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. I like helping those who are striving 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. Ask me a question and I’ll answer it, but sooner or later you’ll need to stick some parts together and fly the plane yourself. I can suggest airplanes for you to build, I can give flying advice, and I may even be able to help you design your own plane, but the final decisions are all yours.
Where are you located?
In Missouri, USA.
Are you still cutting short kits?
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.
Why don’t you send me all of the sticks and sheets to complete the plane?
I keep sheet wood on hand for laser cutting, but I do not stock bulk sheet wood for sale because as soon as I start offering it for sale somebody will clean me out of several sizes, and I’ll be spending half of my time ordering wood to keep the laser cutter running. Another factor is that I enjoy selling a value-added product. In other words, I’m not just selling balsa wood. I’m creating a product. If you want plain balsa sheet you can buy it from a balsa vendor just like I do.
I do have a page where I sell sticks that I acquired in various buy-outs and deals.
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 Whoopie Doo XYZ 40 in stock?
No. The only thing I have in stock is a shelf full of 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.
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. 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. 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 design your plane? 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 choose an airplane 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.
I sent you some files but you said you can’t open them. I’m not a computer whiz. 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. Don’t ask the chef to fix the oven. He just wants to cook.
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. If you want a new project, you have to do it yourself, the way I did mine.
Why don’t you have a paypal button or a shopping cart? Wouldn’t that be easier?
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 shopping 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 shopping cart or pay button would be a questionable proposition. If you just tell me what you want, I’ll tell you the cost, and you send the money. I usually give a shipping break for multiple kits anyway.
What’s the turnaround time after I place an order?
It’s usually pretty fast, but sometimes not. Sometimes my band has gigs two nights in a row right after I receive your order, and then it’s Sunday, and then a Federal holiday. Sometimes the guy right in front of you in line orders something that cleans out all of my 1/8″ plywood so I have to wait for new stock to come in. Sometimes my laser cutter is out of adjustment because the weather was warm and then it got really cold for three days and I don’t feel like adjusting all the mirrors just so I can adjust them again three days later. Sometimes all of these things happen at once. Orders usually come in waves at the beginning and middle of the month, probably because of payday, so sometimes I just have a ton of stuff to cut out all at once.
Usually when I receive an order I can get right to work on it the next day and get it in the mail a day or two after that. Sometimes it’s a week, and once in a great while it may take longer than that.
Do you ship to foreign countries?
The only foreign country I will ship to is Canada. If you live in some other country maybe you need to learn how to cut your own parts, or buy your stuff straight from China. They seem to have an unlimited capacity to ship things cheaply and assume damage liability.
I feel like it’s just silly to start with $25 worth of wood, add $45 worth of labor, then pay another $70 to ship it across the world. You should just cut the parts out yourself. Even if $25 worth of wood costs $35 in your country you could buy twice as much and waste half of it on mistakes, and your final cost would still be half as much as it would cost to get it from me, and there would be no risk of it ending up smashed, busted open, lost or stolen.
Incidentally, shipping to Canada is terribly expensive and seems like an unjustifiable waste to me. I can cut your fuselage sides in half and save about 20 bucks if you want. Or you can pay the going rate for a full size fuselage side. Usually packages arrive safely in Canada, so if you want to spend the money it’s your choice.
The main problem I have with foreign shipping is that it makes me responsible for a shipping charge equal to or greater than my profit margin on a box that has a high likelihood of not arriving intact. No thanks.
I’m sure some clever folks out there are thinking “Puerto Rico is in the USA, so no problem.” Sorry, but no overseas shipping means no shipping to sketchy places like the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, etc. Before I got wise I shipped a kit three times to Puerto Rico before it finally got there safely. If you want to live in one of those places, that’s great. As far as I’m concerned, you can also take responsibility for getting your stuff delivered safely, because I’m just not interested in assuming liability.
You would make an exception for me, right?
No. I ship to Canada and the continental USA. That’s about all the liability I can tolerate.
I still like my overseas friends, and I am always happy to help you guys learn how to cut balsa wood and stick it together. That’s what my website was originally for, long before I got a laser cutter, and I’m still here to help those who are willing to help themselves. So go ahead and buy some bulk balsa and hardwood sticks from wherever you were planning to buy them when you thought you would be finishing one of my short kits, put a sharp blade in your hobby knife, and start cutting.
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.
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, and I don’t want to let that happen again with model planes. I love you guys, but I can’t talk to everybody on the phone all the time. Just send me an email.
I sent you an email but you didn’t answer.
There are a couple of possible reasons for this. Maybe you entered the wrong address in the contact form. Or maybe I’m out of the house. I read and answer email on a desktop computer, not a cell phone. Sometimes you’ll hear from me at midnight or on a Sunday morning, but this is not always the case. Sometimes I go away on the weekend, or I’m at band practice or a gig, or maybe I’m outside cutting firewood. If you’ll exercise a little bit of equine retention I’ll get back to you before too long.
On the other hand I get quite a lot of email, so sometimes yours will fall through the cracks. So if you don’t hear from me for a few days, giving me a little nudge could be helpful.
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.
Sometimes I receive 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, why are you talking to me about it? You’d be better off cutting 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?
Not at this time but I intend to in the near future.
What if I buy a short kit? Does it come with a plan?
Not at this time but in the future I will offer plans.
Where do I get plan files for printing?
There are multiple sites online where you can get them. Plans 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 the print shop employee 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.
There are also some plan sellers on ebay who have a ton of PDF files stored, which are then printed on paper and mailed to you when you buy the plan. Here’s a secret: These ebay sellers downloaded their PDF files from Outerzone, which I know because some of the PDFs are the very same ones I scanned and shared to Outerzone myself. These ebay sellers are not model airplane geniuses. They’re just opportunists looking for suckers. Download the plan yourself for free and shop locally for printing.
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. Now that I’m really thinking about it, 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 kit plans don’t even show all of the parts. 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. 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, then I probably don’t want to mess with it either. If 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 aren’t what you really wanted. I don’t want to spend tons of time figuring things out anyway. I just want to draw. For those reasons, I prefer to stick to common designs that are well drawn.
Another thing I’ve decided is that I’m not the Big Scale Airplane kit cutter. I’ve been asked to do plans for giant scale monocoupe type airplanes from the 30s. These are beautiful planes, arguably the pinnacle of artistic beauty in aviation. I love these planes.
I also get requests for a giant DC-3, various World War II fighters big enough to need their own trailers, and other giant scale subjects. Other kit cutters already have the reputation of being the ones who cut giant scale model parts for these beautiful projects, and I don’t want to try to get into that market. It would be sort of like starting an auction website to compete with ebay. Sure, I could do it. But in the end everybody will go to ebay anyway. Likewise, if I make a giant B-52 kit for one guy, everybody else who wants one will go to the kit cutters who are already well known in the giant scale genre. My specialty is 1/2A to 120 size sport planes published in magazines. I’ll just stick with that.
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 for free or for pay. 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 that is. In fact, it is a very famous model airplane 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.
For instance, Joe designs a plane and calls it the Sky Guy. He calls his buddy John who has a laser cutter and says “You’re the designated kit cutter for the Sky Guy. Charge whatever you want, and give me 20 dollars every time you cut one.” Then a random enthusiastic modeler sends me the plan for the Sky Guy and asks for a kit. Sure, why not? So I draw the parts and put the Sky Guy on my list, and then Joe emails me and tells me that John is the official source of Sky Guy parts so I’d better take that one off my list.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no legal basis for this request. I’m not making copies of the plan, and “Sky Guy” is not a registered trademark. And besides, the plane is usually a totally uninspired effort that looks like this anyway:
Joe’s drawing is protected by copyright, but he did not register “Sky Guy” as a trademark, and if he wants to claim that his design is off limits to other people he is required to make a legal argument that the design is innovative in some way and is thus worthy of protection, rather than just a box with a Clark Y on top.
I generally comply with these friendly but legally unfounded requests to desist, simply to avoid potential hostility from well meaning members of the modeling community who wish to protect designers.
In summary regarding “copyright protection”: The law prevents distribution of copies of drawings for which a copyright has been claimed. But we all have the right to cut little pieces of wood, or to hire somebody to cut little pieces of wood. But I’m still not going to cut you a 4 Star 40 or a Kadet because that would be pretty lame.