Discovering New Tools for RC Projects

By Terry Dunn

I think that most of us tend to stick with tools and methods that we are comfortable with.

Whether it's building model airplanes, refinishing old furniture, baking banana bread, or anything else, I think that most of us tend to stick with tools and methods that we are comfortable with. It's human nature to seek familiarity. With my RC projects, I like to think that I am open to using new tools. At the same time, I recognize that I rarely expose myself to any alternatives. That all changed recently due to my cross-country move.

Many of my commonly-used project supplies are still in boxes, waiting their turn to be unpacked. Consequently, my workshop is in disarray and I've been forced to improvise somewhat. That has turned out to be a good thing because I've stumbled across some new tools that I actually prefer using over my old methods. You'll probably laugh because none of this stuff is newly-developed. I'm pretty sure it's all been around for quite some time. I was just blind to anything outside of my usual processes.

Disposable Pipettes

As I was preparing to detail my 'Apocalypse Now' boat, I realized that I would need to do some paint mixing. The only trouble was that I couldn't find my stash of small mixing cups. I went online to buy more and also stumbled across listings for disposable pipettes. Why had I never thought of that before? Some model paint sets even come with pipettes. I just never realized how useful they could be. I usually find myself trying to pour small quantities of paint into the mixing cups. Pipettes would allow me to dispense precise volumes of paint and thinner.

I recently discovered that disposable pipettes allow me to mix precise amounts of paint. I used to pour directly from the jar!

My only problem was that I wasn't sure which size pipettes would be best for my application. I ended up choosing a package that included 100 each of 3 milliliter, 1 milliliter, and .2 milliliter sizes. It turns out that 1 milliliter is the ideal size for my paint-mixing chores. The only downside to using the pipettes is that model paint sticks to the inside. If you need more than one pipette's worth of a certain color, the residue from the previous load can mask how much paint is in the pipette on the next squeeze. I didn't run into that situation often, so it wasn't a big deal for me. The worst case scenario was that I would have to use a new pipette for each transfer of paint. At less than 3 cents per pipette, I can handle that.

I quickly found other uses in my shop for the pipettes. One particularly useful application for the .2 milliliter units is applying thin cyanoacrylate glue (CA aka "super glue"). This CA runs very easily. So it's often difficult to keep the glue only in the area that you want it. Anyone who has ever accidentally glued their fingers together knows exactly what I'm talking about.

I use tiny pipettes to apply thin super glue. It provides the control needed to prevent glue runs.

Some super glue brands come with small precision applicators. I've always had problems with these tips getting clogged. So I very rarely even bother with them. These pipettes, however, are large enough in diameter that they do not clog with thin CA. Yet, they are also small enough to allow me to apply small amounts of glue in precise locations.

My method for using the pipettes with CA is simple. I'll squeeze an estimated amount of CA into a tiny disposable cup. Then, I simply suck the glue up with a pipette and squeeze it out where it's needed. There's nothing to it. I can often reuse the same pipette and cup over several days.

I'm also finding ways to use the pipettes outside of my workshop. For example, my son recently filled our automatic dishwasher with normal dish soap by mistake. It didn't take long for an avalanche of suds to bust out of the dishwasher and begin covering the kitchen floor. Thankfully, we noticed right away. The secondary load of soap had not yet been released. I used a 3 milliliter pipette to transfer that soap back into the bottle. We still had a significant cleanup effort ahead, but it least there was no more soap to make it worse.

Liquid Electrical Tape

Since all of my models are powered by electric motors, I do a lot of soldering. Most of the time, I'm soldering one wire to another or adding a power connector to a wire. I've always used heatshrink tubing to insulate those connections. But there are times when heatshrink is very inconvenient.

Now that I do a fair amount of FPV flying, I often find myself adding small-gauge wires to existing solder joints. These small wires are power feeds to the FPV equipment. In these situations, I have to cut and remove the existing heatshrink tube over the joint. Rather than just adding the new wire, I must disconnect all of the existing wires. This is so that I can add a fresh piece of tubing to insulate the connection again. What a pain.

I suppose that I could wrap these joints with electrical tape, but I've never had much luck with it. It tends to dry rot and let go over time, especially in hot environments. Not only does it leave behind a gooey residue, it looks shabby too. No thanks.

Liquid electrical tape is a handy tool for insulating electrical components when heatshrink tubing is impractical.

A friend recently informed me about liquid electrical tape. How did I not know about that? It is pretty much what it sounds like. This is an insulator that can be painted directly onto electrical conductors. It comes in a small jar and has an application brush built into the lid. I picked up a jar from a home improvement store and my results have been great so far.

The liquid tape is a little bit tough to work with. It is very thick. I'm sure it would ruin any clothing that it dripped on. The built-in applicator on my jar is very frayed, so I've used toothpicks, Q-tips, and cheap paint brushes as applicators. The liquid dries to the touch within a few minutes, so you can build up multiple coats very quickly. The dried product has a tough, rubbery texture. Mine is white, but other colors are available.

I'm loving this stuff so far. It has already saved me considerable time when adding power leads to older RC models. Rather than unsoldering everything. I add the new wires, paint on the liquid tape, and I'm done. The liquid tape has also allowed me to make connections that would be much less practical with heatshrink tubing. A recent example involved adapters that I made by soldering power plugs directly to each other.

These plug adapters are insulated with liquid electrical tape. It can be applied in several layers for thick applications.

Side Cutters

I built a lot of plastic models as a kid. In the beginning, I would just break the parts off of the sprue trees, often creating several gnarly scabs on every part. At some point, my father showed me how to remove the parts more cleanly using fingernail clippers. The quality of my models made a significant leap forward. I went for several decades without realizing that there is an even better tool for the job, side cutters (or flush cutters).

Small side cutters are the best tool for removing injection molded parts from trees without damaging them.

There are all types of side cutters. The term is sometimes used generically. The kind of side cutters that I'm talking about are small, precision hand tools. My favorite model of side cutters for RC projects is the Lindstrom RX8144. They are basically hinged snips where the cutting edge is flush with one side of the blades. There is no offset. This allows you to cut away a protrusion without leaving any material behind.

I don't build plastic display models anymore, but many of my RC projects use injection molded parts. So I have plenty of opportunity to use my side cutters. I also find that many individually-bagged parts are not cleanly trimmed at the factory. I often trim the parts to clean them up. It's rare that I spend any amount of time in my workshop without needing my side cutters. I just wish I had known about them when I was a kid!

What About You?

Obviously, I'm not presenting these tools as some kind of recent breakthrough. I'm sure that many of you have been using these things for a long time. The point here is to not let yourself get too rigid in your processes. Be open to trying new ways of doing things. You just might find something better! If you've recently changed how you do a job that you've been doing forever, tell us about it in the comments below.

Terry is a freelance writer living in Buffalo, NY. Visit his website at TerryDunn.org and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. You can also hear Terry talk about RC hobbies as one of the hosts of the RC Roundtable podcast.