High power rocket construction: part 4 (rail buttons)

One issue that is becoming increasingly obvious to me is that I don’t have a proper workbench, or workshop, or anything remotely suitable for the gluing, cutting, and other madcap activities required for rocket construction or assembly. I’m just using a dining room table. Sometimes the line blurs between utensils and tools, and I end up spearing food with a screwdriver.

The point is, if I’m going to keep building rockets – especially bigger and more complex ones – I’ll need to find a better work space.

But anyway: RAIL BUTTONS.

Rail button close-up on rocket body
Rail button on rocket body

This is one of the more straightforward parts of the rocket build. Smaller rockets (low and mid power) generally have “launch lugs,” which are like straws. Paper straws, not plastic – we’re not barbarians here in Seattle.

The idea is simply that you set up a launch pad with a launch rod – just a long, thin metal rod – and the lug slides right over it. It keeps the rocket upright while launching.

But high power rockets are bigger and heavier and require a different solution. They typically use rail buttons, instead, which is just a variation on the same concept. The buttons are like guideposts that slide along a stronger, larger rail that, again, keeps the rocket straight during launch.

Rail button placement on rocket - top view
Rail button placement

The installation of these is pretty simple. They’re just metal screws with a plastic rail guide or button, and they can be attached to the exterior of the rocket body as pictured here. They need to be a certain distance apart, and one should be as close to the rear of the rocket as possible, but the exact measurements depend on the size of the rocket you’re building.

Rail buttons can be attached several different ways. What I did here was drill a smaller hole through the rocket body into the side of the wooden centering ring, and then drill the screw into that hole, so it connects directly and securely to the centering ring. This is true for both rail buttons. To help ensure they’re secured in place, I also added a drop of epoxy into the holes I drilled prior to inserting the screw.

Another technique would be to use a small bolt with a nut on the inside of the rocket body to secure it (and again, use epoxy on the nut to keep it in place). I had already put together the rocket body and motor mount by the time I attached these rail buttons, so there was no easy way for me to do anything on the inside. I probably should have attached the rail buttons earlier in this process, but this works fine too. I’m confident these rail buttons will hold.

[fast forward to both breaking off and me sobbing uncontrollably]

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