Construction Details Finish&Fly Events and Projects Building from Plans Raw Materials Q&A Tools Construction Log

Despites what others say (including Zenair), many tools are required to build an aircraft.  True... you could build with just a couple of files, a hand riveter and some other hand tools, but really, there are some "productivity" tools available that will make the job better, faster and more enjoyable.

Among the tools required for scratch building is a bending brake.  I purchased the Zenair plans from a friend who decided to go with another design (made of wood).  While the design of the Zenair brake is simple, it seems to be hard to get good materials to make it (warning!)  I purchased the required L angles from Metal Supermarket after their representative convinced me that it was better to purchase new metal than scrap metal from a scrap yard.   Well, I don't know... the L-angles are useless... they are not straight.  When you put them flat on a table, if you push down on one side, the other side lift up about 4mm!  Metal Supermarket did not want to take the metal back (even though they knew what I was purchasing it for---we were looking at the plans together to get the parts.

I converted my garage as a 11'X23' workshop.    The 8 foot bending brake is near the garage door.  The work table measures 4'X10'X30". I also have a small workbench installed against a wall.
This idea comes from the first of Tony Bingelis' books.  It is a small table on which I installed all my larger power tools.  The tables is mounted on small wheels so I can move it and turn it around my shop.  It results in a more space efficient arrangement than I would have obtained with separate stands for each tool.

The band saw is a Mastercraft 11" unit with a wood blade (6tpi).  I tried a finer blade (15 dents per inch), but it does not work well on aluminum.  The press drill is a 13 inch Mastercraft model.  I also have a small 1 inch with 5 inch disc ribbon sander.

In the background, we can observe the bending brake that I use.  I borrowed it from  the local RAA chapter.

Some of these tools are very very useful and are real time savers (and also increase quality of work).  Among these are the Vise Grips that I use in place of clamps.  I saved countless hours of clamping to this date just because of these tools.

The other very important tool to buy is the larger aluminum scissors.  The small Wiss snips are not good enough (they leave marks and they are not fast).  The larger one makes a more precise cut, it's faster and it leaves no mark if you are careful with your work.

On the top left is my pair of bending pliers.  They were purchased at Reno-Depot.  It is very important to smoothen the blades before using this tool on aluminum.  I used a Dremel (on the far right) with a grinding stone for this.

The dead bolt hammer is very practical for forming the flange of the wing ribs.  I used it directly on the rib without any other protection (solder bar or wood piece). However, you have to know that aluminum will make marks in the hammer (this is why there is duck tape on it).

On the far right is the speed deburring tool.  While it is available from all aircraft suppliers, I purchased it from Placide Mathieu (tools) in Beloeil.

On the left, we can see my pneumatic riveter and angle protractor (essential) from Reno-Depot.  The fluting pliers is home made from information found on Chris Boultinghouse's web page.

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I do not use the hand riveter very much, but sometimes, it is quite useful.  I grinded on side of the device to enable riveting in tight areas, such as inside a 3/4"X3/4" extrusion.  

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My drill-press was under repair when I modified my riveter heads.  I had success making them by holding them in a vise (with a M8 nut) and drilling them with a hand drill.   One important note here.  While some people may recommend using a simple drill bit for this purpose, we get a much better rivet shape with the #114 Dremel tool (for the A4 rivet head).  Before drilling, remove the hardened "skin?" of the head by grinding it (with the bench grinder).

For the A5 rivet, the #114 tool is not of the right size.  It results in a nice shape, but the rivet head does not apply uniform pressure on the skin (I looked at it by cutting the rivet with my Dremel tool and popping out the head).  Fernand, my advisor, reshaped it by turning the riveter head with the hand drill while he grinded the head with my Dremel (with a cylindrical grinding stone).  I had to do it again as my original A5 head got defective. 

After the riveter head is formed, I sand it by holding sanding paper (320 grit) between a tool and the head.

To ensure that the rivet has a good shape, I cut the tail of an installed rivet and I then remove the head (by pushing from the back). I look at the form of the head to ensure that there is good, uniform contact under the head, on the aluminum sheet.

A hydraulic press is a very useful tool for forming various parts. For more information on this hydraulic press, click here.
Big tool for small job
I made this press to bend the nose skins for both outboard wings and the center wing.  It is made of wood and it works great.  The forming die is inserted at the bottom of the press and two jacks are installed in the upper section.
One important note here is to make sure the jacks are held in position... on my first attempt, one of the two jacks fell on the skin, destroying it! :(
The forming die consists of 2X4's spaced 2.75 inches mounted on a piece of plywood.  The tube is a 2.25 (o.d.) steel tube.  The fit of the skin on the ribs is perfect.
Dcp00811.jpg (95655 bytes) Another hydraulic press
This one was built to bend the wheel forks.  Additional pictures and a schema are available here.


These are two  very useful tools that can easily be made.  The larger one is a hand seamer.  It is made of two L angles that are riveted together.  There is a 0.040" offset between the two Ls.  It allows to correct the bend of metal sheet easily. 

The smaller tool is a rivet hole duplicator.  If we want to replace a part and duplicate the same hole location on a new part, we insert the lower tab (with its grinded rivet) in the hole and the upper tab over the new part will show the exact rivet location.  I used it when I replaced the rear skin on my rudder.  I was able to preserve my tip and bottom ribs.

Dcp01217.jpg (79490 bytes) This is the knife I use for cutting aluminum sheet.  It works well for material up to 0.040".


DCP01893.JPG (47860 bytes) A special socket is required to assemble the cylinder heads on the Subaru EA-81 engine.  Unfortunately, this socket is no longer available from Subaru.  So I made one myself using an articulated 17mm socket and an extension.  It works well.

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