Covering a Model Airplane in Tissue





Introduction: Covering a Model Airplane in Tissue

After doing my Instructable on making a model building board I could not help whipping out one of my kits and putting it together. In this case it is the Guillows Lancer. Being that this is a small rubber band powered model that needs to be light to fly correctly there are only a few options for covering the model. One you could cover it with a plastic film like Nelson Lite film or even colored plastic wrap, or you can cover it with good old fashioned tissue. I decided to cover mine in tissue as it is cheap and does not require any special tools or materials. This type of model is often referred to as a stick and tissue model, so it fits.

Back in the day one would attach tissue to a model with model dope and then shrink it with water. I have used dope in the past and it is nasty stuff, it smells bad and I'm sure the correlation with the drug is quite fitting. So instead I am going to show you how to attach the tissue using glue sticks and use alcohol to shrink it. This method is not only less toxic then using dope it is also cheaper then dope and it is quicker in my opinion.

Step 1: Materials

To cover your model you well need:

- A model, this should be self evident.
-Tissue, I use ordinary craft tissue, also called "Domestic Tissue" because a lot of people swear by Japanese Tissue, just make sure it is the none bleeding kind and also that one side is shinny and the other is dull in appearance for some reason it seems to make it work better.
-UHU Purple glue stick, some people use Elmers or Scotch purple glue sticks but the UHU is the tried and true one to use.
-Rubbing alcohol, used to shrink the tissue after it is attached to the frame.
-Spray bottle, used to spray the alcohol on to the tissue with.
-Razor blade for trimming the tissue.
-Sand paper to sand the model before covering and to trim the tissue with.
-Krylon "Crystal Clear" spray paint to seal the tissue.

Step 2: Preperation

To begin you need to prep the model for covering. Use a sanding block with 220 grit sand paper, smooth out all of the surfaces of the model that well contact the covering. Remove glue build up and any bits of wax paper that might have stuck to the model when building it.

Also you well need to determine which way the grain of your tissue is going. To do this you simply tear the corner of the sheet of tissue in both directions. The tissue well tear cleanly in the direction of the grain, usually length wise. This is important because the tissue well shrink perpendicularly to the grain and if the grain is not going the right direction on curved surfaces you well never be able to remove all of the wrinkles.

Step 3: Applying Covering

The process of covering is actually pretty simple.
- Start by spreading your tissue out on a flat smooth surface and lay the part of the model to be covered on the tissue with its length parallel to the grain of the tissue. Using a razor blade cut a piece of tissue out about 1/2" or more larger then the section to be covered, just cutting a rough box around the part works well. Do not try to go around a corner of a model, on the fuselage cover the bottom then the sides and finally the top with separate pieces of tissue.
- Next apply glue to the the section of the model where you want to attach tissue to, for larger panels it would be better to work in smaller sections to make it easier to handle.
- Now carefully lay your tissue on the model and gently press the tissue onto the frame as you carefully pull on the tissue to remove as many wrinkles as possible, it is easier to smooth out the wrinkles if they are small to start with. If the glue begins to dry before the tissue is completely attached you can take a Q-tip with some rubbing alcohol on it and swab over the tissue in that section to reactivate the glue, be careful not to pull hard on the tissue when it is wet as it well be soft and tears easily.
- On wings it is best to cover them in sections, this helps reduce the number of wrinkles in the covering especially on the top curved surface of the wing.
- Wait about 10 or 15 minutes for the glue to completely harden and take your sanding block and gently run it along the edge of where you just covered to trim off the excess tissue. If you sand to hard it well sand into the wood and might not be good. You can also use a razor blade to trim the tissue off as well.

Step 4: Shrinking the Tissue

- Begin by filling the spray bottle with half and half rubbing alcohol and water, too much alcohol well cause the glue to soften and the tissue well come lose and not shrink properly.
- Set the spray bottle to generate a fine mist of alcohol.
- Spray the surface to be shrunk, on wings with dihedral shrink one section at a time and shrink both the top and bottom of the wing at the same time.
- On flying surfaces, wings and tail, to keep them from warping set them on the building board and pin them flat and let the tissue dry before removing it.
- If there is a section of covering where a wrinkle did not stretch out you can respray the model again to shrink it even further. You can also spray it with strait water which shrinks the tissue more but can also warp the surface more if it is not pinned down well. If that does not work you might have to recover that section.

Step 5: Finishing

Once everything is dried you can remove the parts from the building board and spray them with a light coat Krylon Crystal Clear acrylic spray. This seals the tissue preventing moisture from wrinkling the tissue and warping the flying surfaces from changes in humidity. Then just assemble the model as explained in the directions.

Step 6: Repairs

If for some reason you get a hole or tear in the covering you can repair it quite easily.

If the hole or tear is small, tear off a piece of tissue from your scrap and apply glue to the dull side of the patch. Stick the patch piece over the tear and gently smooth it out with your finger. After the glue has dried spay it with alcohol and it well shrink smooth. Note: to get a smoother patch tear the edges of the patch this leave a less noticeable edge when it is glued to the rest of the tissue.

If the hole is large it is best to carefully cut the section out to the surrounding balsa frame and make a patch to cover the whole section, sorry no pics on this one maybe after I fly it a couple of times.

After the tissue is done shrinking you can respray the area with clear to get it to match the rest of the tissue.



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82 Discussions

I found that using UHU glue, (just the ordinary, general purpose stuff) to attach the tissue, and cellulose dope to shrink it works well. Apparently, one can also just use water, sprayed on, but I haven't had a chance to try this yet.

I also noticed that when you use glue instead of dope to put the tissue on it doesn't stretch as well but this mostly would happen on a fighter plane or other with a round fuselage.

3 replies

Airplane dope is a lacquer. It was developed in the days when full-scale airplanes were made of fabric and wood. Dope shrinks when it dries, tightening the fabric. It also produces a lovely gloss finish. If you do it right, doped silk can look like polished metal. The first dope was made with cellulose nitrate, AKA guncotton. Modern dope is cellulose acetate butyrate, which doesn't burn quite as fast. Either will knock you sideways if you use it without plenty of ventilation, which is probably where the name "dope" came from.

'being knocked sideways'; you say it like it's a bad thing.

50/50 dope and acetone/thinners as an adhesive, sealant and shrink agent. colouring, 'dylon' fabric dye. haven't tried mylar/tissue combination, that's next. refer to any of the free flight boys who have been doing it for 'aeons', and are unlikely to be wrong given need for strength and lightness in right areas, and a straight airframe. i guess you don't bust to many before you learn, being a driving incentive. they have their favourite materials. gary odgers has a penchant for jap tissue whilst col collyer asks him why he perseveres with it 'bagging' in cold, wet conditions. have known both for a no. of years, and have been grateful for their advice in many areas. and there is always that great 'flying high 1' lloyd bridges quote, 'i guess i picked the wrong year to quit sniffing glue'. that should embolden you satifactorily! cheers from sunny australia.

While it seems like a good idea to try something else to avoid traditional model airplane "dope" (lacquer) fumes by using a different adhesive, like a glue stick, the fumes from Krylon Crystal Clear spray which you used to finish the tissue are even worse! ...................................................................................................................................................... I tried it outside, and brought the model inside ten minutes later, and that stuff has a really choking odor, even after it has flashed off and dried to the touch. I'd rather use dope than that stuff, but would especially like it if something less toxic than either could be used for a finish. Especially since I have a family including a 4 year old who would have to put up with the fumes of anything I paint. Can't open windows in the winter, but that's the best time for an indoor hobby like model building. So, what to do? ......................................................................................................................................................... I've heard that water based acrylic "no-wax" floor finishes have been used for painting model coverings by some people, but not sure of what brand to use, or how to apply it. Anybody tried it? ......................................................................................................................................................... Also a note about UHU glue-stick. It is apparently water based (washable) and if it seems a little dry (old) you can wet the end with a little water I found and it goes on easier. But if you try to shrink the tissue with water mist, I found a few places where the glue let go on the model, since it got wet again and the tissue shrank. Same thing for steaming over a teapot (which shrinks less drastically than water spray). ..................................................................................................................................................... There are "permanent" glue sticks available (Borden makes one). I might try that. Wouldn't be surprised if it works better for water, but still can be removed if needed with alcohol. ............................................................................................................................................ Thanks for a generally helpful Instructable, and I think a little experimentation will solve the odor and glue sticking problems.

4 replies

As a plastic modeler of over 49 years, various paints have been used. In the past 25 years, a lot of the older modelers use diluted down 'FUTURE' Floor Wax to give the model an over all even finish for decal placement and then they spray another coat to seal the decals in. The only problem I see with this is that if floor wax can eventually 'Yellow' over time, what happens to it in a diluted state over a long period of time on a model. I am old fashioned modeler, I have a home-made 2x2x3 paint booth for winter painting so I don't have to stop modeling or painting.

I use enamels, lacquers, airplane dope all year long when I'm building and it gets vented outside.

This is a 4 year old thread but im hoping to get a answer. I have two 48 year old model planes that my grandfather made from Wood, dope and tissue paper. I just resently inherited the two planes that have been hanging all these years. Time took a small toll on them. I would like too know is there anyway of preserving these planes. I cleaned the dust off already. What can or could i do to keep the old tissue paper from deteriorating more?
Thank you

You can use clear matt spray coating used to spray over pencil or chalk drawings. Doesn't smell as bad.

And actually you don't need to do the two step shrink and then coat as this stuff must have alcahol as it re-wets and then shrinks it and gives it the lightly hardened coating. It is not a heavy coating. So it is light.

Here's what to do if you don't like Krylon:you can use a 50/50 mix of white glue and water and brush it on the tissue with a paintbrush.

Thank you! This is an awesome instructable and I appreciate all you have imparted.

Now I know how to do it! Thank you very much!!! Excellent instructable!

I like the colours on your flyboy they look very nice together. Apparently thinned white glue is also a good substitute for dope however I haven't tried it though.

1 reply

I have heard the same and you can brush it on which might be useful in some cases, at some point I will start building again and try the thinned glue method.

Silk is for larger heavier planes. Most stick and tissue planes are smaller say 13 inches to 30 inches. Silk and dope is heavy.

I did not like using the glue stick. Here is what works well for me.

Get some "Tacky Glue" thats what its called. Its commonly found in the fabric dept of stores. even wal-mart.

Its like a fast grabbing elmers glue. I put some on my finger and run it around the edge of the frame that I want to attach tissue to. Then i wash my finger quickly, add the tissue and pull it tight. Doesn't have to be super tight because shrinking it down with a spray coat of alcahol shrinks it for you.

You don't put it on every piece of exposed wood. just around the farthest most edges.

I have been using plane dope for years. I must say i am very impressed with this method. My only question is how does it stand up to using glow fuel? I have a tiny cox glow engine and you know how messy they can be with spraying fuel all over :)