Chapter 5

Don't force it, get a larger hammer.
- Anthony's law of force

5.1 The Work Place
During the days of wooden ship construction outlines of major components were drawn on the shop floor (lofted) and parts were cut and assembled over the lofted lines. Model aircraft builders generally follow that ancient tradition in that they fasten the project's plan to a board and build on it. A piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap is placed over the plan, pieces are fitted to the drawing's lines and glued together. For less complicated models some people omit the waxed paper and stick clear plastic tape to the plan where glue joints occur. This prevents the work from adhering to the plan.

Pieces are fastened in place with pins. Avoid piercing the wood with pins because it weakens the structure. Various techniques are employed to avoid piercing the wood such as making a Z bend in each pin so it can be inserted beside the wood and still press down on it. Since it can then dent the wood we have developed another method. School supply stores sell soft plastic pieces that are intended to be slipped onto a pencil to keep it from rolling off of a desk or to provide a better grip on the pencil. They are triangular in cross section and about an inch and a half long, with a hole down the center for the pencil. Cut them into small pieces and pierce each with a T-shaped pin (sold by hobby suppliers). Insert the pin beside the wood with the soft plastic bearing on the wood. This holds the wood securely without denting it.

A building board should be made from a material that will accept and hold pins. Some builders use ceiling tiles; others buy commercial boards made of laminated balsa wood. For my classes, I buy four by eight-foot sheets of composition board used to sheath houses. It's black on one side and about three fourths of an inch thick. I cut it into one by two foot pieces on a table saw, a size that is adequate for most rubber models. One can fit such a board, with a model in progress on it, into a cardboard suit box scrounged from a clothing store. This makes for easy transport to and from class and keeps the family cat from chewing the balsa. For larger models composition boards made of a slightly denser material are sold as bed boards used under a mattress. I use one placed on top of an old door for a workbench.

5.2 Tools
Model building books usually suggest a list of tools needed by the beginning modeler. In practice the length of such a list is dependent upon the type of model you will be building. For basic work you will cut, sand and glue. You will occasionally drill a hole, bend a wire or solder some parts together. Buy the best tools you can afford and they will last a lifetime. Buy them as you find a need for them.

Balsa can be cut with a single edged razor blade. A favorite modeling tool is a small modeling knife such as an X-acto #1 handle with a disposable #11 blade. The blade has an acute angle resulting in a sharp point, which tends to break off in use. Breakage can be minimized by cutting over a spare scrap of soft wood or poster board. Or, you can use a cutting mat of the type said to be "self-healing". Look for one at a store that sells fabric and sewing supplies. In the past, modelers used a double-edged razor blade. One broke the blade in half, then broke it with pliers to achieve a sharp pointed edge, like a #11 blade. If you try this, be sure to wear eye protection. Modern double-edged blades are made of stainless steel and do not hold an edge as long. Double-edged blades are thinner than single edged ones and # 11 blades so are less prone to crush the wood during a cut. Crushing will occur with any cutting tool that is not sharp. Dull tools cause the user to use force. Force causes slippage and accidents. Stock an adequate number of spare blades and band aids.

Larger models require the cutting of pieces with a small saw. Very fine toothed blades are available that are fitted to a hobby knife, or you may choose a similar saw sold as an inseparable unit. Miniature aluminum miter boxes are available for use with the above saw.

Good sandpaper is an important "tool'. I like the reddish brown garnet paper. It seems to last longer on softwoods.

When drilling holes in delicate materials you can use a pin vise. The drill bit is held in a small chuck and you twist the slender shaft to make a hole.

A good set of small pliers will be useful. It should include a needle nose; one with rounded jaws and a nipper or side cutter to cut wire.

An example of the range of modeling tools available can be seen at Tower Hobbies' Web site: and click tools and building. Again, buy tools as you find a need for them.

When you get into electrical work a small soldering iron and/or soldering gun will be required.

Other basic tools include a small steel ruler, clamps, a metal straight edge, screw drivers, a small hobby hand plane and a couple of small drafting triangles.

Once established in the hobby you may want to add some expensive specialized tools.

It is less expensive to buy sheet balsa and strip it into needed sticks, than to buy the sticks separately. You can buy an inexpensive stripper to do this or invest in a higher quality one. Rubber can also be stripped. You can buy rubber to the width you think you need or buy it wider and strip it to just the right width that will get your model up just short of the ceiling. Rubber strippers are more expensive, but if you find that rubber-powered models are your favorite type of model, it is worth considering. You will find source information on these devices at: and click tools.

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Copyright 2002, Robert S. Munson. All Rights Reserved