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I'm going to try to make a drop pod and would rather use balsa than foam core. I think it will be neater looking and easier to work details into. How would you prime balsa? Seems to me that standard spray primer would soak in quickly and might not cover the grain very well, so I'm considering using a wood primer instead. Any suggestions?
Yeah, you've noticed the problem. Balsa is porous so it's surface needs to be sealed.
I haven't particularly searched for commercial products to do this but I don't see why PVA wouldn't do it.
As for covering the wood grain, I'm not sure that's possible
And over there we have the labyrinth guards.
One always lies, one always tells the truth, and one stabs people who ask tricky questions.
If you were looking to cover the grain then watered down PVA or wood glue should work well enough - it often doesn't allow paint to adhere to it very well, so a quick going over with ultra fine sandpaper would also be advisable once it has dried.
You could use some other wood-sealing products for outdoors wooden furniture and the like, that should work. If you're very worried about the grain then sanding the wood before treating it could help.
I'd advise you experiment a bit on a spare piece of balsa wood - it'll provide you with a better idea of how to approach the final model.
I don't really paint too much wood (other than household stuff using thick household paint primer)... However I just primed my daughters pinewood derby car using a can of grey automotive primer. It seems to do the job fairly decent. It took a few coats and needed light sanding in between but it did seal on its own.
From what I experienced the wood will only soak in so much. Eventually it will no longer soak in the primer and the primer should coat pretty well.
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Clear fingernail polish. I know it sounds weird but it works. I used to build model rockets and the fins are balsa. It works wonders. Just apply and then sand, you do have to be careful not to get it too thick, but other than that it's easy going.Hope that helps.
P.S. Buying it is a whole lot easier if you have a significant other there to buy it for you, otherwise expect some weird looks.