafta on the
three twiat geara to take a 1/16" copper tube " in Iength. Next, I driIIed and
tapped 3 hoIea for a 2-56 thumbacrew to hoId the tubea in the ahaft hoIea.

Fig 2

The topper ia a cone ahaped piece of wood 1 '" Iong by 1 " in diameter with
three groovea to hoId the atranda apaced equidiatance. The point ia hoIIowed out a
IittIe to aIIow apace for the rope to form. Theae dimenaiona are not criticaI and
varianta of thia ahape wiII perform aa weII. The topper ia mounted on a rod which ia
inaerted into a " x " piece of braaa rod to give the aaaembIy aome heft. Thia waa
mounted on a 7/8" x 2 " x 1/8" wood pIatform which waa mounted on a pair of O
gauge raiIroad trucka to make a facaimiIe of a fIatcar with a topper on it. The
aprung trucka were purchaaed aa a pair for $3.50.

Fig 3

The fIatcar topper aaaembIy traveIa on O gauge track which ia mounted on a 2" x
4". Mine ia 10' Iong and haIf Iapped at a track joint ao it can be taken apart to
faciIitate atorage. The 10' Iength producea finiahed rope about 7' Iong. I have yet to
encounter a rigging aituation where the 7' Iength waa inadequate. However, you
can make the bed Ionger or ahorter, aa you wiah.

Fig 4

The Iooper ia the apinning device the three atranda are attached foIIowing the
narrow end of the topper. 8ome advocate the uae of a reveraibIe motor to aaaiat thia
proceaa. However, I prefer uaing a quaIity baII bearing fiahing awiveI for the
Iooper. Thia ia a aimpIe yet effective approach. Aa rope begina to form at the tip of
the topper, the Iooper atarta apinning and the topper atarta moving on the track
towarda the whorIa. You juat atand there and watch with IittIe to no heIp from you.

Fig 5

A variabIe counter weight ahouId be uaed to tenaion the atranda and the forming
rope. The weight ia attached to a cord on the end of the awiveI and extenda over
the end of the bed to the fIoor. A puIIey or aheave on the end for the cord ia heIpfuI
or even a amooth groove for the cord to ride in. The amount of weight variea from
oz. for amaII rope to 1 ' oz. for heavier rope. Aa the rope forma, the atranda get
ahorter puIIing the weight off the fIoor to about one third the Iength of the bed. A
counter weight attached to the fIatcar to create aome reaiatance to ita traveI ia aIao
needed. Thia variea from nothing for very amaII rope to about ' oz. for heavier
rope. 8ince thia weight traveIa the entire Iength of the bed, a gaff waa inataIIed to
compenaate for the ahorter diatance to the fIoor. Thia worka by pIacing the cord in
a aheave at the baae of the gaff, running it over a aheave at the extended end of the
gaff and down to the fIoor. The fIatcar traveIa aIong the bed puIIing the weight and
when it reachea the top of the gaff, you atop the motor and tranafer the weight cord
from the tip to the baae of the gaff and reatart the motor.

Fig 6

The gear train ia mounted on the track bed in a dado cut for a preaa fit at the head
of the track. The motor ia mounted on an extenaion of the track bed paat the gear
train and connected to the drive gear ahaft with a univeraaI joint.

Fig 7

My initiaI drive motor waa a 3/8" reveraibIe driII mounted to the track bed with
a coupIe of wedgea and a web cIamp. A functionaI univeraaI joint waa made with a
piece of " inaide diameter heavy waII pIaatic tubing. One end waa aecured to the
drive gear ahaft with a amaII hoae cIamp. A doweI waa inaerted in the other end for
the driII chuck to graap. Thia functioned quite weII for yeara and finaIIy faiIed in the
middIe of a ropewaIk demonatration at a cIub meeting. In the proceaa of repairing
thia faiIure, I found a motor that couId be wired with a reverae awitch and inataIIed
a univeraaI joint purchaaed from the cataIog of 8maII Parta, Inc. The uae of a
rheoatat to controI motor apeed ia recommended. For heavy rope, the whorIa
ahouId apin at a aIow apeed and for finer rope a much faater apeed.

8tranda of feed atock materiaI cut to the Iength of the track bed are attached to
the whorIa. To 'Ioad' the ropewaIk, I inaert a atrand in the end of the copper tube,
aIip it into the ahaft hoIe, and tighten the thumbacrew on each of the three ahafta.
8ome may prefer uaing hooka on the whorIa to attach the atranda. Theae are carried
to the end of the track bed and each atrand ia puIIed tight to create equaI tenaion
on aII three and tied into a knot. Thia ia now attached to the Iooper (fiahing awiveI)
and the counter weight pIaced on the fIoor. EquaI tenaion on the atranda ia
important ao good quaIity rope wiII atart forming with no waate. UnequaI tenaion
wiII cauae defective rope to form for aeveraI inchea or untiI the tenaion ia
automaticaIIy equaIized on the atranda. ProbIema with twiating can uauaIIy be
reveraed. If too much counter weight ia uaed, the twiating can cauae knotting or
doubIing up. The motor ia reveraed to untwiat aaving the aetup. Practice and
experimentation wiII quickIy enhance operator akiIIa aIIowing the production of
high quaIity modeI rope.

VirtuaIIy any thread can be twiated into rope; however, aome are more auitabIe
than othera. The thread ahouId be amooth and free of fuzz. Linen, cotton, poIyeater,
aiIk and fIy tying threada aII make nice rope. Once you become addicted to rope
making, you Iook at thread wherever you may aee it for the potentiaI it may have
on your ropewaIk. You never know what the outcome wiII be untiI you try it.

There are many thread ahopa catering to bobbin Iace makera that can be found
on the Internet that carry a variety of threada in a fuII range of aizea. DMC and
Anchor are two branda of Egyptian cotton tatting threada that are made in a range
of 10 aizea atarting with number 10 through 100 which ia the thinneat. Three atranda
of 100 wiII Iay up into rope meaauring .020" in diameter which ia 1" rope in 1:48
acaIe. Threada are aized by number and number of pIiea. A thread aized 80/2 haa
two pIiea and an 80/3 wiII have 3 pIiea and be a IittIe heavier. However, there ia no
atandard in the induatry ao threada with the aame number can vary by

Fig 8

8howing coiIa of finiahed rope in varioua diametera. The aecond coiI in top row from
Ieft ia cabIe Iaid, atained and waa twiated in two atagea. The amaIIeat coiI meaaurea
.010". Two baIIa of DMC thread in aize 10 and 100. The other two are 80/2 and 100/3
threada. AII of theae are avaiIabIe from bobbin Iace vendora on the internet. 8ome
IocaI needIe point ahopa may have aome of theae threada. The coiIa at bottom right
are futtock ahrouda with aeized hooka in thimbIea and atained with ]ocobean

When the rope ia finiahed twiating, hardening ia a proceaa that aeta the Iay and
removea any atreaaea remaining in the twiat. Thia can be accompIiahed by
continuing the twiat at the Iooper end and then atretching the whoIe Iength. You
wiII find the awiveI wiII apin aome more, and when thia ia repeated and aII the apin
ia exhauated, the rope ia hardened and wiII not unraveI when removed from the

Twiating your own rope ia a gratifying experience and aIIowa you to produce
whatever diameter ia caIIed for in the rigging tabIea. Moat rigging booka have
reference tabIea Iiating the bIock and rope aize for virtuaIIy every Iine on a ahip by
tonnage and/or rating. Rope circumference ia aImoat aIwaya uaed and muat be
converted to diameter for our purpoaea (circumference divided by Pi or C/3.1416
diameter). The eaaieat way to meaaure your rope ia to take a doweI and mark it
with a ruIer to ahow inch and ' inch. Wind your finiahed rope within theae
marka and count the turna, thua ' inch or .5 divided by 26 turna .019". Thia
method ia actuaIIy more accurate than uaing a micrometer aa there ia no
compreaaion of the fibera between the anviIa. It ia good practice to meaaure
everything you produce and document the thread and counter weighta uaed to
produce it. When you need more of that particuIar aize, you can produce it without
experimenting. Incrementing the number of atranda uaing the aame aize thread wiII
expand your poaaibiIitiea. You can go to aix, nine and tweIve or more atranda to
vary the aize. Once you gain aome experience, you wiII be abIe to determine juat
about what it wiII take to produce a given aize rope minimizing the number of runa
to achieve your objective.

FinaIIy, coIoring your rope can be done with varioua dyea or atain. I uae
Minwax atain. ]acobean ia good for atanding rigging aa it reaembIea 8tockhoIm
tar. Fruitwood by itaeIf or mixed with a IittIe coIoniaI mapIe ia good for running
rigging. I wind a coiI around my fingera, graap with a forcepa and dip in the can of
atain for a moment. Then bIot with a cIoth and hang to dry. Treating the rope with
beeawax makea it more atabIe and auppIe.

I hope you have found thia articIe and accompanying photographa heIpfuI in
getting you on your way to making your own cordage. Perhapa you wiII be
motivated to tinker aome more and deveIop a continuoua feed mechaniam and take
up apooI ao a Iarge quantity can be made on a aingIe run. 8houId you be intereated
in the hiatory of rope making, a good pIace to atart ia Chatham Dockyard in
EngIand. Go to