Old School

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Aug 13, 2009
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I decided it was time to go back to the old way of building. Sanding sealer, spray paint, no CA, no kevlar, just the stuff I used when I started building rockets as a kid in 1974! I must say it has been very satisfying. Of course that COULD be the fumes from the sanding sealer!
I decided it was time to go back to the old way of building. Sanding sealer, spray paint, no CA, no kevlar, just the stuff I used when I started building rockets as a kid in 1974! I must say it has been very satisfying. Of course that COULD be the fumes from the sanding sealer!

I do most of my building "old-school". Love it (prefer it in many cases) :)
There was a period of time when I would buy square balsa stock, flip through vintage Estes catalogs, find something to be inspired by and turn my own nosecones and transitions by hand. I would start with a hobby knife whittling away the edges until I had a desirable shape that I could evenly sand into a cone.

Despite having started the hobby in the early 90's and never had to make nosecones as part of a kit, I tell you the gratification I got from doing it as those that went before me made the build process SO much more enjoyable and made me appreciate the hobby as it was when it first started. I remember as a kid following the directions on the kit to a "T" and would sand and seal those fins and balsa cones shiny smooth. Man it'd take at least a day or two to allow for drying time and multiple coats.

The last rocket I ever built with handmade nosecones was the original red Mars Snooper. It featured 4 cones and 1 transition all made by hand. I lost that rocket on its first flight and never seemed to have the desire to make cones after that. Some day when I have the time to get back into the hobby I plan on going 100% scratch for LPR. By that I mean using raw materials to roll my own body tubes, make my own cones, cut my own fins, retention clips from flat metal, plastic bag chutes, etc. I think it's a unique niche and past time in the hobby for sure.

Attached are some pictures from cones I made back in 2002.




Yes sir, I love that old school feeling of detached fins, roughly-finished and poorly painted balsa, poorly masked colors, parted and too-short shock cords, stripped shroud lines and dents in nose cones and body tubes. Reminds me of the good old days. :D

I still use many "old school" techniques that I learned when I built model rockets in the 1960's, like cutting my own fins, cutting down body tubes to size, adapting motor mounts, finishing balsa fins and nose cones, and patiently waiting for glue to cure. Nearly all of my fundamental, foundational model-building skills date from that period, and I am eternally grateful that I was forced to learn them in order to build the kits from that era. But I have also evolved, and I am always open to learning new and better ways of doing things. I want to keep building up my skills, rather than letting them stagnate or even dumbing them down. I want to keep what is truly useful from the old days and to never lose what I have already learned, while I develop facility with the tools of today and prepare myself for the technology of tomorrow.

Like Mr. Flis and some others here apparently, I still pretty much build low power stuff using "old school" techniques. I'm just a lot better at it now. ;)

Yup, that's me too! There's nothing like the smell of aerogloss sealer
Yep, I too love the smell of 4 coats of Aerogloss balsa sealer. I don't fill spirals and still use Elmers Glue-All. Also like the smell of rubber shock cords glued to the tri fold paper mount. The only thing I do different now is I use primer before the top coat. When I was younger I never used primer because I didn't understand its use and had issues with paint chipping off.
How many coats of do you guys use? On my current build, I'm using aerogloss, put on 2 coats of balsa fillercoat, then 3 coats of sanding sealer, and still had just a bit of grain showing. So I just moved on to primer, and after 3 coats, they're smooth (but I'm still trying to get perfect fillets, particularly where the leading edge contacts the BT).
I have never had any luck with balsa filler, don't know why. I use 3 to 4 coats of balsa sealer and that does the trick. I apply one coat, let it dry. I won't sand this coat and just apply a second making sure to brush the sealer into the grain. I will let this dry 1 hour and sand with 320. Apply another coat and sand again, if smooth I am done. If there are any doubts I apply one more coat. Then use a good filler primer such as Plasti Kote Grey primer. I will sand the grey primer back then spray one coat of white primer. The next day I will sand the white primer smoother with 600 grit and apply my top coat. I never have grain showing and I can apply the sealer, prime, sand, prime again in one day if I start early enough. Most of the time it takes 2 days because I get distracted.
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I have used Aerogloss Sanding Sealer and Balsa Fillercoat. (Not often, but I have used them.) I think that the two products work best when they are used together. Recently I surface-prepped a set of balsa fins by brushing on a couple of coats of sanding sealer, lightly sanding them with 320 grit after the second coat, and then I followed that up with three or four coats of balsa fillercoat, sanding with 320 grit after the first couple of coats, and then with 400 grit after the final coat (or two coats, I can't remember). Then I finished up with another coat of sanding sealer, sanding with 600 grit afterward. The finish is surprisingly hard and glass-smooth.

My answer to the question of how many coats should one apply is: keep applying the product and sanding after each coat until the grain disappears. Hold the piece up and look at how light reflects off of the surface to judge if you have done enough. If any roughness is visible in the light reflection, then you aren't done yet. Get that surface SMOOTH before you start applying primer and paint. You will be amazed at how good your paint job looks when you start with a smoothly finished surface.

Using Aerogloss Sanding Sealer and Balsa Filercoat together seems to reduce the number of coats that are needed in comparison to using either product alone.