Favorite Tools


I was working on a part for our Xenos the other day – a fairly complicated bracket to hold an idler bell crank that is part of the aileron control circuit. This bracket was to be made from 2″ x 2″ aluminum angle, with a right and left half (and a set for each wing). Not only is the shape fairly complicated on the top, the attaching flange has cut-outs on the bottom to clear lightening holes on the rib to which it is mounted. Just laying the thing out from the drawings to the raw stock took an hour of careful measuring and checking – and then it was on to actual metal work.

Which got me to thinking – as I was feeding this complicated bit into the band saw – I have a number of tools in my metal-working shop that I would rank as “favorites.” One specific tool? No way–there are too many that make life better. The band saw is one of them. I know that you can build a metal airplane with a hack saw and a set of files. Well maybe YOU can… but I’m, going to beg, borrow, to steal some power tools. Even if I had to stop building and save money to obtain these tools, I’d be ahead of the game. Shaping metal with power tools is a pleasure–and a huge time saver.

I am for anything that makes building more efficient, quicker, and more accurate. I cut with a band saw, shape with disk sanders, and finish with Scotchbrite wheels. Some are powered by air, some electric. The speed and accuracy with which I can produce parts is just so much higher then with hand tools – its what makes fabrication realistic. I hate telling people how to spend their money, but I can tell you that taking the time to acquire a few of these enabling tools will make your build more enjoyable–and possibly help you finish, rather than walk away in frustration.

And about that money… you don’t have to buy new – in fact, some of the best tools come from days gone by. Lurk in garage sales (this old Sears band saw came from one), keep your ears open for estate sales, and search your favorite web sites for deals. It can be fun sprucing up an old tool to make it functional again – as much fun as using it later on to produce airplane parts.

For me? Back to cutting these darned brackets–works of modern art, really. Made possible with power tools!

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Paul Dye
Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, 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 and SubSonex jet that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra and an electric Xenos motorglider they completed. Currently, they are building an F1 Rocket. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 6000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, FAA DAR, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor; he was formerly a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.


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