Masters Class - How I Paint A Rocket

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Well-Known Member
Jan 18, 2009
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There are those of us who would like our rockets to look (a lot) better, but just don't know how. I'm starting this thread to invite those of you who consistently produce magnificent finishes (you know who you are) to tell the rest of us, step by step, how you do it.

What do you use to prep balsa and fill spirals, what other prep do you do, what paints do you use, how do you mask, how do you finish, etc. etc. etc.

Details, please.

Hints, please.

Photos, please.

For those of you too modest to think of yourself as a Master, I've taken the liberty of sending a PM to some of you to confer the title upon you. If you're really good at finishing rockets, and I didn't PM you, participate anyway. No one will know who was invited.

And for those of you non-Masters out there, if there's somebody whose finishes consistently wow you, and they've not yet authored on this thread, please PM them, confer Master upon them, and invite them to teach us here.


Class is now in session. :)
I'd like to direct you to some information you can download and keep for future reference. Please go to find the library section then open the Tech-Tips files. Please read Tip-002,003,004,& 005 the series will take you though all the steps and nearly all the different techniques for producing a babys butt smooth finish on any model you'd like. Fill & finish and the hand rubbing technique are not included..Carl has them Well covered in a pictorial "how to" here at TRF.

It takes a lot of time and typing to cover the techniques involved thoroughly to produce fine finishes. More then I'd like to spend re-typing it all again here when its all readily availably to everyone at the above website. I'd be happy to discuss any particular aspects of the methods but I think you'll find most of the info you need in the reports, which are updated periodically.

I can't stress enough that model preperation is critical to an excellent finish. "if you see it in the primer- It'll show like a sore thumb in the paint".
Hope this helps.
I'm going to point you to a thread I authored on Makin' Easy Epoxy Fillets. I use this technique for all the external fillets on my MPR and HPR-capable birds.

I like to use a Can-Gun when I use spray cans. It keeps my fingers away from the paint, makes a much more comfortable grip, and most of all, allows more control over the paint with it's pistol-style grip.

The two most important things when trying to get a good finish are PATIENCE and ATTENTION TO DETAIL.

It's definately a learning process, and it takes time, so have fun while doing it! :)

The best tip I can give is pre-painting surface prep.

Then prime it to find what you missed. then sand like crazy to get it right, recoat with primer, sand again.

There just isn't an easy way.

I am a perfectionist and not a master - there is a difference IMO. Someone that has the training, tools and experience should be considered a "master". I'm a perfectionist that gets better than average results. Like Sandman said there is no "easy" way to get the perfect finish. It takes time and patience.

I fill every BT spiral with either Fill N' Finish or Bondo Spot Putty. Fins and nosecones get prepared depending on the type of material. I have used all of the following with good success:

Carl Tulanko's "dry rub" process
Fill N' Finish
Elmers Glue
Spray adhesive and Avery labels
Butyrate Dope and silkspan or jap tissue

I suggest you try them all and see what you like best and it also depends if you are trying to add strength or just a smooth finish.

All of my rockets get at least 3 coats of primer (I prefer Plasti-Kote Filler and Spot Primer) sanding in between each coat. The last coat gets 0000 fine steel wool.

The color coats are applied from light to dark depending on the paint scheme and I either use Plasti-Kote Ultra Enamel, Metal Flake Lacquer or Krylon. I do use a spray can pistol grip as mentioned earlier. Each coat is gone over with the 0000 fine steel wool before applying the next coat. At least three coats of each color are applied normally. The trick is to lay down enough paint until it almost runs - takes practice.

I use Tamiya Masking Tape to mask off the different colors - I think it is the best tape available.

Then clear coat -- I have to admit I use Krylon Crystal Clear or the Plasti-Kote Clear and again 2 - 3 coats. I have not tried the Future Floor Finish but have heard good things.

Bottom line - patience and practice!
Estes Fat Boy - I finished the balsa fins with 3M spray adhesive and covered with Avery white labels for strength and smooth finish. The entire rocket was painted with Plasti-Kote Baby Blue and then the fins were masked off and the body and nosecone were painted with Plasti-Kote Metal Flake Red.
Wow, that really is superb! I guess I have a lot more practicing to do before my fin joints look like that. I have tried the adhesive/label trick before, but it seems like the paper dulls the finish, even with several coats of primer. Have you posted your technique anywhere? I would be interested to hear how you do it!
Originally posted by joepolicy
Have you posted your technique anywhere? I would be interested to hear how you do it!
There is really nothing to post. I use 3M Spray Adhesive, Avery Ink Jet Labels (does the "Ink Jet" make a difference?), 2-3 coats of primer sanded/steel wooled and then 2-3 coats of paint.
Originally posted by Stewart32
How do you get the oil out of your 4X0 steel wool?
I don't and I've never had a problem with the paint adhering if that is the point of your question. I guess that is why I am not a "Master"...:eek:
a can of kilz sealer/primer was on clearence sale yesterday so i thought i'd save some cash and use that. has anybody here used it and how does it work.
i used the kilz on the cloned estes sprint that i just built and 2 others. worked fine for me, just make sure to apply at least 3 coats lightly sanding in between.
i used balsa primer (aerocoat?) before and it works well but the fumes are tremendous and takes so many coats to get smooth. the kilz was relatively low fumes and i did not have to worry about a spark in the other end of the garage sending me into the sky. it really cleans up so easily. i used a different brand of paint for each of the 3 built and had no problem with 'orange peel'.
Originally posted by bsexton
I don't and I've never had a problem with the paint adhering if that is the point of your question. I guess that is why I am not a "Master"...:eek:

No need to worry about the oil, I sometime spray the 4/0 steel or stainless steel wool with WD-40 during use on finish coats. If you penetrate the coat and need to apply another simply but thoroughly wipe the surface down with rubbing alcohol, let stand for about 10 minutes then wipe down with a tac-rag before re-spraying. NO fish eye, no prob.