Can You Use Basswood To Build Your Entire RC Airplane?
I had a great question from a fellow hobbyist. Can I scratch build a plane using basswood (he has an abundant supply)?
Many many years ago it was the accepted practice to build your model from basswood (most models were carved from it and most were control line model airplanes). The supply and options of different woods for model airplanes was not as varied as it is today, but as balsa woods were introduced the practices changed. Now bigger models were possible with the use of balsa and they still were a strong airframe, as is evident in the endless choices available today when it comes to balsa kits we can build just about anything. But if you are wondering…can I build a rc airplane with basswood? The answer is yes, yes you can. You can even go so far as to build with basswood and use an electric motor to power it, thanks to advancements in brushless motors, esc's, lithium polymer batteries and micro radio equipment. If you can build it, you probably can get it to fly with an electric motor. You might not get a 20 minute flight out of it, but it will certainly be fun.
It was more popular back in the good old days to build from a denser soft wood like basswood because most of the models in those days were control line models. There were not a lot of radio control airplanes back in the day. If you were one of the few, they were bulky (some of the first ones used radio tubes). They typically controlled one control surface, usually rudder control, but they were horrendously expensive and quirky, thus not many people used them. Instead most rc airplane hobbyists built control line planes, which fueled the use of basswood. Many control line model airplanes are still carved from a solid block of basswood, but balsa has sure had an impact on this.
Typically, you can use a combination of balsa and bass woods to build your rc model airplane, however most of a model is usually built with balsa to save on weight. You can build a model airplane from basswood, in fact I remember my old wood carving teacher who built models from basswood. They are certainly heavier, but if you are using a gas/nitro engine, then it is not as much a factor, but as I mentioned, you can feel confident about an electric motor installation for your rc airplane as well.
Basswood, is a denser fiber wood and stronger than balsa. It is primarily used for doublers, reinforcing blocks and sometimes for ribs in wings that require more strength. Typically in a rc airplane wood kit, you will have a variety of balsa woods, basswoods and plywood. What you will notice is that the overwhelming majority of wood is balsa (hence the kits being called balsa kits). If you bought a basswood rc airplane kit, it would also be much heavier, think of someone adding a hardwood board to the box and that would give you an idea of how heavy the rc airplane might be after construction.
So Yes, you can build a plane from basswood, just keep the weight factor in the equation when building your plane.
If you have anything else to add to this, I and other hobbyists would love to hear your thoughts too.
Things to consider…
Engine type – if you are going to use an electric motor, you might want to reconsider using too much basswood.
Airplane type – What aircraft are you thinking of building, a trainer made from basswood might not be a bad idea. It would certainly be rugged (and heavy)
Can You Cut Up The Wood – What sizes are the strips of basswood, can you cut them into planks, sheets, etc…
Cutting Basswood – remember it is a tougher wood than balsa.