Chapter 4


Chapter 4

Equipping your shop

Housekeepers habitually object to glue stains on the dining room table and balsa chips in the rug, so it behooves the peace-loving modeler to find a space of his own for building.

You don't need an elaborate shop; the scene of your labors can be a corner of the kitchen table, a cleared space in the attic or cellar, or an empty garage - or maybe a workbench and a few shelves set up in your bedroom. In each case, the essentials remain the same. You must have a work surface of some sort and tools to perform the basic operations. You can add what you desire to the basic list to make modeling easier and enable you to tackle more complicated projects.

A perfectly flat work surface is a must, so since sticking pins into a table-top is hard work, procure a piece of 1/2" or 5/8" fir plywood, 12 x 36 inches in size, and a piece of 1/2" Celotex of the same dimensions. Glue the two pieces together with wood glue, weight them down on a flat surface until dry, and you have a work-board on which you can build anything up to six feet frames during assembly or for doping, and the ply. wood side is for cutting. It's handy to have a small piece of 1/4" plywood handy-about 6 inches square-to cut on when the soft side of the board is up.

The next indispensable item is an ordinary single-edged razor blade. This is the best tool yet devised for cutting sheet balsa, and has the virtue of being cheap and easily procured. Double-edged blades can also be used for some purposes, such as trimming excess paper from a covered frame. These blades should be broken in two along the center to make two pieces to avoid sliced fingers. For carving and hollowing blocks, and for cutting thick or hard material, specially made modelers' knives can be very useful. A small pocket knife with very sharp blades is handy for such jobs as shaping leading edges or other long pieces where long shavings are removed.

When you get the pieces cut out, it's necessary to hold them in position for assembly. Brass or steel straight pins, the slimmer the better, are used to lay out fuselage side frames and wing leading and trailing edges and other assemblies built directly over the plan. They can also serve to hold balsa blocks or planking in place on a structure while the glue dries. It's not a good idea to try to pin through slender longerons and stringers, particularly at points of stress, as it weakens or splits the wood. Rubber bands can be used to hold frames together where pins are impractical, and spring clothespins are also useful, especially if the ends are notched or shaped for special purposes. Sometimes the expanding action of the handle end of the clothespin will hold down an awkward interior joint.

A coping saw makes life more beautiful for the modeler faced with a piece of plywood or hardwood requiring cutting. Use a fine blade and clamp the plywood to the board with a C clamp, or in a vise. A short length of hacksaw blade is a sturdy tool for straight cuts; wrap the end with tape to avoid scraped fingers.

A pair of slip-joint pliers is necessary for bending wire parts such as landing gears. Wire can be cut by bending back and forth, but a pair of diagonal or end cutters makes it easier. Only the best quality of cutters are worth the modeler's attention; piano wire is hard.

A small hand drill with bits from 1/16" to 1/4" is extremely useful for drilling out wheels to fit L.G. wire, making holes for motor mounting bolts, fuel lines, etc. You can bend a hook, chuck it in the drill, and use it to wind rubber motors in a hurry. Very small holes can be cut using a piece of piano wire of the proper size as a bit with the business end sharpened to a chisel tip. Larger holes through soft material are neatly cut by a length of brass tubing with the end sharpened and notched like a saw. A pencil with the eraser removed provides a 1/4" cutter.

For getting into confined spaces, a pair of tweezers is very useful; for heavier work in close quarters, needle-nosed pliers are handy. They can also be used to bend tight curves in wire. Here again only the best quality is good enough for work with piano wire.

Model builders cut a lot of paper, and scissors are faster than a razor blade. Don't use the ladies' sewing scissors - get a cheap pair for yourself.

For sandpaper make a sanding block 3/4" x 2" x 4". Cut a slot along one side to tuck the sandpaper into, and slightly round the working face to avoid having the edge dig in unexpectedly. This is very helpful in sanding out planked surfaces, etc. Hand-held sandpaper is better for cutting down curved portions such as cowlings and fairings.

Sandpaper itself is one of the modeler's most useful accessories. Don't bother with flint paper, the common yellowish kind which soon wears out; supply yourself with garnet or aluminum oxide paper. You can dust it off and use it over and over. It's sold by lumber yards, hardware stores, and auto supply houses, and an occasional enlightened model shop. Garnet paper is a bright reddish brown, and aluminum oxide paper comes in various shades of tan and brown, with a salt-and-pepper look. All are labeled on the back. Get one sheet each of three or four grades from 6/0 to 3 and try them out. Get a few fingernail emery boards from a drugstore, too. You'll soon develop your own preferences. The difference between crude-looking models and showpieces is largely in the amount of sanding done.

If you're building power models, you should have a small adjustable crescent wrench for tightening prop nuts and mounting motors. One or two screwdrivers with small tips and long shafts are needed for tightening down mounting bolts and assembling gadgets. A small tack hammer for tapping out metal parts like aluminum landing-gear retainers should be on hand, along with a small pair of tin snips or heavy scissors (your own) for cutting thin sheet aluminum or tin-can stock. A hack saw is useful for cutting heavier metals, plastics, etc.

For trimming up and finishing metal parts, and for some fine cutting of hardwood, a small triangular file and an auto ignition file are very helpful. When you start building fancy items like gear boxes, you'll want a set of small taps and dies for cutting threads.

A typewriter key brush or an old toothbrush is excellent for cleaning up engines and brushing dirt from landing gears which have seen service. Keep a pint jar with a wide top on hand for washing engines in kerosene after underground landings.

You'll need a few paintbrushes for doping and trimming. A flat sign-painter's brush, 1/2 to 1 inch wide is a good basic brush for laying on dope. A camel's hair (or better still, red sable) brush does a beautiful job, and will last a long time if carefully cleaned in thinner after each use. Small round brushes (No. 3) do a good job of making fine lines when required. Cheap brushes don't last and they shed hair at the most embarrassing moments. This is one of the few items, along with cutters and needle-nosed pliers, which should be bought in the best possible quality. Of course, a spray outfit will make the job of finishing models much easier, and will turn out a superior job, but you'll still need brushes for finishing and touching up.

A small whetstone or grinding wheel keeps blades sharp for clean easy cutting. Use 3-in-1 oil on a hard Arkansas stone for putting a razor edge on your pocket knife. The oil will come in handy for lubricating things, too.

The modeler inevitably needs to do at least a little drawing and laying out of parts, and a ruler and compass should be on hand for this. A tape measure will help in laying out new control lines, checking wing spans, measuring out rubber motors, etc., and doesn't cost much. And don't forget a Stillson (pipe) wrench for getting the tops off neglected dope bottles.

In addition to hand tools, the modeler can add a number of power tools to his arsenal with a resultant improvement in efficiency. A small jig saw makes cutting out of parts painless and requires little space or expense. A band saw does a fast job of cutting out ribs and other duplicate parts in stacks, and of roughing out thick balsa blocks, as well as routine parts cutting. A six-inch table saw will produce spars of any desired size from sheet balsa, and will also cut beveled trailing edges from balsa or hardwood. Special cutting heads can be attached to shape curved leading edges.

With a lathe you can produce your own hardwood wheels, thrust buttons for rubber power, balsa fuselages, and other parts. You can put a high polish on aluminum propeller spinners and wheels with a cloth buffing wheel mounted on a lathe or a simple mandrel, and you can use the other end of the mandrel shaft for a small wire-brush wheel, which is very efficient for cleaning and smoothing items like solder joints.

A disc sander is an easy-to-make attachment for the same mandrel. Cut a disc of 3/4" plywood and cement a piece of coarse sandpaper to it. Make the center hole a close fit on the shaft to avoid off-center vibration. Use the sander for cutting down roughly shaped cowlings, etc.

A hand-held power drill can give the modeler most of the advantages of power for small jobs. There are attachments available for everything from sawing to spraying paint. You can even drill holes with it.

A soldering iron or fast-acting soldering gun, with flux and solder, makes it possible for the builder to put together a stronger model. Landing gear joints can be wrapped with copper wire and soldered, and wheels can be retained with a drop of solder on the end of the axle. Soldered mounting nuts will stay put, and you can't build really solid gadgets for dropping cornstarch bombs on gadgetless skeptics without doing some soldering. Of course, all wiring for electric lights, R/C installations, etc., must be soldered.

Probably the most useful single power tool is the drill press. In addition to drill bits, you can fit anything into the chuck, from disc and drum sanders to wire brushes. Special routing and cutting attachments can be added to extend the field of action of the drill press. You can run a bolt through a piece of wood or aluminum, tighten down a nut, chuck it in the machine, and turn out lathe work. By putting an old automobile engine valve in the chuck, you can lower the quill (power off) and apply terrific pressure for fitting together press-fit parts like bushings in wheels.

You'll need a place to put your workboard and storage space for your tools and supplies. If space is strictly limited, it's O.K. to pack the smaller items in a cardboard carton and lean the board in a corner when not in use; but it's a lot better if you can manage at least 3'6" x 5' of floor space for a permanent work table and a little wall area for a small shelf. Fig. 13 shows a simple workbench you can build at very small cost to fit this space. If you have more room you can extend the length up to five feet; more table space is unnecessary even for giant models. The wall shelf shown in Fig. 14 will store your glue, dope, balsa, etc., where you can get at them easily.



For scaling up plans and sketching your own designs, you'll need a drawing board. Make one from a piece of flat 1/2" plywood, 21" x 31" and surface it with 1/8" tempered masonite. Be sure the board is squared up and that the left edge in particular is perfectly straight. You can buy a 30" T square, or make one, using masonite for the ruling edge. It is best to buy your triangles, one 45° and one 30-60°, of clear plastic. With this simple equipment you can design almost anything.

An adjustable lamp which can be clamped onto the workbench is a great help. Use a 100-watt bulb to shed real light on the subject. A small postal scale will enable you to be very scientific about the weights of things - a necessity if you plan to enter competition. For R/C modeling, a voltammeter is a must.

A filing cabinet for your plans and magazines is very helpful, once you pass the toss-'em-under-the-bench stage. Don't ever throw away a plan, even if you're not interested in building it at the moment. A good plan library is indispensable to the enterprising modeler.

Engines should be tested and run out of doors, or at least in a well-ventilated space where a little spattered oil and a lot of noise won't matter. You should have an adjustable test stand for beam-mounted engines and a metal frame with various holes for radial-mounted power plants. A powered starter is a helpful item for breaking in engines or running them with small props for high speed. These can be purchased or built, using an auto-starter motor, driving a short length of water hose; press it against the spinner and push the button. Tachometers are available for checking rpm, and can be a real aid to getting the most from an engine. You can build a static thrust tester by mounting the engine on the lower end of a board (a 1x4 will do) about 18 inches long, suspended from its upper end so that it swings freely. By noting the angle the board assumes when the engine is running, you can compare different props, fuels, etc.

To save batteries used for starting glow engines, an old radio transformer can be altered, by cutting a few of the windings, to produce 1-1/2 volts. Ask a radio repairman to find one and fix it up for you.

And just to be sure you have a permanent record of your projects, make a camera a part of your modeler's equipment. Take pix of new models before testing - just in case. Get shots while starting, launching, and in the air. Even spectacular crack-ups make interesting shots - consoling thought, isn't it? You can sell your best pictures to the model magazines, which are always happy to see what we modelers are up to.

As you develop your own working habits, you'll discover tools you can't do without - and maybe some you don't use at all. Keep your eyes open for new items, and exercise your ingenuity in discovering new applications for things. Remember - there are few tools that a modeler can't find a use for.



Workboard, single-edge razor blades, straight pins, sandpaper, slip-joint pliers, flat paint brush 1/2 to 1"

Plus, if you build engine-powered models: screwdriver, hand drill and bits, coping saw, adjustable wrench.


The above, plus: Workbench and shelves, pocket knife, sanding block, tack hammer, diagonal pliers (cutters), needle-nose pliers, scissors, vise, hack saw, files (triangular, flat) whetstone, ruler and compass, small C clamps, type brush, paintbrushes - flat and round, oilcan, soldering iron, batteries or transformer, workbench light, drawing board and T square.


The above, plus: Tin snips, grinding wheel, Stillson (pipe) wrench 12", taps and dies 1/32"-1/4", tubing cutter, tape measure, jig or band saw, 6" table saw, mandrel with 1-HP motor (for: sanding disc, buffing wheel, wire brush), power hand drill with attachments, small lathe, engine test stand, vise, tachometer, scale (postal), voltammeter, filing cabinet, engine starter, static thrust tester, camera.

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