Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Big List of Materials (updated!)

Note: I've tied to keep up with dead links, but likely have missed some, am behind in general, or even broke them. Please let me know if you find a dead one.

As much as I like building a good kit, my heart is in scratch building. This post will identify the non-commercial materials that I have used, and will hopefully motivate the reader to come up with other ideas. (By non-commercial, I mean not produced specifically for rocketry.) Where I can, I'll provide links to my EMRR reviews and other web sites. Like many of my featured posts, this will likely be an on-going effort with occasional updates. This long list is partially why I need so many types of glues!

First some semantics: Scratch building is constructing a rocket using piece-parts. They can be clones of OOP (out of production) or current kits, scale models of real world rockets, or of your own design. You can buy the parts for suppliers such as Apogee, FlisKits, or Giant Leap (among my favorites, also see my List of Lists in the sidebar) - or you can build scrap rockets (aka, garbage rockets, trash rockets, etc.) using parts that you find or scavenge (see 'flounder parts'). These can be conventional designs (which include the 3 or 4 fin and a nose cone (3FNC, 4FNC), scale, and even fantasy/spaceship designs), or they can be oddrocs. Oddrocs are strange looking things that often shouldn't fly. (And sometime don't!)

Many of the materials mentioned below lean towards the trashy site of the conventional designs, and oddrocs. The more normal materials, such as plywood and balsa, are of course mentioned for completeness. The stranger materials seem to dominate, since there are a lot of them. Many of these items I have used once or seldomly, whereas the common rocket materials are used over and over.

I'll start with body tubes since this is where many builds often start. Off-sized tubes then lead to custom nose cones. In addition, when scratch-building scale models, most people scale the rocket to commercially available tubing, which still often requires a scratch build the nose cone. So here are the parts I have used:

Body Tubes
  • Mailing tubes! This is my #1 source of scratch tubing and my favorites are from the Container Store. They are 48" long with a full length inner tube - good for couplers, double-walled construction, etc. Many (most) mailing tubes require custom cones, however, the 3" and 4" tubes from the Container Store work well with commercial cones.
  • Wrapping paper tubes
  • Misc cardboard tubes (keep your eye open, may require dumpster-diving)
  • Food containers (Quaker Oats bins make great 5" rockets)
  • Concrete forms (Quik Tube, Sonotube)
  • Custom tubes built around centering rings (posterboard, 1/64" plywood)
  • Flour tortillas (on my Descon8 entry "The Whole Enchilada")
  • Pool flotation 'noodle'
  • Tubes from Scotch whiskies (still in the parts pile - note the safety code restrictions on structural metal components!!!)
    • Glenfiddich and Speyburn (metal tubes)
    • Deanston and Laphroaig (cardboard)
  • The tubes from window tint film are nominally 3" in diameter and are somewhat equivalent to, if not the exactly the same as, PML's QuantumTube. My local window tinter didn't mind parting with some.
  • A spent 29mm motor casing can be turned into a body tube. Build one and see if you can get a reaction from the RSO :)
  • Updated 10/23/2011 - Plastic Folger's coffee bins, stacked and the bottoms cut to fit a motor mount/stuffer tube. Never Say Never
Nose Cones
  • Various balsa cones turned on a hand drill, 1.5" - 2.5"
  • Dowel cones turned on a hand drill (MicroMaxx)
  • Foam cones (examples below)
    • Turned Sytrofoam, 8"dia. x 27"long, blank made from stacked 2" construction foam, glassed
    • Turned Styrofoam, 5"dia. x 4"long, blank made from stacked sheets, glassed (Estes Cluster Bomb upscale)
    • Turned Styrofoam, 1.176"(BT-50) x 3.125"long, parabolic, glassed, with central launch lug
    • 5.5"dia. x 22.5"long, made from Styrofoam craft cones
  • Rolled paper including cardstock, posterboard. You can approximate any shape cone with a set of truncated conical sections. Start with a small tube and position centering rings of various diameters along its length. Make the appropriate wraps using VCP or other transition calculator. You can find a nifty spreadsheet to help you design various cones (ogive, parabolic, etc.) on ROL InfoCentral (Rocketry Design/Nose Cones): Old Site New Site.
  • Clear plastic tennis ball container topped with a hemispherical plastic bubble
  • Two piece plastic eggs in various sizes (Easter eggs, L'Eggs pantyhose)
  • One piece plastic Easter egg, 5.5"dia.
  • Solid foam pumpkins
  • Plastic toy carrot, 4"dia. x 14"long
  • Misc plastic doohickies (i.e. cover from a micro RC car packaging)
  • Solid epoxy/fiberglass,1.3"dia. x 5.5"long, conical
  • Conical paper cups filled with hot glue, 2"dia. x 3"long
  • Not really a "made" cone, but I also used a RTF Mini Marz Lander as the nose cone and second stage on a scratch built rocket.
  • Utz pretzel keg (see photo at bottom of post), 8"dia. x 13"long
  • Hardwood nose cones (I've bought/won two, but turning hardwood requires a lathe)
  • I found that some old 'Bomber'-style fishing lures fit 24mm tubes fairly nicely. Painted enamel over wood. Make sure you remove the hooks!
  • PETE bottles (i.e. Coke or water bottles) can be adapted for use as nose cones. Of course, I prefer the Aquapods, which work nicely on 3" rockets.
  • Plastic garden spikes in 15" (for 2.25" mailing tube) and 10" (for 38mm).  Start here and follow the labels to find the rockets.
  • Updated 10/23/2011 - You can also use a piece of scrap tubing, properly sectioned and rejoined.  I've made two: example #1 (scroll to bottom), example #2 (detailed how-to included).
  • Updated 10/23/2011 - This post has a photo of some of my home made cones.
  • Updated 10/23/2011 - A pill bottle from Target makes a great sci-fi-like cone for BT-60.
  • Plywood (from 1/64" up), basswood, and balsa (by far the most used)
  • Scrap wood from my daughter's doll house kit (the stamped pieces left pre-cut and partially pre-cut fin pieces)
  • Pre-cut wooden shapes from crafts stores
  • Plastic (styrene) from a hobby stores
  • G10 fiberglass from 1/64" up
  • Foam posterboard
    • Raw pieces (generally for up to mid power, use an oversized 'chute!)
    • Framed with dowels and optionally laminated (high power) (see photo at bottom of page)
  • Lexan (clear thermoplastic)
  • Thin clear plastic from packaging (low power)
  • Free CDs from ISPs (bad flutter issues at mid-power)
  • Free 3 1/2" discs from ISPs
  • Cardboard coasters from restaurants
  • Light cardstock folded into a narrow triangular form
  • Dried tortilla (on my Descon8 entry "The Whole Enchilada")
  • Dowels
  • How could I forget tube and ring fins? (see next item too)
  • While the full-length inner telescoping tubes are nice, I found that I don't use them at the same rate as the outer tubes. But, I now have found a way to get rid of them: tube finned rockets! Six tube fins made from the inner tube won't fit evenly around the outer tube, so just mount the fins around a longer section of the same inner tubing. Add a motor mount, and you have a nice fin can that slips into the larger tube. I have been holding mine in with the screw from a rail button and one or two nylon pop rivets (ref: Giant Leap). As an added benefit, the tube fins are flush with the main body, so there is no need to worry about the fit of rails or rods.
Miscellaneous Parts
  • Centering rings - Plywood, basswood, balsa, thick paper, cardboard, foamboard, spent motor casings can be used for adapters (i.e. I have a 29mm-24mm adapter that uses a section of 24mm tubing and a couple of slices of a 29mm SU phenolic case)
  • Launch lugs - straws, BiC pens, ink tubes from pens (MicroMaxx), AeroTech Copperhead (1/8" rod) and FirstFire (1/4" rods) igniter tubes, aluminum and brass tubing from hobby stores
  • Recovery - trash bag 'chutes, car air bag chute protectors, plastic marking tape streamers, Nylon Tape for 'chute repairs, Ty-Wraps to quickly attach components (i.e. to attach chute protectors)
  • Motor retention - PVC fittings, mirror clips, coat hangers (lots of bending required), T-nuts/threaded inserts (these almost qualify as 'made specifically for rocketry'), plain ol' nuts and bolts (a small bolt mounted from the inside of a centering ring will work as well as a T-nut, but of course will be visible), plain old washers (generally with a stand-off to keep them parallel with the casing, a piece of an used First-Fire igniter works well), sections of spent motor casings make great motor blocks.
  • Styrofoam Space Shuttles marketed by Guillow's make excellent pop-pod gliders. They fly well and look cool.
Multi-Component Items (i.e. may provide the body and nose, or even the whole rocket)
  • First, see my Glue and Tape posts
  • Two-part foam from Giant Leap (also available from PML and most composites retailers)
  • In a pinch, I use the canned foam from hardware stores. This does not fill as well, is harder to control (i.e. how much you're using), and it requires moisture (usually from the air) to cure. The latter means it doesn't cure well in closed spaces (i.e. a fin can). I haven't experienced it, but its been reported that expansion, restarted by heat, can occur long after it has been applied and that can split your rocket apart.
  • Lead shot, #7 1/2 - used for nose weight; small enough even for MicroMaxx
  • Primers - (in no particular order) Krylon, Kilz, Rustoleum, Plasti-Kote
  • Paint - (in no particular order) Krylon (regular and H2O), Duplicolor Mirage, Rutsoleum (regular, hammered finishes, and flourescent), Testors (spray and brush-on), craft shop acrylic (for foam), Plasti-Kote Fleck Stone, Painter's Touch
  • Clearcoats - various clear enamels, Minwax ® Helmsman Spar Urethane (general and UV protection), Minwax PolyCrylic (general wood protection, laminating yarn-covered cones, also used for 'pseudo-glassing' along with nylon hose)
  • Nylon hose - used for 'pseudo-glassing'; make sure your wife/GF knows you are taking them!
  • Monokote (needs an iron and heat gun)
  • Trim-monokote (self-adhesive)
  • Elmer's Fill'n'Finish - the ubiquitous wood filler product; my tub is actually called Carpenter's Wood Filler, re-order code E849
  • Drywall patch (light filler)
  • Fiberglass drywall tape for cheap reinforcement
  • Plastic marking tapes for streamer material
  • Bamboo skewers - many uses, including stirring
  • Bamboo chopsticks - ditto
  • Super Fil two-part epoxy filler from Poly-Fiber - extremely light and easy to sand (I like this sooo much I won't even list the other epoxy fillers I've tried)
  • But I will list epoxy clay (which is kinda a filler) - I get mine from hardware stores, LocTite is one brand; the hardware store brands are hard to sand so they don't make good fillets, but Apogee reportedly sells a sandable product
  • 'Dog barf' wadding to replace Estes wadding (a.k.a. flame-proof cellulose insulation, buy it by the bale)
  • Dow 111 high temp silicone grease for assembling reloads
  • Petroleum jelly also for reloads - some people say you shouldn't use it, but I have never had a problem (note I grabbed some silicone grease anyway)
  • Mann 400 mold release for casting
  • Wax paper to help in quick lamination jobs, etc
  • WD-40 for cleaning and protecting launch rods and pads
  • Sandpaper...for sanding of course
  • Steel wool for rod and clip cleaning
  • Sharpie pens for touch-ups; you can sharpen the already fine point with a hobby knife to get a really fine tip
  • Extra blades for my X-Acto hobby knife
  • Extra razor saw blade(s)
  • Blades for 'box-cutter' style knives (I just got a nice lock-blade utility knife from Harbor Freight)
  • Acetone for igniter kits
  • MEK for Igniterman igniter kit
  • Isopropyl alcohol for clean-up
  • Sunscreen to keep my dermotologist happy
Items Others Have Used
  • Bert
  • Molded fiberglass
  • Beer/soda banks
  • Bowling pin bank (look for the Ten Pin under 'The Fleet')
  • 2/3 liter soda bottles (they're not just for water rockets anymore)
  • Outhouse (pic is mid-page)
  • Picnic table (if you have the time and inclination, search TRF for 'oddrocs')
  • Water barrels (see photos of Melvin)
  • Toilet paper tubes - These are probably the most common 'found' tube. I used a few back in the 70's, but they are really about the worst quality.
  • Triangular shipping boxes (order some rocket tubes, then re-use the box)
  • The bottom of small cans (ie SPAM) can be adapted for motor retention.
  • Check out EMRR in general and specifically the RMR Descon Archives (LEGOs, feminine products, full sized traffic barrels, boxes, cups, furry things.....)
  • Jimmy Yawn has a great 'how-to' on making a conical, rolled paper nosecone. His is glassed and has an integral PVC alitmeter bay. This also reminded me that for larger cones, you can roll them with 1/64" Birch plywood or even G10 sheets. Jimmy's tutorial has links to examples of the latter.
  • Here is another use for CDs.
  • Don't forget the OddRocs Yahoo group! Lots of recycled items here.
  • Micromeister reports "Had a chance to get to a Micheals and A.C. Moore over the weekend. Picked up some of the Beadalon 19 and 49 strand and .015" dia. 20lb test nylon covered stainless wire. Man these are some very "soft" braded cables! 49 strand is nearly as flexable as the 70lb kevlar I usually use for micro shockcords."
  • Aquapods
  • This TRF thread discusses turned Styrofoam cones, the different types of foam, and has photos of various cones
  • Plastic bollard covers used to cover posts at the entrances to stores (Best Buy comes to mind). Here's a big rocket built from these things. It's made from mostly plastic components that were welded together (you can get a plastic welder from Harbor Freight). He later converted it to 2-stage.
  • Traffic cones, 5-gallon paint buckets.
Examples of mostly-odd scratch construction, which haven't made it to EMRR (all successful)

This is my Beer'n'Pretzels. The nose section is an Utz pretzel 'keg', the body is 3" mailing tube, the fins are foamboard framed with dowels and laminated with drywall tape, and the decoration includes labels from various types of beer. I later removed the Utz label and painted the inside of the keg silver, which made it look more like a beer keg. It flew on 38mm H motors but met its fate after a bonus delay and the ensuing separation - RIP.

This rocket is made from 5" Quaker Oats bins and a clear Easter Egg. The fins are made from 2" foam. Verrrry inefficient. In fact, it flew only once and the top 2/3 was scavenged for my Margin of Error.

This is my M&M Christmas Tree. The body and nose are an M&M Holiday package. It flies on 18mm motors.

The center rocket is Carrot Top. The nose cone is a huge plastic carrot, the body is made from 3" mailing tubes, and the fins are dowel framed foamboard. It features a 29mm motor mount and zipperless construction. The tips of the largish fins are showing some wear but are still flyable. The fin can was borrowed from another project.



  1. Great article and reference! You've built some creative rockets! Since I love to build from scratch also I'm sure I'll use some of your ideas in future designs.


  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. i love to build from scratch! ill have fun using your ideas to make a rocket