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Tools and Tips

This article presents information about rocketry-related tools and some tips for building and flying your rockets. I'll update the article as appropriate over time.

Using Paper Over Fins

Gluing paper to balsa fins is a simple way to create a smooth surface and add some strength. I just finished building an Estes Comanche 3. The thought of sanding and sealing all nine fins was overwhelming, so I used the paper method.

I used heavy bond printer paper and 3M Super 77 spray adhesive. I sprayed the adhesive on a sheet of the paper and stuck the fin to it. I then stuck that to another piece of pre-sprayed paper and placed the "sandwich" under a weight for a little while. Then I used a rotary cutter to trim away the paper. The rotary cutter worked much better than a standard razor knife. After trimming, I sanded the edges.

Jig Saw

Building larger rockets requires different tools than building model rockets. For my recent Omega/Cineroc project, I had to cut eight fins and two launch-lug standoffs from 1/4" thick plywood. After making a mess of things with my old jigsaw, I bought a new Skil 4680 Laser Guided Scrolling Jig Saw. It has a number of features which make it better suited for cutting out rocket parts. The nicest feature is the laser guide - a laser pointer that ensure you cut exactly where you desire. The saw also has a built-in worklight and blade storage, scrolling action (you can turn/pivot the blade), and changing blades is quick and easy - no tools required.

Glider Trimming

Most boost gliders require trimming in order to glide correctly. This usually involves hand-tossing the glider to see how it glides and adding weight to the nose or tail of the glider to correct the glide. Most kits include a little clay to use as the weight. But it's often hard to find a place to put the clay and a blob of clay stuck to the side of your glider isn't attractive. So, I've started using stick-on metal weights designed for golfers to stick to their clubs. I assume you can find them at any store catering to golfers. I found them at Wal-Mart for just a couple of dollars a package. The weights are soft so they form around shapes, thin so that you can cut them easily, and self-sticking making it easy to position and reposition. Once you've found the right amount of weight and the right place to put it, you can use a little super glue or epoxy to seal it into place.

[Posted: 2006-09-08 | Updated: 2006-11-08]

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