Installing control horns
When installing control horns onto control surfaces the screwdriver invariably slips. The result is a hole poked into the covering material or a gouge in the balsa. There is a simple tool you can make that will eliminate this damage. Take a small piece of thin plywood and cut a rectangular opening in it just slightly larger than the base of the control horn. Place this opening around the control horn base before tightening the mounting screws. Now when the screwdriver slips there will be no damage to your new aircraft! (Courtesy Fred H., Derby Radio Control Club, Derby Kansas)
When using CA hinges use a marker to draw a black line across the middle of the hinge. This way you can tell if the hinge is being pushed into the wing when you put on the aileron. I have had some hinges do this and end up with a sixteenth of an inch in the aileron and the rest in the wing, not very strong. If you can't keep the hinge from being pushed into the wing stick a pin through the middle of the hinge it will not weaken the hinge at all.
How do you get the creases or lumps out of the fiberglass cloth we use to reinforce the center section of the wing? This method will probably eliminate them. Prior to applying the fiberglass cloth to the center section of the wing, take the time to iron it flat with your clothes iron. This will make it soooooo much easier to achieve a FLAT surface. Next, place the glass cloth on the center of the wing and tack it down to the surface with one drop of CyA (each corner, top and bottom).
This may require that you have to pull the cloth taught, but don't overdo it! Now you should have the cloth resting smoothly on the top of the wing. Now apply the resins (or CyA) over the cloth. You may find that after 3/4 of the cloth is attached that you now have puckers along one edge or the other, but this is easy to fix. Lift the material where you tacked it to the wing (remember I said to tack it down, not permanently attach it), pull taught, and tack it down again. there you have it!
Cowl and Canopy Mounting
Referring to the photo below, glue balsa blocks in the proper locations desired for mounting your cowl or canopy. Drill an appropriately sized hole through the cowl and into the balsa block. Drill out the balsa block to accept Nyrod. Press a short length of Nyrod in the hole and wick thin CA around the Nyrod. You now have a very vibration-proof mounting method that will undoubtedly outlast your model.
Vertical Fin Alignment
To get a fin in correct alignment with a fuselage, try using thread. Make sure you have an accurate center mark near the top-front of the fuselage, and tack-glue a long piece of thread to the top near the nose, a distance from the centerline equal to half the thickness of the fin. Run the thread back to the tail, and hold it against the side of the fin. The thread should touch the side of the fin evenly overall. If it doesn't, then rotate the fin until it does, then tack glue the fin into place, reinforcing it later. Last, remove the thread you tack-glued.
Here's a good way to balance airplanes. While building your plane, insert a half-inch square piece of plywood where the balance point should be. For a low wing, this should be on the bottom of the wing, and for a high wing this would be on top of the wing (Note: sometimes something will be in the way, like a canopy, and you can't use this technique). When the plane is finished, put a small hook into the plywood and suspend the plane with wire or string. This way you can check the fore-aft balance AND the lateral balance at the same time (Note: a low wing will be suspended inverted).
Fiberglassing Wing Centers
Whenever I fiberglass a wing center section, I've found it's difficult to get the fiberglass cloth to lay flat after it's been folded in a bag. Here's two ways to make this easier: (1)Use thin CA to tack it down. You may saturate the whole cloth with thin CA, or apply epoxy. On foam wings, make sure you use CA safe for foam. (2)Give the cloth a light spraying of 3M Spray Adhesive, then apply it to the wing. I've found this method to work extremely well, and it's safe for foam. Then apply the epoxy as usual.
Cutting Dowels Straight
When cutting a dowel, it's easy to make the cut crooked. To help ensure a nice 90-degree end, especially on larger diameters, try rolling the dowel into the bandsaw or scrollsaw blade.
Firewalls of planes are normally coated with epoxy to help prevent fuel and oil damage to the wood. On planes with no cowling, apply a coat of epoxy on the firewall after you cover the plane with film covering. Make sure the film overlaps a little onto the firewall. This way the epoxy seals the edges of the film covering. Besides, most film adheres better to wood than epoxy, so that's another plus.
Installing Triangle Stock
For me, triangle reinforcements have always been difficult to handle due to their shape, especially if they're coated with epoxy.
Try sticking your Xacto knife loosely into one end of the triangle. Then lay it on the bench so that the wide part of the triangle (the hypotenuse) is against the benchtop. Now apply the epoxy or other adhesive to the sides that will contact the airframe.
Next, by using the knife handle, insert the triangle into position in the airframe. Press down with your finger onto the wide side that has no glue, and carefully slide the knife out of the piece.
This way you can cleanly install triangle stock, and not get any glue on your fingers.
Cut two ribs from 1/16-inch steel. Drill two holes along the center line, one near the leading edge, one near the trailing edge, for 1/4-inch bolts to pass through. Make sure both steel ribs are identical.
Use a steel rib as a template to draw ribs onto balsa sheet. Leave room around each rib. Cut each rib "block" out of the sheeting, and drill the holes in each.
Assemble all ribs on the correct length bolts, and sandwich all between the steel ribs. Using nuts, tighten the assembly down, making sure it's straight.
Now, using a belt sander (a disk sander will work too), remove the extra wood around the ribs down to when the steel begins touching the sander. Cut out the spar notches with a hand saw, and clean them out with a file.
This will make all the ribs for a wing at once, and they'll all be identical, resulting in a straight, uniform wing. It can also be used for a tapered wing (with all the ribs of different size), and bulkheads and formers can be made using this method too.
Get some ammonia, found in the household section of the supermarket. Put some in a spray bottle, and spray both sides of balsa sheet liberally. Carefully bend the sheet to the right shape. You can even tape it to a form, such as aluminum soda cans, and let it dry. Once dry, it may be used as turtle-decks, etc.
To soak wood, get a piece of PVC pipe the wood sheet will fit in. Cap one end, and stand upright. Fill with water (You can't buy pure ammonia, the stuff on the shelf is low grade, water works fine) and drop in the sheet and cap the top if it floats out.
Get an old (but straight) telescopic antenna, the same type as on transmitters. Use it as an adjustable-length measuring rod to compare critical measurements on planes during construction. I use this idea to compare the distance from one wingtip to the stabilizer, and to make sure this distance is equal on both sides of the plane. This ensures that the stabilizer is parallel to the wing.
Engine Mount / Nosegear
If you have a small plane with a very tight engine installation (usually resulting from a very streamlined cowl), often there's no room for a nose gear assembly. Try drilling holes through the engine mount to accept the nose gear wire, and hold it in place with wheel collars. The steering arm can be placed below the engine, even on the outside of the plane. This will work with most engine mounts, even the two-piece ones as long as the engine is rotated 90 degrees.
Here's an easy way to make sure your servos will fit in your plane properly, especially helpful with scratch-built designs: Take the measurements of your servos, and make a few from wood, identical to the real ones. This may be easy if the manufacturer supplies full-size drawings of the servos. I made my servo blanks from pine blocks, a little plywood for the mounting hole piece, and a dowel for the motor shaft. These servo blanks will not only help in drilling the holes to mount servos, but will assure adequate clearance on all sides. In addition, the dowel is the correct size to press on an actual servo arm, which will help in aligning pushrods or cables. Using this method will help keep your real servos safe and clean during the building process.
Poke a hole in your covering
Gee why would anyone want to make a hole in your nice new covering job. Well holes for wing bolts, switches, hatch screw holes, pushrod openings, etc come to mind. Sure you could cut the hole/opening with a Xacto, or razor blade, but then you have to adhere the fresh cut covering to the surrounding wood. The solution; get an old soldering iron tip (pointed preferably) and cut the hole/opening with it. I use a 25Watt Weller, and it cuts through the covering with ease, and makes a perfect seal. Once you try this you won't want to do it any other way. One word of caution, clean the tip after each cut. I use a wet sponge like that used for soldering, but use a different sponge as to not foul the clean tip used for soldering. If you don't clean the tip regularly the burned covering will cake on, and not only smell really bad, but will inhibit the cut, as you will not have maximum heat. I thoroughly clean the tip with a wire wheel after each use. After it completely cools of course.
Hardening Mounting Holes In Balsa
To harden small holes in balsa in order to better retain wood screws or threads, use thin CA. Sometimes the CA will get on a finished surface doing this step. To prevent getting CA on the outside surface, use MicroBrushes. If you do not have MicroBrushes handy in the shop, you can also use one of the plastic coffee stirrers cut at a sharp diagonal to form a thin point. A drop of CA in the cavity at the sharp tip can be used to place a small amount almost anywhere.
Alignment Of Wings And Tail Surfaces
A very important task in building an RC model is alignment of the flying surfaces with respect to the fuselage. Most of the time there is no absolute reference which will allow you to measure the mounting angle and be certain that it is square. One method is to mark a point at the nose or tail (depending on whether you need a reference for the horizontal stabilizer or the wing) at the center of the fuse and measure to the tips of the respective flying surface until it is properly centered. If your aircraft model is in the "bare-bones" stage, using a large heavy straight-edge can easily create hangar rash even before you have done the finishing. Here are a couple suggestions to avoid the large metal straightedge problem.
One is to use a length of ordinary lamp cord. If you get a piece of it fresh off a roll and hang it in your shop, with a small weight at the bottom end, for several days it will be straight enough to ensure accurate measurements. Put a piece of heavy tape around one end (about the last 3/4" or so) and use a pin immediately in front of the tape and through the center of the cord to locate the reference point on the aircraft fuselage. Then hold the other end at a reference point on each end of the stab or wing to compare the two measurements. A small piece of duct or masking tape will mark your measurement on the lamp cord while you make adjustments to the mounting location of the airframe component.
Another trick is to use what home builders refer to as a "story stick". This is merely a small piece of wood (carpenters use a 2 x 4 but that could be as dangerous as the metal straight edge) possibly a long, 1/2" dowel or similar sized piece. Drill a hole about 1/2" from one end which accepts a heavy building pin to use as the locater. Use the other end to mark wing and stab locations. This can be a good reference tool to ensure your wing mounting is secure. Mark the dowel with the name of the plane next to the final dimension to the wing tip and check your model after several flights.
Locating Engine Mounting Holes
Engine thrust angle can be affected by small errors in the location of the mounting holes. To ensure the mounting holes are properly located on the engine mount, the most important task is marking the holes to match the engine case lugs. One good way to mark these holes is with a machine screw of just the right size to pass through the hole in the mounting lug. Cut the screw so it is just a few thousandths of and inch longer than the thickness of the lug, and, cut it on an angle so there is a sharp edge which extends just through the lug. Now, use two small pieces of double sided tape to hold the engine temporarily in place while you rotate the cutoff screw in each of the four mounting lug holes. This will leave a mark which is the exact diameter of, and in the proper location for, the mounting screws.
The next part is to get a true center mark for this mounting hole. If you have an automatic center punch, you may be aware that some of them come with replaceable tips. Buy an extra tip or two and grind them so they just fit through the mounting lugs and use them to center punch the holes.
Next time your wife yells about the balsa dust from sanding steal one of her large fluffy bath towels and use it to sand on. It not only protects the airplane from dings, but it will trap a huge amount of dust. When done sanding fold it carefully then take it outside and shake it out.
Note: see disclaimer above, I am not responsible for what happens when your wife catches you doing this!
When cutting sheets of plastic shrink covering nothing beats glass for a surface to cut on, it will not dull the knife or slow it down when cutting. The covering material will kind of stick to the glass if the backing is removed all by itself for easy cutting. You can also use low heat to make it stick even better for critical cutting. You can use solvent to put together large panels of covering without it sticking to the work surface. The best place to find a suitable piece of glass is at the flea market. Look for an old glass top coffee table. The rectangle ones work super if you have the room. Stay away from non-safety glass it breaks too easy…Saw this one somewhere….
Get a piece of aluminum 1 or 2 inch right angle that can be found at most hardware stores. Make sure it is really square (90%) then cut off 1/2 inch wide pieces.
Next drill small holes in each end about the size of a push pin or T pin.
Use the angles to hold ribs perpendicular to the building board by putting one on each side of the rib and then pinning it to the board.
IF you have to drill a hole in thin balsa do not try to use a common wood drill it will usually leave a ragged hole that is the wrong size. Go to the hobby store and get a piece of thin wall brass tubing the same outside diameter as the hole you want to drill. Mount the tubing in an electric drill (preferably a drill press) then hold a piece of sand paper or a file against the end while turning to sharpen it. Use this to drill your holes it will cut perfect holes. After cutting several holes you may have to push out the wood that collects inside the tube with a stiff wire. If you can find a drill the same size as the inside of the tube stick in in the top part so the drill chuck does not crush the tube. Also watch that the tube does not flare out at the bottom and change the size of the hole. From the instructions for the Great Planes Wing Jig.
Better plans cover
Waxed paper is the standard covering for plans when building an airplane on top of them I find that waxed paper does not come in large enough sheets and tends to stick to the airplane. Last time I built I used some left over plastic that is used to cover windows. This stuff is made by 3M Scotch and comes in large 3X5 foot sheets this is just the size of the plans I was using. the covering will shrink if heated but this is not necessary as it lays very flat. CA and other glues will not stick to this stuff at all and it is crystal clear unlike waxed paper. There was even a roll of double stick tape in the box. The price on the box (Which was several years old) was $5 this is cheaper then the Great planes plan protector stuff but I don't think you get as much.
Better screw holes
When you have to use screws that will be removed often drill the holes for the screws large enough to allow you to insert a small piece of Sullivan Gold-N-Rod glue the rod in the hole. The screws can then be removed and reinserted with out weakening the wood. John does not recommend this for high stress areas.
Easier plactic bolting
After you cut a plastic wing bolt stick it in one of those cheep plastic pencil sharpeners and give it a beveled tip this makes it much easier to insert the bolt and cleans up the start threads.
If you use T bars for sanding, gluing sand paper on them can be a mess and the stick on paper at the hobby stores is expensive. I find that stick on sandpaper made for electric sanders at hardware stores works just as well, or even better.The only problem is you need to cut it to size.
If you use the old style T bars the kind that have a thin vertical handle, you will find putting a piece of masking tape on where you hold it makes it much easier to hold on to.
Take a file and round the corners of your T bars you will be much less likely to gouge what you are sanding.
Use for an old sheet
A handy thing to have around when covering a airplane is a old folded king size bed sheet. It is soft and heavy enough to hold down a wing when stretching the covering over the ends or use it to prop up a fuse upside down when working on it.