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Transferring Model Plan Parts to Wood using Lacquer Thinner

This is a quick and easy way of transferring drawings to balsa wood. Lacquer thinner can be purchased for a few dollars at a hardware or other store.

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We got the tin shown below at Wal-Mart. You'll need to prepare a work area outdoors or in a well-ventilated workshop, as lacquer thinner fumes are not healthy. A respirator as shown on the left is not a bad idea (you can use it when spray painting also). Other stuff needed includes gloves, eye protection, and a small sponge or piece of cloth.

materials for parts transfer

You will need to make photocopies of the parts. Don't use this method on the original plan! You'll want to keep the plan in good condition, as you will build over it, and also you may need extra parts in the future.

The other advantage to photocopying is that you can (should) set the contrast to "dark", so that there's lots of extra ink to transfer to the wood. In the case, we're making six identical wing ribs, so six (make a spare, seven) copies of the rib were made. Plan (top) and copy (bottom):

airplane plan and photocopy

Cut away the excess paper from the copy. Then turn it face down, in contact with the wood. Wet the cloth or sponge with lacquer thinner. It should be very damp, not dripping. Hold one end of the copy with a finger (you may need an assistant or some other means of securing one end, if it's a long part).

Wipe the along the back of the paper, firmly and smoothly, in one direction only. Make several (4-5) passes, and you will see the part outline through the paper. Leave the paper in contact with the wood for 5-6 more seconds.

It will take some experimenting to get your timing right. Too little time and the transfer will be light. Too much time and the ink will start to run, making a blurry line.

lacquer thinner transfer onto balsa wood

Remove the paper, and you have a transfer!

completed part transfer



Repeat as necessary. You can stack parts fairly closely to conserve wood:

full sheet of airplane rib parts

Now you're ready to cut wood and build a model!