Requirements - Finishing (painting)
When you have attached the last part to your model rocket kit
you get a feeling of satisfaction that you have finished your model. But you will
soon realized that while the "build" is complete, the model isn't
"Finished". By "finishing" we mean "applying a finish"
to your model. Dressing it up, making it look nice and ready for flight. It is
common to refer to an un-painted model rocket as "naked" and you certainly don't
want to fly "naked", do you?
Finishing your model rocket can take anywhere from 10 minutes
to several hours and days depending on the model size and the complexity of your desired
finish as well as the materials you choose and how well you wish to apply them.
Here is a short (summary) list of what you may need
(depending on the level of finishing you wish to do). A more detailed list is
- Wood sealer (optional) to seal the grain of the balsawood for
a smoother finish
- Paints, either water based, brush on model paints, aerosol or
- Cleanup materials
- Newspapers (to keep your work area clean
- Ventilated work space if you are using aerosols or oil/lacquer
There are several steps to finishing a model rocket, not all
of which are required. Some steps are simply there to improve the final result.
In the list below I outline each step that can appear in finishing your model and
define how critical it is to perform.
- Glue Filets (Required) - It is critically
important that strong glue fillets are applied to all fin joints. This is called out
in the kit instructions but is also mentioned here as it is often omitted as being
unimportant. Glue filets can be applied by running a bead of glue along BOTH sides
of the fin, where it attached to the body tube. You then use your finger to smooth
this out and form a smooth transition from fin to tube. Click on this link to see a good pictorial of how a glue filet
helps keep your fins on.
- Wood Sealer (Desirable) - After your glue
filets have completely dried you are ready to seal the grain of all of the balsa wood.
This is not a required step but allows for a more professional finish to your
model. Basically, wood has a grain made up of alternating soft wood, hard wood and
voids (air pockets). Some woods, like balsawood, have a deep grain and a very porous
grain. Without sealing the wood, any paint that you apply will be absorbed by the
wood, revealing the gain beneath. If you desire a glass-smooth finish on your fins
and your nose cone, you must first seal them. The two most popular techniques are:
- Wood Filler (recommended type is Elmer's
Fill-N-Finish). This is a water based wood filler that sands easily. Thin with
water then apply with your fingers or a putty knife. Make it as smooth and thin as
possible. Do both sides of the fin at the same time to prevent warping. When
dry sand with 400 grit paper. Repeat as needed to fill all gaps and grain.
NOTE: Be sure to get the edges of the fins too!
- Sandable Primer - A thick sandable primer,
like Klinz, can make sealing your fins very easy but requires an adequately vented area to
use. To use, referring to the instructions on the can, apply a moderate coat to all
surfaces (body, nose cone and fins). Let dry and lightly sand with 400-600 grit sand
paper. Apply additional coats (1-2 more) until all grain is filled.
- Primer (Desirable) (ignore this step if you
used primer in step 2): Using a sandable primer, apply 1-2 coats of primer to all
surfaces, sanding lightly between coats with 400-600 grit sandpaper.
- Paint/Markers/Color (Strongly desired) - Your
model is ready for paint right after the glue filets have dried. Filling the
balsawood grain and applying primer to your model serves to improve the look and quality
of your final finish but is not required. You can use many different approaches to
painting your models. The list below will give you some ideas of what you can use,
but feel free to use your imagination!
- Spray paints of different color (be sure they
are compatible with the Primer, if used) You need a well ventilated area to use spray
- Brush (model) paints. You will need an
adequate work area protected by newspapers. Have adequate paint brushes, thinner
(cleaner) and paper towels available
- Fabric paints (water based). You will need an
adequate work area along with brushes, water and paper towels for cleanup
- Magic markers. While most markers do
not cover as well as we would like, we have seen some incredible finishes using nothing
The bottom line with regard to finishing your model is, after
applying strong glue filets, you are encouraged to use your imagination with regard to
paints, color, style and look.
Below is a short photo album to give you an example of how
simple or complex or creative you can get with your very own model rocket.
A patriotic theme provides a wonderful look. This photo also serves to prove that
model rocketry is NOT a boy-only activity!
Three works of art!
Three more, just to show the wide variety.
A close-up showing the use of fabric paint with no sealing of the balsawood. The
paint was applied to the raw wood and still looks good.
The creative use of stickers can go a long way in decorating your rocket too!
The Rhino makes a fine canvas for your imagination to run wild on.
As you can see we have everything from naked, to single color to multi color all in one
An example of finely finished models where extra care was taken in filling the wood,
applying primer and careful application of paint, decals and detail tape.
In addition to these pictures, we encourage
you to visit our large
and growing photo albums to see pictures of hundreds of different types of
rockets from around the country at national rocketry events, local club launches and
several school and youth group launches.
Download the full
Check List here!
Now, on to Launching
If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate
to contact us directly. Our goal is to help you be successful and to have fun with
your group! You can send inquires to:
6 Jennifer Drive
Merrimack, NH 03054
or send us an email at: