When I was a kid, on occasion I would get to buy a little balsa wood glider from the gas station, and they were TONS OF FUN, for about 5 minutes. I would inevitably destroy them, or lose them to a tall tree. Recently, I was in a local hardware store, and they had the same ones for sale that I used to buy! As any good dad/child at heart would do, I bought one for each of my kids. When I got home, it dawned on me that I should have just made them!
I did a quick search for balsa wood and realized that my local craft store sold it, even though it’s sold in kind of odd shapes. I found several different thicknesses, but the sheets were almost all 36″x4″, which worked out great, but just struck me as odd.
Anyway, I picked up a few sheets of varying thickness and went straight to Illustrator for design. I assumed I’d start with a generic design from my head… it wouldn’t fly and I’d have to do research for a real aerodynamic shape. It turned out that my first design actually kind of flew! Of course, it can be improved, but here’s how my first attempt went!
Here’s what you’ll need:
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The .svg file and Easel project are both available for free at
I started a design, purely out of my head, in Illustrator, but there are free design software options, like Inkscape, as well. I just made sure the slits for the wings and tail were as wide as the material I was using for the wings.
Saving the design as an .svg file, I imported it into Easel and scaled them up to my final size.
I copied the wing and tail pieces to a new file, since they use a different thickness material than the body.
I used 3/32″ balsa wood that I got from a craft store.
Balsa is very thin and soft, so the X-Carve can cut it quickly and easily.
For the wings, I used 1/16″ balsa.
Make sure to use “tabs” in Easel, to hold the pieces in place while they’re being cut out.
The tabs were quickly cut away with a sharp blade.
I slid the wing and tail pieces into the slots, and it was almost ready.
I added two paper clips to the front for a little weight.
Then I spent way too much time decorating the glider with markers.
I decided to also try making a glider from dense styrofoam insulation from a big box store.
I scaled the design up a bit, and resized the slots to match the new material thickness (1″).
I tried, miserably, to shape the wings and body with a rasp to help it fly better.
Finally, I screwed in a heavy screw to the nose to add some weight.
Here’s my complete balsa glider!
Here’s my complete styrofoam glider!