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Thread: Things I've learned about building....

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Aug 2011

    Things I've learned about building....

    I'm plugging right along with my tube-and-gusset 7/8ths scale Nieuport 11 and along the way I've learned some invaluable lessons:

    1. Don't reinvent the wheel. If the way to do something isn't obvious, ask for help. Heck, if you think you know how to do something ask anyway.

    2. Homebuilding is interdisciplinary. Building an RV is pretty far off from my project, but that guy has an insight on jig building, installing a gascolator, and a host of other tasks that are similar. Likewise, at the last EAA meeting I mentioned a technique on annealing aluminum tubing that caused a few eyebrows to raise in pleasant suprise. Never assume over specialization based on someone else's project.

    3. Put in your head the quality of work you want on your plane before you begin. For me that means that I'll accept a solid, safe, flying aircraft with a few unimportant flaws that is in the air versus a glorious example of flawless craftsmanship scattered across multiple tables and several years from completion.

    This leads to....

    4. Learn to grade your work and decide what you'll accept:

    Correctly assembled/installed and within design tolerances. Not the prettiest work, but solid and safe. Examples include a tiny run in paint that someone will really have to look hard to see or a slightly asymetrical panel.
    Good: Same as above; the tiny run in the paint is something only you will ever see. So what if the compass is 1/64th an inch to the left of center? It still points in a direction other than what you thought you were going; find another excuse for getting lost.
    Great: Somebody else might have done a better job than you, but they're probably seeing a therapist for their OCD problem.
    Perfect: The plane built by that OCD guy. Probably took him eight times longer to build his than yours. Or he has years and years of experience in that sort of thing.

    I shoot for Great and wind up with Good a lot of the time. There are a few Suitables in there as well, usually from efforts to improve a Good part to Great standards. Hey, if it wasn't for craftsmanship on my level, how would we know what superior work looks like?

    Which leads to...

    5. When you're finished with a part or subassembly, stop messing with it. Quadruple checking is a solid build ethic, but if it's done and of acceptable quality "tweaking" it usually winds up turning into "redo it." Balance planned project timelines against the grade of what you've done. Building the same part over three times when the first was just fine is a huge time thief.

    6. Know the difference between structural and cosmetic.

    When I accidentally gouged one of the vertical tubes that the lower wing carry-through tie into there was no quibbling - it was replaced. It's a major load carrying spot on the aircraft and there is no way I'm risking stress fractures on a tube that is keeping a lower wing in its place.

    When I bent the gusset/support for the front of the turtle deck I wound up with a sort of flat spot in part of the bend. The bend is true and the part fits, but it has this one inch long odd looking spot one third down from the end. Nobody will ever see it. I decided to shrug and accept it, as making a second one would take time, cost money, and not really improve anything.

    7. Learn tolerances in the design. An example is my lower wing carry-throughs. Per the plans I was bumping against the lower longeron; fortunately the designer of my plane is the type to answer the phone and is happy to advise that there is a quarter inch vertical tolerance on them - and then warned that they must be equal distance horizontally to ensure the wings match on both sides.

    There are a couple of other places where my efforts differed from the plans and I found out it was "gooder enough;" that is to say safe and within tolerance. Designers can't write "About 18 7/8ths an inch," for things - they have to give a solid number.

    There are other parts, though, that have to be precisely by the plan for safety; knowing that is important, too. Just shake it off, take it apart, and do it over.

    8. Thicken up thine skin. I'm sharing a blow-by-blow account of my build with a set of WWI replica builders, and feedback ranges from "excellent" to "I'm sure it will have a nice personality" to "unacceptable - do it over." All of it is appreciated, but the really valuable input is the criticism, especially since it is coming from folks who have more than one plane build under their belts. Some of it is silly, too, and one has to ignore it ("you should clean your tools better" kind of stuff).

    Once the wings are done I'm inviting our local EAA tech advisor to critique my work; when I get close to final inspection I'm going to beg our chapter to come find mistakes, with prizes (first to spot a mistake, most mistakes found, etc.).

    9. Occam's Razor is King. When presented with a problem, the least complicated solution is the right one. A few examples:

    In placing the stringers for the turtle deck on the rear gusset, they're evenly spaced. The center was easy. The outer ones were easy. The two between them hurt my head. What's half of 3 and 5/16ths and how do I measure it? Solution: take a piece of paper, mark the center tube, the outside tube, fold it in half, unfold, and mark the gusset appropriately.

    The support cables for the cabane struts have to be tight, but not too tight. Tension strength isn't listed in the plans, and I'm dipped to know how to measure it (though I know there are tools for it). Solution: start the bolts enough to hold, stretch the cable as hard as one can by hand, swag it, and then tighten the bolts, which will tension the cables appropriately. But no tolerance on the swags - use a go/nogo gauge on every single one.

    Jigs are meant to hold things in place while they're being assembled or shaped. Most of the times in my build that can be accomplished just as well with a few pieces of scrap wood screwed down into the table versus a custom formed one that holds every inch of it.

    10. Take stock of what you're doing! If you don't smile after saying "I'm building an airplane" three times slowly, sell your project; the fire has gone out.

    Take a step back and look at your slowly growing airplane before getting six inches from the parts - pretty impressive, isn't it? There is nothing wrong with a satisfying sense of accomplishment.

    So what gems do y'all have?
    Last edited by Frank Giger; 10-15-2011 at 05:01 AM.
    The opinions and statements of this poster are largely based on facts and portray a possible version of the actual events.

  2. #2
    rosiejerryrosie's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Carlisle, PA
    Another gem, Frank. Another gem!

    65LA out of 07N Pennsylvania

  3. #3
    BushCaddy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Marshfield, MA
    Hi Frank, many good points...particularly the interdisciplinary related thought. I can't tell you how much I learned from scouring other builders websites and the plane I was building was completely different from theirs.

    I would bet you $100 your definition of good is probably "very good". I went through the same travails, wondering what was acceptable, rebuilding parts, figuring what was structural and what was not. After the plane flew perfectly on the first flight and I am now over 60 hours with no major sqwaks my definition of good turned out to be vey good as well. While building you are and should be your own worst critic. The wandering and wondering mind has to be wrestled into place, my favorite line of advice is "The worst things in life that ever happen to you occurr only in your mind". If you analyze that phrase you will know it is true. Reality is never as bad as you think it's going to be!

    Correction on the OCD guy, he never finishes, forget the 8 years. Perfection is a good goal but if you can't accept anything less, you will never complete.

    It took me 5 years and other than the love of my wife and daughter, brought me more pleasure and self satisfaction than I dreamed possible. It was a trip that was truly just as good as the destination.

    Make the dream a your own airplane. What sets the builder apart from the dreamer is very, very little...he just got going.

    Way to go Frank!!!

    BushCaddy N2C
    Last edited by BushCaddy; 10-15-2011 at 06:58 PM. Reason: sp

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    One of the things that really suprised me was how much fun it is to build an airplane. It can be fussy business, no doubt, but I really get a kick out of working on it.

    Part of that is the excellent builder's assist program that Robert Baslee runs. First, it's truly builder assist - it isn't known within the WWI replica world as the House of Pain for nothing. The amount of work done is directly proportional to how hard the builder works. They'll guide and give a hand, but they aren't there to be your builder, and will say so. Second, it's really a builder's school - except one goes home with a great big bunch of airplane. Everything from fishmouthing tubes to riveting, removing rivets, annealing, etc., is taught very hands on. I don't think I would have ever got that fuselage square without instruction.

    The confidence level goes way up; one knows the skills required to do the job - now it's just a matter of following the plans.

    The more I get done the more excited I get and the more I want to work on it, to be honest.

    And then there is the associated hilarity with building an airplane in one's back yard.

    Owing to a quirk of topography, my back yard isn't the least bit private for the folks behind us - a drainage ditch forces a steep decline that is greater than the height of the fences - and I reckon all sorts of odd noises have come out of the Wonder Canopy;* I disappear into it and all sorts of air compressor, rivet, sanding, jigsaw, cussing, drill press, and wahoo noises come out.

    So anyhow, I had pushed the Nieuport out from the canopy onto the grass to sweep up and get a look at it from more than two feet distance and there comes a loud exclamation from my neighbor across the ditch:

    "It's a f--'n airplane! Honey, you won't believe this, it's an airplane! Come look!"

    "Oh, thank God," is the yell back, "maybe now you'll shut up about wondering what he's doing!"

    I pop out into the yard and he's staring at it, looking incredulous.

    "Hey, you're building an airplane!"

    "Yep. I bought an airplane kit and I'm putting it together."

    "Why'd you buy an airplane?"

    "They were out of falcons," was my reply.

    One of my neighbors are very odd. Nice enough people, but not very sociable and weird in a way that is completely different from the way we're weird. When the flu bug was going around and it was their turn to get knocked flat I mowed their grass right after mine; when they got better the guy makes a point that since they didn't ask me to do it they weren't going to give me any money for my efforts.

    I don't think he meant to be rude; I think he's not used to people helping out other people simply because that's how it should be, and it could be that money is tight for them and when money is tight everything looks like a bill.

    Anyhow, since then I say stuff that makes no sense (waving and saying a cheery "extruded plastic!" in the morning, for example) to them; I won't be out-weirded by a couple of twenty-somethings, and it definately has discouraged interaction. Eventually, though, the guy couldn't resist himself when he saw this:

    "What the hell is that?"
    "Shopping cart," I deadpanned, "the ones at the store aren't long enough for me, so I'm building my own."
    "That's what I thought it was," he replies back, smooth as silk.
    Nicely played, sir, nicely played.
    The opinions and statements of this poster are largely based on facts and portray a possible version of the actual events.

  5. #5
    Eric Witherspoon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Tucson, AZ
    A few I paraphrase from a Cozy builder's site (a notoriously long-building airplane, from what I can tell):

    1. My "good enough" airplane looks great - flying over your "perfect" airplane in your garage.

    2. To get to first flight, make a list of everything you think you have to do. Now, remove everything from that list that isn't absolutely, positively, required for flight. Keep this list, and only subtract from it. Either by getting those things done, or eliminating yet more stuff that isn't absolutely necessary. Then, after the airplane is flying, see if you really want to take the time to add any of that stuff you left out. You will be amazed by how much stuff stays off the "to be added later" list when it's later. I tried to follow this advice as much as possible on my first completion. Not much was added to the airplane later. It also helps with the empty weight, build time, and cost in a big way.
    Murphy's 13th: Every solution breeds new problems...

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Yep - lots of stuff on the "nice to add" list that will probably never get put in.

    It has also helped me to think in terms of sub-assemblies and then prioritize the order.

    Right now I've gone just about as far as I can on the fuselage itself, other than to install the cabanes, which is where I'm at. Next up will be the lower wings, then when they're done and the carry-throughs are set I can put in controls.

    So I'm not really worried about installing the fuel tank, combing the cockpit, side sheeting, panel, etc., since they're several assemblies in the future. By concentrating on one assembly at a time I don't lose focus or wind up working on several things at once (which for me would be disasterous).

    I might cheat and cover the tail feathers when the supplies for that come in this week, though!
    The opinions and statements of this poster are largely based on facts and portray a possible version of the actual events.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Never underestimated the value of Crap Laying Around! Old scraps of wood, bits of wire, even an old broom handle (which matched my longerons in diameter and got cut for use in a jig) are invaluable. Heck, I used an old piece of foam board to determine turtle deck reinforcement dimensions!
    The opinions and statements of this poster are largely based on facts and portray a possible version of the actual events.

  8. #8
    Anymouse's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Giger View Post
    Never underestimated the value of Crap Laying Around! Old scraps of wood, bits of wire, even an old broom handle (which matched my longerons in diameter and got cut for use in a jig) are invaluable. Heck, I used an old piece of foam board to determine turtle deck reinforcement dimensions!
    The directions that came with the plans for my U-2 says, "Do not discard any scrap over 1 inch."
    Someday I'll come up with something profound to put here.

  9. #9
    When I went to the Sonex builder's workshop, designer John Monnett said to us several times: "Remember you're building an airplane, not a Swiss watch..." Seems a good philosophy.

    I have a lot of flaws on the Sonex I'm building, but if I have a mistake in a structural area where I'm just not sure if it's acceptable, I do it over. I have a few places I've done three times, but they are in places I know it needs to be right. In the end it's my ass in the seat at 5000 feet, so it really doesn't matter if somebody else says "that's probably fine."

    As you said Frank, the trick is knowing what's important/structural, and what's just annoying or cosmetic. Like you, I'll take a solid, airworthy airplane next year over a show winner in five years.


  10. #10
    Sonex1517's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2011

    Things I've learned...

    I needed to read this thread badly - thanks! As Andy already knows from a different forum, I am building a Sonex - suffered through a major setback in October and rebuilt half my horizontal stabilizer. But I am on my way again, about done with the tail. Wise words here and I needed to hear them - thanks!

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