How To Build Model Planes

If you want to impress people with your skills, learn how to build model planes! This article will tell out how to make the balsa wood frame; covering the outside with tissue paper or monokote is a tutorial unto itself, and only really necessary if you want to fly the plane. Many people prefer the exposed balsa wood frame for display.

To build model planes, you will need:

  • Model plane plans
  • Zap Glue
  • Balsa wood
  • Straight pins
  • A large, flat workspace you are okay with sticking pins into
  • Wax paper
  • Razorblades
  • Sandpaper
  • A ruler
  • Clear tape
  • A lot of patience

Building a model plane isn't a one-sitting kind of hobby; expect this to take awhile. The best model planes are those made with patience and attention to detail.

When picking plane plans, remember that plan with a five-foot wingspan sounds (and is!) pretty epic when completed, but the plans are complex and take a lot more small parts. Try a smaller, simpler plane at first—you can always make more after this one once you're more experienced at plane-building.

Most model planes are made of an extremely light-weight wood called balsa wood. It comes in a wide variety of sizes; your plans will tell you how many pieces of what size to buy. You can purchase balsa wood at most hobby shops, as well as packs of razorblades (used for cutting the balsa.) Straight pins can be bought from craft stores; the ones used for sewing are fine.

Your workspace should be somewhere you won't need to clear for awhile, or perhaps on a large piece of flat cardboard so that you can pick it up and move it.

  1. Prepare your workspace. Your plans should have instructions saying which piece of the plane to build first; take that section of the plans, tape it out flat onto the cardboard, then cover it with wax paper and tape that down as well.
  2. Prepare your balsa. Using your ruler, cut the balsa into the shapes and lengths specified in the plans; it helps to lay a piece of balsa down directly onto the plans where it will end up and trim it with a razorblade so that the sizing is precise. Sand the ends as needed to make them fit snugly—flush tips make the finished plane hold together much better.
  3. Carefully glue the balsa together as specified in the plans. Zap Glue dries in seconds, so you need to be quick, but be precise too—once it's stuck, it's not coming off! A good method is to pin the balsa pieces to the board pressed together like they are glued, then drip glue down onto where they meet to fasten them.
  4. Finish each section of the plane in the plans in this way. Because Zap Glue dries so fast, you won't have to wait long between adding pieces. However, this kind of precise work should be taken only a few hours at a time—you can always take a break and come back to your plane later.
  5. Assemble the pieces of the plane that you have built. Generally, there are two wings, one body or “fuselage” section, one horizontal tail section, one nose section, and one tail fin. Depending upon the design of plane and complexity of the plans, there could be more or less sections, but the method to attach them is the same—the plans will tell you where to glue them together. The wings are always always glued into one long piece and then not glued to the fuselage so that you can remove them for easy transport.

Model planes come in hundreds of shapes and sizes; generally the box will tell you what scale they are compared to the actual model of plane they are based on. If you wish, you can add an engine or electric motor to your model plane, cover the frame with monokote or tissue paper, and turn it into a fun radio controlled gadget!

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