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Building an Airplane Kit

Only a few years ago, buying an airplane meant buying an airplane kit, as the almost-ready-to-fly plane had not been invented yet. There is no experience quite like starting with a bunch of parts that have no resemblance to an airplane, and from that building a living, breathing, flying machine.

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I encourage you to try it at least once! This section will teach you about various materials and tools, as well as finishing methods, including airbrushing.

Kits often consist on parts cut from wood. The wood is largely balsa wood, as this type of wood is light yet strong. Other types of wood, e.g. plywood, spruce or basswood are used in areas where strength is more important that weight.

Other types of materials, such as Foam, and Fiberglass, are becoming popular for the airplane kit. Their advantage is that complex shapes can be more easily formed (by the manufacturer), making the kit easier to build. Foam has the disadvantage of not being as strong as wood, while fiberglass is generally more expensive. The wood itself can be prepared in a variety of ways. The parts may be machine cut, die cut or in the latest kits, laser cut. Laser cutting is controlled by a computer and produces very accurate, precisely fitting parts. If you've always been afraid of building an all-wood, try a laser-cut kit, they really are very easy to assemble. Note that in some very old kits, the wood is not cut at all! The pattern is simply printed onto the wood, and the kit builder must cut out parts manually. This type of kit is known as "printwood". Check out our detailed tutorial on building an airplane kit from balsa wood.


An airplane kit is almost always assembled using glue. This is not the Testors plastic cement of your display model airplane. There are specific glues for different tasks. CA glue - CyanoAcrylate glue. Similar stuff to Krazy Glue, works almost instantly. Comes in different thicknesses. Generally best for bonding wood to wood. Also great for bonding fingers to each other. Always use eye protection with these glues! Will melt foam (exception: the "odorless" version). Yellow glue - Carpenter's wood glue. Best for wood. Works much more slowly than CA glue, but can create an ever stronger bond. Epoxy Glue - A two-part glue that must be mixed. Different working times are available, eg 5 min, 30 min, 1 hour. Very strong. Will bond almost anything together. Silicone Glue - Good for bonding rubber or foam. RC56 - Canopy glue. Great for joining plastics. Dries clear and is flexible, so is perfect for canopies. Dope - Good for sticking tissue covering to balsa wood. Plastic cement - Not for RC airplane kits.


Someone building an rc airplane kit will need an assortment of tools. It's probably best to accumulate tools gradually over time, as more and more complex kit projects are undertaken.

Here are some of the really useful basic tools:

Safety glasses- Protect your eyes whenever doing any cutting, or using hazardous solvents (e.g. CA glues). The couple of extra seconds to put these on may be worth it someday.

X-acto knife - This is basically a single edge razor in a convenient pen-size handle. Various blades are available, the most common being the Number 11. Tip: buy these in a bulk package at a crafts store like Michael's, they will be much cheaper.

Sandpaper - If you want a good looking wooden airplane, you will need to use lots of sandpaper. Get an assortment of grades, from coarse to fine.

I've used as fine as 800 grit on some balsa airplanes.

Sanding blocks - Do not sand any large area with your fingers / hand only! Your hand will apply uneven pressure, leading to unsightly waves in the surface. Apply the sanding paper to one or more blocks available at the hardware store.

Razor saw - These are great for cutting through thicker pieces of wood that your razor knife cannot handle. X-acto makes one with a coarse and fine blade.

Coping saw - This is great for cutting through tougher woods such as plywood.

Pliers - Great for reaching and holding. I use these a lot during radio install.

Screwdrivers - Almost every airplane kit has screws!

Wire-strippers - Very useful if you are building an electric motor system

Soldering Iron - Same as above

Metal straight edge - You will need to cut straight lines, either on wood or on plastic coverings.

Dremel Rotary Tool - Saved the best for last. This is the single most-used tool in my toolbox. Get a continuously variable-speed model with lots of attachments.

After your airplane kit structure is built, you will need to finish the job with either a covering material or paint (or sometimes both).

Go here for detailed info on finishing an airplane kit.