Part of your aircraft kit-building journey will require you to temporarily fasten various components together. For example, maintaining precise alignment while drilling parts that need to be riveted or bolted together may require clamping. There are various tools that make clamping parts very easy and precise. The ones favored by kit builders are discussed here.
When working with sheet metal, the most popular clamping tool is the Cleco. Generically known as “sheet metal fasteners,” these devices are a first choice when there’s a need to temporarily hold multiple metal sheets together—but only if aligning holes are available in those sheets.
The hole size in these sheets determines which Cleco can be used. Clecoes are color-coded and the most common hole sizes include 3/32 inch (silver), 1/8 inch (copper), 5/32 inch (black) and 3/16 inch (gold). There are also Clecoes available for ¼-inch sized holes. Specialized pliers are needed to insert and remove these spring-loaded Clecoes. If there are no holes in metal components that need to be clamped together, Clecoes will be of no help.
Often, we need to drill matching holes through multiple components. This requires that all parts be held tight together while drilling. There are several kinds of clamps that can be used to help in this situation. The side-grip Cleco clamp is one option. Available in varying grip lengths, its flat spring-loaded jaws firmly hold parts together. The same pliers that are used with conventional Clecoes are required to operate the side-grip version.
When parts with flanges (for example, metal wing ribs) are involved, we need a way for the clamp to reach around the flange for a proper grip. The toggle clamp is perfect for this. Using the same mechanical grip as that of a C-clamp, these quick-release clamps come in various reach lengths and have a threaded, adjustable spindle to provide any grip pressure you desire. Without question, these clamps have been one of the most useful clamping tools for general aircraft building. You should own several of these in various sizes.
The clamps we have discussed are all available at your favorite aviation tool supply house. None of them are expensive. However, one exception is that you cannot have too many Clecoes—and purchasing large quantities of these can get financially prohibitive! As your aircraft kit project progresses, you will learn what sizes and quantities are needed.
Don’t forget that good old-fashioned C-clamps in various sizes as well as spring clamps will also come in handy when you need that extra hand or two. All of these clamps are tireless helpers with a good grip that won’t let you down while building your project. Plane and simple!