5 Great Scale Building Tips

Sep 28, 2013 6 Comments by

When it comes to building  airplanes, all scale modelers seem to have mastered the art of Imagineering. Where sport models are utilitarian and have basic Monokote finishes and switches are easily accessible and located, scale planes are all about looking realistic. Here are some basic workshop building and detailing tips as well as a few other just handy ideas to make your workbench more user-friendly and your models more realistic.

1. Repurposing is a new term but for modelers it’s old-school.


Check out this excellent treatment of the cockpit combing on this 1/4-scale Fokker D.VIII. The material is replacement golf-club grip tape. It’s made of leather and looks great. You could also get some old clubs from a fela market and carefully remove the old grips to save some bucks.

2. Hiding Servos

This is a old requirement. When you build a model with an open cockpit, you can locate your servos somewhere else, install a false floor, or simply place something over them to gain the attentions of the viewer. With my 1/3-scale Howard Ike Racer, to keep the tail weight to a minimum and to keep the pushrods reasonably short, I had to locate the servos in the cockpit.


So by adding some support braces from Lite-ply and adding some stick-on screen door magnetic strip material, I made my aluminum pilot seat removable.


Matching strips were added to the seat and the seat simply snaps into place. Now add a few details with common hobby/craft supplies and the finished treatment completely covers the servo installation.


3. Removable Fuel Tank Installation

Whenever I bury a fuel tank, (or a smoke oil tank,) sure enough, it will eventually form a leaky fitting. To make maintenance a bit easier, I always install my tanks in a removable tray made from plywood that screws into place.

tank battery

You can see here that this tray is serving double duty by also supporting my radio and engine ignition battery packs. The tray slides into place and is guided to the front of the fuselage with hardwood side rails built into the formers.


Here you see the tray in place. The view is through the wing saddle area. The two screws are easy to get to and hold the batteries and tank securely in place.

4. Staying Connected


Now this is something you did not think about years ago. Today, there are all sorts of online sources for building and detailing information, (like on modelairplanenews.com) as well as building forums and other modeling websites. While following a How To technique, I often skip printing out the instructions on paper and just use my Ipod in the shop. But! And this is important to know, electronics do no take kindly to drips of glue or splashes of paint solvents. Simply slip your electronics in a Zip lock bag and seal it from the elements. Many touch screen work through the thin baggie and you can stay connected. But don’t try this with electronics that have cooling fans like PCs and Tablets. They need proper ventilation.

5. Stay organized


I’ll go on the record and tell everyone, I just HATE hangar rash and I try to eliminate its causes in the shop. Ruin a nicely primed and fiber-glassed wing surface by placing the wing on the workbench with a screw in between and you’ll know what I mean. The best thing I’ve come up with is staying organized. Clean your workbench every night when you are done for the evening and keep small screws and hardware items in organizer boxes. This also helps speed the building process.

That’s it. if you have some good ideas, share them and leave a comment below.


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.

6 Responses to “5 Great Scale Building Tips”

  1. Marsh DeHart says:

    Great, resourceful ideas, Gary! Thanks for sharing them with us! And you’ve motivated me to try to keep my workbench less messy, if not as neat as yours!

  2. A WoodChuck says:

    Would love to see a section in the magazine about scale details and how they are done. Like how to make parts for the detailing.

  3. Tim says:

    I’m building a large R/C Cessna and your tips are very helpful. Thanks.

  4. John Werner says:

    Great tips! Is there a magazine with How To from master model makers?

  5. Jim Braithwaite says:

    When it comes to making location marks on covered surfaces for control horns,hinges screw holes etc.I use the ol’grease pen with a contrasting color.After you finish,just wipe the marks off with a paper towel.Slightly dampen it with denatured alcohol if you want to.The grease pen also works great for tracing windshield patterns and marking off large pieces of Monocote and 21st.Century fabric.

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