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How to drill holes in a balsa strip?


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  1. #1
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    26th January 2012
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    How to drill holes in a balsa strip?

    Well this isn't really a rocketry-related question, but I figured I'd ask it here just because it involves some of the same tools and materials. So here's the situation: I need to drill 27 small (~3/32") holes in a strip of balsa that is 1/4" wide and 1/16" thick. The holes need to be 15.5mm apart, preferably to within less than a mm, but that doesn't really have to do with my question.
    So far, I haven't been having much luck. If I try to drill the holes by hand, it cracks the wood and creates a bunch of little splinters around the hole on both sides, as well as taking way to long to be practical. If I try to use my drill to drill the holes, it cracks the wood and creates a bunch of little splinters around the hole on both sides, it just does it quicker and splits the wood to the point of actually breaking the strip. I tried using pilot holes, but that didn't seem to help. I used as little pressure as possible, but the wood still cracked. And no, I can't soak in CA like I'd like, 'cause the wood needs to be able to take stain.
    Do you guys have any suggestions about how to accomplish this?
    Thank you!

    P.S., If I get a good answer, then I'll tell you what this is for.

  2. #2
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    Paper both sides with copy paper and spray glue then use a dremel on high speed to drill the holes. If You go easy with the glue You can peel the paper off after drilling. Apply glue to the paper not the balsa. A dremel drill press would be the best setup for drilling the holes.
    Jeff Vegh
    TRA# 03011
    NAR# 92403

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by JPVegh View Post
    Paper both sides with copy paper and spray glue then use a dremel on high speed to drill the holes. If You go easy with the glue You can peel the paper off after drilling. Apply glue to the paper not the balsa. A dremel drill press would be the best setup for drilling the holes.
    That sounds like it might work. I'll try papering it on one side tomorrow (I can't do both sides since, like I said, the wood has to be able to be stained) and see how it goes.
    Thanks.
    Here's what I'm working on, BTW; an ancient Roman Trireme. I'm building it in 1/60 scale, making it 24" long. The second pic is a full-sized sea-worthy reproduction of the same kind of ship.
    Click image for larger version. 

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  4. #4
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    You might like to try using tape on both sides of your strip. This might keep both sides from splintering. Just a thought.
    Thinking outside the box is normal for me. Went inside the box once and got claustrophobic.
    Can't never did!
    Inventions weren't created by skeptics.
    There's a bright side to every screwed up week.


  5. #5
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    Do it the way the Romans did - burn them through. A piece of 3/32" music wire and a source of heat will make perfectly round, tear and splinter free holes.
    TARASDAD
    Rocketry Novice
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  6. #6
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    Wow more good answers-- thanks guys! I'll experiment with these techniques sometime tomorrow and decide where to go from there. I'm building this thing using the plank on frame technique, (in case anyone reading this builds model ships, but it's pretty much what it sounds like if you don't) and I have to get the holes for the oars drilled so I can start the planking, as I am going from the top down. I'd like to get to the planking this weekend, hence the relative urgency.
    Thanks again guys.

  7. #7
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    4th August 2011
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    One thing I discovered when drilling through thin wood, especially balsa, that it is more likely to splinter because of it's lack of density. I have found that by using a sacrificial wood surface as a base, and with your thin plank firmly pressed on it that the drill bit is a little more forgiving on the drilled plank/strip. When I drill baffles made of thick poster board, I get pretty clean cut holes using this method. I'd still recommend papering or taping balsa in addition to this.
    Thinking outside the box is normal for me. Went inside the box once and got claustrophobic.
    Can't never did!
    Inventions weren't created by skeptics.
    There's a bright side to every screwed up week.


  8. #8
    Join Date
    24th February 2009
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    Use a brass tube with the needed outside diameter. Sharpen the inside edge of end. Slowly push and rotate through the balsa. Result, nice clean hole.
    Derek McGuckin
    Tri-Cities Rocketeers Vice-Pres
    NAR Level 2
    www.TriCitiesRocketeers.org

  9. #9
    Join Date
    13th February 2009
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    The process is continuous...

  10. #10
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    18th January 2009
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    Needville, TX and Shiner, TX
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    Easiest way... get a small aluminum oxide burr bit the appropriate size and use a dremel... use VERY LITTLE force (virtually none-- just enough to keep grinding away material-- NO MORE) and let the bit do the work...

    I use a Dremel with a little bitty ball burr bit to grind small holes like this in the tower of the EFT-1 I just did for the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station museum... it works great because you can grind a minute hole in the wood to mount the small toothpick LES motor nozzles, so they're not so prone to break off, and makes a neater, stronger installation...

    You can get the bits at Lowe's, Home Depot, Northern Tool, or Harbor Freight, or probably any good hobby shop, or online...

    Later! OL JR
    The X-87B Cruise Basselope- THE ultimate weapon in the arsenal of homeland defense and only $52 million per round!

  11. #11
    You got some really good ideas suggested here. Sacrificial block on the underside of the balsa is key to avoiding backside blowouts. On the front, blue painters tape will take care of most of the splintering and not affect staining later on. I follow this practice quite often at work with veneers and laminates.
    BTW I am in the long process of building The Prince DeNeufchatel. Building ships is a great hobby and they look so cool when done. Prior to the Prince, I built the Constitution. Tons of rigging.
    Good luck.
    NAR 87578 L2
    http://marsclub.org

  12. #12
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    26th January 2012
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    OK, I've decided on a plan of action. I'm going to print out another copy of my template, which is an enlarged version of the drawing I posted above, and cut out the strip with the circles denoting the oar holes using my paper cutter, then glue it to the back of the wood. This should strengthen the wood considerably, and keep it from breaking like it has been. I'm then going to get a piece of brass tubing the right size, and attempt to sharpen the inside edge like Mcderek said, then heat it up to push through the (thermosetting) wood glue and the wood, like Tarasdad suggested. I would use a pin vise, but all the bits are too small even for this. I'll let you know how it works out.
    Thanks again for all your suggestions!

  13. #13
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    6th June 2011
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    Lots of good ideas here (I'm taking note of some). SPQR!!!
    Dave Cook
    NAR 21953 - DART San Diego

  14. #14
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    Well, I've got the template strips cut out and glued onto the backs of the strips, so later today I'll start making the holes. I've got brass tubing in the right sizes, and I think I gan get it to fit in my soldering iron, which would be the easiest way to burn holes through it. If they won't fit, I'll just heat them up with the stove flame with pliers and thick gloves. I'll let you know how it goes. Senatus Populusque Romanus indeed!

  15. #15
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    Since weight isn't an issue, I'd use basswood.

    Easier to drill a clean hole and takes stain quite well.

    I'd be more concerned with making all those oars than the holes.
    Last edited by sandman; 30th September 2012 at 04:02 PM.
    "I'm a sandman. I've never killed anyone. I terminate runners when their time is up." Logan from "Logan's Run"

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  16. #16
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    Cognito, ergo volo.


    Later!

    --Coop
    "For although the nepenthe has calmed me, I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men." --HP Lovecraft

  17. #17
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    Tape is good. If that doesn't do it, try taping an identical piece of balsa (basswood even better) on the front and back. Tape tightly, then drill through all three pieces. The front and back may splinter, the center will not.

    I have also gotten some very nice clean holes with a leather punch after taping front and back.
    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.

  18. #18
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    well, papering and burning seem to work pretty well. I've done maybe 2/3rds of the holes that way and haven't had any major problems. Thanks again!

  19. #19
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    What, no one mentioned a leather punch? I have one, use it quite often! picked it up, for about $15. like a pair of sissors or pliers, has 5 different sized dies / holes.. and yes, I've added a few holes to a few belts with it too!!

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