The Acetone Transfer Method of Making "Print Wood"

Jim Ryan

One of the more tedious aspects to building from plans is the dreary task of transferring the part templates to balsa or ply sheet so that you can cut them to shape.  I really believe this is one of the main reasons you don't see more planes built from plans; once you have the parts cut out, building from plans is just like building from a commercial kit.

The acetone method is the best and fastest method I've found for transferring templates to sheet stock.  I say "best" because in my experience, it gives the most consistent results in terms of making it easy to cut an accurate part with the least hassle.

How To Do It:
1. To begin, you need to make photocopies of all the parts templates.  Ideally, these copies will be fairly dark, with nice heavy black lines.  Do measure the copies to make sure they're 1:1 copies of the plans in both height and width.  Cut the templates apart, but don't make any effort to cut close to the lines.

2. Wet the sheet stock with acetone using a paintbrush.  Keep brushing back and forth until the wood goes from "wet" to "damp".  Experience will show just how damp it needs to be for a perfect image.

3. Lay the photocopied template face-down on the sheet stock (pay attention to grain direction) and then press/rub it in place for a few seconds.

4. When you peel back the template, you should have a perfect mirror image on the sheet stock.  Once you transfer all the templates to balsa, you in effect have an old-fashioned "print-wood" kit, ready to be cut out and assembled.

Trouble Shooting:

Image is too light:  The three errors that can cause this are:
1. The photocopies aren't dark enough:  You should see nice heavy black lines on the copies.
2. The wood is too dry:  There has to be enough acetone in the wood fibers to "pull" the toner from the surface of the paper and allow it to adhere to the wood.
3. The template isn't pressed long enough:  You may need to press down for up to 10 seconds to get a good transfer.

Image has a washed-out appearance:  This happens when the wood is still too "wet" when the template is pressed in place.  The wood should be damp; if it's visibly wet, the excess acetone will tend to dilute the toner, rather than transferring it from the paper to the wood.  By brushing back and forth for a few more seconds, you force the acetone down into the wood fibers, thereby getting a better transfer without diluting the toner.

Once you've mastered the art of making your own print-wood parts, you'll be a lot more willing to build from all the terrific plans that aren't offered as kits.  Good luck!

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