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Tech Tips

Rigging in Scale

n by Tomasz Gronczewski

The object of this article is to acquaint you with a few of the many tricks used in producing rigging on scale models.

Below I will describe the method that I have developed an which works fine for me. I build mostly 1/48 airplane models, but all techniques mentioned in the text should work equally well for aircraft in other scales as well as ship models.

Properly executed rigging adds very much appeal to models of vintage airplanes.
Model by the author.


For my rigging purposes, I use fine monofiliament line used for fly-fishing. It can be obtained in specialized fishing shops in diameters down to 0.05 mm. For 1/48th scale rigging I use the 0.08 mm (I am a metric guy) size.

Monofiliament has certain advantages over stretched sprue and fine steel wire. Unlike the stretched sprue, it is guaranteed to have a constant, uniform thickness - important if you need several rigging lines close to each other on the model. It is also significantly more elastic than both sprue and wire, allowing to apply precise, gentle tension to it already at the moment of gluing.

Preparing the lines

Regardless of the material used, you should note that real-life rigging lines on vintage aircraft were not just plain "wires". Most often, the lines were fitted with metal eye bolts and nuts and tensioned with steel turnbuckles. In the 1/48 scale, the turnbuckles would still be visible as  markedly thicker sections of the line. 

Therefore I first I pre-fabricate components for each rigging line. In the case of the 1/48 single-engine aircraft, each length of the line would usually consist of a 3 mm long turnbuckle at its one end - usually the one fitted to the fuselage frame. A real turnbuckle consists of a sleeve with a screw thread at one end and a swivel at the other with a metal eye at the end.

Replicating turnbuckles

I replicate (simplified) turnbuckles out of fishing line but it is really unimportant what sort of plain line will be attached to turnbuckles later on. Also I suppose it would be easy to apply the method to real wire rigging. I use the 0.08mm monofiliament to "twist" turnbuckles.

First I cut about 5cm length of the line (hereafter called line A), then I bend it in half and lock both ends in self-locking tweezers. The U-shaped "eye" remaining outside the tweezers should be no longer  than about 1cm. To tighten the line, I thread a piece of copper rod through the "eye". 

Keeping the copper rod in one hand I vigorously spin the tweezers until the line is rolled into a tight, fine screw. 

Self-locking tweezers are great modelling tools and it is very practical to have more pairs at hand. When rigging, I use them at all times. For example, here I use one to hold the fishing line A, another one to hold the U-shaped brass rod, and yet another to handle the line B attached to the turnbuckle (see below).

Keeping everything nicely tightened I smear the turnbuckle with superglue.

In order to ensure the proper straight shape of the element, you should allow your turnbuckle to dry being hung upright and weighted by the tweezers.

After two or three minutes required for the superglue to cure completely, I remove the brass rod. A hollow "eye" emerges at the end of turnbuckle. 

I thread another length of fishing line (about 10 cm, on the drawings referred to as line B) through the "eye". Then I tie a little knot. Lastly, I secure the knot by applying a droplet of superglue onto it. 

After the glue has cured I cut off the excess end of the line B.

During the attachment of line B to the turnbuckle it is quite important to tight a knot parallel to turnbuckle axis. I can't explain it better in the text, have a look at the picture below.

The method, although simple, may require some practice to obtain fine results. I have found that the most effective way is to manufacture 15-20 turnbuckles where 10 are needed, selecting the best ones and discarding the rest. Also, splitting the "production line" into three stages seems to be the most effective: first I prepare all turnbuckles, then I attach all lines to them, finally I paint all sets.


At this stage I pre-paint all lines with black - or very dark grey - Aeromaster acrylic. Actually, the painting may be done  simply by  dragging the whole line through a drop of paint laid on a flat surface.

Painting rigging lines in black or dark grey will make them discernible on the model. As real rigging wires often collected dirt and grime, such color is also true to scale.

The rigging

Now on to the rigging itself. On biplane models, I prefer to start the rigging procedure as the last construction step, but before attaching the top (or bottom) set of wings to simplify access. Other than that, the model should be completely painted, decalled, varnished and detailed. You may need to assemble the wing structure as you proceed with rigging.

There are two basic schools of rigging. The first one, which I prefer, is to pre-drill holes all the way through the area where the rigging will be, pull the rigging line through the holes, fix the end in place with a tiny drop of glue, and cut off the excess on the other side of the hole. 

For the record, the other school is to use a pair of precision dividers to measure the precise length of  the rigging, cut the  rigging line to an exact length required and fit it at both ends with tiny drops of glue.

The holes should be drilled with the smallest suitable diameter drill bit. Dry-test the result by threading your monofiliament through a test hole. Preferably it should fit quite tightly.

The turnbuckle ends of the line are glued first into appropriate holes in the lower wing or fuselage. I use thin superglue for this, paying attention to use only as much as needed to hold the line in place, avoiding any glue stains on the outer surface of the model.

Finished rigging of an Albatros D.III showing turnbuckles replicated at the fuselage attachment points.

When all wing and cabane rigging lines are firmly attached at one end, I assemble to upper wing of the biplane where the other ends should go.

Now I carefully place the model upside down at the edge of the table and thread the loose ends of the lines through appropriate holes on the opposite side. I caught the lines with self-locking tweezers and let the tweezers hang loose, thus creating the necessary tension on the line.

I fix the line in the hole with a droplet of glue. Again, use thin superglue for this applied with a tip of a toothpick and the glue will be drawn into the hole by means of capillary forces, hopefully leaving no marks on the surface. Leave the tweezers in place under drying time. Remember to allow for sufficient curing time before moving on to the next line. 

When ready, I cut all excess lines with a fresh scalpel blade. Where visible, the exit holes need to be masked with touches of appropriate paint. 

That's all there is to it. Perhaps it sounds difficult, but really, rigging is fairly straightforward once you've tried.


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