English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish

Tools - Handmade and Specialty Tools

by Greg Alvey


Among the many wonderful reasons for building a ship, folk art or whimsy in a bottle is that it doesn’t require sophisticated or expensive tools; and you do not need a large or elaborate work space to build your bottles. Certainly, every builder appreciates tools like a Dremel, drill press, sander, air brush and paint booth, scroll and table saw, and so many more of today’s power and specialty tools. But this article focusses on hand-made and other unique tools used for inserting and working inside the bottle.



Going back to the very first bottles, artists have used very simple, common tools, and often built their ships and folk art in bottles in far less than ideal conditions.  We can marvel at the amazingly detailed bottles crafted in the 18th century when the tools and materials were very limited. Wonderful ships in bottles, along with folk art and whimsey creations, have been built in small, confined workshops; even on rolling decks of ships, in low lighting and only with a handful of handmade tools.   



Tools are commonly needed to grasp items, join pieces together, hold objects, move pieces around, clamp items together, and more. Ships’ rigging need tools to move lines, tie knots, cut and to secure the lines inside the bottle.  Builders need to have many different tools on hand to complete these tasks and no matter how many they have, they are usually thinking up new tools and techniques to make the job easier.  


This article centers on the tools used to insert your ship, folkart or whimsey into a bottle, and then finish the work inside the bottle. This is not a "how to" article since most of these tools are very simple and don't require guidance to make.


The style and type of tool needed depends on what you are building and how large or long the bottle and the opening are. To put the sea in a bottle, for example, you need tools which allow you to build the sea bed and to form and paint the waves.  If other scenery is added, you will want tools for building, inserting, and painting islands, mountains, houses, people, and the many other details you want for your special scene. 


The following are pictures of some of the many handmade and specialty tools I use in my workshop.  As you can see, most are just various lengths and shapes of coat hanger wire.  Although you can use just one or two coat hangers and then reshape with a pair of pliers as necessary, I like to have several that approximate the shapes I need in advance.  Another thing you may note is the presence of handles.  I find the handles make a tool easier to grip and to use, as well as to store and they just look better than a bent hanger (although I still have the bare hanger on hand as well). 


In the second picture are several tools that are used in various medical fields. I have been fortunate to come across some very special and sophisticated medical and dental instruments that have proven invaluable to me over time. These tools allow me to reach and access nearly every area inside the bottle. With them I can grip, cut, squeeze, turn, pull, twist, and much more. I have acquired these tools from friends in medical fields, at garage sales and on eBay.


captions3.jpg captions1.jpg

Next is a picture of many small tools such as various knives, tweezers, cutters, punches, etc. that I keep handy on the workbench that are a must iwhile building. Finally, I have included a picture of my "coat-hanger" tools hanging on nails within arms reach of my work.


captions2.jpg P1070369.JPG