Ancient Secrets for Precision "Master Modeling"
The title of one of Harry Higley's books says it all, and is applicable to many skills in life... "There Are No Secrets". It's simply a way of saying that most building issues in modeling are the result of technique rather than talent. This means that knowledge and repetition are the keys to becoming a master modeler. There is certainly plenty of talent in the RC world, but when the question of "How do I...(whatever)?" comes up, there's usually a method or two for doing it that you just have to learn and practice. If you can invent a new and better way, that's a bonus. You may not consider yourself a "Master Modeler", but can certainly aspire to be one. The only purpose of this web site is to share information with other modelers, so we all get better. Just start, then don't stop!"
Some Proven Truths
The foremost quality that describes a master builder is patience. When you decide to tackle a serious project, you must be willing to take the time required. If you are, then you have several advantages right off the bat... Projects that you thought were too expensive can be started, because you realize that you don't have to buy everything at once. Projects that you thought were too complex can be started, because you're willing to do some research and learn. And finally, you'll end up with a completed model that most wouldn't have attempted, because "it would've taken too long, or been too expensive or too complex." Somebody has to build the next great model, so why not let it be you?
"Measure twice, cut once." is a good rule. The simplest way to avoid errors is to do a few very simple things, whose only requirement is a little more time. Test-fit pieces before you glue them. Practice the new skill you are learning on scraps, and not on a new model. Always brush or spray primer, paint, or anything else onto a scrap to test it, before applying it to a model. Try and think ahead a few steps before picking up the glue...Etc., you get the idea. Sometimes, when faced with a problem on a modeling project, the best action to take is to simply walk away. Go get a snack, or get some sleep, or whatever, but give the problem some relaxed thought. It's better to wait an extra bit of time, and fix the problem, than to just "give up" and ruin some aspect of your masterpiece. The extra time you spend thinking will probably be less than the cost in time and frustration you'll experience if you have to come back later and repair or rebuild that problem area.
Trust and use proven data. For example, when you can look at actual data for something that is proven, use it to your advantage, in designing and predicting the specs and performance of your model. As you build, collect information that will help you in the future, such as the weights and sizes of fixed components, the performance of certain engines, props, servos, airfoils, etc.. Build your own library of technical information and ideas that you know work well. Keep a notepad handy to sketch or jot down ideas when you think of them. You can always come back and refine the details later, if needed. As one example: If you've built a lot of models with 1/4" plywood firewalls, you may think that 1/4" plywood is required. When you eventually build a successful one with 1/8th plywood, you then know that virtually every firewall you built in the past was too heavy! (obviously assuming same-size engines)
Use the internet, a virtual worldwide, incredibly vast library, to your advantage, by communicating with other modelers, reading what they publish, and developing your own original ideas. One thing worth mentioning is that we should all respect each other's willingness to share and publish information, and not use it as an opportunity to steal! We all learn from each other, and so there's always something from the past in any new design, but please don't be one of the people who simply sees someone else's work and copies it. Even if you can "get away with it" legally, it's still unethical, and doesn't benefit the hobby in any way. Paraphrasing one of my musician heroes, "The best copy on the planet is still just a pale imitation of the original... so why bother doing it?"
Not every project has to be a masterpiece...
It's perfectly acceptable to build something without using any plans, do a simple finishing job, and go fly. DO be safe about it, and always take care with engine & radio installation, balance, etc.. But this hobby should be fun, too. Sometimes it will serve your purposes to just throw together an easy kit or ARF, and go fly. Save your major efforts for projects that deserve it, and don't worry about trying to constantly impress someone with how perfect you airplanes are.
Use your money wisely... Outsource!
Let's say you decide to start selling your models as kits. You'll soon realize, if you didn't already know it, that you can get laser-cut parts made, and it will save you a lot of time at a scroll saw. Now, do you need to buy your own laser-cutting machine? NO! Think about how many parts (many thousands) you'll have to cut on your own machine, to qualify spending that money. Think also about how much money it costs to maintain and update that machine, and how long it will be before it's outdated by something new. Unless yours is the very rare case, it's probably cheaper and a lot less trouble to simply have someone laser-cut the parts for you. The same is true, of course, for vacuum forming, foam cutting, and other tasks. Don't run your new company into the ground by getting "gotta have this" disease.
Be willing to communicate both your good and bad experiences. Your good experiences will help all of us learn, and your bad experiences will usually result in someone trying to help you solve the problem. You can "learn faster" by talking to some people with more experience than yourself, and especially in RC, it's a better way than "trial and error".
I've added a page to my site, which will grow over time, showing a collection of truly spectacular projects by many different modelers. Click here to see it.