Saturday 7 December 2019

All at Sea - Rigging Tutorial

The illustrious 'Billy Ruffian', HMS Bellerophon of 74 guns, showing off her stays, backstays, lifts, braces and sheets. It's time to have fun with rigging!

Following my recent posts looking at the Black Seas range of model ships I am building, in a series entitled 'All at Sea', and based on the feedback received, I thought it would be useful to look at the subject of rigging the models, which seems to be a source of complexity that puts some wargamers off collecting these models and bringing them to the table.

All at Sea - Another Project

All at Sea - Strange Sail in Sight

If that is you and you would like to know how to take rigging these kits a bit further than that outlined in the Warlord 'Black Seas' rule book, but perhaps think it's too complicated and not worth worrying about, as certain video reviewers of these kits would like to convince you, but you still think the effect 'looks cool' and perhaps 'if they can, then so can I ', then read on.

If you couldn't care less and are happy just sticking these things together and hopefully slapping some paint on them, please read on and let me see if I can convince you to have a go at this; and if you are not interested in the age of sail and are mildly irritated that I am taking up blog space discussing it, feel free to check in when there is something you find more interesting to read, as this post is definitely not for you.

If you have never rigged a model age of sail ship before, all this talk of stays, sheets, lifts etc can seem a bit daunting and dare I say leave one 'all at sea', and as always, there are plenty of people around, who can't do it, who will tell you not to bother; which is a shame, because it's really straight forward and adds a lot to the look of the model which, in my opinion, is a key attribute of tabletop wargaming, the look or aesthetic of the game, otherwise we might as well just play boardgames!

Oh and on that controversial note, I love boardgaming as well, its just that I don't agree with the  group of hobby commentators that describe tabletop models as just tokens or counters. Sorry chaps, they may be that to you but not everyone, and I know the difference as, I suspect, does everyone else.

Any ability and skill in modelling I have developed over the years has been, in part, down to the time others have spent with me sharing their knowledge and skills and so this is just a case of 'sharing the love' and hopefully passing on what I think is a pretty straightforward modelling technique that can take any of these model ships you build to another level and hopefully add to your enjoyment of playing with them.

Rod Langton's guide book on this subject and more is well worth getting hold of

A no finer example of someone prepared to take time and share their knowledge with fellow enthusiasts is Rod Langton who has been in the business of producing fantastic models, rules and books for the age of sail enthusiast for years now.

I have had the pleasure of chatting with Rod at various shows, in the days when he had just started up his business and used to hand out the free leaflets you see below, later improved upon by the very nice guide book he produced later, as seen above.

This was how we learned about rigging model kits back in the day, before the Internet, mobile phones and global warming!

We are not producing a museum model here, but instead a nice looking model for the wargames table and thus looking to achieve enough of a look that fools the eye into thinking it is seeing the fully rigged out ship when in fact all we are doing, as the Langton book above explains, is

' ... showing the lifts, braces and sheets of the running rigging. Lifts were the lines from the masts to the yard arms. Braces were taken from the yard arms to the next mast in order to be able to trim the sails to the wind. Sheets were used to haul on the lower part of the sail.'

My Langton collection in action in this Suffren v Hughes, Battle of Providien game, run at the Devon Wargames Group in 2014

I had a bit of a smile to myself, when looking at my old leaflet in my archive, or pile of rubbish as Carolyn calls it, to find the illustration Rod drew for me when explaining how to put on the running rigging with my collection of Langton British and French ships, and indeed this little drawing is what I worked from when I first started rigging ships, which some members of the Devon Wargames Group reckon was about the time Nelson fell.

See what I mean about pre-Internet! I should have got Rod to sign this!

As you might have guessed, I would recommend getting a copy of Rod's book as it includes pretty much all of what I am covering here plus more things, such as painting guides, modelling techniques that are useful whatever scale of ship you are modelling and a good grounding on the different parts that went to make up ships of this period.

My rigging kit, and all that you will need to get started.

The standing rigging all done on one of the British 74's, showing where to start first

As I have been putting my models together I have been taking a series of pictures that cover the process I use, in the sequence I follow, so that you always start and end up at the same place with each model.

Another shot from the guide illustrating the route plan of the various lines

That means standing rigging first, running rigging by mast starting with the mizzen and ending with the bowsprit sail sets and finally ensigns and pennants.

The joys of British running rigging on the mizzen mast

The standing rigging is standard among the different nations ships but, as you will see, the first part of the briefing focuses on British ships for illustrating running rigging, where the Royal Navy rigged their mizzen and main masts differently to other nations.

Moving on to the main mast, 'ship shape, and Bristol fashion'.

My word Horatio, I think we're done!

For the other nations, I have used the Constitution to illustrate the arrangement and hopefully the guide will be clear, but you never know, and I myself have sometimes come away confused with other attempts at this subject, so will try to clear up any confusions here on the blog, via questions and comments.

Ah the joys of foreign rigging, just when you thought you had this thing well and truly understood.

The key things to consider in mastering this process are:

  • Learning to judge how tight to draw a thread without bending or distorting the mast or yard and causing another line that was originally taught to become slack because of the pull you have produced in a different direction. I have learnt that doing some lines last, particularly the top mast lines of the standing rigging, enables me to better judge their tightness after the others are in place.
  • Don't worry about the odd bit of superglue misting up the original paintwork as you can normally go back and cover that up with a bit of repainting.

My next rigging job - Three French 74's awaiting their share of the love.

Anyway I hope this will help those interested and you can download the PDF in the link below and it will be in My Resources and Downloads section in the right-hand bar.

JJ's Wargames - Rigging Tutorial

Happy rigging



  1. Great stuff mate,

    I love painting the ships but the rigging drives me nuts, I have only ever completed two ships correctly, and as I have only so much time may not get back to rig my other 12 ships in the next year or so perhaps.


    1. Thanks Matt. Hours in the day and life priorities will always be a factor, so I hope you get some time to have a go with this as you might find yourself enjoying this as much as the painting.

      All the best

  2. Really fantastic, rigging has put me off for years but I'll give it a go.

    1. Hi Dave,
      Great, I really hope this will help as rigging seems more complicated than it really is.


  3. This rigging information is wonderful.

  4. Great work thanks for doing this tutorial. I have Langton's book but now I can rely on your hands on experience with the Warlord ships!

    One difference for my ships will be the addition of removable ensigns so I can interchange nationalities, rigging difference notwithstanding. Especially for the brigs and other small ships (hopefully to be released!).

  5. Very helpful! Much appreciated. I'm finishing up 12 sloops from War Artisan's product line before I give the Warlord ships a go next month. So this will serve as a nice quick reference for both projects. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Very nice tutorial. I have some too by Rory McCreadie on my site. BTW the Constitution, as well as the rest of the early American naval ships, was rigged British style. And the Spanish had a little different mizzen rigging too. Well done!

  7. Do you add the sails before completing the rigging process or add them later after rigging complete?

  8. Hi,
    I always put the sails on first and then rig around them.

    You might find the following video tutorials I did helpful if you are intending to have a go


  9. Hi JJ, the mizzen rigging is the most common mistake I see on people's ships. One thing, I believe the US is the only other nation that rigged the mizzen in the British style. They were originally the British afterall.
    Best regards,

    1. Hi Vol,
      Yes indeed and I was guilty of mis-rigging my Constitution as I wasn’t sure if Cousin Jonathan had been influenced by French input, but I should have known better with all those ex-British naval engineers and designers moving across the pond and seeking employment in US shipyards, and as you say, we were all British before 1776!

  10. Thanks! Just picked up my M&C kit and this was suggested for doing the rigging.
    I recently did a 1/190 USS Constitution and the rigging was hell on that. These I know are going to be a true test of patience I am sure, but your guide is a big help.

    1. Hi Josh,
      Great I hope the pdf and videos help. Please note Vol's comment above yours, about my error in rigging the Constitution in the French style, instead of the British method, if you are working on American ships.

      Enjoy rigging


  11. Thanks. Watched some of the videos after commented. I noted the rigging corrections. Again, thanks for taking the time to put these together.