My Version of an Antique Toy Ship (and how I discovered a cool way to make miniature wrought iron fencing)

A few blogs back I mentioned I was working on a project featuring an Antique Toy Ship.  I have to admit, this project started out slow and then stopped completely for a while.  Let me explain:

I was surfing through the Antiques section of my local Craigslist and saw a picture of an amazing toy ship that was actually a child’s pull toy of the very early 1900’s – late 1800’s (the guy was advertising that he wanted to buy Vintage/Antique toys).  Talk about love at first sight!  I knew I was going to have to try and make one of these.

Foolishly, I though I would be able to walk into the nearest hobby shop and buy a basic ship hull to begin this project but, wrong, there was no such thing even remotely close to what I was looking for.  So, I though I would give paper clay a try.


It worked, kinda.  It also took about a month for it to truly dry all the way through which brought this project into the Halloween season.  That moved my little ship project to the back of the line as I was busy filling in Halloween stock as it sold out in my shop.

Fast forward to December.

I didn’t get any photos of the ship hull as I made it out of the paper clay, I think I was secretly hoping I’d find a perfect pre-made ship hull before I actually launched into the project, but sadly, no.


I decided to cover the hull’s sides with my ‘riveted metal’ technique which I’ve shown in detail here on many previous blogs (see Steampunk Pumpkins).


For the deck of the ship I wanted an old wood look so I made some great old weathered wood from craft paper, this technique has also been covered here (see Halloween Train).  And now we’re all caught up.  The hull’s dimensions came out 12½” long x 1¾” wide x 2¼” deep.

Did you notice the metal wheels on axles in the background?


I mentioned my inspiration for this project was a pull toy.  I love things on wheels and I’ve put everything from apothecary cabinets to dinosaurs on wheels.  You can purchase these metal wheels in a variety of sizes online and I stocked up on a big selection so I’d have plenty of choices.

Thanks to help from Rock (hubby) my metal wheels are now set into axles with two mounting blocks to set the ship on.


I used wood glue to secure the blocks and then gave it all a solid coat of black acrylic paint.  I also gave the metal wheels a faux patina of age with the black paint.  Just a quick sloppy brush of paint followed by wiping it back off with a paper towel leaving as little or as much paint as I felt looked right.

I also drilled a hole in each wood block  that corresponded to a hole on the bottom on the ship’s hull.  A piece of bamboo skewer was cut and glued into the hull with enough protruding to fit into the hole on the mounting block on each axle.


A bit of glue and some drying time and my ship is now on wheels.  I love it already but it’s not even close to done.

The toy that I had seen had all kinds of flagged turrets, structures and nautical paraphernalia and I accepted the challenge of filling in my little ship with similar accouterments using only bits and pieces from the crafting stash supplies on had on hand.

My first item was the ship’s rail.

Making the rail turned into quite an adventure.  This is the best part of crafting in my opinion – how necessity (I needed a ship’s rail) turned into discovering how to make super cool but super easy Miniature Wrought Iron Fencing.


I had had some metal fencing wire around that was made of  very small 1/4″ squares.  Alas, I must have used it all up – Rock to the rescue.  He found a truck filter that had the small squares structure as the fencing I was going to use – perfect!


This is the only stage of this ship project I’m going to really step out for you as I think it might be a technique of interest to a number of folks.

Here you can see just how small these squares are.  The actual fencing material comes in 1/4″ or 1/2″ sizes but this filter wire is closer to 1/8″ squares.


I used a pair of small wire cutters and cut out a row of wire approximately the length I needed.  Next I counted out how many rows I need to make the height of my ‘wrought iron fence’.

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See how the top row has spikes and the bottom row is cut flush?  Watch and see how this plays out.


I determined that I wanted one long upright bar with three squares in between with a shorter section at the bottom than the top.  Ten clips with the wire cutters and the fence has begun.


Just keep on cutting out section after section.


Can you see the wrought iron look yet?  And remember, this is just one pattern you could make.  But since my toy is supposed to be Antique and I can’t help but channel a bit of Steampunk in my work – I’m lovin’ the slightly rough look of my fence.


Now I have two full sections of wrought iron fence cut and ready to paint, ’cause there’s no way I can use this bright shiny metal on my old ship, right?


Black acrylic paint goes on first making sure to cover all the little nooks and crannies.  Remember to flip your pieces over and get both sides.


Now you could stop right here with just a traditional looking black wrought iron fence, but for me, I gotta have patina.


A squirt of green and one of turquoise and I’m ready to age my fence.  I used a dry brush for this, or you could probably use a sponge too.


A little bit goes a long way on such small and delicate little pieces.  A bit of blue, then some green and finally, another tiny bit of black on top of those.


Normally, a ship would not have fancy wrought iron fencing for railing but this is “art” folks and we can do whatever we want.  Besides, that Steampunk edge certainly allows for a bit more of a Victorian beauty to embellish my ship.

This was a very happy discovery for me, not only is this a great miniature wrought iron fence, it has the capability to be altered any number of ways and best of all – it’s really strong.  You don’t have to worry about breaking off a spire or snapping a section in two accidentally.  Do you have a project that this might go well on?  I hope you give it a try.


Now back to the boat.  I rummaged through my wood bins and this is what I came up with.  Left to right:  The base is an unfinished pre-cut foot or knob that had a hole already drilled through it.  The flag pole is a toothpick with a small wood jewelry bead glued on top.  The next is a slightly larger foot/knob with a Vintage wood hors d’oeuvres pick – which I found a package of at a 2nd hand store – that makes a very nice flag pole.

Two little blocks of wood butt up to a round piece.  The little vents or chimneys on the blocks are wood push pins with the metal pin portion pulled out (I’ll use those later).

The wood round is capped by a bell shaped piece of wood (formerly the cup portion of a raw wood candelabra) that has a green jewelry bead that is topped by another  hors d’oeuvres pick.  You can buy bags of wood shapes pretty inexpensively from craft stores or just keep an eye out at yard sales and pick them up super cheap.  Remember, you may not have a use for those types of things today but having a stock pile of these supplies is invaluable when it comes to ‘creating’ off the cuff.

The last item is some sort of mysterious sound or sighting device I leave up to the imaginations of all.  It’s construction includes an inverted golf tee, capped with a bead.  I drilled a hole through the tee, ran a cut section of toothpick through the hole and glued on two beads, one per side, to make a fun and somewhat unfathomable object for my ship.


A coat of black paint starts the unification process and turns these common little pieces of wood into sturdy metal ship structures.


It’s all starting to look a bit more authentic now.  At this stage everything’s just sitting on the deck making sure I like the dimensions, placement and compatibility as this project progresses.

I wanted most everything to look like it was made of metal so I used two colors of metallic acrylic paints.  I also used an ivory cream for the block buildings and a yellow for the round structure.  These pieces also got ‘windows’ added on and everything got a patina of age with watered down black acrylic and some smudging of coffee colored ink.


I’m really close to done at this point.  Final touches include two more flag poles, one at the very ends of the boat both fore and aft.

I also needed to secure the railing.  The metal pin portions that I removed from the push pins get the same aging process that the fence received.  Using a fine bit, I drilled holes in the deck and inserted the pins at all four ends of the railing as well as one each at the points where the railing bends around the ship ends.  I used fine 28 gauge wire to attach the fence to the posts and then painted them in to match.


Paper flags painted in matching metallics finish the piece and give it a sense of motion.  And just like that – my Antique Ship Toy is finished.




Well, what do you think?

I have so much fun sharing my projects with you guys – I hope you like the ride, too.

Here’s the link to my ship that is now listed in my Etsy shop Old Raven, sail over for a closer look if you like.


And now, I’m going to watch Winter out my window, share Christmas with my man, and wish all of you Happy Holidays. – Kriss




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