Welcome to the Construction Blog of the Pirate Ship. I plan to have it done for Burning Man 2010 as time and material present themselves. I am trying to use as much recycled and reused material as possible. Some things I will have to buy, for that your donations are most appreciated.

How we got here


Today I added a Blog feature to the website. A lot of work has already been done on the ship so to bring this Blog up to date I’ll start with a massive back story post. Future post will not be this big.

The idea for the ship came about in 2004. My friend Martin and I were sitting in the doorway to my dome discussing Art Cars. It was the first Burning Man event we had been to. The idea simmered in my head for a few years while I worked on other Burning Man projects but it wasn’t until 2007 that real work began. The idea of using a huge hub-less wheel became appealing and that helped move the project forward.

The ship would be driven by an internal Cog, this Cog would be the Heart of the Ship. I checked out books and searched the internet to lean how to design a gear. In March of 2008 I built a model of the gear that would drive the ship. I needed to know that all of my dimensions and radius were correct before cutting the pieces of real Cog. Here is that Model.

The final Cog is made from laminated sheets of plywood with two pieces of 1/4″ Aluminum plate on the outside. The pieces were cut out on a CNC router at Martin’s shop around Thanksgiving 2008. The next step was to build the wheel.

I designed the wheel with AutoCAD and Google Sketch Up. I ran a few structural calculations but the synergetic effect of the completed circle of the wheel makes analysis by hand difficult. I was able to determine roughly what size material I would need to build the wheel.

The wheel is a challenging piece of engineering and fabrication. There are lots of pieces and lots of welds. All of which increase my chances for errors. Error can be minimized by working on a flat level surface. Finding a 10ft by 10ft surface to weld on seemed impossible. So I had to make one. This video explains how I went about creating a surface accurate enough to do the job. When everything was finished the surface was within 1/100 of an inch for flatness.

I was hoping to have the ship done by Burning Man 2009, but a week after my Birthday in February I was laid off from my job as a Structural Engineer. It seemed we did more residential work than we had liked to think and on the 4th round of lay offs I was let go. Funny how a lack of disposable income puts a damper on a Pirate Ship. Luckily I had already purchased the materials for the wheel so I was able to start fabrication.

I needed to cut the bars that the main Cog would mesh with. These were cut out of 3/4″ x 0.085 steel tube. The bars needed to be fish mouthed with a 7/8″ radius so that they could be fitted to the inner radius of the wheel. I made a flood coolant set up on my drill press and then used a hole saw to cut all the pieces for the Drive Bars.

Flood Coolant Set Up:

With The pieces cut I went to work welding everything together. I built a few custom fixtures to hold pieces in alignment while welding. There was a lot of potential to warp the wheel while welding. To counter this I used a lot of tack welds then would skip to opposite sides, every other side, and mirror images for the final welds on all the pieces. I was trying my best to keep a perfect circle and controlling the heat in the metal was critical. When I was done the difference between my major and minor axis was about 0.25 inches; more than tolerable. This was a great feeling and an ambitious acomplishment.

The following video shows some highlights of the build on the wheel:

When I started this project I made a few concept sketches.

Old Sketches:

I didn’t want to finalize any design until the wheel was finished. I knew the Wheel was the key feature and to design the rest of the ship I would need to see the Wheel finished. Now that the Wheel is finished I have begun working on the rest of the design. I still have a lot of designing to do but these next two pictures will give you an idea.

New Concept Sketches:

In the new sketch the front of the Ship has a bow, or crows nest. The wheel is offset to Starboard and on the Portside there is something like a motorcycle side car. This will be used for the Navigator and a guest, as they sit in the seat their heads will be level with the top of the wheel, over 10 feet off the ground.
I still intend for the ship to be piloted form the rear, while the navigator sits at the front of the boat. She will be equipped with an emergency stop button and the means to communicate with the Captain.

Here is the Link to the Flickr Page of construction Photos.
Construction Photos

Thank you for reading and if you have a few dollars to spare and would like to see the Ship come to life please donate.


3 Responses to “How we got here”

  • AL Says:

    Nice blog, Andy! From a safety perspective, it would be a really good idea to create some sort of guard or way to prevent someone’s clothing or hair from getting stuck in the gear system. That could get very ugly, very quickly.

  • LostMachine Says:

    Yes I do have plans for a guard. It is also triggered so that if the guard is disturbed it will bring the ship to a dead stop.

  • SlvrWraith Says:

    I like the new design, very interesting concept… Have you considered a slip style belt drive? Use a 6″-12″ wide piece of conveyor belt for the belt and place the drive motor on a detented cam. house the belt and the main drive in a polycarb housing, marking them with contrasting strips for a visual effect. The cam mount would make an emergency stop system that much more effective, as soon as the system is tripped, tension on the belt is removed and the belt no longer has any actionable force.

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