How to build balsa wood planes

Written by sam bresson
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Building a plane from balsa wood has its advantages over plastic. The nearly featherweight quality of balsa wood means that an aeroplane constructed from it can actually fly, as opposed to acting simply as a display model. Balsa wood planes are constructed from raw, unshaped pieces of wood, rather than moulded, prefabricated synthetic materials. As a result, building a balsa wood aeroplane can be more time-consuming than constructing a plastic model, but the time spent in pursuit of the balsa wood version will be repaid with functionality.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Balsa wood aeroplane kit
  • Razor knife
  • Cardboard or large cork sheet
  • Waxed paper
  • Straight pins
  • Wood glue
  • Tissue paper
  • White school glue

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Cut and remove all of the pieces from the balsa wood sheets in your kit. Many kits print the outline of the necessary pieces on the included balsa wood sheets. Some kits come pre-cut, but most will require you to cut the pieces yourself.

  2. 2

    Cut the appropriate notches in each piece.

  3. 3

    Prepare your work surface. Place the template or plans that came with your kit over a large piece of cardboard or cork sheet, then spread waxed paper over the template (waxed paper will prevent any glued pieces from sticking to the paper plans and destroying them). Hold the three materials (plans, cardboard, and waxed paper) together by placing straight pins through each layer.

  4. 4

    Assemble the aeroplane's major components (fuselage, wings, tail pieces); each of these will be constructed separately. Pin the strips of balsa wood along the spots indicated on the template. Once you have secured each of these strips you can begin to glue the notched rib pieces to the strips. Apply a dot of wood glue to each notch, then gently place the rib over its indicated location on the template, nudging each strip into its corresponding notch as you go along. Let each section dry thoroughly before removing it to begin constructing a new section.

  5. 5

    Cover the aeroplane's surfaces with tissue paper. Each of the plane's major components should be covered separately. Moisten the segment of tissue paper to be applied with a spray bottle or damp cloth. Lightly coat every exposed wood surface in the section you'll be covering with white school glue, then carefully lay the moistened paper over the section. Once the tissue paper has dried completely it will have shrunk considerably, thus providing a tight "skin" over the frame. Trim away any excess paper.

  6. 6

    Attach all of the aeroplane's covered, trimmed pieces. Use wood glue to attach all of the constructed pieces at the points designated in the kit's instructions. Once the glue has dried, the plane is ready for flight.

Tips and warnings

  • If the balsa wood plane that you're building will have a rubber band-powered motor, follow the directions that came with the kit to install that system during assembly.
  • Let the glue from each section's construction dry fully before attempting to remove it from the work-surface. This will prevent any warping or irreparable damage to the frame.
  • When covering the plane with tissue paper, the material should be very moist but not soaked.
  • You should not ingest wood glues, as most of them are toxic. Additionally, avoid breathing in the fumes from these glues. Severe scarring of the lungs and sinuses can result from prolonged exposure to the vapours.
  • Take caution when handling and working with razor knives.

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