Friday, March 23, 2012

Building A Model Rocket - part 1

We're going to start a series of posts where I'll build a basic model rocket kit online. The idea is to show the process step by step, including pictures and passing along tips and tricks that I've learned along the way, while you follow along and build your own rocket.

Please feel free to ask questions as we progress, and hopefully we'll see some pictures as folks build and launch their own rockets.


The rocket we're going to build is the Estes Fat Boy (see below). You used to be able to get this rocket in the toy section of WalMart, look for model rocket kits near the car model kits. You can also find it in some craft stores and hobby shops, sometimes in other packaging like a bag or box instead of the plastic bubble-package pictured, but it will probably cost a little more. If you'd like to build along and can't find the Fat Boy, you can get something similar because the basic steps will be the same. The Baby Bertha or Alpha would also be good choices, although most any Estes rocket kit will do.


Now is also the time to gather building materials. If I mention a specific brand, it's because I've used it and know it works. There are all kinds of products out there that'll work just as well.

You're going to need an x-acto knife (or equivalent, you could get by with a single-edge razor blade). You'll also need some yellow or white glue. I recommend Elmer's carpenters glue, if you get the exterior stuff it's gelled and doesn't run and drip nearly as much (it's also brownish). You can also use Eileen's Tacky Glue, TiteBond, white school glue, or anything similar.

The only other must-have will be a pencil.

The following things aren't strictly necessary, but if you use any or all of them you'll have a nicer looking and better flying rocket. They're completely optional, and I'll note when to use them if you want to.

I highly recommend that you get a pack of sewing elastic. You want to get the flat 1/8" wide stuff, and it'll probably be 3 yards long. WalMart sells it for about a dollar, back in the sewing department.

Super-fine sandpaper, at least 220 grit (the higher the number, the finer the grit). You can find this in the hardware department in sheets, or small pads of it in the craft section. WalMart sells an assortment from 3M called 'wet or dry' sanding pack that contains two sheets of 220, two of 320 and a sheet of 400 grit.

Elmer's Fill'n'Finish. Also found in the hardware department, get the smallest tub of this. If they have more than one kind with similar names, hold a tub of each in either hand and pick the lightest weight one. We'll use this to fill the grain in the balsa wood fins and the spirals in the rocket body. You could use a lightweight spackle too.

Fishing swivel. This makes attaching the parachute easier. Don't buy a package of these, but use one if you can borrow it or already have one in your tackle box.

You can wait to get primer and paint, and I'll talk more about it later. Here's a little about it up front though.

Spray primer. I use Rustoleum sandable primer, it comes in white, gray, or even black. Get whatever they have.

Spray paint. Rustoleum or Krylon is what I use. Get whatever colors you want to use. The little cans of Testors paint near the models are cool colors, but very expensive for their size.

Masking tape. You'll need a roll of 1/2" tape if you want to paint your rocket with more than one color.

Next up, we'll take a look at the various parts of the kit and do some pre-assembly work.

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