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Workshop Tips for Better Building

Workshop Tips for Better Building

For several years now I have been highlighting my projects and workshop builds online to share some of my building tips and Techniques I use. In the long view, I have always thought that learning how to fly RC planes was a lot harder that the actual building of the planes, even when kit-building. MAN readers are always asking what is needed to produce the airplanes so I’ve highlighted some of the basics here. So, let’s take a look backstage to see what I use in my hobby workshop.


(Above) A workshop is what you make it. From a basic table to custom built-in cabinets and shelves, you want a special place to work on your planes.

If you have a spare room, or an unused garage bay, you have the space, and an old table is all you really need for a workbench. Take the time and with practice, your building skills will improve with each airplane you build. Like anything else, learning what’s involved is the first step and becoming an experienced modeler is really just applying new techniques that you’ve already learned. Start with a simple plane and in no time you’ll become get the hang of it.

Here are some of the basics I have picked up along the way.

Building Boards

I do not build directly on my workbench.  I use a building board with a cork top surface. It is called a Wright Building Board. You can also use a piece of 2-inch foam insulation foam board or even a ceiling tile.  These surfaces make pushing modeling pins into the parts to hold them on place ease. The important thing is to keep your building surface flat and straight. My WrightFlyer building board is made from particle board under the ½ inch cork top with aluminum angle pieces under it to keep it straight. It is about 48 inches long by 20 inches wide.


(Above) I used a raised cork covered building board for most of my building. It is much straighter and level than my workbench so makes straighter models.

If you use inslulation foam boards you can spray it lightly with some 3M spray adhesive to affix it to the top of your workbench and keep it straight. Just use a little bit so when it get worn out and needs to be replaced, you can pop it up with a long knife or a saw blade.

Also, don’t actually cut things on the building surface. I built my workbench so it was about 8 to 10 inches wider so there is a wood surface to use as a cutting and work surface. Keep the building board clean and neat and it will last a long time.

Plans protection

OK the plans should be flattened out and placed on the building board. I cut the plans apart into sections so only the part of the plans I need is used and I tape it in place. (you can also use a craft glue stick for this.) I then protect the plans from the glue with either some clear “Plans Protector” from Great Planes (less than $10 for 25 feet.) You can also use clear MonoKote of even the clear backing sheet from regular Monokote covering material. The Plans Protector by far works the best even with thin CA glues. Using the Plans Protector also cuts down on the sanding of parts. The adhesive will smooth out and there’s no paper glued to the parts that has to be removed for a smooth covering job later on.


A common problem with all modelers, no matter how neat you might think you are is “hangar rash”. Dents, cuts and dings caused by placing wood parts and structures on top of hard things like pins, screws, nuts etc. So what I try to do (and believe me, this is by no means easy,) is to clean up scrap and waste from work secessions right when I complete them. It is a bit much to do this after every single task, but when you call it quits for the evening, stop and clean up everything. Put the tools away and sweep up the dust and chips. If you don’t do this, the amount of time needed to “fix” hangar rash is always greater than the cleanup effort.


(Above) use a glue caddy to prevent spills on your workbench.

Stay organized

Finally, divide your building secessions so you have only the parts and tools you need for the task at hand. If you are building the wing, no need to have formers or fuselage sides and engine mounts on the bench getting in the way. I also like this approach as it gives you that accomplishment feeling quicker.

RTL hardware

(Above) Organize all your hardware to make them easy to find. This saves building time and prevents hangar rash. RTL Fasteners (www.rtlfasteners.com) have lots of excellent hardware and handy organizer boxes.

I look at any model project as a series of smaller, minor assembly tasks or mini projects. This keeps the motivation up and you don’t get dragged down by thinking you have 75 or 80 percent of the plane to finish. I take 10 percent of the whole and finish it before moving onto the next 10 or 15 percent of the whole. It works for me anyway.


(Above) I could not live without my roll-away tool boxes. Keeping tools safe and handy is protecting your investment and helps save time.

Another good thing to do if you have the room is to have utility benches or tables where you have larger tools like sanders, drill presses or bandsaws located. This keeps your immediate work area cleaner and less crowded.


(Above) When ever using power tools like this 14 inch bandsaw, always provide plenty of light so you can see what you are doing.


(Above) A drill press should be in every workshop. Add a machine vise to hold your parts and you can increase your precision 5 fold.


(Above) The biggest dust maker is the belt sander. I keep it away from the model workshop and have it in my garage. Always use a shop vac to collect the fine dust

It is true that you can build any model with just hand tools but for me, the investment in basic power tools is a good thing because they speed work and increase accuracy. Plus, you can use them for non-hobby related tasks as well.


(Above) Nothing beats a good bench vice for holding parts while your work on them. This small vise has a clamp mount so it is portable and can slip over the edge of a table or workbench.

Finally, start with the more simple tasks and then work up to the bigger more involved ones and before you know it, your model will be built and ready to cover and finish… But that’s another article.



Updated: September 30, 2016 — 10:52 AM
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Add a Comment
  1. I love the curtains for the drill press room.

  2. It is always difficult for me to keep my working area clean. Especially when building wings. I find also that a workshop is never large enough!
    Currently I’m building a Sig 1/4 scale Sopwith camel and I have a habit of walking away from the project. So I pulled out a an expensive ping pong table and started a 33% Extra 330SC! I’ve gotta get it done and out of the way because it’s in the middle of the downstairs “family room”………so I kinda expanded my work shop!

  3. If that doesn’t get em building nothing will.

  4. Looks like your power tools could use a cleaning and some TLC.

  5. Protect your plans from glue by rubbing them with soap or candle-wax. It’s much cheaper and simler than special coverings.

  6. A really good workshop is like a man with callouses on his hands. You know good hard productive work, and lots of it has been done.
    Great shop!

  7. That workshop looks great! Too bad I don’t have room for one.

  8. Impressive workshop and great advice. Thanks!

  9. Whats on the floor of your work shop? I have soft foam interlocking palels from Harhoue fright.

  10. A really comforting article. It’s good to see others working in a similar fashion to what it took me almost 60 years to attain. Retired, I’ve had to downsize much of my life and am currently building an out-sized plane on a 1500 sq. in. workbench – that’s 10-1/2 sq. ft.! I do have a bottom shelf that filled up quickly to beyond capacity. I sure do agree with your building board philosophy, even down to your metal angle stiffeners. Good ol’ waxed paper(Cut-Rite of course!) is my plan protector of choice and sometimes I have to sneak up to the dining room table when I must open the plans completely. Nice timely article.

  11. I think a dust extractor (a free standing fan with a dust filter) is a very worthwhile investment. I do all my sanding of balsa wood right in front of the filter. All the fine balsa dust goes straight into the filter, whereas heavier pieces and splinters fall onto the floor directly in front of the filter where they can be swept up in seconds with a dustpan and brush. This way the workshop itself remains virtually wood-dust free.

  12. I am fortunate to have a small spare bedroom where I do most of my building. I find it easier and more convenient to build in the house, rather than in the garage, as well as the house being much more comfortable. Also, I am more likely to do a quick glue-up if I don’t have to go far. If I use epoxy, I have to do it in the garage though. A basement isn’t an option, because few houses have them in California. Several years ago I managed to get a piece of aluminum honeycomb panel, 12x42x1 that is dead flat, rigid and light and contact cemented some 1/2″ Celotex to it for a building surface; it has served me well for many years. I am a big fan of GP plans protector too. A few years ago I acquired a 60″ wide computer desk from a friend who was downsizing, and it is a great place to build. The desk has a flat surface that is large enough for my building board, plus other parts and stock for what I’m working on. The pull-out tray intended for a keyboard is handy for parts and stock, my sacrificial cutting board, small miter box, sanding block, etc.; it also has small recesses for paper clips and such that are a great place for pins and small hardware. It has two regular size drawers for tools, fasteners and such and a hanging file drawer for instructions, notes and other modeling information, and a cabinet. There are cubbies and a cabinet on top for glue, parts and other stuff, as well as one 25″ wide, enough for partially completed subassemblies, including 24″ wing panels. My full size power tools are in my attached garage. Something very useful for storing small parts is the Flambeau 5007 Tuff Tainer See-Through Storage Box, available from Amazon and elsewhere; I have several.

  13. After developing a nasty long term cough exasperated by balsa, pine and particularly cedar (known for respiratory issues) dust I drilled a couple of holes in my sanders legs slipped in an axle and wheels. I now wheel it out of the worshop. Far less dust, more work space and you can still use the vac.

  14. A great article. Thanks Jerry

  15. I like reading articles that share what fellow aeromodlers are doing! The information is valuable to every hobbiest. When reading these articles I do have a thought; is there someone who edits and proof reads? I noticed that there were several grammatical errors. Is there someone on staff of MAN that needs help? I would be willing to help to make the article better to catch some of these errors before they go to print.

  16. Great tips and article,thanks….although… I would suggest your power tools need some attention(cleaning?)and tool box could benifit from some organizing.

  17. Very good article. I am lucky enough to have: 1st a very understanding wife of 54 years and 2nd a Florida room that we never used inside my home. When setting up my workshop I have all the major cutting and shaping operations in the garage….the building in the Florida Room. I purchased 3 of the wood work benches ( they each have 4 draws) from Harbour Freight Tools. Two benches for counter space and the third to place my 3-6 foot MD particle board which is covered with ceiling tile, a galvanized steel sheet steel which is then covered with OLFA cutting sheets. I build with magnets so the sheet steel is necessary and the magnets will hold through the cutting sheets. The building board can be shimmed to get the board to be flat if required. I am currently finishing up a Wendell Hostetlers 1/4 scale RV-4. My machines are the smaller version from Micro-Mark and Model Machines ( Orlando) + Harbour Freight.

  18. My latest project is a Piper 60 size. I needed extra room so at one time I remodeled the house and I saved some flat panel doors. I used them, 2, for my work benches now. I put ceiling tile on top. This is all in my basement with a nicely heated 30×20 room. Its cold in WI now, Jan 2017, so its fun to have access to all my tools and my favorite is the small scroll saw. I have jigs for ripping balsa long and straight. I made a cnc hobby router a while back and I use that for routing panel inserts or chamfering control surface LE. its fun. I need a bigger engine….

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