Monday, July 22, 2013

Making a Wooden Fokker Triplane (Legends of the Air Kit)

I'm a sucker for $1 Store wooden toy kits. Most are "meh" but some are a bit of a pleasant surprise. If you don't take them too seriously with a little bit of work they can be fun and turn out a neat little toy. Like the cannon that really shoots.

So with the shop space still coming together, the little one and I toyed around with "Legends of the Air Fokker Triplane" kit. I picked it up at a Harbor Freight a couple of months ago for the wallet busting sum of $1.29 - American. To sweeten the deal - It is made in Taiwan not the OTHER China like 99.8% of everything else in the country for under two bucks.

First the prerequisite Toy Making Dad puts his History degree to use paragraph:
The Fokker DR1 is certainly an iconic airplane. It is instantly recognizable as being "the Red Barron's" plane probably thanks more to Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts Gang than anything else. The Germans had developed the DR1 in response to a British tri-plane that had been introduced late in 1916. The three wing arrangement made the Fokker triplane incredibly maneuverable but there were real tradeoffs in other areas like speed.  Throw in the fact that there were construction issues that lead to structural failures and that faster, sturdier, biplanes were available meant that its operational life was pretty short. Only 320 were made during the war.

Now back to the kit. The box contains three little sheets of plywood that have the parts stamped out on them as well as a one sided sheet with the "instructions", a square of sandpaper and a little bottle of white glue. Not bad for $1.29.

Having built enough models in my day I know you need to familiarize yourself with the instructions first. So I was pretty much out of luck with this kit since the instructions are awful. There is a five bullet point list in eight different languages (six on the sheet, two on the box. One may be Klingon.) that has general pointers like use the sandpaper to smooth rough pieces and the glue to hold things together (Whoda thunk it?!) but the only way to know how it all fits together is with an exploded view of the parts. Some of the parts need to be bent and how the bottom attaches is a mystery based on the instructions.

Now having said that... the kit does go together reasonably well as long as you accept that this is just a toy and that you are going to need to keep the general shape of the plane in mind as you build it.
I glued the ribs down the sides of the long keel of the plane. I used painters tape to hold the pieces in alignment while they set. I also went straight to the yellow glue and left the white glue in its tube. I figure if I'm going to put a weekend into this build, I want it hold together for a bit.

The bottom of the plane (piece 12) needs to follow the curve of the keel/backbone of the plane. The plywood seemed sturdy enough that the only way I saw that happening without breaking the wood was to  boil some water and throw the piece in. Let it soak for about 1/2 an hour. Lightly dry it off and then glue and clamp it in place. I let it set overnight before taking the clamps off.
The soaking
The clamping
Next the three top piece went on and since I live in a house with four females and NO RUBBER BANDS ANYWHERE, I used ponytail holders. (Necessity is the Toy Making Dad of Invention)
The long sides went on next and were clamped and banded together until the glue set.

I then set to work on the engine. If you ask me, an airplane model without a spinning propeller is a statue not a toy. So I departed a bit from the kit here. I assembled the engine block and then drilled a 9/64" hole in it so that a 1/8" dowel will spin freely in it. I drilled a 1/8" hole in the prop and the one in a little disk (actually part 27 since I replaced it later) that was sanded down to reduce its thickness to be a stop. I test fitted it and then after it was all painted up, I glued the shaft to the prop, slipped it through the engine block and then glued the disk the other side so it couldn't slip off.
Test fit of the shaft and hub
Final test fit before paint and glue.
Wheel on the right looks closer
to the real deal
Last bit of tinkering with the design involved the wheels. While I wish they could roll, that would have been a bit too much of a redesign. I didn't like that part 27 was supposed to be used for the hub caps because they are too small. The engine was supposed to have two spacers (parts 28 and 29) but I thought that was overkill and used one for the hub cap. I then trimmed and sanded down the inside disk of the engine cowl (which was just waste now and not needed.) Actually, worth the effort because if you look at a real Fokker DR1, the shape of the wheels is a distinctive feature especially when painted white.
Little one and I started painting things up before final assembly. This always leads to cleaner lines. I used painters tape to mask off some areas, paint them white and then masked those off as I painted the rest of the plane in crimson.
There is a hole in the sides that the bottom wing slides through. I needed to trim up the inside with a razor because it was a pretty tight fit but it eventually found its way in. I had some touch up painting to do but then I could glue the landing gear in and make sure the plane would sit level.
The middle wings are in two pieces and have the struts through them. This goes together pretty well you just want to check their alignment as best as you can. The machine guns go in as well at this point and I just couldn't resist doing my bit to them. While not museum quality reproductions of  German IMG 08's... they were detailed enough for Mrs Toy Making Dad to give me the "I married a 12 year old" look that I so crave.
Final assembly used slightly larger clamps and healthy dollops of wood glue. I trimmed the struts up a bit to ensure level contact with the top wing. I only clamped it after I got the alignment as squared away as I could. Again, I let it sit overnight to cure. While building other kits like this I rushed this step and have had to constantly repair the wings.
I tried to paint the crosses and while the first one wasn't awful... the second one was. I painted over those and printed out markings from the inter-web and then cut them out with an X-Acto knife. A very thin coating of white glue attached them to the plane. Several coats of spray acrylic later.. all done.
Basically a weekend project. I picked up a SPAD kit that same day so soon I should be able to stage a mock battle or two.
Okay. The box says "Easy to Assemble Wooden Aircraft." They are half right. It is a wooden aircraft but I wouldn't say that it was easy to assemble. Granted, sometimes I treat these projects like the people from "Better Homes and Dollar Store Wood Kits" are going to pop by at any moment and judge me harshly but snap together this isn't. It is a pretty neat kit but I can't imagine it going together well without some clamps, rubber bands and a whole lot of repeating to yourself to "Relax, it's not a real airplane. It just needs to look pretty much like an airplane at the end... no one is going to get hurt... EXCEPT MAYBE THE CLOWNS WHO WROTE THE INSTRUCTIONS.
 Clearly a lot of thought went into the engineering of the kit and it is a great value. It is shame that it is short changed by the instructions' lack of detail and clarity. Still a fun dad/kid project as long as dad doesn't mind being helping out a bit more than usual.
Also, it helps to have someone (or something) lend a paw as needed.


  1. I just picked up one of these at HF the other day and I am about halfway through it's assembly. I thought, "What the heck let's see what the internet says about it." and found your post. Yes the instructions are exactly what I have come to expect. That said I am really having fun putting this model together. The price has increased as I paid $1.39. I have reached the point where I am about to attached the bottom of the body and I figured some wetting and bending was called for just as you decided. Your model turned out very well in my opinion.

  2. Comrade. Most excellent job you have done!

    You said:
    "Next the three top piece went on and since I live in a house with four females and NO RUBBER BANDS ANYWHERE, I used ponytail holders."

    Plenty of rubber bands in The Dungeon. Next plane, I ship some to you, yes? Perhaps you should model famous plane of Vyacheslav Tkachov. Comrade Tkachov was such good pilot he shoot down Germans with handgun!

  3. I just finished all 6 of them. I didn't paint them but now that I know how they're built I'll attack the other set I have with paint...

    Pics on my blog here:

  4. I can not figure it out I have every thing and have no clue

    1. Makayla - Hang in there and try and take it step by step. One piece at a time. If you use the "Contact Form" at the bottom of the page and tell me exactly where you are stuck, I might be able to give you a hand.


Just Saying...

While we don’t necessarily need more objects, we just might benefit from more making.
- John Dunnigan


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Regular guy who likes to make stuff who lives with a very patient wife, three daughters and three cats.