Wednesday, January 11, 2017

No More Balsa Nose Cones?

YORF post from John Boren of Estes:

"Estes hasn't made a NEW balsa nose cone in over six years now. All the balsa cones in kits today are from stock we are trying to use up. We no longer have a balsa vendor. And NO I'm pretty sure Balsa Machining and Semroc would not be able to supply the TENS of Thousands of balsa cones we would need each year at a competitive price."

John Boren

What? No more balsa nose cones from Estes? 
Over the past few years we've seen short notes in kits talking about a worldwide balsa shortage. If the balsa price has gone too high it's probably cheaper to go with plastic. These days the average builder doesn't take the time (or know how) to fill balsa grain anyway.


  1. Plastic Cones are pretty solid, right? Fill the molding seam with putty; never worry about a ding.
    But, there's something sooo satisfying about working a Balsa Cone to a Plasticky Finish; gluing the eyehook! Even the dents in a balsa cone look cool, and there's a more holistic feel with the paper & wood airframe.
    Estes just blew out a bunch of bt-20-sized balsa cones with their SLV Kit. Boy-oh-Boy, does that look like a Fun Build.

  2. I prefer plastic cones to balsa for two reasons: They're much quicker to finish (my build time is very limited) and when an old rocket wears out you can strip and repaint the cone and use it for a new one.

    However, there are occasions when balsa is preferable, like when you want to reproduce a vintage or odd rocket, or when you need a good tight seal on a payload bay.

  3. I am saddened to hear this news. Nothing was more disappointing to get my hands on another "Hornet Kit" to find a plastic nose cone.
    Will this news mean we will be forced to plastic fins in the future also ?
    I guess I am to "Old School" and prefer balsa even if it does take more time to finish.

    1. In answer to Overeasy, Lonnie and Moontana,
      I'm old school and like the challenge of getting a smooth finish on balsa and tubing. I also like having the option of balsa or plastic.
      If Estes is moving towards plastic nose cones for cost savings, that's fine. If I see a plastic nose cone in the kit bag it won't stop me from buying a kit. There are still other sources (BMS and ERockets) that make balsa nose cones. You just have to make a new order.
      As long as Estes sells enough skill level 3, 4 and 5 kits, they'll still keep producing them.
      Estes already has the new plastic fin units that should be around for quite some time. It's a smart design, many different fin shapes slide into a plastic fin can.
      The same concerns were voiced in 1971 when Estes introduced the Alpha III with plastic nose cone and fins. While there are many more plastic parts in kits, there is still some exciting new designs being produced with plenty of balsa to sand and fill.

  4. Going with plastic nosecone could be advantageous when you've got a payload section. Cutting off the base of the shoulder (where we usually find the "loop" to which we normally connect shock cord, parachute, etc.) will exposes the hollow interior that would add to the usable space. Similarly we could alter the plastic adaptor section at the rear -- cut off the "top" part could be cut off to expose the interior (and glue in a disc on the inside at the base to seal off that part). Do this on the Estes Reflector you will indeed have a huge payload section.

    1. Hi Naoto,
      I agree and have removed nose cone bases in the past when I've needed the extra room. You may have gotten a plastic nose cone in your Estes Reflector. My nose cone and adapter were balsa with very long shoulders.

  5. Hey Chris,
    Speaking of filling balsa, I know you're a proponent of CWF over sanding sealer, but I came across a recipe for homemade sanding sealer a few months ago. Cost is about a tenth of the commercial bottled stuff. I've been using both CWF and this sealer, both have their pros/cons. Have you heard about this? Let me know if you're interested and I'll e-mail you the details. Don't want to put it on your blog without your evaluation/approval.

    1. Hi BAR,
      I've used homemade sanding sealer before, years ago we made it out of clear dope and talcum powder. I'll probably stay with the CWF. Too fill balsa grain, any other sanding sealer requires four coats and sanding. The CWF does the job with a single coat. For me, that's a big time saver.
      Thanks for checking with me. Like I've mentioned before, this really isn't a forum so I don't want to get into too many remedies. Everybody has their proven methods. Do what works for you!

  6. I'm a long-time dope user (was into "stick-and-tissue" model aeroplanes before I got into model rocketry). Back then sanding sealer I'd use consisted of thinned dope with some talc mixed in -- dries quickly and sands quite nicely. Downside of course are the noxious fumes (wasn't a problem when I was a kid living on the farm -- now living in city in apartment where noxious fumes would be a definite no-no).
    For other model-related tasks I've been using Future floor polish (aka Pledge with Future and Johnson's Klear liquid floor wax) -- works nicely as a sealing coat over decaled surface, does wonders on clear canopy parts. The thin coating helps protect the bare plastic and fills in the small scratches so the canopy comes out crystal-clear -- as a side-benefit, the thin coating resists adhesion of the chalky precipitate you get when CA (super glue) cures.
    Have tried using Future instead of dope -- but had limited success -- it's a bit too goopy straight from the bottle. Thinning with water helped a bit, but also increased the tendency to cause warping of balsa as well as requiring more time to dry. Haven't checked to see using alcohol (which would evaporate more quickly) will work better.