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Common Tools for Building Model Airplanes

Important tools for your home workshop


Model airplane tool box

Model airplane tool box

Perhaps the most basic items for building or repairing a model airplane is having the proper tools for the job. Even with the proliferation of ready to fly RC model airplanes there remains the need to do minor repairs from time to time.

Following is a discussion of the tools that should be a part of everyone’s workshop. These tools are available at your local hobby shop or internet sites such as Tower Hobbies.

Proper tools for the job

I focus on designing, building and flying indoor RC model airplanes. The tools I use work well for these types of aircraft, as well as for larger models. It is important to take the time to acquire the correct tool for the task at hand.

Tools are not that expensive and they last a lifetime. Best of all is the knowledge that with the proper tool you can get your airplane construction job, whether building or repairing, done quickly and properly.

Building board and cutting mat

Building board and green cutting mat

Start with a building board

The first item you will need is a flat building board. I use a Guillow’s building board. It is lightweight, retains its flat surface and is soft enough to accept building pins.

You will also need a cutting mat, so that when you cut and work on various pieces of wood for your model airplane you do not damage the building board. A set of T-pins will be needed to pin the balsa fuselage, wing and tail frames to the building board as you construct your model.

X-Acto knife

X-Acto knife handle and #11 blade

Next on the list of model airplane tools is a knife to cut balsa and light plywood parts. The X-Acto series of handles and blades is an industry standard and should work well for any model airplane hobbyist. You can purchase a set of handles with various types of blades, all of which you will find useful.

For those on a tighter budget the X-Acto #11 blade is the only one that you will need. Sharp #11 blades are important enough to your construction work that you should purchase a box of 100 blades so you have a ready supply of new blades as needed.

Pin drill model airplane tool

A pin drill is used for making small, precise holes

A drill is a very useful tool that should be a part of any modeler’s workshop. Get a good quality electric drill and bits. You will be amazed at the number of tasks an electric drill can be used for with model aircraft construction.

If you enjoy constructing smaller, or more detailed indoor RC model aircraft, get a pin drill set for use on making very small holes. I found a pin drill perfect for making the holes required in the construction of the Sig Demoiselle.

Sandpaper blocks

You will need several grades of sandpaper, to include medium, fine and extra fine. A sanding block is a requirement, and X-Acto has a suitable block for smaller model airplanes.


Model airplane tool pliers

Regular and needle nose pliers are very useful

Several types of pliers are indispensable tools for model airplane construction. A normal set of pliers is useful for bending and cutting music wire used for landing gear. You will also need a smaller set of needle nose pliers for more detailed metal bending tasks.

Screwdrivers are used for a wide variety of model building duties. You will find the need for several regular sized screwdrivers with both a flat and cross point end. As with the pliers, you should get a set of micro screwdrivers for use with the smaller screws and fasteners typical with indoor RC model aircraft.

Coping saws

Coping saws can be used to cut plywood parts

A coping saw with a removable cutting blade will be used often in your building. The saw is hand held. The removable blade allows for cutting out the interior of items like fuselage formers by drilling a pilot hole, inserting the saw band, and then sawing out the interior structure. Again, X-Acto comes to the rescue with a very nice jeweler’s saw for this task.

CA glue for rapid construction

Cyanoacrylate, or CA, is a common glue used for model airplane construction. CA provides a very strong bond on wood to wood joints. Hobbyists usually use two types of CA. Thin CA is used for its quick bonding properties. Thick CA takes a bit longer to fasten the wood parts together, but can fill in for small gaps in the joint area.

You will also need five minute epoxy for bonds that require strength, such as a firewall mount. Note that if you plan to use CA on a foam model airplane, ensure that is foam safe and will not damage the foam by testing on a scrap piece of foam.

miniature screwdrivers

Collection of miniature screwdrivers

At some point you will use an iron on covering for your model aircraft, and you will need a tool for this specialized application. A small iron with a temperature adjustment is specifically designed for applying heat shrink coverings, and is available at your hobby shop or mail order catalogue.

Sanding blocks

Large and small sanding blocks

Other tools will be acquired over time for your model construction efforts. However, the tools discussed in this article will be the foundation for your workshop, and you will use them daily as you make and repair your aircraft projects.

You will discover other tools as your model building skills mature. Go ahead and add these new items to your collection, as the right tool for the job makes building or repairing your model plane all that more enjoyable.

Author: Gordon McKay

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