Basic build tips when using skins

  • These are not beginner builds! You must be comfortable with the flite Test build method. I would also advise you build and fly whatever plane you want to skin first before attempting a skinned version. You will learn the in’s and out’s of a particular build first and have a better chance of a great maiden with your skinned plane if you have already flown it before.

  • Take your time. It’s your best tool when building.

  • It is advisable that you download the full plans, as well as reference the printed versions that come with your skins. Have them available for viewing before beginning your build. You will need them for reference as score and cut lines that are not usually on the skins.

  • Keep your hands dry and clean for a clean looking build.

Basic Tools

  • Glues and Adhesives. See below.

  • Cutting tools. I use an exacto for fine work and single edges razor blades for straight cutting. Several sized metal rulers and straight edges.

  • A roller to make sure the glued skins stick to the foam. (here is mine)

Glues and Adhesives

  • 3M’s Scotch Super 77 spray adhesive (or equivalent) is the primary adhesives used to glue the skins to the foam.  I cut out the skin pieces I want to work with and decide how to arrange them on my foam board. I then spray the backside of the skin piece and carefully apply it to the foam. I then use a roller (here is mine) to make sure it makes complete contact with the foam. You can use an old credit card or hotel room key but I find the roller far superior.

  • Contact adhesive (rubber cement) for doing edge treatment , repairs and any time I don’t want glue to show such as the bottom flap to the turtle decking.

  • Glue stick is also used in some instances in repair and with delamination issues although I prefer the rubber cement.

  • Hot glue of course!

  • Always use good quality band names. The dollar store is great for foam, not for glue.

Protecting the skins and making them last

In order to keep the skins as cheap as possible they are printed on a large format 24″ wide plotter. Some of the black inks used are water resistant but most can be smeared or run if exposed to moisture. I have tested two products in making them water resistant and more durable. Minwax Polycrylic Clear Satin Aerosol 11.5 oz can be picked up a Lowes for under $12 and will do several planes. Also here is Aleene’s Spray Matte Finish 6oz Acrylic Sealer which is about $11 on Amazon but is just a 6oz can. Both seem to work well in testing. I apply it in thin coats after the plane is build. The minway product makes the color a little darker but not horribly so and it is much more cost effective. I would spray them first but sometimes it can cause issues with the hot glue not sticking. Does not seem to effect contact cement like Elmer’s Rubber Cement.

Do I remove paper on the foam or not?

  • From my testing the weight of the skin/glue combination is equal to or less than that of the original paper that comes on the foam.

  • On “mighty mini” sized aircraft I lean toward removing all the paper on the foam.

  • On “swappable” sized aircraft (such as with the P40) I left the paper on and only removed it when directed so by the plans.

  • It comes down to weight vs strength and rigidity. Minis don’t like weight and swappables need strength.

Horizontal Stabilizers

  • When cutting out the two tab slots on the bottom of the horizontal stabilizer that engage the tabs on the fuse do not cut through the skin on the top of the horizontal stabilizer. It is unnecessary and will detract from the look. Some designs have a turtle deck with a “split V section on the rear that extend over the seam of the horizontal and vertical stabilizers. In theses cases it is not so critical.

  • On some skins one side of the horizontal stabilizer is in one piece and the other side (side with the bevel) is in two. In these cases, glue the single non beveled side to the foam. Cut the piece to shape. Flip it over (to the none skinned side) and using the plans, mark and cut the elevator. Then cut your bevel. Sometimes they have you cut the bevel into the elevator and sometimes into the stabilizer. Then glue on the skin piece for the none beveled side making sure that the part that overlaps the bevel is sufficiently glue down and making contact but does not bind the hinge. Then glue on the skin piece to the beveled side. The two should overlap. Again check and make sure the hinge had sufficient range of motion and not binding. If concerned that this might bind the hinge and interfere with free range of motion, one can also opt to trim the not beveled side so that it does not overlap and live with the foam showing. 

Vertical Stabilizers

  • As with the horizontal stabilizer some skins have one side of the vertical stabilizer in one piece and the other side (side with the bevel) is in two. Again, in these cases, glue the single non beveled side to the foam. Cut the piece to shape. Flip it over (to the none skinned side) and using the plans, mark and cut the elevator. Then cut your bevel. Sometimes they have you cut the bevel into the rudder (the part that moves) and sometimes into the vertical stabilizer. Then glue on the skin piece for the non beveled side making sure that the part that overlaps the bevel is sufficiently glue down and making contact but does not bind the hinge. Then glue on the skin piece to the beveled side. The two should overlap. Again check and make sure the hinge had sufficient range of motion and not binding. If concerned that this might bind the hinge and interfere with free range of motion, one can also opt to trim the non beveled side so that it does not overlap. In this case you would have white foam showing.

The Wing

  • There are usually two or three skin pieces per left and right wing.

  • A top skin with a partial bottom section that you fold over

  • A bottom section that covers the wing tip, trailing edge and aileron.

  • Sometimes the aileron is a seperate piece

  • Start with the large top piece. Cut it from the main sheet leaving a white edge around the piece 1/4 to 1/2 inch and glue it to the foam and roll in place.

  • Give it some time to set and then trim the foam to the skin just like you would with the plans. You should have the individual part shape at this point.

  • Trim the bottom skin for the other side of the foam.

  • This can be the trickiest part to skins. Carefully align the bottom side skin (with or without aileron) to the foam. At this point it is sometimes easier to tack the wing tip in position temporarily with glue stick, mask the wing with paper or a plastic bag and spray the bottom skin with adhesive. Then carefully lay it in place from the wing tip aligning it as you go.

  • If the aileron is separate add it now.

The bottom of the fuselage

  • Take extra care when gluing the two bottom sections into place. Panel lines should line up and the paper on the edges should be flush for a clean look.

Foam Board Wheels

Yes foamboard wheels! On many Flite Test plans you will find foam board wheels. Usually 3 pieces for each wheel. I decided to make skins for them and give them a try. I start with gluing the 3 round pieces together making sure there where no plans on the outside as they can show through the skins. Make sure you have the center marked with a small hole. Take the long black “tread” skin and apply adhesive to it. Lay it down with the glue side facing up. Starting at one end, center the wheel on the skin and roll it across applying even pressure. You may have to trim a bit off the end. The tread skin will over hang each side. Clip the overhand every ¼ inch or so and fold it over to the side of the wheel. You may have to add more glue. A good glue stick works well here. Cut out the two side walls for the wheels. Make a small hole in the center and place it on a toothpick non printed side up. Spray with adhesive. Now use the toothpick as a guide on the wheel for placement of the side wall graphics. Roll the side walls flat. Make a hole through the center large enough to place a stir straw in. Glue the stir straw in pace with hot glue (use a skewer to keep it’s shape). Trim of the excess stir straw. Let the whole thing dry completely. Apply multiple coats of Minwax Polycrylic. This seems to greatly incease it’s durability. I fly on an airfield in the desert made up primarily of small rocks and so far they have held up well.​

Sheeting (turtle decking, canopies etc)

  • For parts that require a card stock piece with no foam. I just glue the printed skin piece onto a blank sheet of bond paper or cardstock to make it thicker, then trim the piece out, shape and install.

Sharpie Touch Up and Weathering

  • Use appropriately colored Sharpie for touch ups.

  • Use a silver fine tip Sharpie to simulate paint chipping.

Belly Lander

  • Making a belly lander? Protect your plane when doing belly landings so it stays awesome looking longer. Using packing tape on the undersides of the fuselage or plastic landing skids.

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