Stripping balsa from sheet stock
Q571: I noted in many of your
construction articles that you cut strips
of balsa from sheet stock rather than buy
the wood that is the correct size. Why
do you do this and how do you do it?
A571: Selecting the grade or weight of
balsa sticks is critical to the construction
of any model. Often, balsa sticks are too
soft for a particular application. Hobby
shops tend to stock lightweight, “
contest-grade” balsa. They do this to keep the
model weight down.
Many building applications call for
hard balsa, such as that used for wing
spars. I’ve found that national craft
stores such as A.C. Moore and Michaels
carry heavier-grade balsa, but in sheet
sizes. That is how I began stripping
my own sticks from sheet stock. It is
uncomplicated, but I’m going to share a
trick with you that will make the process
This photo shows how balsa sticks can be stripped from sheet material with the help of a ruler and
an X-Acto knife. The green cutting mat protects the building surface.
I use a cutting surface such as the
Hobbico Builder’s Cutting Mat. This
prevents cutting or scoring your building
assembly board. I use a standard X-Acto
knife with a No. 11 blade. I buy these
blades in 100-quantity packages so I can
change them often, because they quickly
A steel or aluminum ruler helps
me make straight cuts. I use a Sears
Craftsman 24-inch ruler. The length of
the ruler depends on the length of balsa
that you need to cut. Sometimes having
rulers in several lengths can prove
helpful. They are inexpensive and can
be purchased at Sears, Ace Hardware,
and Harbor Freight, among other
Now for my trick! One problem
you may encounter is the ruler shifting
position when you are cutting the balsa.
A ruler that slips can ruin your balsa
sheet and could result in a cut finger.
To cope with this problem, I affix
pieces of 150-grit sandpaper in several
spots along the bottom of my ruler.
Rubber cement works well for this
application. The sandpaper against the
balsa sheet prevents the ruler from
slipping. Try it and you will see how easy
the job is.
Some rulers come with a cork
backing, but that does not work as well
When cutting balsa sticks, try to
hold the X-Acto knife so that the
blade is approximately at a right angle
(perpendicular) to the balsa sheet.
A nice thing about cutting your own
balsa is that you can get any size stick
you need, including odd sizes.
Good Source for O-Rings
Q572: Where is a good source for
A572: I had been going to the plumbing
section of Home Depot or Lowe’s
Home Improvement, but I came upon
an assortment of 382 O-rings at my
local Harbor Freight store. The price was
You can purchase this assortment at
Harbor Freight stores or order it online
from the company’s website. I’ve listed
Right: The author
sandpaper to the
bottom of his metal
ruler to prevent the
ruler from sliding
out of position
when cutting balsa.
It allows accurate
cutting and helps
This large assortment of O-rings is available for
$8 at Harbor Freight. You will have the size you
want, when you want it!
73 Model Aviation JUNE 2013 www.ModelAviation.com
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