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Contributed by: Navarone  (Don)
Average Rating : 4.0000/5.00
Published on: 08-24-2008   Views: 20042   Link to this article   »  Bookmark/Share this Article
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By Don Howe (Navarone)

I decided to build a ropewalk based on the plans found at For my ropewalk I used scrap pieces of lumber that I had lying around which turns out to be mostly 3/4 inch pine. I made the wood pieces and assembled them as shown here in this photo.

The plans call for a 60 inch baseboard. I decided to reduce this by half. As it happened I only had a 30 inch length of board. So the length of the baseboard is 30 inches by 6 inches wide. The center to center distance between the end pieces is 25 inches. This I figured would allow me to make a rope length of 24 inches. In my initial trials this value ended up being a few of inches shorter.

The next step involved making the wire hooks. The plans call for 3 wire hooks at one end and a single wire hook on the other. The wire hooks were to be made from your common variety in-the-closet coat hangar. The tool guy in me decided that coat hangar wire looked to flimsy and too easy to bend. I wanted something stronger so I went down to the hardware store and picked up some 1/8 inch round steel stock. In reality its 1/8 inch diameter cold rolled steel. I should have stuck with the plans.

A 36 inch length of 1/8 round is pretty easy to bend until you cut it down to about 5 inches in length. The physics of cold rolled steel come into play at these lengths. To make a long story short donít use this kind of material unless you have the proper tools to do so and are experienced in bending material of this kind. In the end, I went back to the coat hangar and you know coat hangar wire is pretty sturdy when you cut it down to size.

I made my coat hangar pieces 3 1/2 inches in length. I formed the hook and made the necessary bending in the wooden end pieces. This is a little tricky at first and if you are not careful, bending the coat

hangar wire in these wooden end pieces can result in a crushed hole on the faces of the wood. To help avoid this I used a 12 inch steel rule clamped in place under the wire. To protect the wood face of the hook side I place a 3/8 inch diameter flat washer. Then I made the first bend.

The second bend was more difficult to make and still keep the first bend relatively square. Itís important to note that on the end with the 3 wire hooks the 1/8 inch thru holes being 1 inch on center that the bend be no more than 3/4 inches. The reason for this will be obvious if you make it to long. You see, as you crank the handle on the end with the three wire hooks and the bend is too long you canít make a complete revolution.

It is also important to keep your bends as near to the same length as possible. It took me several attempts of wire bending to get the same results. To help protect the wood around the holes and to add some support I added flat washers to both sides of the wire.

Having made all my wire bends I proceeded to add screw eyes on the outside faces of the end pieces and inline with the center holes. I used 1 inch screw eyes. Make sure the center of the screw eye is the same distance from the face on each side. Mine are about 3/8 inches to center.

In the next step I made the bobbin. I used 3/4 inch dowel rod to make this piece. Now I donít have a wood lathe to turn the radius on the bobbin so I had to improvise, I used my drill press and I sanded the radius on the end of the bobbin. First I sawed out a 1/4 inch square shank about a half inch long and chucked it up into my drill press. Be careful as you can easily crush the shank in the chuck jaws of the drill press. Also, I turned down my drill press to the lowest rpm setting as a safety precaution. Please be careful when using any power tools and make sure you are wearing your safety glasses.

Before turning on your drill press turn the chuck by hand and you may notice that the bobbin is not spinning true. You will need to correct for this as much as possible. Once this is done youíre ready to make the bobbin. Start slowly and easy. Too much pressure against the bobbin and youíll snap the shank. If this happens the piece will come out flying out at you. I used 100 grit sandpaper and a wood file.

Once the bobbin is made youíll need to cut 3 grooves at 60 degree intervals or 120 degrees apart and about 1/16 inch deep. These will help guide the thread as you are making the rope.

Next you need to make the bobbin guide post. Now for this piece which will be 1/4 inch square and 3 inches long needs to be made from some hard wood or something other than basswood. I tried using a piece of 1/4 inch square basswood and when I attached my screw eyes it split the piece on the ends. I turned then to some scrap pieces of planking left over from my Enterprise model kit. I laminated about 3 pieces of planking together and after the glue dried I predrilled a 1/16 inch hole in both ends and attached a 13/16 inch screw eye. I adjusted the centers of the screw eyes to match those I added to the end pieces earlier. Once this is done attach the post to the bobbin. I drilled a small hole in the center of the post and into the backend of the bobbin and attached it using a small wood screw.

Using wire or heavy string, run a length of string between the end screw eyes making sure to keep the lines taught. This will keep the bobbin from twisting on you as you make the rope. Now we can attach the bobbin assembly to the guide wires to complete the ropewalk.

With all the pieces assembled I was eager to try my ropewalk. All I had was some white sewing thread to use for my first try. I cut my threads sufficiently long so I could tie a good knot on each hook end. Make sure the lines are fairly taught. To much slack in the lines will produce crumpled looking rope. The threads need to pass over and under the bobbin. I turned my hand crank in a counter clockwise motion and slowly the bobbin began its march toward the other end of the ropewalk.

My first results were very encouraging. As the bobbin neared the end of the ropewalk the lines became increasingly tight where they crossover (see the photo above) and I could tell from the look of things that I couldnít get anymore twist without something bad happening. The final length of rope I was able to make was about 19 inches and about .03 to .04 inches in diameter.

In my second trial I used three strands of the heavy yarn supplied with my Enterprise kit. This time I tempted fate to see just how much twisting I could get on the lines and sure enough two of the lines broke. I only ended up with about 16 - 1/2 inches of rope and about .06 to .07 inches in diameter.

I decided to try some ordinary string, the kind you might find at the hardware store or use to wrap packages with. It already consisted of 5 threads woven together and was about .06 inches in diameter. It has been woven with a left-handed twist which is important to pay attention to as I found out. Using a left-handed string and applying a right-handed twist had the adverse effect of unwinding the string.

Also this heavy string required considerably more effort to crank and in the end proved too much for the coat-hangar wire as it started to bend.

So far I can see a couple short comings. First, because I have fixed ends where I tie off the lines I am limited to one length of rope.

Second, the end tie off points are straight across and as you near the end of the ropewalk the strands of thread become exceptionally tight and care must be taken or the lines will break. A triangular arrangement would be better but this would require a different means of winding the rope.

A third short coming I noticed is that during the winding phase, the bobbin assembly has a tendency to twist even though it is connected to the guide strings.

In conclusion this design of ropewalk is sufficient for short lengths of rope of about 16 to 18 inches.

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Author Profile: More articles by Navarone Don:
Navarone  Don
Join Date: 09-18-2004
Posts: 1713
Making Ship Gun Carriages

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Posted on: 02-21-2012

You can find the original instructions on how to build this rope walk at which is in the very first sentence of the article.

Projects in waiting - - MS Katy of Norfolk
Special interest project: Developing plans for a 3rd rate 74 gun ship, circa 1780-1820.

Posted on: 02-21-2012

This is a good article but not really clear enough for me to build one. I found it was clearer on how it worked rather than how to build the rope walk; too bad, I'd really like to try my hand at it.
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