I was looking at some model airplanes online that were made out of
balsa wood and covered with tissue. They weren't for flying, just for
display. They sort of caught my eye, but I was a little put off by
the tissue covering. I seem to recall getting one of these models by
accident when I was a kid and I wasn't sure what to do with the tissue
- I know it takes the place of the paint sort of.
Is there some sort of advantage to using tissue instead of paint?
Does it look better than paint? How fragile is it? How difficult is
it to cut and apply the tissue, I get the impression this is something
of an advanced technique?
Finally, if anyone knows of any links to step by step methods for
working with models like this, especially applying the tissue, I would
Typically you apply it wit something like a water based paste as tight
as you can get it over the frame, then spray water on it to get it to
shrink, and then apply clear dope to tighten it and seal it.
Over sheet or sold balsa, you can apply it straight with dope after
doping and sanding the bare wood.
I would not use it as a paint replacement tho. Its more a surface prep
device, and with ipen frames a light airproof covering that adds SOME
from "iarwain" contains these words:
Years ago it was the only method of covering an airframe and properly
applied is very light and easily repaired in the field with no need for
hot irons or blow guns, just rip away the damaged tissue and paste a new
bit over the hole then spray with water to shrink it and your back in
One of these days I will get around to building a model as light as I
can possibly make it and cover it with 00 or lighter Silkspan or even
clingfilm (Saranwrap) just to see what happens,
The balsa display model kits that I have seen are open structures, s
the tissue is the the surface.
It takes a little patience and care to make it look nice and to preven
warps when tightening and finishing it with water/dope/paint
I grew up using tissue for covering, but wasn't rich (or smart) enough to
use it to disguise the grain of the wood. It wasn't until years later while
using K&B Superpoxy paint and 3/4 oz. fiberglass that it became apparent why
folks used tissue instead of dope and sanding sealer to smooth the surfaces
on their models that had lots of bare wood.
I hope that made sense. I'm still working on cup of coffee #1.
There are many sites on tissue covering. Easy built.com has a whole
section dedicated to just tissue covering,
comet.com and now we have a google site for builders. Just started
yesterday by Kevin. Ed take a look at the site
and we can start posting those tips with small presentations. Doc
The resulting structure of tissue, sealer and colored dope is surprisingly
I have built several Guillows kits and launched them with their rubberband
engines. About 6 flights is max before I completely destroy it. A nose
dive usually spells the end.
I've been wanting to gain some building experience before I cracked open my
first R/C building kit, so I bought a Guillow's Lancer kit for $8 from my
local Hobbytown USA just to get some hands-on practice gluing sticks
together and building over a set of plans.
Covering with tissue isn't terribly hard, although I've seen better results
than what my first effort produced.
These kinds of "stick and tissue" models can be for static display, for free
flight, or for radio control. A couple of long-time modellers I fly with at
local clubs have scratch built some wonderful scale R/C models from stick
The Guillow's Lancer kit I built is a build-by-numbers kit with fairly good
instructions. It walks you through the build process step-by-step, and with
a fair amount of patience I was able to complete my model. I still haven't
had the guts to fly it yet, but I may go ahead and give it a try soon.
I'm glad I went through with the project. Working with the stick-and-tissue
design prepared me to tackle bigger projects which will probably seem easy
What you want are cardstock models from Poland and other old eastern
european block countries. They are amazingly detailed and come "pre-printed"
with accurate colors and weathering. There is an extensive choice of subject
material and they are dirt cheap by western standards. They come in magazine
format so that you can slide your entire stash conveniently under the bed.
Some of these models have 5,000 parts+, so they are not for the faint of
CAD/CAM/CAE technology has vastly improved the quality in just the last few
years. The parts fit.
The only downside is that many models come only with Polish instructions.
But with a dictionary in one hand, that can be overcome.
May I suggest you join
with a free membership. Last I
recall you had to join the board in order to see the color "in progress"
For vendors and publishers, check out
I tried to post this yesterday, but GG was not nice to me. Sorry to
post so late. I seem to still be having troubles, so sorry if this
While tissue is great for depicting fabric covered aircraft it is
inappropriate for metal skinned ones. Fabric makes flat facets
between stringers. For non-flying scale models of metal airplanes I
skin these Guillows kits with thin sheet styrene or card stock. I
scribe panel lines and emboss rivets. I just received a Guillows 1:16
scale SBD-3 that I am going to do this way. Will have to scratch the
engine and much of the cockpit, but boy it will be BIG! My 68 year
old fingers are starting to resist detailing small stuff, so I keep
building them bigger :-)
Of course, Guillows was originally a flying model kit maker, so tissue/
balsa is much lighter for good flying, and that is why they make them
that way- it is their heritage.
Only weight and cost. .
Definitely not. The only people who used colored tissue were those that (1)
built the models completely out of the supplied materials in the kit, (2)
couldn't afford the modest cost of colored dope, (3) were into highly
competitive rubber-powered or tow-line glider endurance models.
Without dope, extremely. With a few coats of dope, especially colored dope,
There are two kinds of tissue papers. The old stuff (typically the stuff
that comes in color) is real "tissue" paper, also called "japan paper."
About 1947 a new kind of paper, called "silkspan" came out. This was so
superior to the old japan paper that almost all kit manufacturers (except, I
think, Guillows) dropped the Japan paper and opted for silkspan. Certainly
all us serious model builders did. Today, if you build flying models, in
addition to silkspan there are some fabulous plastics that most modelers
Nah! Easy as pie. As an example, I'll use covering the wing.
1. Cut each panel roughly to the shape needed --wing shape, say the top
surface. Leave a generous amount of extra material, say 1/2" all around.
Don't do more than 20 square inches at a time.
2. For the section you are about to cover, brush on a thin layer of clear
model-airplane dope on all surfaces that will come in contact with the
3. Immediately after you've finished brushing the dope one, apply the
tissue. Pull on the edges to make it smooth and wrinkle free. But don't
worry if there are minor wrinkles. Just don't allow overlaps. You pull
JENTLY on the edges.
4. Put that piece aside and let the dope dry.. work on the other wing, say.
5. When the dope had dried on that panel, trim the excess with a sharp
(Sharp!!) razor blade.
6. When doing adjacent panels, you have to be careful not to leave too much
of an overlap where the panels meet.
7. Once the entire piece (e.g., top and bottom surface of the wing) have
been covered this way and the dope allowed to dry completely. Gently wet
the entire surface. Gently. As the water is applied, the tissue will get
quite weak and prone to tearing. It's a good idea during the drying process
to block the piece up so that it does not twist up as it dries.
8. As it dries, the tissue will shrink and become very taught.
9. Once all surfaces have been dried, apply several coats of clear dope.
Among us ancient flying model builders, Guillows was universally derided as
the worst kit manufacturer of all. They insisted on peddling "flying" scale
models, especially of WWII aircraft. Very few of their kits could be made
to fly more than a hundred feet. The usual second flight (the first was
inevitably a crash) was a realistic "going down in flames." a la a WWI Red
The Guillows kits were difficult to build..although touted as easy.
Guillows was 90% hype and 10% substance. I (and I'm sure most serious
flying model builders of old) am appalled, but perhaps more saddened, by the
sorry fact that this is one of the few "flying" model kit builders that are
still around. They pushed their junk on four generations of would-be model
builders and now seem to be poised to do to yet another group. Some
If you want to build flying models...forget about accurate scale... they
don't fly well without some non-scale modifications (e.g., enlarged tail and
control surfaces, excess power, overly large prop, to name a few). In any
case, with such modifications, either gas or electric power is must.
If you want to build scale models, there's a near infinite supply of
beautifully accurate kits in all sizes and for all budgets. Balsa and
tissue "scale models" frankly look like crap. Unless they are scale models
of something like a piper-cub or other aircraft which in full size were
almost enlargements of the balsa and tissue idea (pine and canvas...and
dope) --scale models of such aircraft will probably fly and won't look very
bad..not good, but not very bad.
Rubber-powered scale flying models has always been and will remain a cruel
joke. Another one to avoid is the resurrection of the infamous Strombecker
wooden "scale" models. That vampire hasn't died either.
Tissue is very light. Light silkspan is very similar. Recent
experience is that the hobby shop has light, medium, and heavy
silkspan available, maybe, on any given visit. Your kit should have
enough tissue in the kit, however. Silkspan is stronger than 'Jap'
tissue, silk is stronger still. Stronger covering material will pull
enough to deform or perhaps destroy the structure. Use the proper material.
Applying tissue is pretty straightforward. Thin some clear dope about
half. Paint the sanded outer balsa surfaces that will contact the
covering tissue. Let dry. Sand them smooth again. Cut one piece of
tissue at a time and then put a second coat of thinned dope on the balsa
and apply the piece of tissue. Another streak of thinned dope on the
outside might help, also wet the overlapping 1/8 to 1/4 inch edges of
subsequent pieces of tissue. When it all dries the tissue should have
adhered to the balsa and other tissue. Generally do not try to cover an
entire structure at one sitting. Some of the fuselage, a wing,
whatever. Several parts of the plane can be covered at a time, not
usually the whole thing. Tissue covered wings, fuselage, tail fins
after the covering is complete assemble real well with glue.
In days of yore, when Ed Cregger and I were still in high school,
there were those who insisted that tissue should be applied wet with
water or with thinned dope. If applied dry or wet, after it dried the
first time it would still need to be wetted with water or thinned dope
or sequentially with water and let dry and wetted again and let dry and
then coated with thin dope and dried and carefully sanded and re-doped
and sanded until you are either happy with it or tired of the process.
Each time the tissue is wetted and allowed to dry it will shrink more
and the wrinkles will disapear more. Sanding with very fine grain paper
removes some of the excess dope as well as smoothing the surface.
Dope has a strong smell that lasts forever. The primary solvent is
acetone which is dangerously flammable and explosive in a suitable vapor
state and quite poisonous. Be sure of very good ventilation. Wives and
Mothers hate model airplane dope because the house will be filled with
the smell for weeks or months.
I have a SIG Monocoupe (rubber powered) that was going to be an electric
but was built too early in electric motor and battery development and
became a display model. The white paint over clear on the wing ended up
just fine. It took a year or slightly more to dry and pull the tissue
completely tight. Note: long after that experience with white dope that
kept bleeding through I came across a suggestion to use silver
(aluminum) in a thin coat as an underlay. Then usually the white (or a
translucent color) finish on the outer surface will work without excess
An alternative to clear dope that I have tried is clear water-based
Polyurethane Varnish. Thin some of it with water; I have experimented
with small amounts of water up to half water by volume and like the end
product. There is very little smell and it dries in hours instead of
days or weeks.
When the plane is complete the final color for serious competition
models is the color of the tissue used, or very thin coats of color
dope. For display where final weight is not a problem then amount or
kind of paint is open.
Saran or other brands of plastic food wrap can be used for covering
also. They can provide color or gloss and used over or instead of
tissue. The film might provide some protection on a display model from
"hangar rash." Also these thin films are very light.
All this talk about balsa and tissue brought waaaaaves of nostalgia.
I have a question, however....
Way back in the mists of time I made a number of Speedi-Bilt models (I
think by Monogram). If you recall, they had pre-formed balsa upper
wing surfaces; with the underside being tissue-covered.
Are those models still available anywhere?
Don's comment reminded me of a very humorous problem I had building a
Guillows kit. I had strip of balsa laying across my palm. I put *thin* CA
on top of the balsa, the CA immediately penetrated the balsa and glued the
strip to my palm.