Introduction: Scratch-built Model Airplanes (for Miniature Gaming)

About: On my way to being a dumpwood craftsman.

Not that I've ever really been into gaming with miniatures, but I came across the rules to a WW1 dog-fighting game that looked cool ( I tested it with my brother using paper markers and decided I wanted to have the game. Thing is, you are only provided with rules and player tracking sheets. Planes, stands, and play area must be found elsewhere.

While model planes are available all over the place, I don't like spending money where I don't have to. And I can be patient, to boot. I made a carving knife some time ago and there is a nice willow tree I sit under during lunch hours (weather permitting) that drops branches from time to time.

With that little intro, on with the story.

Tools and Materials used are shown in this image. Only thing missing: a mm ruler.

*Too late for Pocket-Sized Contest, so I'll have this in the Up contest.
      - March 11, 2013: replaced mentions of "ailerons" with "stabilizer" as the latter is correct for the part I am referring to.

Step 1: Finding Plans and Diagrams

Everything starts with a plan. A good source for vehicle drawings and plans is A more specialized site is I used Junior General for the paper models to test the game.

I found the plans for a bunch of the planes I was interested in and copied their plans to a PowerPoint file. In the PowerPoint file, I turned on the centimeter ruler to use as a guide and scaled the drawings down to the size I wanted (1/144 in this case), fitting 4-5 airplanes per sheet. Then I printed them off for the next step (which I don't have pictures for).

I cut out the side views of the aircraft fuselage and traced them on the side of the blank I was using (junk ends from other projects and squared-down limbs from that willow tree).

Step 2: Carving

A great way to pass the time and still feel somewhat productive.

I (carefully) whittled the blank down to match the aircraft profile and width. I say carefully because the softer woods I used would split and shear rather easily if I wasn't careful. The first image sort of shows the progression of carving (right to left). Also featured is the carving knife I made using a paring knife I picked up for 10 cents.

I first tried cereal-box cardboard for the wings, but assembly is too difficult. I found a 24" x 1 1/2" x 1/8" strip of some soft wood that was shaved off of a bit of lumber for a previously completed project. worked much better for wings. Just trace wing pattern and cut out with an Exact-o knife. Then I used an awl (made from a nail wrapped with hockey tape) to place holes to help me better place the wing struts (made using shaved-down toothpicks). Hole positions are (of course) placed according to measurements on the plans. Second image shows wing in progress. Remember to sand edges.

Step 3: Glue

As mentioned, I tried cardboard first, with just satisfactory results. Anyway, I think I will go into a little more explanation here as I didn't take pictures of every step.

So, after fuselage, wings, struts, and stabilizer are ready to go.

1. Take the fuselage and carefully cut the tail rudder off, such that it can be glued on and allow you access to where the stabilizer needs to go.
2. Cut a notch out from the fuselage just big enough to allow stabilizer to be glued in place and then the rudder on top of that.
3. Cut a notch out of bottom of fuselage to place bottom wing (most are flush with bottom of fuselage).
4. Glue stabilizer, then tail rudder, then lower wing with holes face up.
5. (The tricky part!) glue struts into holes in the lower wing, then put glue on their upper tips and put upper wing in place. This is tricky not only because you have to line up struts with holes, but the upper wing is sometimes not directly in line with the lower one, so it requires being moved forward (usually). One model builder I read about makes supports using blue sticky tack so he doesn't have to hold the wing while the glue sets. I'll have to try that.

Landing gear can be done afterward. I used cardboard at first for these too, but now I'm just using toothpicks. Only the wheels are cardboard now.

Step 4: Painting

Sorry, only have pics of after the fact.

If you want to be super-realistic you can research planes and how their pilots painted them. I am more interested in the play than the realism, so I have not been so picky on colours or even exact measurements (my Pfalzes, for example, are ending up a bit more snub-nosed than they should be). I'll be sure to do the nationality insignia though. So without further ado, the planes I have done.

"But you forgot the propellers!", they shouted with enthusiasm and mocking.

"I most certainly did not!", came my retort, "I simply decided that these planes are looking like they are flying, you can barely see a propeller in that case. Unless the engine has stopped, but then it's game over!"

I might add some later. I'm just a little lazy right now.

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