January 19, 2004

Build It - 8

This is a series of posts where we’re building a basic model rocket online. Each post shows part of the process step by step, including pictures and passing along tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way. You can find the rest of the series here. To learn more about what model rocketry is about, see this Q&A.

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.

We're ready to play with paint!

If you want to, you can spend a little time with some extra-fine sandpaper to smooth the glue fillets we applied along the fins. Like anything other paint job, prep is 90% of the way to getting a great finish.

First step is the primer. Use Krylon or Rustoleum, grey, white, or ruddy brown, whatever you can find as long as it's sandable.

You'll need to make a simple tool to hold the rocket while spraying paint. The easiest way is to roll up a sheet of newspaper into a tight cone, and then slip it into the motor mount. You can use a couple strips of masking tape to hold it together. Then you hold the 'wand' with one hand while spraying paint with the other.

The key to getting a nice finish using spray paint is to use light coats. By light, I mean you should still be able to see through the paint until after your third coat. The primer dries quickly, so this doesn't take a long time. You want to spray many light coats instead of one or two heavy ones.

Once you've got complete coverage (up to 4 or 5 coats), let it dry - read the can, it's usually less than an hour - and then lightly sand the entire rocket with that extra-fine sandpaper. Let the rocket sit and dry for at least 24 hours.

It's possible to get near-professional results with this method, but you're going to put in plenty of sandpaper time and effort. If you wanted to, you can repeat the entire priming/sanding process two or more times, and running a tack cloth over the surface in between each sanding session.

Next comes the color coat. Once again, I tend to stay with Krylon or Rustoleum. Since the Fat Boy has white decals, I'm going to use a dark color so they show up well. If I were going to paint the rocket a lighter color and I'd used a dark gray or brown primer, I'd then spray a couple of light coats of white first, just to lighten up the final finish coats.

The same spray techniques apply with the color coat. Spray multiple light coats to prevent runs and drips. Read the can carefully and follow their directions for drying times. Sometimes you have to wait a minimum of time between coats, or put the next coat on within a certain time frame.

I suppose I should mention that you should always paint outside. Even if it's cold out, you can go out, spray the coat of paint, and then bring the rocket inside until it's time for the next coat of paint.

Once you get the rocket completely painted with the color coat, let it dry. Because of the many coats used (or if you got impatiant, the thick cover coat), the rocket needs to sit for at least 24-48 hours, and longer is better.

Next time, we'll mask the fins and paint them a different color for contrast.

Posted by Ted at January 19, 2004 10:26 AM
Category: Build It

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