Friday, May 27, 2016

The Future Experiment

Click here for the previous post.

As detailed in my previous post, I recently completed the Estes Reflector, and despite a few bad turns during construction, I managed to make the rocket look pretty nice.

But I wanted to try something I'd read about online - giving the rocket a nice shiny, protective coating, using Pledge floor polish "with Future Shine."

Rocketeers often refer to this stuff simply as "Future."

The rocket was already pretty shiny before I tried this. I used some Krylon gloss white enamel for the undercoat and some Rust-oleum red gloss enamel for the fin can, and other than a few spots where I wet sanded the paint to remove some flaws, the rocket looked pretty good. But I needed to test this stuff out before trying it on a rocket which was more precious to me.

One reason I decided to try this application is that I thought it might be a good, easy way to seal waterslide decals in place with a shiny, protective coating. Perhaps it would also turn out to be an easy way to fix a less-than stellar paint job. With the troubled history of this rocket, and the fact that I tend to fly my larger models more frequently than my smaller ones now, I was willing to risk making a bit of a mess with this rocket, to see if it was as easy and effective as it sounded.

I have gotten some pretty good results on my rockets lately. My Estes Astron Sprint XL clone turned out to be as smooth and shiny as any rocket I'd ever built - darn near perfect.

My Estes Goblin, too, had turned out very nice.

But I thought I might like to add a clear protective layer to seal and protect the decals.

On the Astron Sprint XL, this would have been a good idea, as the black band near the nose cone has since started flaking off, and I haven't even flown it yet. I'll need to take that decal off, and paint a black band on.

A gloss clear coat - clear spray paint, that is - is an obvious choice for sealing and protecting decals. But I put in a lot of work on these paint jobs, and it included a little bit of wet sanding of tiny flaws in the paint, followed by polishing the rocket before adding the decals in the first place. What if my clear coat came out bumpy and irregular? I'd be hesitant to sand it smooth, as I might sand through it and into the decals. I'd rather put nothing on these rockets than ruin my work. Perhaps Future would be a good solution; it certainly sounded that way, from what I had read. But I wasn't about to do it on my best builds without testing it out first.

* * *

Before I get to the Future experiment, a word about the build, for those of you who may be building a small payload-carrying rocket like the Reflector. There are several of these model rockets, and they're pretty popular.

The face card of a lot of these little payloaders touts their "huge payload section." While it may look spacious on the outside, inside the payload compartment is another story.

The payload section is made up of a balsa nose cone at the top, a length of body tube in the middle, and a balsa transition at the bottom. The transition allows the diameter of the rocket to get wider at the payload section than the main airframe of the booster. The payload space is therefore inside the body tube, between the transition and the nose cone. As with all model rockets, the nose cone and the transition have shoulders - lengths of balsa slightly narrower than the base of the nose cone or the top of the transition - which allow you to fit them into the payload tube. The shoulders have to be long enough so that the payload section stays together in flight. What you end up with is a space only about an inch long at best inside the payload section.

The payload space inside the Reflector. Image from this Instructables project.

Not a lot of things you might want to fly will fit into that little space, but you can't simply cut the shoulders off and call it problem solved, or the rocket won't stay in one piece for flight. I wanted to be able to fly my Jolly Logic Altimeter 2, which is about 2 inches long, in this rocket.

What I did to accommodate the altimeter was to cut off about half the shoulder on the nose cone, and just a little off the upper shoulder of the transition. I left enough on the transition so that I could still get a good friction fit between the payload tube and the transition shoulder.

The big piece is from the nose cone shoulder. The thinner piece is just the conical top of the transition shoulder.

The transition piece still has enough length to be safely friction fit into the payload tube.

The nose cone would have to be glued on. There simply wouldn't be enough shoulder there to keep the parts together securely. When opening the payload, the nose cone and payload tube are now one piece.

But there still wouldn't be quite enough room. Using a drill, I carved out a little niche into the shoulder of the nose cone. Now the altimeter just fits perfectly into the payload section.

See it in there?

When you use a payload section like this, you might need to wrap some tape around the shoulders of the transition and nose cone (if you didn't need to glue it on) to get a nice snug fit with the payload tube. You don't want things to pop open during flight and lose your altimeter!

Also, it's best to drill a couple small holes, called static ports, into the payload tube. Altimeters use barometric pressure to measure altitude. The payload section needs to be ventilated so the air pressure inside matches the air pressure outside the rocket. Anywhere from two to four holes is recommended. For this small payload section, I drilled two holes, on opposite sides of the payload section, each one 1/16 inch in diameter. If you have a larger rocket, you can do a Google search for "static port hole size" to figure out how big and how many static ports you will need.

Back to the Future experiment...

* * *

When trying out a new material or building technique, it's always a good idea to try it out on something inexpensive or replaceable before committing to doing it with a rocket that's really dear to you. First, you want to make sure you've understood how to do it correctly. Sometimes you misunderstand the directions the first time you read them.

Also, sometimes a new skill isn't as easy to a beginner as it is to someone who uses it all the time. My first attempts at using paper skins to reinforce and hide the wood grain on fins were disastrous, and I still haven't quite gotten the technique down, even though a lot of people swear by it, and find it really easy.

Thirdly, sometimes a thing doesn't work - at least, for you - they way they say it will, or the way it works for them.

I'd heard of using Future a few times before, but the most complete explanation I had found was on this thread on The Rocketry Forum.

It seemed pretty straightforward, and the basic steps were as follows: Get some Pledge with Future Shine acrylic floor polish and a clean spray bottle. Optionally, add a little bit of Simple Green cleaner (which I didn't use). Make sure the nose cone is separated from the body of the rocket with a little tape, and spray the rocket down till completely wet. Go back several minutes later to remove any drops hanging from the bottom of the rocket with a paper towel, so they don't harden there. A day later, you'll have a shiny rocket.

It seemed to make sense, and it sounded so easy! This could be great! I thought. This could change everything.

What I pictured happening was that I'd spray the rocket down with the Future, it would level out and all the excess would drip off, and I'd have a nice, even, smooth, shiny protective surface over the whole rocket.

What happened when I tried this was different.

First of all, though I did blot off the excess that was dripping down off the base of the rocket, I still got a little pool of material on the trailing edges of the fins. As the Future started drying, it became gummy, and I ended up with some uneven, gooey bits. Attempting to dab it off with a paper towel, I merely made it more uneven.

Look closely, and you'll see a gooey drip slowly hardening on the corner of the fin.

The payload tube also experienced some swelling. You'll have noticed the spiral grooves running around the outside of the body tubes when you build your rockets, and perhaps you've filled those in, as I do, with wood filler.

There's a second spiral groove, running around the inside of the tube. I'm not sure how, but the Future seemed to have gotten inside the payload tube, and the internal groove started to bulge outward.

 The bumpy texture here isn't due to the Future. It's orange peel, and it's a flaw in the paint job that has nothing to do with applying Future. It can be sanded out and polished, but after the trouble I had with this build, I decided not to bother. But you can see the internal grooves bulging through the body tube after Future was applied.

According the the directions of the post, the nose cone is supposed to be set loosely on the rocket, or the Future will wick in and glue the nose cone to the rocket. In my case, the nose cone was glued on, so it was the transition I had to worry about.

First, I neglected to pull the payload tube apart from the transition before spraying, so that got stuck. But even having loosened the transition from the main body tube and masked it with tape, the whole thing still got stuck together.

Once the Future was dry, I tried to pull the payload section off the rocket, and it was firmly glued on! I was determined to get it off there, and while I did get it off, I ended up crushing the body tube slightly and damaging the decals a little from pulling so hard.

I got the payload tube and transition separated after wiggling a hobby knife and a fingernail into the joint. There was some slight damage there, but it was minimal.

Rather than leveling out and running off smoothly, the Future dried on the rocket in streaks. Some droplets didn't run off at all, and in fact hardened into acrylic blobs which won't come off the rocket.

Streaks, looking a bit like sweat, can best be seen on the left-hand fin.

Hard blobs of dried polish, the result of droplets which did not run off or self-level

The streaks and blobs may be removable, with the use of water and ammonia, but that would most likely take off the decals.

The one thing this does seem to have done is to seal the decals to the rocket - and if you look closely, you can see that I had a few loose edges which I was unable to burnish to the rocket surface, so this may at least prevent those from peeling off.

But overall, my first attempt at trying this out was a little detrimental to the final appearance of the rocket.

* * *

So, what could I do differently next time?

Well, I could decide that this technique isn't for me. I have been getting better at getting a nice smooth paint job lately, so perhaps I don't need this one.

Or, I could try again, but go about it differently.

On asking advice on the Rocketry Forum thread to which I linked above, I found a few different opinions (you'll always find a dozen different opinions when you talk rocket building with people). But one thing that a lot of people seem to agree on is that what I did here was too much. If and when you use Future, you need to do so lightly!

Some people suggest spraying the Future on, but in multiple light coats.

Some people suggest using a foam paintbrush to apply the future in a thin, even layer.

Perhaps spraying it on and wiping it off with a clean cloth would yield good results.

In the comments section of my previous post, Chris Michielssen says that while he uses Future on his builds, he only applies it to the decals, and he uses a Q-Tip to apply it in a thin layer.

Whenever you try out a new technique, the point is that sometimes you have to test it out first. Some things seem a lot easier when you read about them than they are in practice. It may take practice to get the hang of it. Even with something as simple as applying a little Future with a cotton swab, now that I've had this experience, I might first try it by applying a spare decal to a painted surface, and then sealing it to the surface with Future, just to see what it looks like (rather than doing it on a finished rocket for the first time). If I like the results, I may adopt the technique.

* * *

Applying Pledge with Future Shine to rockets to improve their surfaces isn't a terribly common practice, but some people do swear by it, so they must be on to something. At the very least, they like the results they get with it.

Others say they would never use floor polish on a rocket.

Floor polish on a model rocket? Not no way, not no how!

People in both camps are doing what works best for them, so nobody is wrong!

As you look for ways to improve your building, sometimes you'll come across techniques which are a tad controversial. Some rocketeers are pretty opinionated about what works and what doesn't, what you should always do or never do. We'll talk about one of those techniques in an upcoming post, and look at both sides of the issue (and try not to raise any hackles or ruffle any feathers).

The point of all this is, when you learn of a new building technique or material, you don't have to take anybody's word for it. Whether one person says "This is easy and amazing!" or another person says "Only an idiot would do this!" you will only know what works for you if you try something out. Just don't try it on anything too expensive or irreplaceable.

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1 comment:

  1. I have not tried a spray bottle, but I did use the foam brush technique to "paint" a layer of Future Acrylic onto a few of my rockets. I was pleased enough with the result. I would do it again, as I have bought a discount package of a dozen or more foam brushes for pennies on the dollar.