Monday, December 15, 2014

Why Do I Keep Buying and Building Kits?

It seems like a strange question. 
After all, I usually end up replacing many kit parts:

Replace the rubber shock cord with
a longer length of elastic                  $ 0.35
Add Kevlar:                                       0.50
Replace the screw eye:                      0.10
Replace weak shroud lines                 0.10
Some kits, replace the engine hook     0.50
Replace BT-20 and 50 tubes              1.00
Replace laser cut Tung wood fins       1.50

TOTAL for replacement parts            $4.05

And after all the recent frustration with grain filling the Tung wood supplied in kits
I'm now leaning toward buying some stiff balsa or basswood and cut out new fins.

I have a lot of kits still sealed in the bag.
When those are built, I'll probably buy only nose cones, body tubes and launch lugs.
I have plenty of parachutes and could cut my own centering rings.
All instructions and fin templates are online for almost every kit ever produced!

Why do we buy kits? Price - Some sales are just too good to pass up!
Convenience - Someone has already done the bulk of the work for you. The "balsa" has been pre-cut and all the parts are in the bag, ready to assemble.
Don't get me wrong, today's kit parts are usually better than they were in the 1960s and 70s. But I like my models upgraded and a bit stronger.


  1. Nostalgia – For OOP Kits.
    Building basically the same kits we did as kids…

    Some nose cones and parts are unavailable except in kits (Scissorwing). Though I liked you Champagne flute nose cone from a while back.

    Ease of use,
    I’ll still grab a Baby Bertha on sale or e-bay deal rather than gathering the parts for a Gooney – though I’m sure if I dug around I could put one together. Perhaps that just falls into the lazy category - which may be the biggest category... :-)

    1. Agreed - The laziness factor applies to me too. I could piece things together. I end up ordering parts only to find them in the spare parts box by the time the new parts arrive!

  2. Welcome to Lonnie's World...enjoy the ride.

    Oh, and what Scott said :^)

  3. Sometimes it's nice to do a simple "out-of-the-box" rebuild -- limiting ourselves to what has been provided in the kit, to help to "reset" ourselves and remind ourselves that we're probably into this hobby to help relieve stress -- not create more.

    1. Hi Naoto,
      Building models is a great stress relief and building a kit makes it even easier.

  4. I like the design of certain kits. I've designed and built two of my own, but of course that requires planning, fiddling with the design and custom cutting everything. Not that I mind that. But if I see a kit I like, then I add it to my wish list.

    I'm not sure I can describe why I like one kit and not another. A lot of them are kind of the same. So when I see something distinctive, it catches my eye, and I'd rather build the kit than reverse engineer it.

    Also, I'm somewhat new to rocketry, and kits have helped me learn a lot about how a rocket comes together, what parts must be built a certain way, and what parts can be different. That's helped me make decisions with my own designs. For example, I like to build my shock cords with the Quest mount, attached to a thrust ring. I also just finished a rocket which carries a tiny camera payload in a balsa transition attached to the nose cone section. From my Quest Magnum Sport Loader, I got the idea of having that payload section come down on its own, smaller parachute, so that if I lose the rocket, I'm not as likely to lose the launch footage - or the camera. Perhaps I would have figured this out on my own, but I got the idea from a kit.

    I'm not yet confident I could make my own centering rings - cutting curves is not my forte. Not a problem with suppliers like JonRocket and Balsa Machining. But if I want to build a cluster, something I really like, so far I find I need to stick with a kit, until I can get my centering ring technique down.

    1. Hi Rocket N00b,
      I agree with all your points. If I find a designer I like (like Shrox) I buy and build his kits.
      Building kits will teach you how to design your own.
      Making your own centering rings (from heavy card stock) won't be perfect. But, sometimes that's the one thing you don't have in the spare parts box and you have to fashion your own.

  5. I like building vintage kits and hope someday I will complete them all. Sure it would be cheaper to clone but these are the rockets I could never afford growing up. There is something nice about opening a 20 to 30 year old kit and putting it together. I use everything in the kit except the rubber, I replace that with brand new Estes rubber. I build per the plans with no modifications and still fly my rockets with no problems. I like vintage rockets and thanks to you Chris I have a better understanding how rockets were built back in the 70s and 80s. My last couple of rockets have been build old school and I must say the builds are faster and they are a lot lighter without the primer. Also back to using Old Formula Krylon which is lighter than Rustoleum. The wood Estes is using now is hard C grain balsa. This is the same stuff you can buy from Sig, it is heavy are hard. I'm guessing it does not like the water in the FNF and that is why it is harder to fill. I have used Aerogloss sealer with less coats than older balsa and it fills great. I have also used just primer with no filler and it fills the balsa pretty good. These old kits I build are a challenge with die crushed balsa, but I like the challenge.

    1. HI David,
      I'd like to build vintage kits but they are usually too expensive! Once in a while I do win an auction and those builds end up on the blog.
      I am led to believe the supplied balsa is Tung wood now. Check the Estes kit descriptions, they say "Laser burnt wood". Others in the industry have said that's what they are using now. I could be wrong, if so, I stand corrected!
      Die cutting was pretty bad sometimes, even worse in the older Guillow's frame and stringer wood plane kits. Those fuselage frames were very rough.
      I can't use the sanding sealers because of the fumes and cost.

    2. Chris,
      If you had a pick, what vintage kits from Estes would you build out of the bag?

    3. Hi David,
      That would be the Gemini Titan. It's on my list to clone one day.
      All the others I have pretty much built.
      The Andromeda is another. It's a couple of BT-20s coupled together. I built and flew one in the 1970s. It buckled and pinwheeled during boost!

  6. Addendum: It's not so much the price of the replacement parts as it is the additional time. For instance: yes, it costs maybe 10¢ in material to replace the shroud lines on a pre-made parachute, but the greater expense is the time required to replace them.

    But in the long run it is worth it because of the peace of mind in knowing that those new shroud lines, shock cord, engine hook, tube and fins will be far more durable, dependable and longer lasting than the stock items.

    1. Hi Lonnie,
      The time isn't so much of a concern for me, most days are usually free between practicing the music.
      I was just looking at the additional money to get the models built the way I like.
      I've had some people ask why I spend so much time on a build,
      A better built model is stronger, is sealed and will last much longer than a naked, thrown together rocket. Plus, they are easier to repair if needed.