Making wood airplanes: toys and models

UPDATE: Here is a more detailed airplane I made for my son. It is a Ford Tri-Motor. These were produced in the late 1920’s to early 1930’s by Ford Motor Company and were the first commercial airliner. They were also used as military transports, air ambulances, and even a portable operating room. One can take a flight in one for a fee at EAA in Oshkosh, WI.


START: I watched Steve Ramsey’s You Tubes about making little trucks and airplanes for children’s toys and decided to give it a try.  I went to a smaller scale. These are not detailed models. There is a lot of childhood fantasy in their execution. They look pretty good so I decided to do a blog essay about them. Most models are between 4-6 inches long. I am now expanding into more detailed models.

I have favored designs from the WW1 era since the airplanes are usually rectangular in shape and easier to make than more aerodynamic designs.

To start I peruse images on Google and Wikipedia for line drawings that I can use to make stencils and also to decide on painting styles.

Here is a complete list of hand tools I have used so far: good lighting; a vise with a leather patch to hold pieces, but not mark them on the jaws of the vise; a hacksaw; a coping saw; some chisels that are sharp (part of the tool use learning); a set of quality files including finishing, bastard, rat tail and a mini triangular file (the mini files come as an inexpensive set); a small block plane; sandpaper (100 and 220 grit); and glue (Titebond II or contact cement and poster glue for the stencils).

I use an electric drill, a sander, and a jigsaw for the fuselage, but all the other work is done with the hand tools. A builder needs some skill with hand tools and this can be learned from woodworking with hand tools books or videos and then starting with simple designs.

These are the first two designed for my grand daughter. The first is a toy airplane and the second one is my interpretation of a Bristol M1C.

I have more detail in the next one which is a model of a Nieuport 11 aircraft for my daughter. The black outlining is present on the real aircraft and does make the model stand out (I used a fine permanent magic marker).

The next one is an Aironica Champion for my wife. I use 1×4 poplar for the fuselage and 1/4 inch oak for the wings and propeller. This latter is a little thick, but it cuts easily with little risk of breaking.

I found a nice line drawing to make a stencil. I put a blank sheet of paper over the line drawing on a large piece of transparent plastic and hold it up to a bright light and draw. The blue tape prevents the pasteboard glue from sticking on the wood.










Next I shape the fuselage with chisels and files


and cut grooves (dados) for insertion and gluing of the wings and landing gear. The tail is shaped on the sander near the end of construction of the fuselage.

Another groove is cut for the tail section, pieces are glued together . The wheels are for RC airplanes and fitted into the coping saw grooved landing gear. The axle is an unfolded paper clip and secured with super glue. Unfortunately I forgot to take photos.

The spray paint is called Marigold and is just right for this model. (I had to scrape it all off when I applied too heavy  a second coat). The windows are marked with permanent magic marker freehand. I rested the airplane on the workbench to stabilize it and the lines went on easily. (thank God!!).

Here are some final views: