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  1. #1
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    Applying Monokote or Ultracote Heat Shrink Film to rockets

    Prompted by a request by DeeRoc in the Viper Family thread, here's a quick "How To" apply model aircraft Heat Shrink film in rocketry applications in video format. Most commonly, you find Monokote (Top Flite) and Ultracote (Hangar 9); both work well though apply and shrink a bit differently than one-another. I use both; again they both work great albeit differently; there are a few other less common options out there as well.

    I did not invent this technique, nor do I pretend to know it all. I have been covering r/c planes and consequently rockets for the last 20+ years. Personally, I find covering paper/wood rockets significantly easier and faster than the more traditional filling, sanding, priming, and painting. Almost exclusively, I cover Loc rockets instead of painting them.

    One added benefit is that a properly shrunk film adds strength to the airframe/structure while adding very little weight. Paint generally weighs more and adds no strength to the object.

    This is an uncut, unedited, impromptu documentation of the covering process. It ain't pretty, but hopefully it's informative. If anything, it's convinced me to begin an exercise program again!

    Covering a Tube

    Step 1: Prep airframe, Determine length and circumference, cut film
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-C...ew?usp=sharing

    Step 2: Peel backing, wrap around airframe
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-C...ew?usp=sharing

    Step 3: Tack
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-C...ew?usp=sharing

    Step 4: Finish tacking. Seal the seam!
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-C...ew?usp=sharing

    Step 5: Shrink (using Heat Gun) Note: it is possible to cover a tube without using the Heat Gun. It is more difficult, time consuming, and produces less stellar results, in my opinion.
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-C...ew?usp=sharing

    Step 6: Finish shrinking using the Heat Gun, Iron down the surface, Iron the tube ends
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-C...ew?usp=sharing

    Step 7: Trim Ends, Holes
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-C...ew?usp=sharing

    That's it! Though I didn't rush, that tube was completed in 3 songs on the Radio, or about 20 minutes. Adding trim, mult-colors, etc. adds to time and complexity, but is still relatively easier than masking and painting. I enjoy painting as much as I enjoy covering; the intention here is to simply provide folks with an alternative method of adding color and shine to their rocket projects. Enjoy!

    Eric Cayemberg
    TRA 7783 L3
    TAP

  2. #2
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    Hey this is great stuff, thanks!


  3. #3
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    Very cool, Eric. Thanks for taking the time to do this. This looks stupid easy compared to painting. Have you ever had the MK start to peel off after a few flights? Do you cover fin cans, too? Also, you mentioned Ultracote, which do you prefer?

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by dhbarr View Post
    Hey this is great stuff, thanks!
    You're welcome! Thank you!!!

    Quote Originally Posted by DeeRoc29 View Post
    Very cool, Eric. Thanks for taking the time to do this.
    You're very welcome; you caught me at the perfect time!

    Quote Originally Posted by DeeRoc29 View Post
    This looks stupid easy compared to painting.
    Agreed! And I like Painting too!

    Quote Originally Posted by DeeRoc29 View Post
    Have you ever had the MK start to peel off after a few flights?
    No, but here's some additional thoughts on the question. I usually don't push film covered rockets past mach. I think they'd do just fine under most conditions, but there are some considerations.

    Seams: Vertical seems shouldn't be a concern so long as they're sealed. Seams horizontal to the airflow require more consideration. For example, in this thread/post, note how the leading edges are wrapped around and over the other side's covering: http://www.rocketryforum.com/showthr...710#post428710

    Maintenance: I'd say they require no more maintenance and care than a painted surface. After 5 to 10 years of wear and tear, you may decide to touch up or repaint a painted rocket. Similarly, after the same period, you may choose to go back over an existing covering job with a heat iron and/or gun, patch up, or recover. I've yet to fully recover a rocket or r/c plane.

    Holes: The only time I've experienced a hole in the covering is with No Thunder's fins. The leading and trailing edges are open bay between the down and the fin plates. Landings at Bong subject the fins to sticks, trees, bushes, devil trees, etc. I've had a few pointy things puncture the gap, which I patch with a small square of Monokote or just clear 3M tape.

    Quote Originally Posted by DeeRoc29 View Post
    Do you cover fin cans, too?
    Absolutely. Didn't make sense on the Mother Lode, but in most cases if the body is covered, so are the fins. Check it out: http://www.rocketryforum.com/showthr...-bit-different

    Quote Originally Posted by DeeRoc29 View Post
    Also, you mentioned Ultracote, which do you prefer?
    For rocketry, I'm honestly impartial. For planes, I prefer Ultracote. Both are equally effective, apply basically the same, and look equally as good. Ultracote is maybe a bit more user friendly...but that's over open bays and around complex curves of planes. For straight body tubes and fins, flip a coin, watch for the best price, go for the whatever makes the most sense.

    Small note: for Loc 7.67" tubes in particular, the width of Monokote is enough to provide a full wrap around the airframe wheras the ~3" narrower Ultracote won't produce a full wrap with the width. But, Monokote edges have to be trimmed whereas the Ultracote comes pre-trimmed. See, each has their benefits and losses. Both are great!
    Last edited by ECayemberg; 27th July 2017 at 09:35 PM.
    Eric Cayemberg
    TRA 7783 L3
    TAP

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by dhbarr View Post
    Hey this is great stuff, thanks!
    +1.
    L3, TRA #11847
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  6. #6
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    +1 Everything that Eric says!!

    I did a tutorial many years ago for Rocketry Planet but mine was just still photos. The video is much better. Thanks Eric.

    A couple of things to keep in mind. When covering rather than painting it is much easier to cover individual components than it is an assembly. Way easier to cover the fins, then the booster tube then glue everything together. You can even cover the aft centering ring before you glue it in. So, when covering often the finishing is first rather than last. It's just easier that way. Just a different way to think about building. Deciding if you are going to cover or paint before the build starts will determine your order.

    Also on complex color schemes where you are putting different colors on the same tube, which are very easy to do with covering (especially if you have a vinyl cutter) start at the rear and work forward. The seams should overlap from the front to back so the wind and drag forces the covering to stay against the body tube and not peel away. If you are traveling at 300mph and some air gets under a horizontal seam the rocket could de-cover itself pretty quickly.

    I too think Monokote or Ultracote are good. I tend to use Ultracote since it has a larger heat range for shrinking. You can shrink it in stages if you are concerned about covering or if you have a particularly stubborn spot you can increase the heat and slightly and usually take care of it.

    One more thing to emphasis that Eric brought up but needs repeating. Make sure you attach the film to the tube. It may look smoother when it is just shrunk with the gun but it will last longer, resist tearing better, and make the tube stronger if it is stuck tight. Also you will have less wrinkling later on in temperature fluctuations.

    Sorry for butting in Eric.

    My L3 rocket was (and still is) a LOC tubing original design with Monokote only on it. No fiberglass anywhere on the tubes. I didn't even have fillets on the fins. It flew on an M1297 with no problems. Since then it has flown several times all with M's and the largest being an M2000. Still no problems with the tubes or the covering.
    Joe Grubb
    TRA 1206 /TAP NAR 78797 / L3
    Tripoli Mid Ohio
    http://www.tripolimidohio.com/
    WVSOAR564 WSR703
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  7. #7
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    That's a cool tutorial, thanks. Doing a whole tube is the easiest application of the stuff. I'd like to see techniques to get it on fins, how to fillet nicely when the stuff is already on the tube, etc. I haven't done that much and those issues caused me some grief.

    Monokote seemed to hold up pretty well. The only issues I has is at the vertices at the bottom of the fins.
    Dick Stafford
    The member formerly known as the Pointy-Haired Moderator.
    The Original Rocket Dungeon
    Volunteer compiler of product news for ROCKETS Magazine

  8. #8
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    Should you fill the tube spirals before covering?

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by JoeG View Post
    +1 Everything that Eric says!!

    I did a tutorial many years ago for Rocketry Planet but mine was just still photos. The video is much better. Thanks Eric.

    A couple of things to keep in mind. When covering rather than painting it is much easier to cover individual components than it is an assembly. Way easier to cover the fins, then the booster tube then glue everything together. You can even cover the aft centering ring before you glue it in. So, when covering often the finishing is first rather than last. It's just easier that way. Just a different way to think about building. Deciding if you are going to cover or paint before the build starts will determine your order.

    Also on complex color schemes where you are putting different colors on the same tube, which are very easy to do with covering (especially if you have a vinyl cutter) start at the rear and work forward. The seams should overlap from the front to back so the wind and drag forces the covering to stay against the body tube and not peel away. If you are traveling at 300mph and some air gets under a horizontal seam the rocket could de-cover itself pretty quickly.

    I too think Monokote or Ultracote are good. I tend to use Ultracote since it has a larger heat range for shrinking. You can shrink it in stages if you are concerned about covering or if you have a particularly stubborn spot you can increase the heat and slightly and usually take care of it.

    One more thing to emphasis that Eric brought up but needs repeating. Make sure you attach the film to the tube. It may look smoother when it is just shrunk with the gun but it will last longer, resist tearing better, and make the tube stronger if it is stuck tight. Also you will have less wrinkling later on in temperature fluctuations.

    Sorry for butting in Eric.

    My L3 rocket was (and still is) a LOC tubing original design with Monokote only on it. No fiberglass anywhere on the tubes. I didn't even have fillets on the fins. It flew on an M1297 with no problems. Since then it has flown several times all with M's and the largest being an M2000. Still no problems with the tubes or the covering.
    Thanks Joe! No need to apologize; great additions!!! I'm not THE pro, I'm just sharing as requested. Awesome notes!

    Quote Originally Posted by rstaff3 View Post
    That's a cool tutorial, thanks. Doing a whole tube is the easiest application of the stuff. I'd like to see techniques to get it on fins, how to fillet nicely when the stuff is already on the tube, etc. I haven't done that much and those issues caused me some grief.

    Monokote seemed to hold up pretty well. The only issues I has is at the vertices at the bottom of the fins.
    Thank you sir! I will add a video for covering fins when the next build rolls around. A pictorial description can be found in this thread: http://www.rocketryforum.com/showthr...-bit-different Fin covering starts on post #5. As Joe says, it is important for the seams to be covered from the direction of the airflow; otherwise air may get under which at 300mph+ may mean it flies off!

    For fillets, I focus on internal fillets as Joe describes. I usually do a small external fillet of 5 or 15 minute epoxy. It dries clear, blends in with the surrounding covering, and seals any gaps without any additional need for painting, touch ups, etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by dixontj93060 View Post
    +1.
    Thanks Tim! Means a lot!

    Quote Originally Posted by RIB View Post
    Should you fill the tube spirals before covering?
    No need. The covering does a great job bridging the gap over valleys.
    Eric Cayemberg
    TRA 7783 L3
    TAP

  10. #10
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    Fantastic
    Thank you!Thank you!Thank you!Thank you!
    It is amazing what you can do when you don't have a choice.

    Smart people learn from their mistakes.
    REALLY SMART PEOPLE learn from OTHERS' mistakes.

  11. #11
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    Hi Eric,

    So I'm at the point where I'm deciding how/when to go about covering a 7.67" LOC tubing rocket. I get that it is way easier to cover tubes and fins PRIOR to assembly, but I just can't imagine how it would be possible to not smear epoxy all over the pre-covered body tube at every fin joint. I would rather epoxy the fin can first complete with external fillets and then cover with the monokote, but I can see how that might be cumbersome. Any tips on covering an assembled 7.6" fin can?

    Thanks,

    Derek

  12. #12
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    Yo Derek!!!

    Great question! On my Monokoted birds, the external fillets tend to be small and tidy; 5-30 minute epoxy works exceptionally well here because it's clear-ish and blends in with the surrounding colored films. In my experience, it's significantly easier to cover first, then glue in the fins as you mention; being careful with epoxy and sticky fingers! Blue tape and spare rags/cloths help here.

    However....

    I see your point and certainly think it could be done. I think the main point to consider with covering an assembled can is that the covering likes to seal to something at the corners or edges of the object being covered. In other words, covering ironed to itself is an awesome bond; covering anchored around a corner is a good anchored bond, covering ironed down to bare cardboard or wood in a given bay without going around a corner may be more likely to shrink unpredictably during the heat application process.

    So...

    If I was going to try to tackle covering AFTER assembly, I'd do things like:

    Fins: wrap the edges of the film around the edges and iron to the "backside" of the fins.

    Body Tube: wrap the edges of the film around the leading and trailing edge of the airframe, iron down to the edges of the tube, or even the aft centering ring, even if it's temporary.

    Fin-Body tube joint: Ugh: this would be tough! The film doesn't like compound curves (I prefer Ultracote over Monokote if you're doing complex curves, fwiw), and it doesn't like to stick to stuff like epoxy. For this reason, I generally cover to the joints, then apply that thin layer of 5/15/30 min epoxy. If I feel like a need a stronger fin-to-airframe joint, extra epoxy goes on the internal fillets.

    The good news with Monokoting a rocket is that if you goof up, just peel it off and try again! No need to fill/sand/prime/color/clear like a hosed paint job. With that mentality, it really takes the fear out of the covering process!

    I still think I'd recommend covering first, then carefully applying a minimum of external epoxy after covering, but there's definitely more than one way to skin a cat...or a rocket!

    Good luck, sir!
    Eric Cayemberg
    TRA 7783 L3
    TAP

  13. #13
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    I've been using trim vinyl lately and getting better results, less bubbling, seems to be somewhat porous for getting bubbles out, is more flexible, and you can use a hair dryer to soften go around curves. It doesn't add as much strength as monokote trim or regular monokote but is self adhesive without heat.

    For covering over fillets, I'd do a 1/4" or so strip over the fillet, then do the flat fins/body tube pieces in sections. You get more joints but they are hard to see unless up close.

    Both of these are covered with trim vinyl that I got from stickershock in 24" by 30"sheets or so. One on the left is over loc tubing with no prep. One on the right is over a foam skinned foam structure. Note the bottom of the one on the right has some small wrinkling, that is trim monokote and not vinyl that I used because I ran out of the vinyl, and it does not handle compound curves as well and unstuck itself in areas, I've since replaced that with trim vinyl and it is perfect.

    Frank
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    Last edited by burkefj; 25th October 2017 at 11:26 PM.

  14. #14
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    Eric
    You mentioned smaller tubes deforming with the shrink of the monokote. Would filling the tubes with engine casings (hopefully being able to push them out after monokote application) prevent the deformation, or would I just be permanently placing casings in the tube?
    It is amazing what you can do when you don't have a choice.

    Smart people learn from their mistakes.
    REALLY SMART PEOPLE learn from OTHERS' mistakes.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by burkefj View Post
    I've been using trim vinyl lately and getting better results, less bubbling, seems to be somewhat porous for getting bubbles out, is more flexible, and you can use a hair dryer to soften go around curves. It doesn't add as much strength as monokote trim or regular monokote but is self adhesive without heat.

    For covering over fillets, I'd do a 1/4" or so strip over the fillet, then do the flat fins/body tube pieces in sections. You get more joints but they are hard to see unless up close.

    Both of these are covered with trim vinyl that I got from stickershock in 24" by 30"sheets or so. One on the left is over loc tubing with no prep. One on the right is over a foam skinned foam structure. Note the bottom of the one on the right has some small wrinkling, that is trim monokote and not vinyl that I used because I ran out of the vinyl, and it does not handle compound curves as well and unstuck itself in areas, I've since replaced that with trim vinyl and it is perfect.

    Frank
    Right on Frank! Those Titans are GORGEOUS!!!!

    I hear you on the using vinyl over fillets; I completely agree that vinyl is superior for this task especially! I have a couple of Stickershock wrapped rockets; they're great as well! As you mention, you gain strength with a Monokoted airframe, but the flexibility of Mark's vinyl (or equivalent) is nice as well.

    Monokote vs vinyl:two very different animals that can both produce excellent results if done well!
    Eric Cayemberg
    TRA 7783 L3
    TAP

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by BABAR View Post
    Eric
    You mentioned smaller tubes deforming with the shrink of the monokote. Would filling the tubes with engine casings (hopefully being able to push them out after monokote application) prevent the deformation, or would I just be permanently placing casings in the tube?
    I think that would work great; though I don't think you'd even need to line the ID with anything. The tube shrinks somewhat proportionally to the amount that you shrink the covering. In other words, if you put the covering on fairly taught without a lot of wrinkles, gaps, and inconsistencies, very little shrinking is required to get a smooth, consistent, adhered surface. Even when you do shrink it, you as the Heat Master Operator have the control. An iron will shrink the film much less and more slowly than a heat gun. Tubes without any fin slotting will deform very little; it's the portions over slots that will suck in if you're not careful.
    Eric Cayemberg
    TRA 7783 L3
    TAP

  17. #17
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    Eric, have you applied monokote over glassed airframes? Like glassed LOC paper tubing? You mentioned that it doesn't stick as well to epoxy...

    Derek

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeeRoc29 View Post
    Eric, have you applied monokote over glassed airframes? Like glassed LOC paper tubing? You mentioned that it doesn't stick as well to epoxy...

    Derek
    Never tried it! If it's glass or glassed, I paint it.

    I'm pretty sure covering a glass or glassed airframe would work just fine, as long as you have a bit of an overlap of edges when wrapping around the circumference. The Monokote sticks extremely well to itself, so seal the overlap to itself, then shrink down...that covering isn't going anywhere then! Ironing Monokote to wood, then trying to remove it will pull up wood grain...not sure that you'll get the same effect with an epoxy surface.

    Quote Originally Posted by DeeRoc29 View Post
    Hi Eric,

    So I'm at the point where I'm deciding how/when to go about covering a 7.67" LOC tubing rocket. I get that it is way easier to cover tubes and fins PRIOR to assembly, but I just can't imagine how it would be possible to not smear epoxy all over the pre-covered body tube at every fin joint. I would rather epoxy the fin can first complete with external fillets and then cover with the monokote, but I can see how that might be cumbersome. Any tips on covering an assembled 7.6" fin can?
    Quick follow up here: I did this very thing yesterday with an assembled rocket just to try it. It worked, but I very much prefer to cover first, then assemble. Way easier, in my opinion.

    I'll post a quick documented comparison in the coming days....
    Eric Cayemberg
    TRA 7783 L3
    TAP

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by ECayemberg View Post
    Never tried it! If it's glass or glassed, I paint it.
    Tells me a lot right there! Anybody tried monokote over Blue Tube?


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