Monday, March 2, 2015

Back to Rockets!

The last few weeks were exhausting, with me directing a show at the Bloomington Playwrights Project. This will be my last year directing this show, a fundraiser called The Blizzard (it's a bunch of short comedies done in random order), so Chad (Artistic Director) and my other friend David (in his role as Associate Artistic Director) got me this great thank-you gift:

It's a watch which tells you what constellations are in the sky, and where, depending on the time of year and your location on the Earth. It's pretty great - it's both space-related and time-related (the show was on a 60-minute timer), and now I'm going to have to start wearing a watch.

The show was a hit, and now it's over, and I finally caught up on sleep. Now it's time to get back to rockets!

Bit by bit, I've finished building my first mid power rocket, the Estes Partizon, one of the Pro Series II rockets.

A lot of firsts for me on this rocket. First time using epoxy instead of wood glue, first 29mm motor mount, first screw-on motor retainer, first use of rail buttons...

Mini buttons, actually. For use with a metric rail.
I got these from
Now that the thing is built, it struck me - I have no idea how I'm going to paint this thing! It's nearly 5 feet tall, so I can't just stick a rolled up newspaper in the back to hold it while I paint. I'm going to have to build something to hold it.

Oh, I also need to build a new launch pad with a rail. I've got the rail. Now the hard part begins - assembling a launch pad to hold it.

I've sanded a few rockets I'd been chipping away at, and then moved right on to assembling the motor mount for the Quest Big Dog.

This is another 29mm motor mount rocket, and again, I'll install a screw-on motor retainer, but it's much smaller than the Partizon. Much closer in size to the Quad Runner.

So, painting shouldn't be a problem. I've been wanting to get this rocket built for some time, but I've been procrastinating, because I wanted to get the fins perfect. I find that the cycle of filling fins with CWF, then sanding, then filling, then sanding... It gets tiring. One coat never works for me - I can still always see imperfections and wood grain. And sanding all the pock marks out is hard.

If you've read my Skill Level 1 series, you know that I press my fins between sheets of parchment paper to let them dry. This is so they won't warp. You're supposed to be able to paint both sides of the fins evenly with CWF and let them air dry, and they're not supposed to warp, but this never works for me - they always warp a little. So, I press them.

But that makes little pock marks and ripples in the CWF that are hard to sand out smoothly. I end up having to do multiple coats.

I've attempted papering my fins, but that has yet to go well - either I tear the paper or I get weird clumps of glue under it, so it's really no better for me than CWF. It just goes faster.

What I really need to do now is make some decisions regarding the rocketry class I'll be teaching this summer. Biggest decisions include what kit to build, how many different projects to undertake in one week (it's 3 hours 10 minutes a day for five days, so I need to have enough to do to fill the whole class), what is safe enough for 11-14 year old kids to handle (hobby knife? Spray paint? Probably no to both of these), and how to make it informative while keeping it fun.

I might go for the Estes Alpha bulk pack, a beginner's classic rocket.

I want balsa fins - rockets with premade plastic fin cans are too quick to assemble. I don't want to be finished building the rockets on Monday and have nothing left for the rest of the week.

We'll probably round the edges on the fins, assemble the rockets, and I think we'll build launch pads, too. We'll talk a little about science, maybe a little about rocket stability, and even look at design - if I can get to all that in one week. Then we'll have the big launch.

I'm pushing for a launch at the Fairgrounds. Then I can have a grand finale with some bigger rockets - give the kids something to strive for.


  1. About letting kids use sharp tools and spray paint :

    Easy for me to say, of course.....

  2. The Partizon looks great!

    To paint big rockets - Get yourself a long length of dowel and a couple of chairs. Remove the nosecone and slide the dowel through the rocket, so it ends up like a spit-roast. Use a chair at each end to support the rocket and spray away! You might want to wad up some newspaper and stick it in the openings at each end to reduce any spray entering the body tube.

    For the rail buttons, get yourself a little tape and wrap them up - you want to try and avoid getting paint on them.

  3. Daniel, just be careful that the chairs you use aren't genuine Chippendales! I can't wait to see your reaction once you see that Partizon scream off the pad on a G-something. Videos just don't capture the sound! You will be amazed.