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Written by Bob Benjamin
A fresh look at dope-and-tissue covering
As seen in the March 2018 issue of
Model Aviation.

Since model airplane builders have been using aircraft dope to attach, seal, and finish tissue and other paper coverings, we have been looking for a better way to achieve the taut, light, neat appearance of doped tissue, silkspan, or real silk without having to deal with the smelly side effect of using either butyrate or nitrate aircraft dope!

Most people who aren’t aeromodelers would refuse to put up with it. Throughout the years, model builders have invested a lot of time and effort trying to discover or invent another process that would give comparable results without making most of us into social outcasts.

The author has been working on a series of electric RC conversions of various Guillow’s kits. One of the first was this 24-inch wignspan #301 LC kit Aeronca Champion. On the work table is a selection of the Deluxe Materials products that he uses.

Dope products present another challenge beyond that of aromatic hydrocarbon solvents—they shrink as they dry. Traditionally, this characteristic has been put to good use. Shrinking dope reliably pulls paper or fabric covering smooth, taut, and wrinkle-free as it dries. The problem is that the more dope we add in pursuit of a well-sealed, glossy covering, the more it shrinks. Without special additives and great care, enough dope will warp and distort even the best-built aircraft structure.

We all know about iron-on products that have been around since the mid-1960s. Countless outstanding models have been finished that way, but plastic covering isn’t necessarily the best way to go. Many of us still feel that the results they produce can’t even come close to the finesse of the old methods.

If you’ve ever looked closely at a well-built, doped silk, or tissue-finished model airplane, I think you’ll agree with me that it has soul. I think you’ll also agree that it is worth some effort to try to keep the process going.

Deluxe Materials Eze Dope does the best job of dealing with the issues of smell and unwanted shrinkage of any similar product that I have used. Later in this article, I will demonstrate using Eze Dope and the Deluxe Materials companion product, Tissue Paste, to cover and finish a typical small balsa stick-and-tissue model airplane. The airplane is a 24-inch wingspan Guillow’s 301 LC Aeronca Champion kit.

Deluxe Materials Tissue Paste is ordinary looking white stuff that you squeeze out of the bottle and onto the structure you are going to cover. A finger or small brush is used to smooth the nontoxic Tissue Paste along the stabilizer’s LE. Its lengthy drying time allows the author to gently smooth the covering as he goes.

Before I get started covering the Champ, let’s discuss all of those Guillow’s models. There’s a lot going on with them that I want to share. Have you ever built one of the classic stick-and-tissue scale models with the great artwork on the outside of the box and many little balsa sticks and die-cut parts inside? There’s much more potential in those kits than you might think.

Both the left and right stabilizer halves are covered and have begun to dry.

I’ve devoted a lot of time to working out practical electric-power RC conversions of several Guillow’s models, including several kit #403 Supermarine Spitfires and a kit #1005 F6F Hellcat, along with this Aeronca. I also have a kit #2001 P-38 RC conversion that is just beginning to go together, as well as a few others waiting at the back of the worktable.

Each sheet of silkspan has been sprayed lightly with water before being spread in place. The loose ends of covering can be folded around and over the edges of the structure.

I’ll share some details about the RC Champ conversion. As with my other Guillow’s kit conversions, my goal was to use as much as possible of the original kit material and change only the design features necessary to achieve good RC flight characteristics. On this model, that included adding working control surfaces and a motor mount, making provisions for radio/battery access, and reinforcing the landing gear.

Depending on how heavy a coat of Tissue Paste you used, you will need at least 10 minutes of drying time before using a piece of 220-grit sandpaper to trim along the stabilized outline. If you try to trim too soon, the partially dry Tissue Paste will slip; however, if you wait too long, the next step won’t be easy.

I used the original wing and tail incidence angles and set the dihedral to match my full-scale airplane references. I replaced the Guillow’s covering tissue that came in the box with Guillow’s standard lightweight silkspan, which is easy to order from the company.

The cut-off trim should peel neatly away from the structure. Had it dried much longer, any tissue that had stuck to the top surface of the LE would have to be sanded off.

My only obvious aerodynamic change was to round off the wing airfoil’s leading edge (LE). I made an effort to enhance the scale appearance and the model’s visual appeal.

The author finished covering the bottom surface, trim the covering, then covered the upper surface in the same way, wrapping the excess silkspan far enough around the surface edges to make a generous overlap.

Those of you who are familiar with my writing already know that, along with a thorough narrative, I like to use a series of photos with detailed captions to tell much of the story.

The silkspan is covering the upper surface of the right wing after the Tissue Paste has dried and all traces of the water used to wet the covering have evaporated. This is as smooth and tight as this part of the covering job is going to get.

Let’s discuss that covering job. The lesson today is not about how to do tissue/silkspan covering, but how to use Deluxe Materials products to do it better. Silkspan is indeed a type of tissue that’s slightly heavier and tougher than the traditional Japanese variety. Because I am using lightweight silkspan on this model, I’ll refer to that material from here on.

This working piece of dyed Guillow’s silkspan is cut slightly oversize for the bottom of the fuselage, just as one would have done if using traditional dope.

Model builders have traditionally attached silkspan to balsa model airplane structures using either clear dope or thinned cellulose cement. Aside from the smell issue, dope has the advantage of drying and sticking in place quickly. After you learn how to properly handle it, you have the option of working fast, but the nitrate clear dope around the perimeter of a small wing panel might set up so quickly that you actually have to go back to re-wet spots that have dried or grabbed before you’ve finished getting them correctly lined up.

The rear cowl is a tissue-covered structure as was the original kit design. It is sheet aluminum on the full-scale airplane. The author added a sheet skin for reinforcement around the motor mount/firewall as well as an improved scale appearance. Water-based Tissue Paste was brushed out from the center to attach the silkspan to the sheeted surface, relaxing the covering as the brush touched it.

If you are using your silkspan dry (not yet wetted with water), you face the added task of controlling all of those edges and corners that want to wrinkle. Covering wet makes this slightly easier, but the covering is still going to fight being smoothed into place.

Fast-forward to water-based Tissue Paste. This not only eliminates the smell, but also automatically wets the silkspan wherever it touches the Tissue Paste. As a result, it goes limp and stays exactly where you put it. It gets better. You won’t have to re-wet stubborn loose or wrinkled spots.

The author has started to cover the left side with a single piece of wet silkspan. It is already attached at the tailpost so he can pull against it to get it to smooth and tighten it.

Tissue Paste dries slowly enough to give you plenty of time to work around all of the edges of the parts you are working on until they are right. In practice, this means that while covering a wing panel, for example, you might have to set it aside for 10 or 15 minutes after covering one side before it is dry enough for you to turn it over and finish the job. I consider this characteristic to be an asset because it encourages you to work more slowly and deliberately, which usually leads to making fewer mistakes. Using Deluxe Materials covering products demands that you make good use of that slow-down-and-get-it-right requirement.

Tissue Paste was used along the outer edge of the fuselage side, including the open window area. The covering was not attached to the individual window posts, making it easier to stretch the entire sheet of silkspan flat. The loose inside edges will be attached with the first coat of Eze Dope.

I mentioned that the Eze Dope that I will use to seal and finish this silkspan is not going to do any extra shrinking as it dries. Your covering job will remain exactly as smooth and gently taut as it is when it first dries.

The covering will sag when wetted with Eze Dope, but will tighten as it dries.

In this respect, it’s exactly like doing traditional silk covering with dope. You must work out all of the imperfections while the still-wet silkspan and Tissue Paste allows you to do that. It turns out to be an asset after you seal the covering with Eze Dope.

The wing panel and aileron in the background appear to be standing up above the table surface. The author put pins into the corners to permit him to turn each component upside down while drying. On a small model such as this, the tail surfaces are only 1/16-inch thick, so this helps keep the surfaces from sticking. It is a good idea to use this process no matter what you are using for a finish.

As soon as the initial covering is fully dry and you’re sure that there aren’t loose areas or wrinkles that you should go back and do over, it is time to seal the covering. Eze Dope is a milky-looking white liquid that appears to be much like any other water-based finishes, but it’s not. Use a soft, wide brush to apply a single coat just heavy enough to thoroughly wet the silkspan then go away and leave it alone.

Guillow’s kits include appropriate decals for markings, but the author wanted to replicate a different full scale subject. He cut out the numerals separately and brushed a coat of Eze Dope over and through each figure.

This is where you’ll encounter another requirement that’s characteristic of Eze Dope. When it is wet with Eze Dope, the silkspan will sag noticeably. Because there’s no “extra” shrinking built into the process, you’ll have to make sure that the upper and lower coverings of a thin structure, such as the horizontal stabilizer of the Aeronca, don’t touch each other and cling together. The photos illustrate how I doped those thin parts one side at a time to avoid that issue.

Here’s another look at the process. The markings were applied over the fully dried first coat of Eze Dope, so that doping the entire surface while attaching them took care of the second coat as well.

You can sand out any rough or ragged edges of your covering job with fine sandpaper, just as you do when using traditional dope products. The same deal goes for smoothing the finished, dried surface of the completed covering job.

As you add sequential coats of Eze Dope to seal the grain of the silkspan and build up the base finish to the degree of gloss you want, there is no risk of any extra coats you add pulling warps into your model. Extra finish coats will add extra weight, just as with other products, but the controlled tautness of your new Eze Dope silkpan covering is not going to change.

Rather than attach the clear plastic cabin windows to the outer surface of the fuselage as the kit instructs, the author trimmed each panel individually to fit inside and used a bead of Super ’Phatic! glue to hold it in place. The blue tape holds the plastic panel in place while he works on it. When the Super ’Phatic! dries, it becomes clear and conforms perfectly to the curvature of the window frame

There are some more interesting characteristics of these Deluxe Materials products to learn about, but that is another story for another time.

I plan to include more of this information in future Model Aviation Guillow’s kit conversion features as they come along.

There is a lot going on with this Guillow’s Aeronca conversion

—Bob Benjamin


Deluxe Materials


Wonderful article...please print more, like the F6F does he die the silkspan since only white is available now?

Thanks again!!

Good article. I'm also interested in how you colored the silkspan. I used white silkspan on the wing of a Sterling Ringmaster in early 60s. It was finished with clear dope.

Thanks, John
Crossville TN

Bob, an excellent presentation as you always do. When I was in grade school.... about 1950.....I heard my first model airplane engine and it was close by. In the empty lot was a man adjusting the engine on the most beautiful model I ever saw....a Goldberg pylon wing Clipper. No one else was there and he wiped down the plane and packed up without acknowledging I was standing by him. It was just too much...."What is that covered with?" I asked.
"Tissue", as he walked away. I never saw him again.
Tissue came in Kleenex boxes or bathroom rolls........neither could make a covering like that. I vowed to never do what he did to me if someone asked me a question.......especially anything about model airplanes.

We each have our own tips and tricks. I don’t do anything the way described in the article. I moisten Silkspan by sandwiching it between two damp paper towels. It stays flat, and it is wet uniformly. I use glue sticks to paste the covering to the framework. They are cheap, and they can be released with alcohol. I don’t use dope at all. I use clear, matte Krylon spray cans. It does not shrink when it dries, which is important with Japanese tissue. So, you don’t have to buy all of the products used in the article!

Been building for 80 years and am still learning. Thanks

I plan to replace the old brittle silkspan on the wings of a 50 year old Sterling Super Ringmaster (gas model). I need some advice on how to remove the old tissue. I presume the old surface was covered in nitrate dope, so I am planning to use dope thinner to remove the paint and silkspan. I plan to recover with new GM silkspan finished with Eze Dope. Are there any non-dope paint options for covering the new Eze Dope surface? Thanks for your help. Best regards.

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