When did Estes start die-cutting fins?

Grant_Edwards

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I've seen a lot of postings about older Estes kits, and they all talk about die cut balsa fins. I'm pretty sure that when I first started building Estes kits (IIRC 1971) the fins weren't die cut. You got blank balsa stock and printed paper patterns that had to be cut out. After cutting out the pattern parts, you traced around the paper patterns with a pen/pencil to mark the balsa stock. Then you cut fin parts with a razor knife and steel rule. On my first model (Astron Starlight) I didn't lay out the parts correctly the first time I traced them. Fortunately, I realized it before I did too much cutting and was able to re-layout the parts correctly. But, I was unable to completely remove the first set of lines (using ball-point pen was a dumb idea), and still they're quite visible through the paint:

IMG_20210905_193654695.jpg IMG_20210905_193722874.jpg


The Starlight was a "skill level 3" model and not a good choice for an 11-year-old's first model rocket. But, I hadn't noticed the "skill level" numbers yet and couldn't resist it when I saw it hanging on the hook at the local Rexall Drug store (I got to pick out a rocket kit for my birthday that year).​
It's been roughed up during some moves over the past 50 years, but one of these days I'm going to fix it up and launch it again. I wish I still had the original nosecone, but I think I gave it to one of my great-nephews when I thought the rest of the rocket had been lost during a move. Yes, the blue rings are crooked, but not quite as bad as they look in the photo. I remember I had a pretty tough time getting all those fins aligned and the rings on correctly. The upper ring was supposed to be about an inch lower, and you can see where I filled in the original notches when I couldn't get the ring to fit down as far as was intended.​
IMG_20210905_195248136.jpg
 
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Grant_Edwards

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If/when it ever gets launched again, I've decided to stick with an A8-3 so there's less chance of loosing it. That's what I used for its first flight 50 years ago. It went high enough for a good safe chute deployment, but not much more than that. I'm sure there's a lot of fin drag, especially with the poor fit and finish. Last summer, my niece's kids and I launched about a half-dozen other rockets that were only a year or two younger, and they all survived nicely. My old Estes Orbital Transport is probably a little beyond repair, but I've got a new Semroc version of that kit waiting to be built to take it's place.
 

Blast it Tom!

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I built this as a youngster as well! Painted it all white with royal blue metallic rings. I thought the large body tube accounted for the great fire in the tail as it ascended... until it returned to earth with the back end of the tube burned out. Seems I'd forgotten to glue the engine mount in! :rolleyes:

Kids... I'm looking forward to seeing yours fly again! Go man, go!
 

Grant_Edwards

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I had a quick glace through a few Estes catalogs, and in '71 I only found a couple kits with descriptions that mentioned "pre-cut fins" (e.g. Cherokee D). In the '75 catalog it looks like about half of kit descriptions mention "die-cut fins". For many kits like the Astron, having laser-cut fins would have made a world of difference and the top ring would probably have fit where it was supposed to.
 

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I first started in ‘75 and most kits that I got came with the die crushed fins. The older kits at the local hobby shop had the sheets of balsa with fin, etc. templates.
 

brockrwood

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I've seen a lot of postings about older Estes kits, and they all talk about die cut balsa fins. I'm pretty sure that when I first started building Estes kits (IIRC 1971) the fins weren't die cut. You got blank balsa stock and printed paper patterns that had to be cut out. After cutting out the pattern parts, you traced around the paper patterns with a pen/pencil to mark the balsa stock. Then you cut fin parts with a razor knife and steel rule. On my first model (Astron Starlight) I didn't lay out the parts correctly the first time I traced them. Fortunately, I realized it before I did too much cutting and was able to re-layout the parts correctly. But, I was unable to completely remove the first set of lines (using ball-point pen was a dumb idea), and still they're quite visible through the paint:

View attachment 480533 View attachment 480534


The Starlight was a "skill level 3" model and not a good choice for an 11-year-old's first model rocket. But, I hadn't noticed the "skill level" numbers yet and couldn't resist it when I saw it hanging on the hook at the local Rexall Drug store (I got to pick out a rocket kit for my birthday that year).​
It's been roughed up during some moves over the past 50 years, but one of these days I'm going to fix it up and launch it again. I wish I still had the original nosecone, but I think I gave it to one of my great-nephews when I thought the rest of the rocket had been lost during a move. Yes, the blue rings are crooked, but not quite as bad as they look in the photo. I remember I had a pretty tough time getting all those fins aligned and the rings on correctly. The upper ring was supposed to be about an inch lower, and you can see where I filled in the original notches when I couldn't get the ring to fit down as far as was intended.​
Did Semroc or anyone else ever make a reproduction or clone of the Starlight? I’d like to build one. Looks cool!
 

Grant_Edwards

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Did Semroc or anyone else ever make a reproduction or clone of the Starlight? I’d like to build one. Looks cool!
Yes, there was a Semroc Astron Starlight KV-21:

https://www.rocketreviews.com/astron-starlight-3699.html

AFIAK, it's out of production. The only place I see offering them for sale is a site I've never heard of before this search:

https://www.kproanshu.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=937171

It looks like that domain name is only a couple months old...
 

tsmith1315

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Did Semroc or anyone else ever make a reproduction or clone of the Starlight? I’d like to build one. Looks cool!

erockets has 2 sets of fins left to build your own, you and @Grant_Edwards better hurry!
https://www.erockets.biz/semroc-laser-cut-fins-starlight-3-32-and-1-16-balsa-estes-k-32-sem-fv-21/

Original Estes plans on JimZ's site, too (mine is the white/red color scheme on these plans):
https://spacemodeling.org/jimz/k-32.htm

Someone made a tiny version a while back, too.
 

Grant_Edwards

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Joekeyo

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All these comments jive with what I remember when I was a kid. I remember when the die-cut fins came on line. They were a great improvement over the cut out pattern and trace. It never occurred to me to ask my mom to buy me some new blades. Duh. Last year I bought a couple of Estes "designer specials"; so it was back to the cut out pattern and trace method. It seemed real primitive compared to laser cut fins. It worked fine with plenty of fresh blades.
 

Grant_Edwards

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All these comments jive with what I remember when I was a kid. [...] Last year I bought a couple of Estes "designer specials"; so it was back to the cut out pattern and trace method. It seemed real primitive compared to laser cut fins. It worked fine with plenty of fresh blades.

I think the key ingredient that was missing back then (for me) was patience. Don't press too hard, don't try to cut all the way through on one pass, and always cut towards the center of the part. That last point means you spend a lot of time spinning the workpiece around and lining up the ruler again. A small razor saw works nicely for straight edges, but nobody had those when I was a kid:

718YWPyPA1L._AC_SL1500_.jpg
 

Grant_Edwards

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TigerHawk

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Jerry Irvine at U.S. Rockets sold an upscaled version of the Starlight. I believe you can contact him on facebox
 

brockrwood

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Google has found me 2 or 3 other identical sites with somewhat randomly named domains, differing prices, and differing default currencies. Prices for the KV-21 kit range from $10 to $14 and shipping is $25 (USD). No thanks...
Beware of those weird, random websites with no track record offering something at bargain basement price. Almost guaranteed to be a scam.
 

Pappy

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i remember the die-cuttings being a welcome sight, but you still had to do a bunch of cuts to clear the fin. they were not even close to the precision of the laser cuttings now. i actually enjoy the template/cut process. seems cheating when the kit does the work for you. there is little zen in snap-together kits.
 

Grant_Edwards

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Beware of those weird, random websites with no track record offering something at bargain basement price. Almost guaranteed to be a scam.
The wierd, newly registered domain names are a red flag. What's odd is that $10-$14 for a clearance/closeout rocket kit is a reasonable price, and when you add the $25 shipping, the price is actually high compared to what you would see on legitimate sites. I'm still not going to bite.
 

tfrielin

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I had a quick glace through a few Estes catalogs, and in '71 I only found a couple kits with descriptions that mentioned "pre-cut fins" (e.g. Cherokee D). In the '75 catalog it looks like about half of kit descriptions mention "die-cut fins". For many kits like the Astron, having laser-cut fins would have made a world of difference and the top ring would probably have fit where it was supposed to.

I started with Estes circa 1965 and the introduction of pre-cut fins was their greatest idea ever. Except maybe for the metal clip engine retainer.

I hated the task of making the fins, all the way through cutting out the template to marking the balsa wood to the actual cutting---and, yes, most likely with one of Dad's razor blades (Ex Acto knife----What's that?).

I'm not all that big on Ready-to-Fly, but pre-cut fins are a real plus. And, I would guess,, a marketing booster.
 

dpower

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Grant, nice to see your vintage Starlight! I never built one, but have always liked the design. I have 3 of my original builds from about ‘73, still fly them occasionally, on small motors, of course.
 

Grant_Edwards

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I'm working on getting it fixed up enough for one more flight. This afternoon I took a round file and removed the old shock cord mount. I also retro-fitted a kevlar shock cord by drilling a 5/32 hole up through the engine mount's two centering rings. I had to fashion a home made "spade" drill bit out of a chunk of 4mm brass rod in order to reach the upper ring from the bottom. I bought some 3/32 balsa stock from the hardware store and will start fin repairs next. The top of the body tube is a bit banged up, so I'll need to figure out how to reinforce that. I'll probably just smear the inside with wood glue, shove the nosecone in wrapped in wax paper, and wrap tape or rubber bands around the outside to hold it in shape while the glue dries. I'd like to add a layer of paper to the inside of the tube, but if I do that, I don't think the nosecone will fit without sanding down the shoulder.
 

dwinings

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Estes started die cutting some time ago. The 1974 Custom Parts Catalog Custom Parts Catalog (spacemodeling.org) included die cut fin sets, but Estes has switched tp laser cut fins, much better then the often crushed die cut fins. I also started when Estes gave you fin patterns and you cut your own.
 

Grant_Edwards

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The upper BT was reinforced with some Titebond-III and the fins are patched up. A plain old end-grain butt-joint may have been strong enough, but the woodworker in me just couldn't do it. So I went with balsa splines.

I thought about repainting, but decided against it. At some point you have to proudly wear the scars from the battle with gravity.. and time... and the moving van.

I may give it a light sanding and a little clear-coat before its retirement flight.

small-IMG_20210920_185903418.jpg small-IMG_20210920_185503759.jpg small-IMG_20210920_190151790.jpg
 
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