It’s been a busy week. The two upper main spars are essentially complete. Spar caps, stiffeners, and all of the filler and reinforcing blocks are assembled. The only thing not done are the outboard ends, where the tapered pieces for the wingtip bow attachment need to be assembled. The two lower main spars are under construction now. Both have the caps and web glued, and one has the stiffeners on one side. I’m planning to finish as much as I can today on the main spars, and hopefully get at least one of the rear spars glued up.
It’s been a real joy working in a place where there’s plenty of room to work. The availability of a large number of bar clamps – in addition to the 40 or so spring clamps I have – really helps as well. I took the day off work yesterday and was able to get over there once in the morning to set up a spar, then again in the afternoon to take that one off of the jig and glue up the next one.
Stu is anxious to get enough pieces built to start getting wings assembled so they look like wings — I can’t say I’m not in agreement. I was a little tempted to build a rear spar after the first main so we could assemble one complete wing, but I’m convinced that this way is a lot more efficient. For one thing, after the first spar we’ve both figured out enough ways to make the process better that each spar is taking less time than the one before. Just as an example, my process for getting epoxy into the grooves in the main spar caps has evolved and gotten much more efficient with each spar. It’s almost a shame there aren’t any more to do. On the last couple I would get some glue on the long edge of a popsicle stick and use that to spread it into the groove. After doing a foot or so, I’d slowly follow through with an acid brush with the bristles trimmed down to about 1/4″ or so, to make sure it was evenly distributed and get any excess out of the groove. The result was the cleanest glue joints of all the spars.
I’ve been going through T-88 like crazy. Gluing 9 and 10 foot long pieces of wood uses a lot of epoxy, and I know the laminations for the wingtip bows and tail surfaces will use a lot as well. Given the price increases since the last time I bought glue, I think I’ll just order a gallon.
This morning I went over to Stu’s and finished gluing the root attach blocks and the blocks for the N strut and flying wire brackets to the spar. Other than the tapered extension for the wing tip bow, that’s all of the wood for the first spar. Once the glue is cured, I can start locating and drilling the holes for the attachment bolts and bushings.
With that done, Stu and I started on the second upper wing spar. The bench has threaded inserts set into the edge, and he’s got a long steel rail that bolts on. It’s 2 x 2 inch square steel tubing with mounting brackets welded on. The rails were designed and built to bolt to the table, then he’s got a steel sled that sits on them that he can use to flatten a large wood slab using a router. We bolted one rail to the edge of the table, overhanging the work surface. Now there’s a long work bench with a straight, level steel rail on one edge.
We glued the groove in the spar cap, inserted the plywood web, then glued the other spar cap. One spar cap is clamped against the rail, then the assembly is clamped in place to hold it straight, flat, and properly spaced at 5-3/4″ total spar height along its entire length.
I think about 10 ml of epoxy is plenty to glue one spar cap groove. I mixed two batches today. I’ve been using 60 ml syringes ordered from Amazon to hold and measure the glue – it works wonderfully. I can very precisely measure out even very small quantities.
I just pulled the last two false ribs in the jigs. It’s been a long haul — six and a half years since I built the first rib, but now they’re done AND I’ve got the materials and the place needed to continue the build.
Last night I was over at Stu’s place. One of the main spars has been partially assembled; the spar caps have been glued to the web. I got all of the rest of the parts for the aft face of the spar fitted and ready to glue up. I decided to designate this one the upper right wing. I’ll head over tonight and glue it.
I briefly thought about tearing down the rib jigs now that all of the ribs are finished. I decided not to do that quite yet. For one thing, there’s a chance I may need or want to make more of them for one reason or another. I don’t need two jigs, though. I’ll probably leave the first one I made as is, and pull the blocks and plastic from the second copy. It’s not a high priority, since it will only yield a 4′ x 1′ chunk of MDF.
Got a couple more false ribs glued up, now I’m waiting for the epoxy to cure. I also unrolled the plans to get a good look at the wing layouts, and re-read the instructions for building wing ribs. The instructions say to make 42 main ribs (I have 43) and 37 false ribs. These two make 20, or it could be 21 if I cut down the extra main rib. I’ll just keep making them and see what happens. I really need to get that second jig back on the bench so I can do 3 at a time.
Well, I set up the second jig for three false ribs. I’m only making two at a time on that one, though, plus one on the first jig, so three at a time. One of the three setups on #2 is just not quite “there” enough to suit me. To be honest, I don’t really know how much difference it makes if there’s a 1 to 2 mm variance in the shape of the lower or upper surface of the airfoil. I’m getting the ribs all as close to identical as I possibly can, but I know I’ll need to do some minor true-up work once they are all ready for assembly to the wing spars. What I think I’ll do is stack them all together on some scrap wood cut to match the size and shape of the spars, then use a long sanding block to true everything up. That’s a while of, still.
In the mean time, I’ve got around a dozen or so of the false ribs done, and am cranking out 3 per day on the days I get any work done. Now, however, I’ll have to take a day off to hot-soak and bend some more capstrip. I’m out of the pre-bent pieces.
Sitting in the rib jigs right now are the last aileron rib (#16 of 16), and the sixth false rib. After the glue cures on these, I’ll modify the second jig to fit as many false ribs as possible. I think I can fit three on it for sure, possibly four – but that’s doubtful. I’d like to start cranking out four false ribs at a time.
So I guess it’s time to go start shopping for the best plank or two of white pine I can find to get started on the laminations for the tail surfaces. Pretty sure Menard’s will be my source for those; the stuff I find at the other big box stores is more suited for a dog house or the pulp mill than anything else.
Well, the work bench is cleared off — well, at least enough to get both jigs on it. I’ve got a couple dozen sticks of geodetic brace stock shaved down. The epoxy syringes are filled. All I need now is a razor saw and a steam setup.
Yes, I have a razor saw. Somewhere. I pulled it out during the kitchen remodel, and I remember seeing it in a box of tools we were using, but now I can’t find it. It’s a Zona, good quality but inexpensive. A new one is on the way. Two, in fact; one medium and one fine tooth. I also have a steam box that I built for the capstrips, but I’m unsure whether I’ll use it in the basement. It takes bench space (which I now don’t have down there), and drips water out the end by design. I’m thinking about ways I can use it vertically. I had looked at rigging up a piece of pipe or something with a heating element for hot water, but it looked like an awful lot of extra work considering I’m over halfway through the ribs. I’ll probably need it for the tail and wingtip bows as well, but I’m not entirely sure yet how I’m going to steam 6 to 9 foot long strips of wood. Tonight I tried soaking half a dozen capstrips in a bucket of hot water for an hour — we’ll see how well that worked.
I finally went out and got the second rib jig from the garage and brought it down to the basement. Ribs 24 & 25 are now curing, they will be ready to pull tomorrow evening. My new routine:
- Put the first jig on the bench. Cut all the pieces fro one rib and set the geodetic pieces above and below the rib caps, ready to glue.
- Stack the second jig on top of the first, cut all the pieces for it.
- Mix up enough glue for both ribs (14cc seems about right)
- Glue up the rib in the top jig and set it aside.
- Glue up the rib in the bottom jig.
Double the completion rate. I’m out of pre-cut geodetic pieces, so now I”m marking and cutting them individually with a razor saw. It doesn’t take much longer, really, and each one is cut exactly to fit.
I’m almost out of pre-curved top capstrips. The comments on the plans say you can bend the spruce dry and glue the ribs. I don’t like the idea of having that much tension on the wood. The nice thing about working indoors, though, is that I can keep hot water hot longer. When I run out of pre-bent pieces, I’ll try the hot water bend method again. In the garage the water cooled off far too quickly. In the basement, I can get REALLY hot water in a capped length of PVC, and keep it hot long enough to soften the capstrip. System 3 says T-88 works fine on damp wood… I’ll try that and see how it goes.
Got the basement workbench cleared off enough to move rib production indoors. So far I’m only using one jig, but I’ve knocked out two ribs now. I need to get the second jig set up. One rib per day isn’t going to cut it. Sure is nice working in the basement instead of the garage though.
I’ve been wanting to get back to building ribs. The garage bench has been piled too deep to get anything done, and now it’s been below zero for over a week solid. Insulation or no, it’s damned cold out in the garage. Too cold for epoxy to cure, and too cold to work.
So… there’s a perfectly good work bench down in the basement. 8′ long and rock solid, built by Dad back in the 1960s. It’s been pretty much completely covered up for the past several years with a collection of parts, partially-disassembled or -assembled prototype projects and assorted debris from the side business I was running, plus a CNC router that took up about 3′ of it. I have cleared most of it off (much of it into a trash can). The CNC machine is shelved for now; I’ll maybe resurrect it when needed at a later date. It will probably come in handy for cutting the instrument panel and/or nose ribs.
The next issue is containers for the geodetic rib braces. There are 24 braces used in each rib, all of which are of course slightly different. Just enough so that none are interchangeable. I was using paper cups to hold them in the garage, but it’s a completely unsatisfactory solution. In the basement I think I’m going to try stapling taller plastic cups along the back edge of the bench and see how that works.
I’m not moving power tools down there from the garage, so new geodetics will be cut with a razor saw. We’ll see how that works out… it’s one of those jobs I wish I could set up a machine or fixture to do. It’s 24 different lengths with over 40 different angle cuts, so I’m not sure how I’d make that work. Even cutting them out in batches on the band saw meant fine-tuning each one with a sanding block before assembly. It’s fiddly work and tedious as hell. Classic gusseted ribs would be a whole lot faster and easier to build. If I were starting this over I’d probably just depart from the plans and build them all that way; I’d probably have them all done by now.