the Estes fin alignment tool - how to get it to work?

Donnager

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I want to add something helpful to this thread but in all honestly I don't have anything positive to say. I've had the Estes fin tool since returning to the hobby and I have tried to use it dozens of times and each time I find it is more trouble than it is worth and I get annoyed with it and end up doing the fins by hand.

I ultimately put mine on market place and sold it.

I'm right there with you, except I didn't sell mine. I tend to keep my bad decisions within view. Just a reminder for my future........
 

jqavins

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That's the one. 1980's carbon nylon is stiff, and doesn't warp as easy.
I guess I've been lucky. I've purchased two (after messing up my first one with a CA spill), both purchased this century, and both grey. And they work very well for me. One mistake that a person can make is relying on the central tube to hold the rocket vertical. It's not sufficient for that. It holds the rocket centered, but you have to snug the sliding guide plates up against the body tube to keep it vertical. Like it says in the instructions.

Estes needs to drop it, and make a copy of Mach1's or Apogee's guides.
Eyeball is faster. Eyeball with a ruler is accurate.
See Post #19, my fool-proof (and cheap!) method

The Apogee and Mach1 guides are only good for three fin designs. The Apogee guillotine costs a small fortune and is good for axial and radial alignment but not for circumferential position. The Qualman cards are good for circumferential and radial, but not axial. None of these handle vertical alignment. Eyeball offers no help at all and results are only as good as one's eyeball, which is why jigs exist. "Post #19" is good for radial only. The Estes (at least, if you get the grey version) handles axial, radial, and circumferential, for three or four fins, and even helps with vertical in many instances.

Estes doesn't need to drop it. Estes apparently needs to drop the yellow version and return to the grey version, or use a better material yet. Much as I like my grey one, I'd pay for one like it made all of aluminum.

(And the screwed up one is still useful as a stand for painting.)
 

Alan R

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Or 3D print what you need... I'm building up quite a collection of these in different sizes, styles, and configurations.
 

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techrat

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Or 3D print what you need... I'm building up quite a collection of these in different sizes, styles, and configurations.
If I were a billionaire, I'd give everyone a 3D printer, but not everyone has this yet. Heck it took me years to get a paper printer (I suffered for years with an inkjet printer that needed new carts every time I wanted to use it, and then finally I smashed that to bits and bought a laser printer on craigslist).... However, now that I've had this thought, I'm going to start searching for a 3D printer on Craigslist.
 

jqavins

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For 3D printing, you may have access to a printer at a maker space, either a club or in a public library. Or you may have a friend with one.
 

Donnager

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For 3D printing, you may have access to a printer at a maker space, either a club or in a public library. Or you may have a friend with one.

Before our local hobby store closed down, you could use time on their printers. There may be a hobby store that may be able to help. It won't be Hobby Lobby.
 

techrat

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For 3D printing, you may have access to a printer at a maker space, either a club or in a public library. Or you may have a friend with one.

That's a good idea, but I'm willing to make the investment in some kind of 3D Printer at this point. Used ones on Craigslist are not that expensive (it seems people buy them, use them a couple of times and then realize that after you've made a custom chess set, there isn't much use for it). My understanding is that printing takes time, and these are things I'd run overnight rather than try to run at a library.
 

Alan R

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I'm going to start searching for a 3D printer on Craigslist.
They start at less than $200 new on Amazon.

(it seems people buy them, use them a couple of times and then realize that after you've made a custom chess set, there isn't much use for it). My understanding is that printing takes time, and these are things I'd run overnight rather than try to run at a library.
That may be the case. It takes some patience to learn how to set it up and use it. I think lots of people might just get frustrated and give up.
 

techrat

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I think lots of people might just get frustrated and give up.
That's how I used to buy motorcycles. You'd be surprised at how many people get their endorsement, buy a motorcycle, and then get terrified driving in traffic or on the highway. Then they sell a bike with 300 miles on it at half price. I got a really nice Ninja 250 that way.
 

Pooklord

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I'm right there with you, except I didn't sell mine. I tend to keep my bad decisions within view. Just a reminder for my future........
I just got mine a few weeks ago. I have used it for two rockets now, and I like it a lot. BUT I did have to fuss with the centering tubes, by reinforcing them with CA glue at the ends and sanding them. And then you still have to mess with a square to make sure the tube is vertical after mounting it on the centering tube.

To use the tool with accuracy, you also must spend some time verifying that fins really are properly aligned vertically and also with the glue edge evenly pressed to the body tube. If you take your time and use a slow drying glue (30 min epoxy for me), you can good results.

I can see why someone would prefer the old "by hand" method, though.

For myself the results are better; I always sucked at manual alignment.
 

jqavins

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I agree with K'Tesh about using the free program; https://www.payloadbay.com/index.php?page=Tools&action=FINGUIDES
Print out your custom fin guide, 3M77 to foam board, and cut out.
Works great!
For that to work for me I'd have to make two. Do all the cutting with the two stacked so they match perfectly. Add holes between the fins and insert dowels. Separate the two by a couple of inches and glue them to the dowels, with a body tube in the central opening and using a square to make sure the dowels are square to the boards. Only then would I get good axial alignment (along with the radial and circumferential that the single card provides). Repeat for every tube size, fin thickness, and fin count combination.

It's easier to buy a tool, even of if I need do fabricate something like the above for special cases.

For myself the results are better; I always sucked at manual alignment.
Amen brother.
 

techrat

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Update: Last night, I TRIED to use the Estes Fin Alignment Tool. I started with one perfectly placed fin done by eye, then inserted the rocket on the fin tool, figuring I could get the other two fins on quickly that same evening. Well. NO. Using the so called "fin alignment tool", the other two fins went on, shall we say, not aligned with the body tube. They were totally off despite my best efforts to get them straight.

I ended up removing the rocket from the tool, ripping the two other fins off (unfortunately after the glue had started to set) and re-doing it by hand/eye. They had not been squarely aligned with the body tube, but instead were only attached to the tube by one edge of the balsa.

in flight, they would have ripped right off because they were not square on the tube. The root edge was not making full contact with the body.

So, HARD NO on the tool. I cannot make it work. I'm much better off doing it myself than trying to use the tool. It makes a great stand when you're painting in the backyard, but it's a terrible, terrible tool for getting fins on a rocket. I am thinking of putting a rocket on the tool that already has pre-made fins (Like the Alpha III), and seeing how much the tool bends them once I use the clips.
 

techrat

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And FYI: Fortunately, I had marked up the tube beforehand with a sharpie so I knew exactly where to place the fins BEFORE I tried using the tool..... So I know they are straight and square on now.
 

Pooklord

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Update: Last night, I TRIED to use the Estes Fin Alignment Tool. I started with one perfectly placed fin done by eye, then inserted the rocket on the fin tool, figuring I could get the other two fins on quickly that same evening. Well. NO. Using the so called "fin alignment tool", the other two fins went on, shall we say, not aligned with the body tube. They were totally off despite my best efforts to get them straight.

I ended up removing the rocket from the tool, ripping the two other fins off (unfortunately after the glue had started to set) and re-doing it by hand/eye. They had not been squarely aligned with the body tube, but instead were only attached to the tube by one edge of the balsa.

in flight, they would have ripped right off because they were not square on the tube. The root edge was not making full contact with the body.

So, HARD NO on the tool. I cannot make it work. I'm much better off doing it myself than trying to use the tool. It makes a great stand when you're painting in the backyard, but it's a terrible, terrible tool for getting fins on a rocket. I am thinking of putting a rocket on the tool that already has pre-made fins (Like the Alpha III), and seeing how much the tool bends them once I use the clips.

Hi techrat,

I was using it on my 3rd rocket two nights ago and I also gave up on it in frustration. The main problem seems to be that the vertical pieces are simply not perfectly straight, which makes it no better than "eyeballing" it to keep it straight. At the least, the tool requires much fiddling with and the addition of lead weights to keep the fin supports vertical.

So, I also probably won't use it any further. Disappointing. To make the tool work, they could use the same basic design but make it from a machined aluminum casting or aluminum block, instead of soft plastic which bends easily and has far too much 'slop' or 'play' in the way the fin supports attach to the base plate. It would be more expensive but it could be accurate. I will use it as a paint stand, I guess.

What DOES work for me after I abandoned the tool, was to use CA medium fast 'gel', which has the consistency of old time regular testors balsa glue. It is very easy to make a nice even bead on the fin and then carefully set it on the tube. You have about 3-5 seconds to make sure it's straight and true--if you don't get it right in that time, gently pull it off, wipe the glue off with a little acetone, have another swig of your favorite beverage and try again.

I can say this worked well--I was attaching the 9 fins on the 3 tubes for an Estes Comanche-3 and they came out straight and aligned with each other.

(and yes, the painting and finishing work has a long way to go . . .)


Pooklord
 

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jqavins

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You're probably tired of my repetitively sticking up for my grey savior, so I've got only a little more to say. I suspect some of you are not using the tool correctly, so while I was attaching the fins to my current build, I took a bunch of pictures in order to write this short tutorial about what some folks have been known to do wrong.

First, make sure the vertical veins are inserted the correct way around, and that you're preparing to put the fins on the right sides. The base has arrows that show which side of the veins to use, and the veins have "3/32" molded into one side and "1/8" on the other. For the picture below I put some paint into the 1/8 so it would stand out better. For any other fin thickness this is not the right tool.

Once the rocket is on the stand, push the veins up snugly against the body tube. The center post holds the rocket centered and close to vertical, but it's the veins that hold it really vertical. Check for plumb and adjust if necessary, keeping the veins against the tube. Today I used a small square to check for plumb, because I suck at eyeballing anything, but usually even I'm good enough. (In fact, even today I didn't have to adjust after I checked.)
PXL_20220807_185813262.jpg

Then put a stripe of glue on your root edge, place the fin against the vein and clamp it, then push it up to the tube.
PXL_20220807_190035995.jpg

Yes, the veins can rock a little bit side to side, but they want to stand up straight. Check them and nudge them upright if needed. Make one last check that the veins and fins are all firm against the tube, and walk away.
PXL_20220807_190623520.jpg

Give the glue plenty of time. I use yellow wood glue, never mind which product, this isn't a glue thread. As we all know, full cure takes overnight but things can usually be gently handled in a couple of hours. For these root cord edge contacts, give it a good four hours or more.

Here's what my rocket looked like when I took ot off the jig. Perfect? No. Garbage? Far from it. Better than I'll ever do freehand and by eye on my best day.
PXL_20220807_230355667.jpg
 

Pooklord

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You're probably tired of my repetitively sticking up for my grey savior, so I've got only a little more to say. I suspect some of you are not using the tool correctly, so while I was attaching the fins to my current build, I took a bunch of pictures in order to write this short tutorial about what some folks have been known to do wrong.


. . .

Joe,

My hat's off to you for getting that tool to work as you wish, and the last photo shows some well aligned fins.
I can also assure you, I have been using it "correctly", it's just that it, imho, is not easier than simply gluing the fins on the old fashioned way.

That said, I have not 100% given up on it yet and will keep it around.

And as others have pointed out, it makes a good paint stand.

:)

cheers,

Pooklord
 

Lord Rory Gin

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Open lid on trash can. Chuck it in. Close lid on trash can. Open beer.
My sentiments exactly. I tried the Estes fin alignment guide a few times and it make things worse (inconsistent for multistage fin alignment). I can eyeball it better. The cardboard ones from Qualman are far better than the Estes guide.
 
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