Thursday, September 4, 2014

Super Frustrated, Super Excited


I'm in the process of building my fourth and fifth rockets, and man, am I frustrated. Not with the basics - I got that bit down. I know how to assemble a rocket, and I've made a couple cool ones that turned out really well. If the average person looks at them, they won't notice the flaws that are bothering me so much.

What has me super frustrated is my finishing technique. There are lots of rocket builders out there who get the most amazing finises on their rockets. I mean, these things are basically made out of cardboard and balsa wood (which is really grainy wood), but some people make them shiny and smooth like sports cars! I've been working on getting my rockets smooth, and trying to get some of them shiny (shiny isn't always what you want - real NASA rockets are not shiny, for example; they're flat.), and all of them smooth.

Part of this is for aerodynamics. A smooth rocket has less drag. But for these little models, that's maybe less important than for a high powered rocket. Still, for me, it's the craft of making a really nice looking rocket that is so satisfying. I've been told by a few people on The Rocketry Forum "calm down. When you're on the flying field, nobody's going to notice."

Which is true. But to me, a nicely built rocket is more than a thing that will go up and come down. They all do that, if you follow the instructions and build them with just a tiny bit of competence. For me, though, a nice rocket has a sculptural quality. They're beautiful. And I know the flaws are there when I build a rocket.

So, for fellow rocket n00bs: the body of the rocket is made out of a rolled paper tube - a kind of carboardy thing that looks a bit like a paper towel tube, but nicer, and usually with a waxy coating. But, you know those spiral grooves on a paper towel tube? Those are still there in rocket body tubes.

A lot of people who put care into their rockets fill these in before painting, because they will show through the paint job. Not a huge deal, but if you know you can get rid of them, and make the rocket look like it's not made of cardboard, it's pretty cool.

A lot of people use a wood putty like Elmer's Wood Filler. This is also great for covering up the wood grain on those balsa wood fins (another thing I haven't gotten totally down). You fill the grooves with a little of this putty, maybe thinning it out first with a little bit of water. Then, when it's dry, you sand it off, and the whole body is smooth and even, and then you put on primer and paint.

Problem is, when I sand down my fillers, I seem to oversand. Like, I scuff up the body tube and get all these... fuzzy bits... that drive me... crazy. Then, they will never go away, and your rocket has little hairs on it once it's primed, sanded and painted.

I thought I'd figured out a workaround. On this little rocket I'm building now - an Estes Hi Flier, which is supposed to go up to about 1600 feet - I primed the rocket first. Then, I applied filler. Then I sanded the filler and primer together last night. I figured the primer would act as a nice buffer to prevent me from shredding the paper in the body tube.

Today, I thought I'd try to make the rocket a touch smoother by wet sanding with a little 400 grit sandpaper - this is pretty fine, for you fellow n00bs - and I did it again!!

Look closely - you'll see the shredded paper from the tube.

This drives me so crazy! I was so careful - I barely touched the thing!!

I thought, well fine, this rocket will just have a few fuzzies. So, I went on to putting on a layer of white primer over the sanded gray primer, and discovered that the filler hadn't even filled in all the grooves properly!

It's fine. It's OK. The rocket will still look good.

But, GAAAH!!!!

This little filling-after-priming trick of mine feels like a cheat anyway. Not that there's any such thing as cheating; in rocketry, if something works, you do it. But lots of other people seem to be able to fill and sand their body tubes with nothing on them, and get decent surface to paint onto. A guy I've talked to online says he doesn't even bother filling in the spirals on a small rocket - but that guy builds the most beautiful high powered rockets, so I can see why he wouldn't bother when he puts together the little paper ones, because he knows he can do it if he wants to. For me, this is part of the learning process, so that I can build up to something bigger, and I'm trying to get this craft down. I've built several rockets now, and learned a lot, and improved my skills at certain things, but this one area... just has me stumped!

OK, enough about that.

Why I'm super excited: I just got my first shipment from Apogee Components, a great model rocket supply company. If you're a n00b like me, you should check it out, if only for all the great instructional newsletters and videos on the site.

A week ago, I got my first non-Estes rocket, a beaut from 3D Rocketry called the Nautilus II.

It was really well packed, but the US Postal Service crushed the box a little bit, and upon close inspection, the body tube had been slightly crimped in the middle. So, I ordered replacements from Apogee. I also ordered the coolest thing: a guillotine fin jig.

This thing helps eliminate crooked fins, and keeps you from having to hold them in place with your hands until the glue sets. It accommodates lots of sizes of tubes and thicknesses of fins, and it's a masterpiece of rocket building equipment design.

The box from Apogee was really well packed, and even included a free instructional DVD on the basics of model rocketry. Apparently, you get a new DVD with each of your first four purchases over 50 bucks!

I can't wait to put this fin jig together, and use it on my new 3D Rocketry Nautilus II.


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