Workshop Prep, Part I

At the risk of stating the completely obvious, before beginning a project like this RV build, one first needs to have a good workspace.  To this end, I recently moved myself to a house with a nice two-car garage.  However, as tends to happen with moves, the garage became a sort of warehouse for boxes of stuff that I didn’t really have a home for.  Since I had Presidents Day off, I resolved to spend the day out in the garage doing some organizing.

The end result isn’t really ready for building, but I did get a lot of things stored out of the way, and generally cleared out some floor space.  There are still some items I have out in the open that are either going to be sold or donated.  I figure that once I pick up a tool cabinet, air compressor, and materials for building my workbenches, I’ll finalize the layout of everything and do another bout of reorganizing.


IMG 3290IMG 3297

As it turned out, doing all that cleanup work kind of got me motivated to continue prep work.  Another thing that really needed addressing was lighting.  The garage was lit by two single incandescent bulbs, one of which was burned out.  Completely unacceptable.  So Josie and I went out for dinner and a Home Depot run, and came back with 8 48″ flourescent shop light fixtures, which I proceeded to hang, finishing up just before midnight.  Long day overall, but the change was well worth it.

IMG 3299IMG 3301

Posted in Workspace

Look, a workbench!

It’s a little scary watching how time continues to fly by, during which I still have yet to actually start work on this project.  I seem to be getting the workspace together, but very gradually…I’ll make a small step, then something will come up and pull me away for a couple days.  The construction of this workbench is a good case in point.

I’ve been looking on and off at workbench info for a while now.  That’s just my nature…I can be quite a serial planner.  But I finally settled on a slight modification of the classic EAA 1000 workbench.  The design is pretty well-known and in use on homebuilder shops across the country.  I did, however, make a few changes.  First of all, since I’m definitely above average in the height department, I decide to make the tables a little taller as well.  Some of the guys at VAF had done the same thing, so it seemed like a sound decision.  Second, I felt a neurotic urge to make the most of the 4×8 sheets of ply I’d be buying, so I decided to make two 2’x6′ benches and use the remaining ply (2’x4′) to make a third, smaller bench.  Finally, I decided to use MDF instead of ply for the table top and shelf surfaces.

After making all those decisions, I spent a fair amount of time working out a materials list for my shopping trip to Lowe’s.  That trip took about three tries…you see, I don’t own a pickup truck.  Josie has an SUV with a roof rack, but I didn’t think I could transport the 4×8 sheets up there without damaging them, so I decided to use one of the rental trucks at Lowe’s.  Apparently those are quite popular.  It actually took three tries before I secured that thing and got my materials home.  That was last Monday.

Tuesday and Wednesday nights were booked up, so Thursday after work I started sawing in earnest.  I succeeded in getting all the MDF cut and in making the framework for the first tabletop, but then I discovered I didn’t have the screws I needed to secure the top. I was getting hungry by this time, and we needed to run out for a few things.  By the time we got home, it was after ten.  Oh, and the one thing I didn’t return with was the screws.  I thought about working on legs, but figured the neighbors wouldn’t appreciate me sawing wood in the driveway at that hour.

Friday night was out.  Saturday was also booked basically all day.  Finally, Sunday arrived, but I was so tired out from Saturday’s activities that I slept in.  Finally, I made the trip to Lowe’s and returned with the hardware I needed.  Sometime about 6 PM, I finally had ONE completed 2×6 table.  At that point I knocked off and mowed the lawn, which was badly needed.  The remaining two tables are still unbuilt…but that might be a good thing, because the garage will need another organizational bout before I really have room for them.  At least the next two should got together a little faster…

I did get in the Van’s practice kit this past week.  Originally I had hoped to do that this Sunday, but as you can see, things got way behind.  Next Saturday we’re going rating in TN, so maybe Sunday will be practice kit day.  Assuming, that is, I can pick up my compressor this week.  And some other required tools…this is already starting to feel like a cat-herding operation.  I can only hope that things will settle down once I get the shop in shape.

Oh, here’s a crappy cell phone photo of the battleship of a workbench I created.  I’m fairly certain that in the case of nuclear holocaust, cockroaches will be using this thing to rebuild society.


Posted in Workspace

Stiffeners. Again.

Yes, I finally got back to work.  Well, back to work on the airplane, that is…I started my new job a few weeks ago, things are going well there.  Between the new short days and Thanksgiving, there have been ample opportunities to put off getting back out in the garage.  Part of the issue was that the first order of business would be cleaning and priming the stiffeners I cut back in (jeez) September, which required use of the driveway and light.  I’ve tried priming at dusk or after, and it’s nigh-impossible to see what I’m doing.  Since it’s invariably dark when I get home from work, weekdays are right out.  I’d thought of going to the EAA 690 breakfast this morning, but as tends to happen on weekends, my decision changed when the alarm went off.  I proceeded to sleep a few more hours, but finally got myself out of bed.  My main motivation was that if I let another weekend go by without getting back to work, I’d be all sorts of angry with myself.

So I went down, got the stiffeners off the table (along with the trim reinforcement plate) and went to work.  That actually didn’t take long at all, maybe 30-40 minutes start to finish.  While waiting for them to dry, I went to work cleaning up in the garage.  Without any activity on the workbench, it quickly became home to lots of random stuff. (as all horizontal surfaces do)  This happens anyway, but when I’m working regularly it gets cleaned up regularly as well, out of necessity.  Ten or so weeks of no regular cleanup…yeah, the thing was pretty much covered.

So I spent the next hour or so finding homes for all that junk, putting away tools that had been used and then just set down, fixing the leaky drain valve on the compressor, and finally getting my retractable air hose mounted to the wall.  Then I wandered outside and found that my stiffeners still weren’t dry.  Having seen before just how well primer adheres to wet aluminum, I decided that, annoying as it might be, I should just let the things dry overnight.

I suppose I could have dimpled the elevator skins as well, but that’s better with two people, and Josie wasn’t feeling well.  But at least I did something.  Tomorrow I’ll prime, and maybe dimple…maybe even get the stiffeners back riveted to the skins.

Posted in Empennage, Workspace | Hours Logged: 2

Garage cleanup

So, as mentioned last time out, I had to order a couple of parts for the elevator.  I got an E-606PP to replace the one I fouled up, as well as an extra E-703, which I’ll use to fabricate a riblet to replace the bad bend in the trim tab cutout.  There’s not a whole lot I can really do until I get those pieces in.  On the other hand, I’ve known for some time that another garage cleanup session was going to be needed before the wing kit comes in.  For one thing, I had no storage space for the wing parts; the empennage parts I stored under my workbench in the box they came in, but I’ll need more space for the wings.  Plus, things were pretty cluttered in general; some stuff I never really unpacked when I moved in. (a year ago…procrastination, thy name is Philip)

So I decided this would be a good weekend to get this done.  I spent a fair amount of time last week trying to work up a good organizational scheme.  One of my goals was to not have to go through this same process when I’m to the point of having the entire fuselage together in there, so I spent a fair amount of time working towards that goal.  I’m pretty sure I’ve got it covered, though we’ll find out how right I am sometime down the road.

In accordance with my planning, I went to Home Depot Friday night and picked up a 24x48x72 shelving unit and a small cabinet for storing general garage stuff.  I also got some caster to put on my workbench; I think it’s going to be invaluable to have it be easily movable once things in the garage start getting more crowded.

I could go on and on about the day, but let’s just boil it down to me spending basically 12 hours straight out there.  I put the casters on my workbench, built a second smaller workbench where I’ll permanently mount the bench grinder and bandsaw.  There’s plenty of room for those, and I’ll probably add a drill press in the not-too-distant future.  I, of course, built the shelf and cabinet, moved a bunch of junk around, figured out a new parking setup for the bikes, etc etc etc.  In the end, I didn’t quite get everything I really wanted done, but it’s still vastly better out there.  Lots more spare space, so there should be plenty of room to work with the wings.

I do still have some stuff sitting around that I haven’t found good homes for.  My parts are supposed to be here Tuesday, so I think I’ll go back out tomorrow and try to wrap up the organization.  I know myself, and if I don’t finish this job soon, I never will, and before long it’ll be back to putting stuff in random corners and such.

I didn’t get a before photo this morning, but I did take a shot of the finished product before quitting for the night.  First time trying the panoramic feature on my phone; kind of motion blurry, but still a little cool, and much less work than using the real camera and some third-party software to stitch things together.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pop some Advil, because I hurt in about seven different places right now.

(click the photo to view full-size)

Posted in Workspace

Drill press acquired + more garage reorg

No actual airplane work tonight, just improving the workspace some more.  I stopped at Lowe’s on the way home and snagged the drill press, along with a few other sundries.  Setting up the drill press took a good hour or so, and then of course I just had to experiment a bit with it.  Works like a charm!  I did learn one very useful thing though…running the Unibit at the highest speed isn’t very smart.  The thing fires tiny aluminum chips out at transonic speeds.  The little buggers actually stung a bit when they hit my bare arm…

That done, I moved my power tool bench a little for better access, and then set about making it better.  I attached a power strip to one end for plugging in the tools as well as anything else I might find myself needing.  This also allows me to easily power down the bench for changing blades/drill bits and so forth.  Then I figured out where I wanted the bench grinder, drill press, and band saw, and started screwing them down for good.  Well, I got the grinder screwed down at least.  I need some more hardware to take care of the drill press and band saw.  Guess I’ll be stopping at Lowes again tomorrow…

Many metal chips will be made on this bench:

IMG 3005

Posted in Workspace

Built a plans stand thingy

I’m going to start with some real honesty: I’m not at all pleased with how I’m doing on this project, specifically my productivity. (or lack thereof) Sure, I did get back out in the garage to work on some ribs a few weeks ago, but then the next weekend I was out of town. But hey, then it was Labor Day! A three-day weekend, surely I can get some stuff done now! Yeah, didn’t happen. I did go out to the garage that weekend with every intention of doing some spar countersinking, anything. But when I went out there, I was confronted with a huge mess. (of my own making, I should point out) I’d been working on another project out there, and when I was done, I just left all the tools out. The workbench was covered with tools, scrap material, and junk in general. Suddenly the prospect of having to clean all that up before I could even start being productive was just overwhelming.

One of the things I did think about while I was sitting out in the garage being completely unproductive was that I really needed a place to hang my plans. I’m kind of ashamed to say it, but throughout the entire empennage and the wings so far, my methodology for reading plan when needed was to do seriously ghetto stuff like drape them over a nearby motorcycle or a sawhorse. Yeah, it worked, but didn’t really lend itself to efficiency. Plus, I had to move the plans if I wanted to ride the motorcycle. Basically the plans were just clutter to be moved around when I wasn’t actually looking at them. So I did spend some time thinking about what to do about this issue, but I never did arrive at a good conclusion, and finally I threw in the towel and didn’t go out in the garage the rest of the weekend. *sigh*

However, I kept thinking about dealing with the plans over the next few days. This was at least a small improvement; something project-related was sitting in my thoughts persistently. Eventually I settled on constructing a sort of vertical frame from which I could hang plans I was working with and also store plans that weren’t really in use. As a plus, I’d add casters so I could roll the plans up close to wherever I was working.

To that end, I stopped at Lowe’s on the way home for some supplies. Most notably, I picked up a miter saw, partially because I was going to need to make some precise 45° cuts for braces, and partially because I didn’t want to deal with the circular saw again. Besides, nothing inspires a dude to go work in the garage more than a shiny new tool. Once I got home and changed, I went right to work and by about 10:30, I had my nice new rolling plans stand. Not only is it going to be useful in general, but I feel like I’ve accomplished something for a change. It’s not direct work on the plane, but it’s improving the workspace and hopefully helping me to become better organized.

Anyway, here are some photos of the stand coming together. First, 2x4s cut for the main structural parts:

IMG 7964

Assembling one of the two uprights, with corner brace in place: (in retrospect, plywood gussets would have been a lot easier to do here)

IMG 7965

The main frame together. Just need to add the small horizontal pieces from which the plans will hang:

IMG 7967

Horizontals pieces in place. I finished things off with some eye hooks, from which I can hang binder clips that hold plan sheets in place:

IMG 7969

And the finished product:

IMG 7970

With this setup, I can have four plan sheets viewable at any time. (two on each side) I didn’t get photos of this, but I also added two more horizontal pieces down low, over which I can drape plans that aren’t in active use. (for example, the empennage plans) The only downside is that this thing is really tall. I did that on purpose – I’m a tall guy and that lets me take advantage of vertical space like this – but the thing only fits under the open garage door by about two inches! I suppose if it gets to be a pain, I can always shorten it. We shall see.

Posted in Workspace

Garage cleanup day

Had some other to-do items to attend to this morning, so it wasn’t until the afternoon that I got out to the garage. Building the plans stand was a nice kickstarter for getting the project back in gear, but the garage was still quite cluttered. Rather than do one of those minimal “clean off the workbench” passes, I decided it was time for a more thorough cleaning. Fast-forward several hours, and now everything is back in its place and the garage is ready for some real work to commence again tomorrow.

I also spent some money on a Bluetooth speaker unit for the garage. Previously, I’d had a not-very-portable speaker set that got toted around the house, and could occasionally be found in the garage, but most of the time, I didn’t feel like locating it and moving it back out there when commencing work. Now I have a speaker that can live out there semi-permanently, and I can keep my phone on me as well instead of having to plug it to the speaker system with a wire. Hooray for music!

Posted in Workspace

I can build an airplane here.

Wow. Looking at my history here, I see that it’s just a week shy of six months since I posted about my big move to Texas. I guess that thought that it might be “as late as February” before I got back to work was hilariously conservative. There’s just been a fair amount of stuff in the way, I suppose. Getting really settled in the new house and buying all the little things involved with that eats up a surprising amount of time and money.

Beyond that, I ended up investing some time and money into my flying as well. After looking around at various rental outfits here in Houston, I eventually settled on one near my house that gave me the choice of learning my way around a Cessna and learning my way around a Piper Arrow. The Arrow is essentially the retractable-gear version of the Archer I’ve been flying the last few years. After looking over the rental options, I decided to take the plunge on complex training and checkout in the Arrow. I had my complex endorsement after about three and a half hours, but insurance requirements dictated that I log ten hours of dual in the Arrow before I could take her up solo. I’m pleased to report that I finished my time requirements last week, so I’m all set to get myself flying again, and I stepped up my game in the process.

In the meantime, I’ve been sporadically working on getting the garage set up. Due to limited space on the moving truck, we had to triage some things, and one of the things that got left behind was my big workbench (I did manage to bring the smaller one that I have the drill press and stuff mounted on). So I had to build another workbench. And since I’d have to buy materials to make more than one, I went ahead and made two. I’ve had a few times before that I wished I had more bench space, and now I have more garage space, so it seemed like a no-brainer.

This also gave me the chance to put some lessons from the first bench into play. Caster on all four corners made moving the bench around a snap, but it wasn’t as steady when I needed it to be. So this time I did the “retractable gear” modification. I also added threaded feet at each post to enable me to account for uneven surfaces and/or table legs. All in all, it’s a pretty good setup, and I finished up my workbenches this past weekend.

Finally, there was the matter of organizing the garage. As per usual with a move, it became a clearinghouse for Stuff We Just Didn’t Know Where To Put. I’ve been gradually moving stuff up into the attic, but there was still a lot of clutter out there. This past Sunday became Garage Cleanout Day, during which time I essentially moved everything in the garage out into the driveway and then put it all back where I wanted it. A lot of stuff went up in the attic, which helped immensely. I also put up some Rubbermaid Fasttrack railing, which let me unpack the horizontal stab and hang it up, along with a few other things. I want to get a few more hooks for the rail to get a few more things off the floor, but overall, the garage is looking pretty nice now.

It’s time to get to work on the airplane!

(click the image to get a larger view)

Garage pan

Posted in Workspace

Wing stands, part the first

So I settled on what my evening project would be this week: getting the wing stands ready. It would seem that I’ll have one skeleton riveted within the next ten days or so, and I’m going to need somewhere to hang it. Enter the wing stands.

I’m taking something of an independent approach here. The plans call for a fairly simple stand setup; just buy a couple 4×4 posts, attach them to the floor and ceiling, add crosspieces to hold the spars, and you’re done. But there are a couple problems with this approach for me. First off, running the posts from floor to ceiling would mean making one of the garage doors INOP for the duration of the wing build. Not a huge deal, but annoying. More importantly though, we’re renters, not owners, which makes me hesitant to go making holes in the floor and ceiling for something like this.

But I got a bonus a few months back anyway. Some other builders have made floor-anchored wing stands out of steel channel (I think Rudi Greyling may have been the first person to do this). It just so happened that one of these builders was a guy I knew in Atlanta, and when he finished the wings for his RV-7, he offered to give me the stands. His only request was that I give them to another builder when I finished, which I’ll be happy to do.

But there’s still a problem; the “normal” use of these stands involves setting anchors in the garage floor and bolting them down, which takes us right back to that “renting” thing. So my solution to this problem is to construct a base out of lumber, onto which I’ll mount the stands.

I’ve been sporadically mulling over how to design these things for a few weeks now, but last night I went out and started measuring things, then sat down with a pencil and paper and went to town sketching. About an hour later, I had a solid design and a materials list. Today, after work, I ran out to Home Depot and picked up the necessary lumber and hardware. After dinner, I set about making all my lumber cuts out in the driveway (it’s so much nicer to not blow sawdust all over the garage).

I finished up the cutting around 9:30 or so and decided to call it a night, but not before laying out the parts to one base on the garage floor. One problem immediately presented itself – either the garage floor isn’t level, or the 10’ 2x6s that run the length of this contraption aren’t straight. Probably a little of both. I think I’ll take a page from my workbench builds and use tee nuts and carriage bolts to make adjustable feet for the bases. I guess I’ll be making another hardware store stop tomorrow…

No pictures tonight. There’s not much to see anyway, just stacks of cut wood.

Posted in Wings, Workspace | Hours Logged: 2

Wing stands, part the second

Well, I assembled one of the wing stand base thingies this evening. It all went together as expected, though it’s worth noting that these things are pretty basic. Just two long 2x6s, connected at the ends with shorter 2×6 sections that provide lateral stability. The end sections are topped with small squares of 3/4” MDF (leftover from the workbench build), which serve the dual purpose of gusseting the corners of the structure and providing a platform for the uprights to sit on. There are also two small cross-braces at the midpoint of the long span; these are also topped with MDF. The uprights are attached with 5” lag bolts.

Here’s the finished product:

IMG 9028

The only unexcited result of this involves that little platform in the middle. That serves a specific purpose – once the wing skeleton is placed on the stand, the spars will be supported only at the ends, so the structure will sag in the middle. Thus it’s necessary to add a third adjustable support in the middle to take the sag out. I have a couple of screw jacks that were given to me with the stands, and the platforms were intended to accommodate those. When I sketched this out, it looked like I could just have the platform run the width between the two long pieces, but now that I see it all together, I’m thinking the platform will need to project out further (towards the bottom right in the above photo). If so, it should be a simple modification, and I’ve got plenty of scrap MDF lying around.

Posted in Wings, Workspace | Hours Logged: 1.5