Tools for the Free Flight Modeler

Balsa Strippers

Most model airplanes need strips of balsa wood at some place in the structure. You can go to your local hobby shop and buy some standard sizes. If the store is out of stock, or too far away, or closed late at night, a balsa stripper will save the day. It will also allow you to cut custom sizes of wood to maximize efficiency in the structure. Need some slightly smaller than 3/32 square, and don't want to sand to size? One of these devices will get the job done in a hurry.

There are any number of tools available for stripping wood. Perhaps the most common, and basic, is a straight edge and an x-acto knife. While this works, consistency of size, and squareness of cut are both difficult to maintain. A single edge razor blade works a bit better, as it is easier to hold perpendicular to the wood. It is worth a moment though, to reach for a proper tool, and there are several options

Roll your own
When building my first indoor FF model, a Parlor Mite from Micro-X, I learned of an excellent design for a D.I.Y. balsa stripper. While only useful for one thickness of strip, it takes but a few minutes to make several versions for different sizes. Click to see a diagram and instructions for building your own.

Commercial Options

  • For around $6, the Master Airscrew Balsa Stripper is a must have for anyone even slightly involved in modeling. Available from many hobby shops, it is adjustable for any size up to half an inch or so, and uses standard #11 hobby knife blades. I use mine all the time for stripping, as well as splitting laminated bows for identical wing tips.

  • For more delicate work, I use a Jim Jones Stripper. It will accept 1/8 inch stock, or 3/16 in a slightly larger version. Strips can be cut from about 0.015 to 0.125 inches thick. It is very easy to set and use with great accuracy. I don't remember how much I paid, but I think it was around $20, well before the turn of the century. Well worth the money spent. This version is no longer available through Jim Jones, but Tim Goldstein is offering an updated version through A2ZCNC that is CNC machined from aluminum billet and acrylic.

  • If you want precision, but need more capacity than 1/8-inch square, the obvious choice is Dan McLeod's balsa stripper. This should satisfy the demands of anyone who calls themselves a craftsman, and values the finest tools. Recently updated by Tim Goldstein, owner of A2ZCNC, the McLeod Balsa Stripper now features CNC machined parts and fantastic accuracy.

  • Another option for larger sizes is available from Richmond RC . It functions similarly to the McLeod stripper, and is more affordable, but takes a bit more effort to adjust.

  • What may be the most exotic balsa stripper made is offered by Ray Harlan. While derived from the basic straight edge and razor blade, its sophistication and quality more than justify the expense. It uses two micrometer heads for adjusting the fence, and a machined block to hold the blade. Click to see other Harlan products and his address.


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