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Balsa vs Plastic Nosecones

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Which do you like better?

  • Plastic Nosecones

  • Balsa Nosecones


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n3tjm

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Just wanted to do a poll to find out what people think about balsa vs plastic nosecones. Personally I like my nosecones to be plastic. Why? Balsa nosecones are so prone to damage. they get dented, smiley faced, crushed, and sometimes they are more difficult to finish (depending on what the quality of wood was used)

Plastic nosecones on the other hand stand up better to the abuse. Besides paint being chipped off, they can take anything. I have a box full of plastic nosecones from rockets that long since went to the rocket graveyard.

Somethings plastic is better than balsa, and balsa better than plastic. Ie: Fins.
 

Gillard

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plastics better, for lots of reasons, but there is a part of me that likes the feel of balsa, makes me feel like i'm putting more of myself into the rocket when if finished a balsa nose cone.
 

Pem Tech

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Working with balsa makes me feel more nostalgic, recapturing those lost moments of innocence and youth. However, balsa is just too fragile, for my needs. It seems to get dented just leaning in the corner. So my vote goes for plastic.
 

Handeman

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I voted plastic just because of the way they hold up better.

If everything else is the same and one kit comes with a plasitc nose cone and the other with a balsa nose cone, I think most people would judge the kit with the balsa nose cone to be of better quality. I'm not sure sales would be affected that much.

It would be interesting to see how sales go if the same kit is offered at the same price with either a plastic or balsa nose cone.
 

Boosterdude

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It's not really a matter of which is better, however I always prefer balsa over plastic. I like the sanding, filling, and painting of the balsa cones. Plus balsa provides an opportunity for reshaping for a customized look if that's your desire. Plus, the beat up nose cone on older models really tell the story.

The workmanship that goes into making a balsa cone look like plastic is one area that can separate the men from the boy's.
 

r3tic

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I prefer the balsa due to paint adhesion issues I always seem to get with plastic. With plastic you still need to put a lot of work into it to remove the mold marks, so I would rather just put the work into the balsa. I also don't like having the deal with solvents to glue the plastic parts together when building with my son.
 

dwmzmm

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Guess I voted balsa because it was the first kind I worked with when I got started in 1969 (Estes Deluxe Starter Set). To me, nothing compares with the look, feel and smell of balsa nose cones!!
 

MarkII

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In absolute terms, it really doesn't make that much difference to me; they are both good materials and each has its pros and cons. Which one do I prefer? I prefer the one that is in the size and shape that I need!

With that being said, I will say that in the past 3 years, I have built exactly one rocket with a plastic nose cone. That was because the kit I was building came with it. Almost all of my builds are scratch, and in 99% of them, the nose cone is balsa. It is much easier for vendors to make small runs of a specific size and shape if they use balsa, and it is much, much easier to get custom nose cones for low and mid power designs made from balsa. In just about every scratch build that I have done in that time, the only nose cone that was available was balsa. Making nose cones out of plastic requires much more investment in mold-making and production equipment, which tends to limit the selection.

I do recognize that there are some designs that can be done much more easily in plastic, which is why I am not doctrinaire on the whole material question. But the simple fact is that I can almost always get the cone design I want, in the size I want (including upscaled or downscaled) in balsa. I can order up a custom balsa nose cone, and have it in less than a week, at a reasonable price. I do not know of anyone who does custom nose cone work in plastic.

My choice is balsa, because of the variety and availability.

MarkII
 

Zeus-cat

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I think you should have included an option of "no preference".
 

jflis

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As a hobbyist I prefer balsa. But then I'm an old school wood worker and have always enjoyed the feel of wood and the ability to shape it and finish it.

As a manufacturer I also prefer balsa for two main reasons.
  • First and foremost (especially for a small company) is the cost to get the molds for a plastic cone.
  • Next would be the design problem that plastic cones create... If I were to do a plastic cone and get 10,000 - 50,000 of them in stock, guess what my next 10 models releases would look like... I would rather not drive my kit design on what nose cones I have in stock that I have to use up.

Using balsa wood allows me to design a model based on many factors, all of them related to imagination and physics. I would much rather do that than have 6 kits out there that use, for example, the Deuce's Wild nose cone simply because I have to find a way to use them all up.

I think this benefits the customer too, as they get a greater variety of kits to choose from.

One BIG advantage, however, to plastic cones is that you can easily do those odd shaped, non-symmetric cones such as cones with cockpits and such.

jmho
jim
:)
 

bob jablonski

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I agree with Jim I like Balsa but for kids Plastic seems the way to go. Plastic is cheaper (after you recoup the thousands you spent on the mold) And when a school wants 250 rockets yesterday after you just shipped 150 to another Plastic is the easiest way to get it out in time. Our more complex stuff will always have balsa and our plastic has no mold seams and verifyed to have no lead (made in Indiana USA).
Mr. Bob
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www.starlightrocketry.com
 

Micromeister

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As a mostly scratch builder I perfer Balsa as it offers much more versatility and the ability to take on any shape I choose. That Said though; I'll use whatever is available that fits the size and shape I'm looking for.

I think one of the reasons many have trouble with some balsa cones is some manufacturers have lately been using softer (lighter) balsa which will be a little more difficult to "Harden". These softer cones can be hardened in seveal ways. Minwax wood hardener, applying a couple coats of white or carpenters glue, or some times wicking in CA mopped with a folded paper towel. Onces sanded and primed most can't tell one type cone for another on, even after many flights. I'm still using a BT-55 balsa cone on my 4th generation Goblin that still looks as good as it did in the 80's. I'm still flying Balsa cones that have outlived 3 or 4 models, survived crashes and only rarely show any signs of abuse even from some rather hard landings.

I guess it may have something to do with "where" we are flying. Those of us flying from Grass covered fields seldom see the damage from those landing on bare packed earth or rocky fields. I must say tho, Much of my flying of late has been on are "newly" seeded Rock and pebble strewn park. While it's Grass is beginning to file in there are plenty of very hardpacked areas and tons of loose rocks, stones and pebbles. We still don't see all that much damage to well finished balsa nosed models. May be that the club passes on the balsa hardening info, and remind folks to look for harder balsa cones in the "Bagged" kit packages;)
 

phantomphuler

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one thing i like about balsa. the balsa nose will tend to get an "estes smile" where the plastic nose will beat the heck out of youre airframe tube. for me it is easier to fix the balsa nose than the airframe tube. plus finishing the balsa nose to look like plastic is rewarding.
 

bob jablonski

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As a mostly scratch builder I perfer Balsa as it offers much more versatility and the ability to take on any shape I choose. That Said though; I'll use whatever is available that fits the size and shape I'm looking for.

I think one of the reasons many have trouble with some balsa cones is some manufacturers have lately been using softer (lighter) balsa which will be a little more difficult to "Harden". These softer cones can be hardened in seveal ways. Minwax wood hardener, applying a couple coats of white or carpenters glue, or some times wicking in CA mopped with a folded paper towel. Onces sanded and primed most can't tell one type cone for another on, even after many flights. I'm still using a BT-55 balsa cone on my 4th generation Goblin that still looks as good as it did in the 80's. I'm still flying Balsa cones that have outlived 3 or 4 models, survived crashes and only rarely show any signs of abuse even from some rather hard landings.

I guess it may have something to do with "where" we are flying. Those of us flying from Grass covered fields seldom see the damage from those landing on bare packed earth or rocky fields. I must say tho, Much of my flying of late has been on are "newly" seeded Rock and pebble strewn park. While it's Grass is beginning to file in there are plenty of very hardpacked areas and tons of loose rocks, stones and pebbles. We still don't see all that much damage to well finished balsa nosed models. May be that the club passes on the balsa hardening info, and remind folks to look for harder balsa cones in the "Bagged" kit packages;)
The Balsa is a natural substance and we have no control over the density. When I order balsa one batch will be more dense then the last shipment (or less dense). The last couple shipment's I got has been less dense and there is no control over what they send. As I can"t go to the Balsa folks and hand pick my balsa. :2:
Mr. Bob
Starlight informent
 

adrian

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The votes were pretty much even when I went to place mine, with balsa slightly ahead. As of now it's a dead heat. :D

For my scratch-builds I usually prefer plastic because if I need to add nose weight, it can go further forward inside a plastic nose cone than onto the back of a balsa one. But if it's just something of my own design, the cone will probably be neither balsa nor plastic. Rolled paper ought to be on the list as well. ;)
 

Micromeister

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The Balsa is a natural substance and we have no control over the density. When I order balsa one batch will be more dense then the last shipment (or less dense). The last couple shipment's I got has been less dense and there is no control over what they send. As I can"t go to the Balsa folks and hand pick my balsa. :2:
Mr. Bob
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Don't know who you order from Bob, and I hate to contradict;
To a degree I understand what your saying; But you can certainly order by the specific density range your looking for, if you choose: I do it for block, slab and sometimes sheet for my personal use. While it's true you'll get a bit of range in the density from time to time, if you order hard balsa in the 8-10lb/ft3 range for nosecones and transitions, and get mostly soft stuff in the 6lb-7lb/ft3 range which i've seen recently in some kits, don't except it.

I have a missionary friend serving in Costa Rica who from time to time sends my a Balsa log to keep me going;) When I get low on high density stock, I'll call the vendor (National, Midwest or Sig) just to mention a couple and Ask what they have to offer currently. Yes, I know it's a hessle to have to actually talk to vendors these days of instant on-line ordering but sometimes the old PA ways are better and sometimes pay off with unusually savings.
I recently picked up some very hard balsa blocks that Midwest was going to cutup for scrap because it was too hard (10-12lb range).

But even if all we can get it the lighter stuff; we can always harden it up on the consumer end with Wood hardener and/or a layer of elmers:)
Oops forgot the photo...
 
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Micromeister

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The votes were pretty much even when I went to place mine, with balsa slightly ahead. As of now it's a dead heat. :D

For my scratch-builds I usually prefer plastic because if I need to add nose weight, it can go further forward inside a plastic nose cone than onto the back of a balsa one. But if it's just something of my own design, the cone will probably be neither balsa nor plastic. Rolled paper ought to be on the list as well. ;)
Your right on about the paper or cardstock cones Adrian, they truely should be added to the list.

Perhaps folks have forgotten that Hollowing out blasa cone to allow addition of nose weight was/is about the most common alteration I can think of in model rocketry.
Most of us Old times had no choice but to use this method in the years before injection molded NC's became more available in the hobby.
 

Dr.Zooch

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In my book- Jim hit it directly on the head. Personally, I'm not a fan of plastic. Balsa is always best. And I'll put one of my hand-made wooden escape towers up against the plastic sort any day as far as durability and repair ability goes.
 

bob jablonski

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Don't know who you order from Bob, and I hate to contradict;
To a degree I understand what your saying; But you can certainly order by the specific density range your looking for, if you choose: I do it for block, slab and sometimes sheet for my personal use. While it's true you'll get a bit of range in the density from time to time, if you order hard balsa in the 8-10lb/ft3 range for nosecones and transitions, and get mostly soft stuff in the 6lb-7lb/ft3 range which i've seen recently in some kits, don't except it.

I have a missionary friend serving in Costa Rica who from time to time sends my a Balsa log to keep me going;) When I get low on high density stock, I'll call the vendor (National, Midwest or Sig) just to mention a couple and Ask what they have to offer currently. Yes, I know it's a hessle to have to actually talk to vendors these days of instant on-line ordering but sometimes the old PA ways are better and sometimes pay off with unusually savings.
I recently picked up some very hard balsa blocks that Midwest was going to cutup for scrap because it was too hard (10-12lb range).

But even if all we can get it the lighter stuff; we can always harden it up on the consumer end with Wood hardener and/or a layer of elmers:)
Oops forgot the photo...
I get it from the same place as BMS (they have the same issue). Midwest and Sig are WAY MORE EXPENSIVE!:shock: and Midwest is only 40 miles away but almost 5 times more then what I pay. Not worth the cost difference. Personaly I order large enough I can take the harder wood and use it for certin cones or fins and use the lighter for diferent aplications. The micro I use the lighter stuf for example. and the harder stuf for cones with screw eyes. I guess it is a cost/time issue on my part.:)9 Mainly cost to compeat with imports.
Mr Bob/Mr. Starlight
 

RangerStl

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No reason other than personal preference. I can't justify it so I won't try.

Surprising that it's such a dead heat.
 

RocketT.Coyote

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Balsa can be customized. With plastic, you're pretty much stuck with the shape in which it was molded. Balsa gets the nod for craftsmanship. Plastic gets the nod for convenience and speed of assembly.
 

MikeCr

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Balsa, definitely. Mainly because it's what I remember from my early days of model rocketry in the mid 60's.




Mike
 

MikeCr

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Balsa, definitely. Mainly because it's what I remember from my early days of model rocketry in the mid 60's.




Mike
 

CharlaineC

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For me this poll had to be left blank due to the lack of other choices. When I am building a rocket the nose come sometimes is the starting point. others its the fins with the nose last. But as for what type of nose I use paper, plastic, balsa, Funky it all deends on what I am looking to acheve, Plastis cones can be altered with shrouds, cutting the tube, adding to it ect. Balsa is like a blank canvis and can be worked like clay in some hands. Paper can be itercately cut rolled formed and more. and Funky noses can be anything from a poptop to something interesting found in the toy department at the market or at holiday times. so I gues i'm rather nutral to my preferance.
 

mjennings

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I'm fairly neutral too. I like Balsa cones/transitions because they are fun to work with, but sometimes the ease of a plastic cone is nice. Like any other engineering decision there are trade offs to the materials you chose, fortunately we are in a place where your preference can be rational for your choice, which is not always the case.
 

DexterLB

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Balsa!
It's waaaay cheaper here :D
An 1cm thick 20x100cm balsa sheet costs 5 leva. I just stick several pieces together to make a block, calculate the "ogive" coordinates in OpenOffice.org Spreadsheet and give the block and the coordinate file to the local factory. And they make the cone for me for 1.5 leva :)
 

dwmzmm

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How long is this poll suppose to run? I haven't seen any "cutoff" date(s).
 

RangerStl

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I dunno...

Only one vote per user name, so until we're bored, I guess. This could be one of those polls that lies dormant for a year or more until someone goes digging through the "archives" and decides to vote. Seen that happen on multiple occasions.

;)
 
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