FAQ

This is the place where you can get answers without being offended because I’m not talking to you.  I’m talking to everybody!  Go ahead and do some reading, and you’ll get a good idea of how I operate.

Most of these questions deal with laser cutting services and short kits, because when somebody asks me a question about building techniques I would rather turn it into an entire article.

Can you help me?

Yes!  I started this website to help people learn how to build balsa planes, so I can help and I want to help.  I like helping those who are striving mightily to achieve a goal.  If it becomes apparent that I care more about your project than you do, or if I’m contributing more effort, that’s my cue to kick you out of the nest and let you fly on your own.

The usual way that model airplane knowledge is gained is trial and error.  Go ahead and ask me a question, and I’ll answer it.  But sooner or later you’ll need to go ahead and stick parts together and fly the plane yourself.  I can’t tell you what to build, and I can’t fly it for you.  And if you’re designing your own plane we can chat about it, but the final decisions are all yours.

Where are you located?

In Missouri, USA.

Are you still cutting short kits?

Yes.  I don’t know why people ask this, but I get this question frequently.  Yes, I am cutting short kits.

What exactly is a short kit?

A short kit is halfway between a scratch building project and a full kit.  It includes the parts that need to be cut to a special shape, but you still have to gather all of the parts necessary to complete an airplane, including sheet wood, sticks, and hardware.

So you’re a scratch builder who hired a guy to cut the more difficult parts.

How do I order a short kit?

Using the “send Rob an email” link on the main menu, send me an email and tell me what kit or kits you are interested in.  Ask me any questions you may have and I’ll answer them, give you a quote with shipping included, and tell you where to send payment.  If you don’t get an answer, look in your spam folder.

Do you have the RCM Whoopie Doo 40 in stock?

No.  The only thing I have in stock is a shelf full of neatly stacked sheet wood waiting to be cut.  I don’t have plane kits in stock because they are cut to order.  Everything on my list is waiting for you to order it, even the ones that don’t have clickable links.  Some planes just don’t need further info, which is why they are “blacked out”.  They’re not really blacked out.  They just don’t have any further info.

I want a kit that’s on your list, but I want the fuselage curved instead of straight, and I want the wing moved back 2 inches, and I want the tail a different shape.  Can you do that?

It sounds to me as if you don’t really want the kit from my list.  Apparently you are a model airplane designer, and I think that’s great!  If you design a new plane you will benefit yourself and the rest of us.  You may be the next Joe Bridi or Fred Reese.  If you’re doing your own design, then you should go all the way and design the whole thing, then learn how to cut out your own parts, and when you get the design all figured out send me the files or a scan of a well drawn plan and I’ll cut it.

I don’t want you to think I’m being sarcastic or rude.  I really do want you to design your own plane, and cut out your own parts, because it’s fun.  I don’t need to be involved, though, because I’m not a magic wand that can make your vision come to life.    I don’t have the passion you have for your own project.  I’m just a high tech razor blade for your balsa.  Your knife doesn’t know where or what to cut.  You have to direct it.  I’m not interested in designing your plane, or modifying a standard design your way.

Short answer:  You want your ribs out of 1/8″ balsa instead of 3/32?  No problem.  You want two sets of parts for the wing?  No problem.  You want me to change a bunch of outlines on an otherwise standard plan?  No thanks.

I have some files for parts.  Can you cut them?

Yes, I can cut parts from .ai files, .dxf files, or .dwg files.  If I’m not doing the whole project I’m less likely to find mistakes, so you’ll probably want to go over everything carefully yourself.  I know I just said in the previous question that I don’t want to cut a modified design, and all that jazz.  This is different.  The other question is for people who pick something from my list and tell me to change it.  (No thanks.)  This question is for those who know what they want and provide a drawing or finished files.  As long as you’re telling me exactly what you want, I can cut it out.

You said you can’t open my files, but I’m not a computer whiz so I don’t know what to do.  Can you fix my files?

No.  I know how to use my computer and my software.  I start with a scan of an airplane plan and I draw parts, and I cut them out.  Making DXF files work correctly is not my specialty, so if the file doesn’t open, that’s the end of the line for me.  I have a long list of other parts that other people want me to draw, and I’d rather do that than try to figure out why your files don’t open.  I’m not a programmer or a software expert.  You don’t ask the chef to fix  the blender, because he’s busy cooking.

I have a 100″ Spitfire plan, but I want you to shrink it to 50% and cut a kit.  Can you do this?

This is a less than good idea.  Planes should be built differently at different scales.  You can’t just change scale and expect to build the plane straight from the plan.  You have to do some engineering work to build it correctly.

As a parts cutter I want to send you a good product.  If you resize a plan with a copy machine and tell me to cut out the parts, that may not be a good product.  Somebody needs to figure out the new thicknesses for sheeting, sticks, and landing gear blocks.  If I was doing it I wouldn’t be satisfied without some flight testing and redesigning, but unfortunately I don’t have time to do that for everybody.  It’s your project, so you need to do the engineering, and draw the parts for me to cut.  This puts us back to the question directly above this one.  “I have some files for parts.  Can you cut them?”  And the answer is yes, but I’m not designing the parts.  You are.  I usually can offer some friendly advice, though.  Here’s a whole article you can read for more info on rescaling.

I sell some kits of rescaled or redesigned versions of standard planes, but in most cases these are planes I have redesigned and tested myself, such as the QTee 10, Cloud Dancer 10, etc.

Why don’t you have a paypal button or a shopping cart?  Wouldn’t that be easier?

I accept paypal and other forms of payment; I just don’t have a button or a shopping cart.  Shipping costs vary with size, weight, and distance.  If you order more than one kit in the same box, you can save money by combining shipping.  But I don’t want a paypal cart that says shipping for three kits is X dollars, because it’s more complicated than that.  Weighing each kit and each box and all the padding ahead of time to properly set up a paypal shopping cart or pay button would be ridiculous.  If you just tell me what you want, I’ll tell you the cost, and you send the money.  If we make it up as we go along you get a lower price.

One other thing:  I hope you understand that when I ask you for $12.50 for shipping, and you get the box with a $9 postage stamp on it, I’m not trying to rip you off.  U-Line charged me for the boxes, and they charged me what I would call an outrageous price for shipping on top of that.  If you can steer me towards a good deal on boxes, I’m listening.

Do you ship to foreign countries?

That’s a great question.  I will happily ship to Canada and the USA, but please be advised that shipping to Canada is ridiculously expensive.  I can cut costs by cutting parts shorter, so if you want to save 20 bucks I’ll cut your fuselage sides in half, etc.  This will change a 40 dollar charge to 20 dollars in most cases.

Shipping to destinations outside North America is an unattractive prospect for a couple of reasons.  Large, lightweight boxes have a high potential for damage on long trips across the world.  This alone makes me unenthusiastic about shipping overseas.  Additionally, in quite a few countries there is a hazard of theft or mishandling.  I don’t want you to spend your money on a box that won’t arrive, and I don’t want to spend my money replacing it and trying to make it arrive, when the forces acting upon the package are totally out of my control.  The post office will sell me insurance, but rather than assume responsibility for making an insurance claim in the event of damage or loss, I prefer to just not get involved.

If you are outside of Canada or the United States, you are responsible for the package.  If it arrives damaged or fails to arrive at all, that’s your problem.  I’m not going to pay for it, refund your money, or ship another one for free.  You are responsible.  I still like my friends overseas, so here’s how you can get what you want.  Order a kit from a manufacturer that ships overseas, or cut out your own parts and build from scratch.  If you don’t know how to build from scratch, you’re on the right website.  I’ll be happy to tell you how.

I don’t like to type.  Why don’t you post your phone number so we can talk about it?

I spend a lot of time outdoors and I don’t like playing phone tag.

Everybody has a cell phone.  Give me your cell number and you can answer anywhere.

I don’t have a cell phone.  I don’t like the cell phone lifestyle.  Also, cell phones don’t even work at my house.  I have a land line, but I don’t want you to think I’m sitting here waiting for it to ring.  I like email because it’s just a faster version of mail.  We don’t have to interrupt each other’s lives.

There are some really great people out there, and my website has allowed me to become acquainted with a lot of them.  I used to build and sell harmonica amplifiers, and I spent hours talking on the phone about music, amplifiers, sound levels, loud drummers, etc.  It was too much.  I love you guys, but I can’t talk to everybody on the phone all the time.  Just send me an email.

Can I specify balsa grade for my short kit?

I’ve been building balsa planes since 1986 and I have never weighed my balsa.  I’m a cheapskate and I always order un-graded balsa wood.  It’s generally good stuff, but about 10% of it is too hard or warped or something.  Some pieces are a mess and just need to be thrown away.  I use the warped stuff for small parts, because then it doesn’t matter.  I try to use the heavy stuff in appropriate applications.  Other than that I don’t pay much attention.

I’ve received compliments on my wood quality.  This means that either I’m getting extraordinarily good wood, or my satisfied customers don’t know the difference.  In either case, I’m happy.  I can usually build a plane under the spec weight because of modern miniature radios, no matter the balsa selection.  My advice:  Don’t worry about it.  It really doesn’t matter.  And if it does matter to you, then I assume you are building for a competition or you are simply a very meticulous builder.  In that case, maybe you’d better just cut the parts out yourself.

FYI:  In an effort to minimize cost I buy balsa collections whenever I can.  Some of the wood I get is very old.  Sometimes you will receive parts cut from wood that has been yellowed by the sun or has mysterious brown stains on it.  Don’t worry.  It all flies.

Do you sell plans?

No.

What if I buy a short kit?  Does it come with a plan?

No.

You’re sending me a package anyway.  Why don’t you just include the plan?

I have my balsa wood and my laser cutter at home, which is in the middle of nowhere.  To send you a plan I would have to either buy a large format printer or go to the city to get a print made at a store.  Instead of asking me to go and get a print made, you should just get a print made yourself.  If you’re downloading a file from the internet, put it on a portable storage device such as an SD card or a flash drive, take it to an office store, and have it printed.  Or you could look up a guy named Dennis, who goes by the name Hemikiller on RC Groups, and have him mail you a print.

I want everything to come in one box.  You could have Dennis make the plan, then you can put it in the box with the kit and mail me everything at once.  Why don’t you do that?

This is a craftsman’s hobby.  Stop trying so hard to avoid effort.

I don’t keep inventory.  All kits are cut to order because I never know what somebody is going to want, and for the same reason I can’t keep a bunch of plans sitting around waiting for customers.  I would have to take your order, and then order a plan for you, then wait for it to arrive, so I could pack it with my kit.  Instead of having Dennis mail something to me so I can mail it to you, let’s just have Dennis mail it straight to you.  (Dennis is a great guy, and I recommend his services.  I hope he appreciates me saying his name over and over.)

In short, I cut balsa.  Other people print plans.

Where do I get plan files for printing?

There are multiple sites online where you can get them.  They used to be published in magazines, but now that we have the internet you can find websites where people have been uploading old magazine plans.  My favorite website is outerzone.  PDF files have size data encoded in the file, so the print will come out at the right size.  When you have downloaded the file, tell your printer to print your plan at 100% and don’t let it default to some other size to fit the paper.  (When I tell you to print the plan at 99%, tell that to the printing company.)  You can also buy paper plans from various companies that still publish them, or buy old ones on ebay.

If I want you to cut me a kit, do I send you the plan in the mail so you can make the parts?

You don’t mail me any paper, and I don’t mail you any paper.  If you want me to cut out a specific kit, I need a PDF of the plan.  Either you download it from the internet and email it to me, or send me a link of where I can download it myself, or you get your paper scanned somewhere and email me the PDF.  I can also use files in DXF format.

Can you cut any kit that I want, even one that’s not on your list?

This is a tricky question.  When I started doing this I was having a ton of fun going through my favorite plans and turning them into laser cutting files.  As you can see from my main kit list, I’m a big RCM Plans fan.  On my own initiative I drew all of those parts, mainly because they were my own favorite airplanes, but also because RCM plans have an economy of design which allows maximum fun for minimal building effort and expense.  This is because they were designed by intelligent people to attract new people to the hobby, and thus increase advertising revenue.  Look again at these designs with a critical eye and you will see what I’m talking about.  Those guys got a lot done with just a few pieces of wood.

But maybe you want to build something else, which is understandable.  This is where we get to the tricky part.  Some people charge an outrageous hourly rate for drafting, but I hesitate to do that because after I charge the first guy a million dollars, I’ll put the kit on my list and the next guy buys it just for the base cost of cutting without a drafting fee.  I don’t think that’s fair, so I don’t charge the first guy a drafting fee.  I just charge for the kit itself.  The only reason I can do that is because I’m a weirdo who has chosen not to have a real career.  I live in the country and grow my own food, play in a band, work on my own cars, cut firewood, etc.  I consider drafting to be just another one of the unusual things that I choose to do.  However, when I do a lot of drafting, especially complex projects, especially when it was somebody else’s interest that was piqued by the project, it becomes a lot less fun.

What this means to you is that I will do special projects, but the more special they get the less I will want to do them.  Unfortunately I am not able to quote a specific policy on special projects because although I want to do this kind of stuff, in actual practice it gets really old.  In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I am even less enthusiastic about unusual scale designs that will most likely be cut only once.  But on the other hand if you’re really eager to do a project I’d love to help you out.  I guess what this all means is that my willingness to do special projects comes and goes.  Now that I’m really thinking about it, I feel a lot more like doing special projects in the winter, but special projects are a lot less appealing during summer when I’m doing a lot of gardening, mowing, working on cars, and that sort of thing.  So if you really want a kit that’s not on my list, hit me up in the fall.

You can skip all of that nonsense by having the cutting files ready.  These can be either complete layouts on templates shaped like balsa sheets, or just outlines of parts that need to be laid out for cutting.  Please do me a favor and have a list of wood sizes and how many of each piece will be required.

Are there some plans you will not cut a kit for?

While it is true that just about any kit can be cut, there are a few caveats.  Some plans are just crap.  Maybe the drawing is all blurry, or maybe somebody spilled coffee on the original and ruined some important parts.  Some plans didn’t need to show every part because they were included in kits.  I’ve seen other plans that left a lot of questions unanswered in the drawing just because the designer didn’t think of it.  For instance, sometimes you can’t tell if the fuselage bottom is below the sides or between them.  A bulkhead view helps to clear up that kind of question, but some plans leave a lot of questions unanswered.  That sounds like a simple thing, because it is, but it’s an example of a type of shortcoming.  I’ve seen where major fuselage assemblies are somehow together on a drawing with no explanation of how they’re supposed to be connected.

I’ve seen a fair number of terrible plans.  These are a pain to work with.  Maybe you really want to build one of these crappy designs anyway, because Grandpa used to fly one or whatever.  I understand.  That’s what the hobby is about.  But I have plenty of drafting to do and I really don’t want to work from a bad plan.  If you just gotta build it, go ahead.  If you don’t think you can figure it out, it sounds to me like the kind of thing I don’t want to mess with.  If you do think you can figure it out, go ahead and cut it out yourself, because the real issue is that a bad plan requires interpretation on my part and yours, but we may not have a meeting of the minds.  In the end I’m hoping to send you parts you can use.  I do not want to take your money and send you a bunch of weird parts that don’t fit right, and frankly I don’t want to try very hard to figure out the design.  I just want to draw.  For those reasons, I prefer to stick to common designs that are well drawn.

I also don’t cut out planes that are currently in production by a regular kit maker.  If you want a 4 Star 40 or a Kadet, call Sig.

How can you cut parts for a plane if you don’t own the copyright?

Well, this is a big can of worms.  Let’s dive in.  99% of the things that 99% of people think they know about copyrights are wrong.  Most people don’t even know how to spell copyright.  (hint:  There’s no W.)  It means the right to copy printed material or electronic recordings for distribution to other people.  You can make as many copies as you want as long as you don’t distribute them.  If we assume that we are talking about aeromodeling for the purposes of this discussion, the copyright applies to a printed plan or an electronic facsimile thereof or an electronic drawing.  It does not apply to the building of planes that may have been inspired by the drawings, nor the business of hiring somebody to provide parts, nor to hiring somebody to build the plane, nor any combination of these activities.

Have you ever heard of anybody showing up at a bake sale claiming that the production and distribution of a pineapple upside down cake is a violation of the cookbook copyright?  Neither have I.  Only the cookbook itself is copy protected.  Similarly, a model airplane designer who sells you a printed or electronic plan is selling the image only.  The copyright owner does not own your right to build airplanes, or your right to cut out parts.

There is another legal instrument called the trademark, which almost never gets mentioned in arguments about model airplanes, usually because it doesn’t apply. Trademarks are used to prevent other people from saying a specific word or using a specific image to advertise similar products.  You can’t sell potato chips called Frito Lay.  You can’t sell a hat with big black ears on it and call it Mickey Mouse.  This is all pretty obvious. RC plane names are very rarely registered as trademarks.  I know of only one.  In fact, it is a very famous trademarked name which the trademark owner asked me not to mention in my advertising, which is why it’s no longer on my list.  (Do you want to play a game?  Guess the name of this airplane and email me, and I’ll tell you if you guessed correctly.)

Besides the aforementioned, most model airplane names are not registered trademarks.  But for some reason most people seem to believe in imaginary rights secured by a “copyright on a design”.  Designers who want to enforce their imaginary rights sometimes pretend that it is illegal for an unauthorized person to cut out pieces of balsa and mention the name of the design.  Some designers assign imaginary rights to a specific kit cutter, and ask other kit cutters to desist from cutting out little pieces of wood and desist from saying the name of the airplane.  You should not believe that there is any legal basis to these requests, because there isn’t.  I generally comply with these friendly but legally unfounded requests to desist, simply to avoid potential hostility from members of the modeling community who mean well and wish to protect designers.

The law prevents distribution of copies of copyright protected drawings.  But we all have the right to cut little pieces of wood, or to hire somebody to cut little pieces of wood.