January 04, 2004

Build It - 5

This is a series where we build a model rocket step-by-step. You can find the rest of the series here.

The main part of the post is in the extended entry so you don’t have to deal with it if you don’t want to, but I hope you follow along because when we get done you’ll have built and flown your first model rocket. Questions asked from before are answered too.

Cardboard tubes, balsa, paper and plywood all fall into the category of wood products, and the best adhesive is wood glue. A well-fit joint will be stronger with wood glue than even epoxy or industrial grade cyano-acrylate (CA) - AKA 'superglue'. The technique to make these indestructable glue joins is called the 'double-glue method'.

That 'indestructable' claim isn't exageration either, because the materials being joined will break before the glue bond fails. It's not unheard of to have a fin break just beyond the glue.

So what's this secret way to glue rockets together? It's simple.

1. Lay a light bead of glue along the root of the fin.
2. Put the fin into place so the glue gets onto both parts to be joined. In this case, the fin root and the body tube.
3. Pull the pieces apart. There should be a light coat of glue on both pieces. Let it dry almost completely.
4. Put another bead of glue on the fin root, then press the two pieces together for good.

The reason this works is because the first coat of glue penetrates the materials to be joined, and the second coat chemically bonds with the first, locking eveything together. This makes for an incredibly strong joint.

For the Fat Boy, I suggest just sliding the motor mount assembly into position without glue (the metal motor hook will be sticking out the bottom), then gluing the fins into position. Use plenty of glue on the fin tabs which go into the slots of the body, and less on the parts of the fin root that don't fit into the slots.

It's fairly important to get the fins straight, but vertical alignment is more important that being perfectly spaced or perpendicular to the body tube. Since the Fat Boy has slots that the fins fit into, this is taken care of for you. When gluing the fins into place, take the nose cone off and set the rocket body upside down on your work surface so that you can look down at it and better gauge alignment. Looking from above, all three fins should point to an imaginary spot directly in the middle of the motor mount tube. Wipe excess glue away with your finger, smoothing it into the joint where the fin meets the body tube.


Tip: If you've already bought motors, put one in the motor mount because it's easier to 'aim' the fins at the small nozzle than it is at the imaginary point in the empty tube.

Leave that be and let's assemble the shock cord mount. Hopefully you've taken my suggestion and picked up a package of 1/8" sewing elastic, because the length supplied with the kit is just too short.

In the instructions is a diagram for the standard Estes shock cord mount, sometimes called a 'paper sandwich'. If you're building a different kit then follow whatever directions you've got, or use the following diagram to make one like ours. At the end, you should have a truncated pyramid shape folded twice with one end of the elastic embedded inside. Here, you should be generous with the glue, yet squeeze it out so that it's as flat as possible.


Let everything dry. Be patient, give it a couple of hours.

Next up we'll do the last of the glue work when we put on fin fillets, reinforce the engine mount, attach the launch lug and install the shock cord mount.

Posted by Ted at January 4, 2004 08:02 AM
Category: Build It
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