Progress Update – HS & VS finished, working on elevators

I have been meaning to do a couple posts to get caught up on my progress but I just keep getting further and further behind on it, so I’m just going to do one post covering everything. The quick summary is that I’m now finished with the horizontal stabilizer, vertical stabilizer, and have started the elevators.

The first issue I ran into with the horizontal stabilizer was when I riveted the attachment brackets onto the front spar. I gave some of the rivets “smiley’s” while setting them and instead of stopping and figuring out what I was doing wrong I just kept going. So in the end about half of the rivets in each bracket had (what I would consider) fairly bad smiley’s. They looked like this:

I got some opinions from Van’s and a couple local builders and 2/3 said I should replace them, so I did. Because these rivets go through about half an inch of parts, I followed a tip I found on VAF that suggested drilling almost all the way through them using a drill bit for the next size smaller rivet. Then insert a punch into that hole in the rivet and punch them out. When I did this, I wasn’t perfectly aligned with the drill so some of the holes got enlarged, and misshapen slightly. Since these brackets are pretty important, I had a tech counselor come take a look at the holes to see if I should replace the parts but he thought they didn’t look too bad. I also emailed Van’s about it a bunch and the person I spoke to also felt that they should be ok. So I put some new rivets in them and once I get the plane flying, I’ll be sure to keep a close eye on them to make sure they are holding up well.

We didn’t have any really big issues with the rest of the HS. Meggin helped me with all of the flush rivets in the skin because I don’t trust myself to use the flush set on the rivet gun and the bucking bar at the same time without putting a dent in the skin. I did have to drill out quite a few rivets because working in the tight space of the inside of the HS cause me to slip with the bucking bar and damage some rivets. Two of the gave me so much trouble that I ended up having to replace them with oops rivets. Here are some pictures from the rest of the HS build:

Next, we moved on to riveting the skin onto the vertical stabilizer. I hadn’t done it yet because I was considering running wires through the VS to connect a camera that I would install in the tip of the VS. I couldn’t decide how I wanted to do that so I had been holding off on finished the VS. I finally gave up on that idea and decided that if I want a camera there, I can temporarily attach a camera for the flights I actually want to record.

Some of the rivets on the skin of the VS were hard to do simply because I had to reach my arm all the way into the VS to get to the middle ribs and that made it difficult to see what I was doing. Another section has you peeling part of the skin up so that you can reach the rivets in the front spar. I really didn’t like this part because I couldn’t see what I was doing with the bucking bar at all. I know some people mange to do all of this work by themselves, but I’m glad I had Meggin to help me. Even with help though I managed to slip off of a rivet on the front spar and added a small bucking bar shaped dent to the skin. It’s not too bad so I’m hoping that after it’s painted it won’t even be noticeable at all.

So one weekend we got the HS finished and the next weekend we finished the VS. It was a very satisfying week 🙂

Now, I’m working on the elevators. Luckily I already had most of the parts deburred, but it still took me several hours to debur the spars and skins. So far, I have bent the close out tabs on the skins, I have drilled the trim cable routing holes, which was my first time using a unibit, and I have begun clecoing everything together.



Started riveting horizontal stabilizer

Last night I got started riveting the first parts of the horizontal stabilizer together. I used the pneumatic squeezer for most of it but had to use the rivet gun for some of the rivets. The rivets I did with the gun are not perfect, but I think they turned out fairly good. At the end of the night I had an assembly that looked like this:


In the weeks before this I spent a lot of time countersinking all of the holes in the spars and stringers and then priming everything. The single flute cutter I ordered worked really well right up until it broke so I switched back to the 3-flute cutter I had been using. A common issue people have with the 3-flute cutter is that it chatters in the hole and creates a bunch of small ridges in the countersink. I found that using my electric drill on the slow speed setting seemed to prevent this from happening, and also helped me avoid having the bit cut sideways through the hole.

I broke up the priming into two sessions. I primed the skins during the first session and everything else on second.  The second session turned out do be my longest priming session to date. Even with Meggin’s help prepping the parts for primer it was close to a 6 hour session. I wasn’t sure we removed all of the residue from etching the parts so we decided to go back and clean everything again so that added a lot of time, plus I was using a new spray gun that I had to learn how to use first.

Horizontal Stabilizer ribs dimpled and countersinking trouble

I’ve finished dimpling all of the HS ribs. I started using the 1-inch Scotch-Brite light deburring wheel in a cordless drill to finish off the deburring of the holes in the ribs. Compared to the tools I have been using to debur holes I like this method a lot better. Unless someone tells me this is a terrible idea I think I”ll stick with it.

I also started to countersink the stringers and ran into a couple issues. Some of the holes got countersunk way too far because the countersink cage adjustment came loose without me realizing it. I’ll make sure I tighten it better from now on and will also recheck it regularly while I use it.

The other problem I encountered was the countersink bit cutting it’s way through the part, starting to turn the hole into a line. I think this happened because the part is thin enough that the ends of the cutting parts of the countersink bit extend just far enough down the pilot of the bit to cut into the side of the hole. Here is a picture of the back side of one of the holes I messed up when I was countersinking it.


I decided to spend some time practicing on scrap parts of the same thickness and found that I’m not very good at stopping the bit from moving sideways through the part. Typically I use a 3-flute countersink bit but I do have one single flute bit from the tools I am borrowing from a friend. I decided to give this one a try to see if I had the same trouble with it, and I was happy to find out that it didn’t seem to want to start cutting sideways at all. Even pushing directly on the side of the tool while it was cutting didn’t cause it to cut sideways through the hole so I ordered one of these in the size I need.

I can still use the 3-flute bits that I have but I’ll need to back up the part with a block of wood or something with a hole for the pilot bit to extend into and clamp it in place so that the bit can’t move sideways at all. Or I could just put it in my drill press.

Horizontal Stabilizer Deburring

I’ve been slowly deburring the holes I final drilled in all of the horizontal stabilizer parts over the last week and a half or so. I haven’t spent too much time working on it because my weekends have been pretty busy and deburring holes is one of my least favorite things to do so it’s been tough to get motivated to do it. Also, I never feel like the tools I have for deburring the holes are very effective. It’s probably user error but for the most part it just seems like the tools push the burrs around without actually removing them. I’ve tried not to worry about it too much since scuffing all of the parts with the Scotch-Brite pad while prepping for priming helps to clean up the holes, but I want to make sure they are deburred properly before I dimple everything. I did some reading on the VAF forums and have decided to dry using some 3M roloc discs in an angle grinder. The blue discs, which are listed as having a fine texture, are what people use and I think they are even less aggressive than the maroon pads I use before priming. If this works the way I’m hoping it will then it should really speed up the deburring process. I’ve got some ordered and will have them later this week so I’ll be able to try them out soon.

I’m also considering using the “light deburring” Scotch-Brite wheels that I recently bought as well. I’ve got a 6-inch wheel in my bench top buffer, and a couple 1-inch wheels for use in my hand held grinder. They are MUCH less aggressive than the other wheels I have been using and do a great job of removing burs without changing the shape of the part. Of course, if I hold the part on the wheel in one spot long enough it will remove a lot of material, but it’s much slower than the “cut & polish” wheel that originally came with my tool kit.

Horizontal Stabilizer Assembled!

Two nights ago I got to see the HS assembled for the first time!


I was surprised at how easy the cradles made it to get the nose ribs clecoed into place in the leading edge of the skin. I figured it would be a struggle to get them all the way down into the leading edge and then clecoed but the cradles made it a complete non-event. Like many other builders I think, this is the first time where I have not had enough of the silver clecos. I’m going to do the best I can with what I’ve got, but I know I’m going to need a LOT more when I get to the wings so I’ll order some more soon.

Last night, I got the rear spar clecoed into place and started final drilling. In the time I had to work on it, I managed to get the bottom of the left side of the HS drilled. It is going to take a while to get the rest of it drilled….


Horizontal Stabilizer Update

I’ve gotten quite a bit of work done since my last update. I finished deburring almost all of the parts for the elevators, and after speaking with Ed Kranz about priming before drilling I’ve decided to stick with the original order of priming just before riveting. He pointed out that in the process of assembling to drill the parts and then disassembling to debur them that I would probably scrap off a lot of primer. It turns out that he had to clear primer out of the holes on his plane as well and he suggested just using the reamer by hand. He also suggested attaching a drill stop to the reamer to help with turning the bit in the holes.

I also found time to get the HS spars primed. It took two nights of priming because I was spraying them in the backyard and I ran out of daylight. This was pretty frustrating so I’ll make sure that any more priming I do outside happens much earlier.

I finished deburring the ribs that I replaced as well as the nose ribs. The nose ribs need to be shaped a little bit at their tip so that they don’t create little dents in the HS skin. The plans show you changing the shape of the edges to look more like where I drew the lines on the part in this picture:


I wasn’t sure about how to do this without removing so much material that there wasn’t much left on the flanges between the hole and the edge of the flange. I emailed Van’s with the picture below to clarify how it was supposed to go and was told the one of the right was more like what I needed to do. Apparently the dents mainly come from the curved part of the flange where it isn’t very flexible.


Here is what the nose ribs looked like when I was finished:


I also spent some time fluting the flanges of the ribs. The process that is used to bend the ribs into shape causes them to develop a curve along there length. Fluting involves putting small crimps into some of the flanges which straightens them out. You can see the crimps I added to the rib in the picture below and how flat it sits on the work bench. I was worried about over-fluting it so I went slowly. They aren’t perfect, but they’re much better than they were and are good enough for me.


Next, I finally started riveting together the front and rear spar assemblies.

After that I clecoed the ribs to the front spar and final drilled the holes they share with the spar web. It’s really cool seeing such a large part coming together.


Once that was done, I deburred the HS skins and got the cradles ready that will be used to hold the whole stabilizer up while I work on it.

I also had one stringer left that I needed to trim (because I wasn’t happy with the first one I trimmed so I replaced it) and I learned a few things. First, don’t touch the aluminum right after cutting it. It gets very hot, particularly if the band saw blade is dull. I have a nice burn in my thumb showing the edge of the part that I grabbed. Second, don’t try to use a band saw with a dull blade…it doesn’t work very well. Third, I do much better with a hacksaw. I’ve made this same exact type of cut on eight or nine other pieces of aluminum angle, and the ones I did with the hack saw after burning myself and realizing how dull the band saw blade is, are by far the straightest cuts I’ve made so far.

Lots of deburring

I have primed some of the smaller parts of the HS but while waiting for a good chance to prime the spars I decided to start deburring the ribs. There’s a lot of ribs so it took me several hours over a few days. Afterwards, I noticed I got a little carried away with the deburring wheel on some of them so I decided to reorder the few that I was uncomfortable with.

In the meantime, I started deburring parts for the elevators. I’ve been working on deburring all of the elevator parts because I’ve decided I want to try switching up my process a little bit. For the elevators, and maybe the rest of the HS, I am going to try priming the parts before I do the final drilling. The issue I’m having with priming after all of the drilling is that the rivets frequently don’t fit easily into the holes. Most of the time when this happens I end up having to run a reamer through the hole to clean it up a little bit. I don’t think this has much of an affect on the size or shape of the hole, but I’d be more comfortable if I didn’t have to do this extra step.

Life got busy with a camping trip for Memorial Day and then yard work so I haven’t actually got much work done over the last couple weeks but I’m hoping to change that soon.