Welcome to the Balsa Workbench

If you’re reading this website I assume you’ve thought at least a little bit about building balsa planes.  It can be a lot of fun but it’s also a lot of work, so why would you go to all of the trouble to learn how to build a balsa plane when the market is full of affordable foam airplanes that you could just buy and fly?

The simple answer is because balsa planes fly better.  The goal of an airplane designer is to make a structure that weighs as little as possible while being as rigid as possible.  Most of the commercially available ready-to-fly models are made of foam, which tends to be rather flexible, which causes performance to suffer.  Thicker foam will improve aerodynamic performance at the expense of greater weight.  Balsa solves this problem by allowing you to build a plane that is both light and strong.  If you have flown a foam RC plane, you will be pleasantly surprised by the superior performance of a well built balsa plane.

You can buy pre built balsa planes of course.  But pre built balsa planes are built by the lowest bidder, using low wage labor, cheap materials, and as little glue as possible.  If you do it yourself you get a better airplane, and you may find the experience quite rewarding as well.  You start with a pile of sticks and turn it into an airplane that flies.  It’s a good feeling.

Back in the good old days model airplane builders would trade advice and building tips at the flying field or get information from hobby magazines.  Nowadays it can be difficult to connect with people who know how to build.  I hope this site can help neophytes to get started on the right track and to avoid frustration.

I started building balsa airplanes in 1986.  I would build a plane, try to fly it, repair minor crash damage, and sell it before totally destroying it.  Then I would build another plane and start over.  This was a great way to learn building techniques.  After I learned to fly I built airplanes as my main source of income for a couple of years, until inexpensive ARFs put an end to that.


Lazy Ace built from RCM plan, 2007

I still build a lot of airplanes.  I fly them for a while and then hang them up for sale at the hobby store, and start building the next one.  Over the years I’ve picked up a lot of simple tricks to build straight, strong, light airplanes quickly and easily.


I’m not into fancy scale details, so I don’t have much to say about making scale panel lines or tiny rivets.  What I like best is what is referred to in the RC community as sport models.  On this website I feature my own building projects in articles telling new builders how to put a plane together easily and accurately.  If there’s anything in particular you’d like to talk about, just send me an email.  I welcome comments and questions.

When looking at my photos you may notice that my building area is not always clean.  In fact, when I look at my own photos sometimes I’m shocked at what a dump it is.  Because I’m giving the public a glimpse into my home I could clean the place up, get a new building table that isn’t cut to shreds, and vacuum the balsa dust every time I take a photo.  But I have decided to show you my shabby building table so you will know that you don’t need a pristine, dust free, expensive workshop to build a decent plane that flies.  And you don’t need the most expensive components and hardware.  I’m sure there are many airplanes out there that are cleaner and prettier than mine.  And there certainly are a lot that have fancier hardware and more expensive finishing materials.  But I have a lot of fun and I build pretty good planes in spite of the cruddy table, the clutter, and the dust.  They always fly well, and everybody who takes a turn with the transmitter has a good time, which I believe is the true measure of success.  When you put your workshop together and when you build your airplanes, you will spend as much money as you are comfortable with.  I’ve known people with budgets anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to tens of thousands.  Generally the extra money on the upper end of the scale buys instant results.  Those guys are having a great time and doing their thing, but this is a do-it-yourself website, the purpose of which is to show you what can be done with a low budget and low stress.

Click here to check out my store.  For those of you who don’t have time to cut out your own parts, I offer laser cutting services.

Also, check out my friend David McIntire.  He has a huge database of engine videos on youtube that will help you learn to choose, operate, and repair glow engines.