Building model airplanes is accomplished with greater accuracy and reduced building time, and to a certain extent with less skill, when proper tools are used. Many such tools are low in cost and can last the lifetime of the builder. Shown is a selection of some wood cutting tools that I use in my workshop. I will talk more about the tools I use in future articles.
Great Planes Model Manufacturing Co. has a wide selection of woodworking and related tools in their inventory of products. Two products I’ll discuss, the Power Plane™ and Easy-Touch™ Hand Sander.
Their Power Plane™ (Item #GPMR4030-$60) is a motorized razor plane. It is equipped with an electrically powered (110v) spiral-blade rotary cutter. The depth of cut is easily adjustable from .01 inch to .03 inch. The unit is designed primarily for use with balsa wood, but it can be used with soft woods such as basswood, LitePly, birch, aspen, etc. Works well on foam too.
The cutter spins at high speed while effectively shaving the surface of the balsa wood, much like the action of a regular hand plane. Both power buttons are depressed simultaneously for the unit to operate. This is a good safety feature. The cutting blade is very sharp and you won’t want to have the blade start turning when you don’t expect it.
There is an internal fan that creates a positive pressure inside the housing to aid in motor cooling and to prevent excessive sawdust from entering the unit.
The cutter can easily be replaced. (Item #GPMR4040). Like any cutting tool or blade, the sharpness will start to decline as it is used. Sharp cutting tools are very important for the proper cutting and shaping of balsa wood.
Is this a practical tool? Absolutely. There are many applications for the Power Plane. For example, consider making a solid elevator from 3/8 inch balsa. Using the Power Plane, it would certainly speed up the process to shape the elevator to a typical tapered cross section. Normally the leading edge will be beveled to provide clearance for the movement of the elevator. The rough shaping of the bevel can quickly be accomplished with this tool.
Another project for the Power Plane is the rough shaping of blocks to be used for engine cowls, wheel pants, and wing tips. Setting the cutting depth to maximum, the preliminary forming process can be done promptly.
A good application is forming of the leading edges of the wing, stab, and fin. The large amount of working surface on the bottom of the Power Plane allows for accurate shaping of the contour of leading edges. Sandpaper would be used to form the final shape.
The Easy-Touch™ 5 1/2inch hand sander (item #GPMR6169) is a tool that can be used during the building of every airplane. The sanding block is made from an aluminum extrusion. The bottom surface is 2 1/4 inches wide. What is unique about it is the special contour shape that allows your to easily grip it with your fingers. Removable adhesive backed sandpaper is used. Refill sandpaper of various grits and sizes are available from Great Planes. You can also use contact cement to attach regular sandpaper to the blocks.
Master Airscrew, well known for their propellers, also manufactures two woodworking tools that I find very useful, a razor plane and a balsa stripper. Both of these tools are made from heavy duty reinforced nylon.
Razor Plane (MA4100-$5.95 list). Standard wood working planes are fine for trimming harder woods such as spruce, pine, and maple. For trimming thin balsa wood, an extra sharp cutting edge is needed. Thus the need for a razor plane. As the name implies, a razor plane uses a replaceable razor blade as the cutting device. The one made by Master Airscrew is one of the best and I recommend it highly.
There is an adjustment to control the depth or amount of the cut. One has to experiment to find the right depth of the cut. A smaller cut is easier to deal with than a heavy deep cut. As the unit is used numerous times, the special .017in. x 1 3/4in. blade will eventually become dull and will have to be replaced. It is very easy to replace and extra blades are provided.
I use the razor planes mostly to shape the leading edges of the wing, vertical fin and stabilizer, and to form a radius on the edge of the fuselage sides. By taking several light cuts there is less chance of removing too much material. The razor plane is also good to trim a solid control surface like a strip aileron. Normally the ailerons have a straight taper forming a cross section like a triangle. Using the razor plane, you cut the aileron close to the shape desired, then with some #150 sand paper and a sanding block, finish shaping the aileron. Another application is forming the bevel on the leading edge of control surfaces.
Balsa Stripper (Item MA4000-$5.95) uses a standard #11 knife blade for its cutting edge. It is securely held in position with a nylon clamp and two screws. The Balsa Stripper is of particular interest for the cutting of balsa wood strip stock up to 1/4in. thick and 1/2in. wide. Those building micro electrics and park flyers
will find this tool indispensable. The advantage of cutting your own wood strips is the ability to select the size strips you want and, also more importantly, select the density or hardness of the wood. You don’t have to use just balsa wood. Basswood is an excellent wood for the smaller models.
The Balsa Stripper allows you to select any size strip dimension needed. There is an adjustment knob that allows you to dial in the correct distance between the reference surface and the knife blade. You cut up to slightly more than 1/2in. wide strips with this unit.
www.greatplanes.com, (800) 682-8948
www.masterairscrew.com, (916) 631-8385