Lathing Away

While not essential for building an airplane, a lathe can be a very useful addition to a builder’s shop. Nothing makes you feel like a fabricator than turning your own tools and parts!
While not essential for building an airplane, a lathe can be a very useful addition to a builder’s shop. Nothing makes you feel like a fabricator than turning your own tools and parts!

It's always pleasant to spend a little time in the workshop making chips (or curlicues) out of 4130 Steel rod stock - especially when you have a use for the parts you are making. Such was my afternoon today - turning raw stock into squeezer die extensions to help set the rivets on our Xenos spar project.

The custom squeezer provided by our friend in California does a great job on the rivets – so long as you can work very close to the edge of the spar caps. The caps on the Xenos are not square or flat – they actually slant towards the web, making it very hard to line up on the rivets closest to the cap itself.  So what we needed was a squeezer plunger that actually has a notch in one side to allow clearance around the cap – sort of like an offset rivet set in a gun, but for a squeezer.

A little experimentation with soft steel rod from the local hardware emporium gave me the appropriate dimensions, but the soft stuff bent at the cut-out after a few squeezes of the big rivets. A quick online order from the airplane store had us some nice 4130 steel rods in two days, and that’s what I’ve been carving on this afternoon. Nice material, sharp bits, a good little lathe – it all makes for a happy and productive afternoon.

squeezer-insert-2

You see, building an airplane is more than just assembling the parts of the kit. There is the shopping, the head scratching, the little decisions and “Aha!” moments in how to fabricate a given assembly. And... there is tool building. Jigs, fixtures, and actual tools to make and assemble parts can take more time than you think. And turning parts on the lathe is a satisfying way to make exactly what you need to do the job right.

Paul Dye

Paul Dye, Kitplanes® Editor in Chief, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the space shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen, and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra they completed. Currently, they are building a Xenos motorglider. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 5000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, EAA Tech Counselor, and Flight Advisor, as well as a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.

One Reply to “Lathing Away”

  1. the caption doesn't make sense.

    Nothing makes you feel like a fabricator than turning your own tools and parts!

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