Instructions on How Build a Balsa Model Plane

Updated July 20, 2017

Balsa wood model planes are fun to build and fly and serve as an introduction to model making. They can be unpowered, have a propeller driven by an elastic band or, for more advanced model makers, have a petrol engine with fully working control surfaces operated by remote control. Balsa wood is a good material to use when building model planes, as it is light and relatively straightforward to work with. The easiest plane to build for beginners is a non-powered glider.

Lay out a 2-foot plank of 4-by-1/16-inch balsa wood. Mark out the wing profile with dots at 1-inch intervals with a pencil.

Trim the wood to shape with the utility knife. Smooth any rough edges with 800-grit sand paper Measure the length of the wing and divide by two to calculate the centre point of the wing. Draw a line with the pencil along the centre point across the width of the wing.

Mark out the fuselage side profile on a 1-foot plank of 2-by-1/16-inch balsa wood with the pencil. Take measurements at 1-inch intervals to keep the shape accurate.

Cut the fuselage to shape using the utility knife. Place the shaped plank onto another 2-by-1/16-inch piece of balsa and draw around it with the pencil and cut to shape with the knife. These two pieces form the sides of the plane.

Draw the top and bottom fuselage profiles onto two more 1-foot pieces of balsa and cut to shape with the utility knife.

Place the two sides of the fuselage into a clamp with a 2-inch thick block separating them. Apply glue along the rear edges of the balsa wood and bend the tail of the fuselage together. Hold the two pieces together with a bull-clip until the glue sets.

Apply glue to the front edge of the balsa on each piece and press the two pieces together to form the nose. Hold in place with a bull-clip for the glue to set.

Spread glue along the top edge of both pieces of balsa and press the top section of fuselage in place. Allow the glue to set and remove the wood block. Spread glue along the bottom two edges and press the bottom section of fuselage in place. Allow glue to dry and sand any rough edges with 800-grit paper.

Take an 8-inch piece of 2-by-1/16-inch balsa and mark out the tail with a pencil and cut to shape with the utility knife. Cut a 1/16-inch notch 1 inch down the centre line with the knife, moving from the front toward the rear. Mark out the tail fin on a 4-by-2-by-1/16-inch piece of balsa wood. Cut a 1/16-inch notch into the bottom of the tail fin from the rear to the front. Apply glue to the notch in each piece and slide the tail fin into the tail wing notch.

Glue the wing to the top of the fuselage with the leading edge 6 inches from the nose. Glue the tail assembly onto the tail of the plane allowing a ½-inch overhang. Allow the glue to dry before launching.

Things You'll Need

  • Balsa wood
  • Utility knife
  • Carpenter's glue
  • Ruler
  • 800-grit sandpaper
  • Clamp
  • 1-inch wood block
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About the Author

Richard May provides niche Web content for various clients via online forum sites and other outlets. He has technical writing experience, having written training manuals for bespoke and commercial software applications, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism.