How To: Apply Scale Surface and Rib Tapes

Aug 24, 2013 10 Comments by

Our December issue of MAN will include an article I wrote about painting and finishing models with scale Stits and Poly Tone paints. I touch on Rib and Surface Tapes briefly so here are some more details on applying these scale details. When it comes to large 1/3-scale models, these kind of details are all the more important for a good professional looking finish. For these techniques, I am showing what I did on my Balsa USA 33% Fokker Triplane kit.


For most of my experience in finishing model airplanes, the “go-to” product has always been paper hair setting tape. The pink colored paper tape “Beauty Mark Styling Tape ” is available at most “Sally Beauty” Supply stores ( Another tape I like to use is CVS brand cloth bandage tape. This has a finer pinked edging and works very well as it has a mild adhesive backing. It is not as flexible as the paper tape so I use it mostly for straight flat applications. It comes in several widths and I use it for wing ribs, and wing Leading edges, tail surfaces and fuselage stringers. For Trailing Edges and tight radius edges I use the older paper tape. If you are applying tapes over Stits Lite fabric, you can also use the surface tapes available from F&M Enterprises, as they are cut from the same material, but does not have adhesive applied to it.

Getting Started


Start by doing the smaller surfaces first and then go on to bigger ones. It is important to have a clean and smooth fabric covering before applying the tapes. I have found you can apply tapes before, or after applying the Poly Brush to seal the fabric.


By the way, F&M Enterprises also offers scale rib tapes cut from the same material used for Stits Lite fabric. It works great as well.


Here you see the cloth surface tapes applied to the tail surface ribs and the paper tape applied to the rounded outer edges. Here about two coats of Poly Brush have been applied.

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Here I have started to apply Poly Brush to the rest of the horizontal stabilizer. The more coats you apply, the smoother your finish will be.


A good rule for applying tapes is to apply all the short ones first and then apply the longer edge tapes to cover the ends of the short
ones. First apply the short tapes and apply them slightly over long so you have some overhang.


Do not wrap the short tapes around edges, instead cut them flush with the edge and then use the longer ones to finish up the edging treatment.


This makes the edge tape smoother and neater. As I mentioned before, you will find that the fabric bandage tapes work great in straight lines but are not as flexible as the paper hair styling tape. I use the paper tape to wrap the trailing edges. It works great for this and the combination of both tapes is very useful for a nice scale appearance.


Above you see the tapes applied to the aileron. I did add a couple coats of Poly Brush under the tapes.


Here I am applying more Poly Brush to the tapes. Be sure to fill in their weave for a smooth finished look.

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Once you have applied your tapes and several additional coats of Poly Brush to fill in the surface weave of the cloth covering, use stiff wire hooks and hang your control surfaces to dry overnight. If you leave them flat on the workbench or horizontal, you will mare the finish and dust will settle on the parts.


The same techniques applies to all the cloth covered parts of your model including the fuselage. Here the surface tapes have been applied and one coat of Poly Brush has been applied over the tapes.

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I apply tapes and Poly Brush to all areas where sub structure edges and corners comes in contact with the fabric. For the fuselage, I prefer to do all this with the fuselage horizontal on the workbench and work one side at a time.


Just like the control surfaces, after the fuselage has been done, I hang it on stiff wire hooks from the shop rafters until dry.

Under-Camber Wings

With vintage airplanes like the Fokker Triplane, the wings are under-cambered and if you heat the fabric too much or don’t do a good job gluing down to the underside of the ribs, it can pop free and bridge the surface of the ribs. Here’s a trick I use to prevent this.

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Take a sharp awl and poke a hole into the center of the rib cap-stripping. It dies not need to be very deep.


Take a “00″ screw (it does not have to be counter-sunk but) and screw it into the hole.


Tighten it down so it recesses into the cap-strip but be careful not to strip out the threads.

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Apply a drop or two of thin ZAP CA glue around the screw head so it wicks into the cloth.


Now repeat this process for all the ribs in the wing.

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Now apply the tapes to the wing ribs and the around the outer edges.

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When applying the wider Leading Edge Taping, I like to place the wing up on edge so I can eye-ball the straightness of the tape by sighting along it from the wingtip. Take your time and make sure all your tapes are applied straight.


Here you see the paper tape applied around the wing tip to cover the covering seam.

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As with all the parts of the model, apply several coats to the tapes to fill in their weave and to build up the surface and smooth and blend in the tapes with the rest of the covering surface. Also note here the the tapes are centered overe the rib cap-strips and the corner edges.


Here the wingtip has been filled with Poly Brush. Notice also that the rib tapes extend over the Leading edge sheeting and the ends are covered over by the wider Leading Edge tape.


Once finished, hang the wing panels to dry over night.


After you have applied the Poly Brush and it has dried overnight, you can continue with your paint job. Here the silver “Poly Spray” undercoat has been applied.


Here’s a closeup of some fuselage surface tapes all silvered out. Make sure they are all applied flat and there are no lifted edges. No amount of paint will cover up mistakes. If you find lifted edges, apply more Poly Brush and press the tapes down until dry.


Here’s the wing Leading Edge. Notice how everything lays down nice and flat.


That’s it! Now all you have to do is paint, mask, paint, mask and paint your model…


Adding the fiberglass panels gives the plane a scale appearance. But that’s another technique.

Featured News, Gerry Yarrish, Scale

About the author

Senior Technical Editor About Me: I have a lifelong passion for all things scale, and I love to design, build and fly scale RC airplanes. With 20 plus years as part of the Air Age family of magazines, I love producing Model Airplane News and Electric Flight.

10 Responses to “How To: Apply Scale Surface and Rib Tapes”

  1. Scott & Ryan Davis says:

    Gerry, nice job with the rib stitching. I have learned from some old fellow modelers a way cool and easy way to add the rib stitching using two sided tape and string. Just add the strips of tape with the string stuck to it and then the rib pinking tape. This can greatly improve the look of the rib stitching and tape.You can see what i have done on my 1/3 scale Stearman in the mag. Flying Scale Models issue April 2009.
    W.O.T.R. in 2 weeks You going to stop by?

    • Gerry Yarrish says:

      Hi Scott. thanks for the invite, but I have a local event “Big Biplane Bash” same weekend! I know a couple ways to duplicate stitching, but when I look at the full size planes, they detail is very slight and almost not noticeable. Modelers seem to over do it and I prefer the look of takes only. to each his own… I’ll check out FM magazine for sure

  2. Bob Barth says:

    Nice work, but from what I understand, rib tapes did not contain pinked edges until 1919. Before that time frayed edge cotton was used. Correct me if I’m wrong, because I would like to know.

    • Gerry Yarrish says:

      good point Bob. you are correct. however, my triplane (Cole Palen’s) replica is from 1960s, so what is scale gets a little muddy! good topice for conversation though.

  3. Albert Tai says:

    Hi Gerry,
    I am contemplating ordering the STITS lite fabric and I am wondering can balsa rite be use to glue the fabric as they are available at hobby store here in Singapore. It difficult to ship hazardous liquid internationally.
    Your comment appreciated .
    Albert Tai

    • Gerry Yarrish says:

      Hi Albert. I think you can use Balsarite but you would need to use several coats. As it is formulated for use with adhesive backed Coverite cloth. I would try using some polyester fabric from the fabric shop to see how it works with bare cloth without any glue backing. Do a test panel before ordering Stits Lite products.
      good luck

  4. Terry White says:

    Very well done article! Nicely done. I have done a couple of airplanes with rib stiching, and tapes. I still learned a “thing or two” from the article. Keep up the good work

  5. Lee Hudson says:

    If you apply a coat or two of Poly Brush before adding the tapes, the tapes fill better and more importantly, you can use a covering iron on low heat to carefully smooth down the pinked edges leaving a much smoother edge requiring much less sand and fill with silver

    • Gerry Yarrish says:

      Yes good point Lee. I have done it both ways with and without Poly Brush under the tapes. I find either way acceptable to my own expectations. To each his own!

      • Lee Hudson says:

        Great article. Good to know about the styling tape. I like to see this kind of article – more hands on building and craftsmanship. I am old school and while the ARFs are nice, a big part of “modeling” for me is the actual modeling as much as the flying.

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