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Tools for Beginning Builders

John Huft (, Pagosa Springs, CO

Now that I am almost done with my RV-8 tail feathers, (an expert is someone who has an opinion, and lives at least 100 miles away), I thought I would offer my thoughts on tools, and some building tips.  I was a prototype machinist for 8 years, and might have some different ideas.

Before I started, I had a 30Ē combination shear/brake/roller from Harbor Freight.  It weighs about 400 lbs, and costs a buck a pound.  It has been a great tool, making straight bends, and straight cuts that need little deburring.  Since I have this, I donít need a bandsaw.  When I need to cut angle or thick metal, I clamp my sabre saw upside-down in the vise, and use it.

When I saw all the stiffeners that needed to be made for the rudder and elevators, I went into production mode, and made them all.  I laid out each skin, made a list of lengths, and cut them all.  Then I clamped a guide on the bed of the shear, and cut all the angles.  Then I deburred.  When I think about someone doing this on a band saw, it has to take a lot longer.  Also, to set up everything again for each skin would add time.  Machinists do this every chance they get.

I havenít seen any discussion on cutting lubricants.  Aluminum is basically soft and sticky as metals go, and to keep the tools (drills, saw blades etc.) from loading up, use some lubricant.  One of the wax-type sticks is best (no mess), but kerosene works great too.  It will make your drills cut cleaner, and last longer.

Many of you are using levels to line up jigs and parts.  The average hardware store bubble level is not all that accurate.  You can get machinistís levels that are 10 times more sensitive.  I have a David White laser level that I use a lot in building stairs, etc., that is 5 times more sensitive that the average-$150 from Tool Crib of the North.  They are a great source of hand power tools.  (I am 4 hours drive from Home Depot).

I agree with the recent thread about cost of tools.  If it is something you donít use too much, a cheap tool is ok, but if you will use it a lot, and for future projects, a cheap tool will drive you crazy for as long as you own it.  Buy a good air drill, and a good rivet gun.  That $40 air drill might last the project, but the good one is so much nicer to use, you might end up wishing the cheap one WOULD die, so you can toss it.  It is hard enough to persevere through one of these projects, without making it harder.

A good source for general tools and industrial supplies is MSC.  Call 1-800-645-7270 and ask for the ďbig bookĒ catalog.  You will have to make up a company name, but they donít check anything.  The catalog is 4000 pages hardbound, and has every material, tool, etc.  known to man.  They are not the best prices, but they stock everything.  2-day UPS for the price of ground.

Remember how a mouse eats an elephant (one bite at a time).  Stick with it, and one day your big problem will be deciding which fly-in to go to.

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Van's Air Force Western Canada Wing is not affiliated in any way with Van's Aircraft Incorporated. Western Canada RVator is not a publication of Van's Aircraft or any other corporation. All products reviewed or mentioned are not necessarily recommended for use by RV builders, but are described for information only. All builder's tips are presented only as a source of information and a forum for exchange and the sharing of ideas and construction methods. No responsibility is assumed, expressed, or implied as to the suitability, accuracy, safety, or approval thereof. Any party using the suggestions, ideas, or examples does so at his or her own risk and discretion and without recourse against anyone. The members of Van's Air Force Western Canada Wing, the editor of the Western Canada RVator, and all authors and contributors are not responsible for any product or builder's tips misuse, incorrect construction, or design failure, nor any other peril.

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