Garage Shop on Steroids

Home shop machinist.


Rich Seifert’s detached workshop is the kind of place most of us only dream about.

Rich Seifert’s detached workshop is the kind of place most of us only dream about: a spacious 40-foot x 40-foot shop that includes a bathroom, office, and a second floor for drafting and fabric sewing. OK, maybe it’s not quite big enough for a B-24 restoration, but it’s plenty big for Seifert’s current project, a 1946 Fairchild F24W46 (one of two Fairchilds he’s restoring).

Rich Seifert next to his Fairchild restoration project.

Seifert, his wife Cine (short for Francine), and dog, Murphy, live about 15 minutes east of Redlands, California in the quiet rural community of Yucaipa. This is Seifert’s new shop. His previous shop was a standard-size, two-car garage in suburban Los Angeles. Obviously that shop was much, much smaller, but he still managed to build his first airplane, a KR-2, in the available space. “No matter how big your workshop is, it could always be bigger,” he laughed.

The move to the new quarters came when Seifert retired from Boeing Space Division (formerly Rockwell Downey) after 34 years of service. “Most of what we worked on I still can’t talk about,” said Seifert.

“The space shuttles were the main project” he worked on, adding, “For the first twenty years I couldn’t wait to get up every morning and go to work.”

At the drawing board with Murphy in the upstairs loft that doubles as a sewing room and part-time lounge.

What happed after that? “They moved me into management,” he laments.

Retirement may mean bingo at the senior center or a leisurely round of 18 at the local country club for most people, but not Seifert, who also is a licensed A&P mechanic. He’s as busy as ever. In addition to the Fairchild, he’s project coordinator for EAA Chapter 494’s Pietenpol, and he offers consultation on whatever restoration or repair challenges come his way.

As far as how he has set up and configured his home shop, “the project determines the machines,” says Seifert. “I don’t have a metal lathe or milling machine, but I have what I need to rebuild, rework, or remake just about any of the structural parts,” he said, referring to the 70+ year old Fairchilds.

Seifert’s inventory of machines includes a drill press, a band saw geared-down for metal, a compound miter saw with a metal cutting blade, a combo sheet metal machine (brake, slip roll, and shear), a table saw, a planer, a sandblaster (homemade), a scroll saw, and a Shopsmith.

The Shopsmith is a classic multi-function tool. Seifert has all the attachments to turn it into a lathe, table saw, disk sander, belt sander, band saw, horizontal boring machine, or drill press. The day I visited, it was pulling double-duty as a disk sander and band saw.

In the event he needs a part machined —metal parts that may be too complex for his shop—Seifert depends on his hangar mate at Corona Airport and fellow KR pilot, Richard Shirley.

Seifert has collected an impressive array of hand tools for forming sheet metal, including a bead roller, a planishing tool, and a collection of wooden hammers and shot bags. Was there anything on the wish list? “I don’t have an English wheel yet,” said Seifert.

The venerable Shopsmith combination machine.

Seifert favors older tools. His scroll saw and planer are from the 1950s or maybe even earlier. “The older machines are more solid,” said Seifert. He also has every machine rigged with casters or on a lockable rolling base. This not only allows him to move the machines around as needed to be closer to the work, but also makes cleaning up easier. “Restoring a wood airplane creates a lot of dust,” he said.

Overlooking Rich Seifert’s line-up of machines, including (left to right): the combo sheet metal machine, welding tanks, table saw, and planer. In the background are a drill press, a band saw, various tool boxes, and lumber storage.

The second floor of the shop is accessed by a staircase along the back wall. It’s set up with a traditional drafting table with a T-square and the usual curve and circle tools. Seifert is proficient in CAD, but since the old Fairchild documents are pre-digital, the only way to figure out the particular heritage of a certain part is to compare it to the available drawings. That means spread them out and study them. It’s not unusual for a drawing to not match an example part. Sometimes it’s a matter of literally retracing the revision history. That is, to copy the old drawing and then erase and redraw it by working backwards from the revision notes. That works sometimes.

This odd shaped can is an oil tank from a wrecked Fairchild. By the time he’s done remaking it, Rich will have milked most of his shop skills to one degree or another: making a CAD drawing, creating a plywood form, bending, rolling and beading the sheet, and then TIG welding it all together.

Some background on the Fairchild 24: they were built in the years 1935 to 1947; they had gas-welded, steel-tube fuselages with wood frames, stringers, and wood wings. Today many of the wood parts have deteriorated to the point that some can’t even be used as templates. When this happens you have to fall back to the Fairchild drawings. Only the most critical airframe dimensions were located by tooling; wooden parts were built to fit each airframe. This makes very few wooden parts interchangeable. The wood part drawings were made to document a part provided by the shop, which fit one specific airframe. Parts built to those dimensions most likely will not fit another airframe. Carefully following drawings with dimensions that aren’t likely to be correct is frustrating. The best thing to do is treat the drawing as a loose representation of the part, and then build it (whatever it is) to fit as needed.

According to Seifert: “Fairchild did a fairly good job documenting changes. They often improved their original designs by adding stiffening details to weld assembly drawings. The revised design would be used if the original part had to be replaced. After several such successive revisions, the original part and the replacement parts might look quite different, but the replacement part would still fit and function properly.”

Also upstairs, in addition to the sewing machine and some odds and ends (like tail feathers and old props), is a sofa and TV for relaxing the little grey cells after a challenging day.

Restorers of old airplanes like Seifert are, by necessity, engineers, mechanics, researchers, and forensic document experts. It’s sometimes a struggle, but in the end, it’s worth it to see these beautiful birds restored to their former glory, if not better.


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