How to cover RC airplanes with heat shrink plastic film

Written by william mccoy
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How to cover RC airplanes with heat shrink plastic film
If built correctly, a model aeroplane can look just like the real thing. (Model Airplane image by Sydney van Rensburg from

Building a remote-control model aeroplane is an entertaining hobby for those who enjoy working with their hands. The majority of model aeroplane kits come with the parts required for the plane's construction, meaning you must build the plane's wooden frame, install the engine and finish the body with "skin." A model aeroplane's skin is often made of a heat-sensitive plastic film that shrinks onto the plane's wooden frame. Film is available in a variety of colours to suit each aeroplane.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • 800-grit sandpaper
  • Vacuum
  • Scissors
  • Razor blade
  • Ruler
  • Hobby iron
  • Heat sock

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  1. 1

    Sand the aeroplane's wooden frame with 800-grit sandpaper to remove any tiny rough areas. By the time you are ready to cover the plane, you'll have already sanded the entire body. However, it is useful to have fine-grit sandpaper on hand to remove any imperfections.

  2. 2

    Suck any remaining wood dust off the aeroplane using a vacuum. If you prefer to use compressed air to blow the dust away, be careful of blowing too hard on the plane's joints.

  3. 3

    Place a panel of the aeroplane on a flat surface and measure a section of the plastic film roughly two inches larger than each side of the panel.

  4. 4

    Cut the plastic film to size with scissors or a razor blade.

  5. 5

    Read the instructions for the shrink wrap. Depending on its brand and style, it will require the hobby iron to be set to a specific temperature for both tacking and shrinking. The lower temperature will be for tacking, while the hotter temperature will shrink the wrap after you have tacked it into place.

  6. 6

    Set the iron to the required tacking temperature and wait for it to heat up.

  7. 7

    Place the wrap over the panel and tack it to one corner by touching the iron to the plastic for a second or two. It will be apparent when the film has been tacked into place. Wait for a few seconds until the tack has cooled and thus strengthened.

  8. 8

    Stretch the shrink wrap to the opposite corner of the aeroplane's panel and tack it into place. For example, when tacking a wing panel, make your first tack in the top left corner and your second tack in the bottom right corner. Continue tacking the panel by tacking areas away from your previous tack. Continue until the panel has been tacked in several areas around its perimeter.

  9. 9

    Turn the hobby iron to the temperature required for shrinking the wrap.

  10. 10

    Move the iron slowly along the outer extremities of the panel to seal the wrap to the panel. Continue until the shrink wrap has been sealed to every side of the panel.

  11. 11

    Trim off any excess shrink wrap with a razor blade.

  12. 12

    Place a heat sock over the iron. Heat socks are available at hobby shops, and serve as a buffer between the hot iron and the shrink wrap.

  13. 13

    Slide the iron lightly over the aeroplane panel. Make small circles with the iron to keep it moving. You will notice the shrink wrap wrinkle temporarily as it tightens on the frame. Continue until the wrap is satisfactorily tightened along the entire panel, then repeat for the rest of the panels on your aeroplane.

Tips and warnings

  • The shrink wrap may slightly change colour once it has shrunk into place.
  • Do not hold the iron in one spot for too long, as it will burn a hole through the wrap.

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