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How To Build A Model Rocket

Article by Paul Nortness

Today, I will show you how to build a model rocket. I will be using Estes Mini Max for this demonstration. This is a basic rocket that will provide a good first step and teach you all the skills necessary to complete your very own rocket.

In addition to the rocket kit, you will need wood glue, CA glue, scissors, a hobby knife, ruler, wood filler, putty, and spray paint to follow along with this tutorial. Now would be a good time to check out our article about model kit building tools. In the bag, you should find a balsa nose cone, body tube, fins, and a smaller bag containing motor tube, centering rings, thrust block, streamer, launch lug and shock cord.

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The First Steps

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The first thing I do on every build is apply CA glue to the insides of each end of the body tubes. This will add strength to the end of the tube and prevent them from getting frayed during the build and taking damage during flight. All you need to do is hold the CA glue into the opening of the tube and twist the tube so the glue makes a ring. Once you've done both ends, set the tube aside to dry.

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The instructions call for us to build the motor mount first, so let's do that now. Locate the 1 3/4 inch tube. You need to make three marks, one at 1/2, another at 1 and the final mark at 1 1/2 inch. Using the hobby knife, carefully make a small cut along the 1 1/2 inch mark. This cut should be just big enough to allow the tab of the motor hook to fit. Now, apply a bead of glue along the 1 inch mark all around the diameter of the tube. Slide the mylar ring over the tube and hook, stopping on the bead of glue.

You should have something that looks like this:

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Now, apply a ring of glue inside the top of the tube (identified as the end of the tube without the hook hanging off the back). I use a Q-Tip to wipe off any excess glue. Then, insert the thrust ring into the top and make sure it rests against the tab of the hook that is inside the tube.

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Once you have done that, cut out the centering rings and the inner section. Apply a bead of glue around the diameter of the tube at the 1 1/2 inch mark. Slide the ring without the notch down onto the bead of glue. Wipe off excess glue but leave a "fillet". A fillet is a small bead of glue along the base of the ring and the tube. Repeat this with the second centering ring at the 1/2 inch mark, making sure the notch lines up with the motor hook. This will allow the hook to be pushed up to insert a motor, so it's important that notch lines up. Set the completed motor mount aside to dry.

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The Rocket Fins

Let's focus on the fins next. The first thing I do is go over the entire sheet with 230 grit sand paper.

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Then you can cut out the fins using your hobby knife. Go slowly and carefully to make sure you don't cut into the fin. Once your fins have been removed from the balsa sheet, sand smooth each edge. Sand the leading edge of the fin so that it is round.

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It is now time to use the wood filler. This is a really thick wood putty that will fill up the grain and leave a nice smooth finish once sanded. To apply it, I use the best spreaders Mother Nature has to offer... my fingers. Just spread it around with your finger, applying the thinnest layer possible. This will help you come time to sand. Since our nose cone is balsa, let's do the same to it, taking extra precaution not to get filling on the "shoulder" of the cone. Otherwise, it will be harder to fit the cone into the body tube.

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The Body Tube

Now while the wood filler dries, let's turn our attention to the body tube. The body tube is a cardboard tube not unlike a tube you may find at the center of a roll of toilet paper. It has seams where the paper was wrapped around it to form it's exterior. To make a nice smooth body for your rocket, you will need to fill these seams. That's where our putty comes into play. I use Bondo Glazing Spot Putty.

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With a wooden craft stick, I slowly apply putty all the way around the tube following the wrap seam. There are two seams on the tube so make sure you get them both.

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We are waiting for everything to dry now, so this is a good opportunity to wipe off your work place if you have not yet done so and clean all your tools off. The next step takes some time, so you might want to take a run to the rest room or grab a snack!