Balsa, a lightweight and pliable wood from South America, is ideal for a variety of hobby and model-building purposes. However, balsa wood is best known for its featherweight qualities, perfect for the construction of gliders and model aeroplanes that can actually be flown. There are several options for building an aeroplane from balsa wood, and, whether built from a kit or made purely from scratch, constructing a glider from balsa wood is relatively easy. In fact, it's possible to produce an airworthy glider within a few hours.
Decide on the type of glider you'd like to build. Choose from two major types of gliders ---those built for speed, and those built with flight duration in mind. Gliders intended to achieve high speed will usually have wings in a triangular, swept-back position, while gliders meant to stay aloft for long durations will have longer, straight-wing configurations.
Prepare the template for the glider you'll be building. If you have purchased a kit, the template will already be printed and ready to use. If you're designing the glider yourself, however, draw the shapes of the pieces (wings and tail pieces) on a sheet of standard white paper. Either computer printer paper or sheets from a notebook will be sufficient.
Prepare your work surface. Lay the balsa wood sheets on top of a large cardboard or cork sheet, then place the template sheet over the balsa wood. Use straight pins to hold the template in place over the balsa wood.
Cut the wing and tail pieces from the balsa wood sheets. Cut through the template sheet and into the wood, following the guidelines drawn on the template. When you remove the template paper, the wood components should be cut completely from the larger wood sheet.
Prepare the fuselage, or body, of the glider for assembly. Measure the base width of each wing and tail piece component, then cut corresponding slits and notches in the length of balsa wood that will be the glider's body.
Assemble all of the glider's components. Glue each component onto the glider's body individually, allowing enough time for the connection to dry before attaching another piece. At this point in the building process you can begin to apply penny nose-weights to the glider. Use tape to affix each penny to the nose of the glider.
Test-fit each piece to make sure that all connection points fit before applying any glue. Some adjustments will probably need to be made before the pieces fit perfectly. It may take a few test flights to determine the exact number of penny weights to add to the nose.
Take caution when dealing with hobby knives. The name may sound harmless, but the blades on these tools are actually razor blades, and capable of inflicting serious injury if used improperly. Do not breathe the fumes from wood glue. Wood glue should be used in a well-ventilated area; breathing these fumes can cause permanent scarring to the lungs and mucous membranes. Do not paint balsa wood. Paint may seem to add little or no extra weight to the glider. The reality, however, is that even the lightest coat of any type of paint could render the glider too heavy to fly. Never launch or throw gliders toward anyone. The tips of gliders can be sharp, and contact with them at high speeds could cause serious injury, such as severe eye damage.