This is not actually a page of Frequently Asked Questions. It’s more of an SAQ page, with “sometimes asked questions”. Most of these have been asked once. But if one guy asks, maybe another guy is also wondering. These questions deal with laser cutting services and short kits, because when somebody asks me a question about building techniques I will turn it into an entire article.
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.
Why don’t you have a paypal button or a shopping cart? Wouldn’t that be easier?
I have actually gotten this question several times. I have several box sizes. 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.
What exactly is a short kit?
I’ve gotten this question lots of times, in spite of the fact that the information is on the “Order Short Kits” page. I understand. Sometimes details are overlooked, and it’s a simple mistake. This time I’ll tell the story in a greater context. If you start with a sketch or a plan or even just an idea, plus a stack of raw materials, and you cut out the parts yourself, you are building from scratch. Some manufacturers will sell you a box with everything you need to complete an airplane, including shaped parts, uncut sticks and sheets, hardware, landing gear, canopy or windows if necessary, etc. This is known as a full kit or complete kit. A complete kit is never actually complete because you still need glue, covering materials, and usually wheels, and probably a few other things.
A short kit is halfway between a scratch building project and a full kit. You still have to gather all of the parts necessary to complete an airplane, as a scratch builder does. The only exception is that you’re getting the specially shaped parts from me. But that’s all you get from me.
So you’re a scratch builder who hired a guy to cut the more difficult parts.
Why don’t you just add hardware and a plan and sell a complete kit? I would buy one!
My mother used to ask me why I didn’t get an engineering degree. Some people are engineers and some aren’t. Likewise, some people sell full kits, and some do not. If the full kit guys don’t have the plane you want, then congratulations. You are now a scratch builder. Isn’t it nice that you can hire somebody to cut out all of those pesky wing ribs? But don’t ask me to pack a box full of sticks and hardware. If you don’t want to do it, why would I?
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. I have been in a position to make a claim on an insured package, and dealing with the post office made me wish I had never sent the package. So instead of wishing that I could turn back the clock on a transaction, I’m going to choose not to turn it forward in the first place.
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 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 very good wood for a low price, or my satisfied customers don’t know what they’re looking at. 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.
Do you sell plans?
What if I buy a short kit? Does it come with a plan?
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. I have a better idea. You get a print made at a store.
Where do I get plans?
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. You need to download a plan and transfer it to a data storage device such as a flash drive or SD card, then take that to an office store or printing company, and pay them to print it. PDF files include scaling and size info. Tell the printer to print your plan at 100% and don’t let it default to some other size to fit the paper. 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. Look again at these designs with a critical eye and you will see what I’m talking about.
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 purchased by only one customer.
On the other hand, you can take a lot of pressure off 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 will be required.
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 totally wrong. Most people don’t even know how to spell copyright. It means the right to copy printed material or electronic recordings for distribution to other people. You can actually 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, or 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 protected.
Let’s say that you buy a 4 Star 40 kit from Sig Mfg. You build the plane, and then you crash it. Now you want to build another. Who wouldn’t? The 4 Star is a great design. So you use the information contained in the drawings as an aid to build another plane. A lot of people might assume that you don’t have the right to build any more than the one plane included in the boxed kit, but this is not true. If you want to give Sig more money, that’s your right. But Sig sold you a copy of the plan and you can use it however you want, as long as you don’t copy it for distribution. Sig can’t sell you the right to build an airplane because they never owned your right to build an airplane.
There is another legal instrument called the trademark, which almost never gets mentioned in arguments about model airplanes. Trademarks are used by big companies to prevent little guys from making a similar product that mimics the big company’s product. 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. My wife can buy fabric with an NFL team logo print, and she can sew it into a stadium lap blanket, and she can sell it. She can’t copy the fabric print, but she can certainly buy and resell pieces of the original fabric. She just can’t use the name of the team to to advertise it because that name is a registered trademark. This is all pretty obvious. These companies pay the cost to register their names and logos as trademarks, and they pay office buildings full of lawyers to threaten violators.
Now let’s assume that you design a plane called the Mega Strato Blaster. You didn’t register the name as a trademark because it’s an expensive process that wouldn’t earn back the money that it costs. What if a kit cutter offers parts for sale to build the MSB airplane? What if he uses the name of the plane in his advertising? Surely he is violating some law, right? Wrong. Most people don’t want to spend $500 per airplane name for the right to go to court and force other people to stop using the name. It’s too much money and all it buys is hassle. As a result, RC plane names are very rarely registered as trademarks, probably not at all. If you want to register yours, knock yourself out. Then have fun paying lawyers to threaten people.
What model airplane designers actually do is pretend that cutting out pieces of balsa violates the copyright that they didn’t bother recording on their drawing, and that it infringes on the trademark that they didn’t bother registering on the name of the design. Then they assign imaginary rights to a specific kit cutter to cut their kit, and they ask all of the other kit cutters to desist from cutting out little shapes and desist from saying the name of the airplane, because a specific kit cutter has been designated as the official source. Do not believe that there is any legal basis to these requests, because there isn’t. Compliance with these friendly but legally unfounded requests is purely a gesture of good will that is given only because model airplane people are nice people.
In fact, it is the legal right of any kit cutter to cut out balsa wood in any shape that is mutually agreeable to the buyer and the seller.