Building an airplane workshop: How at long last I got organized

I’m pretty notorious for being sloppy with my workshop. Notorious, at best. I guess I’m my father’s son. Dad is a metalworking artisan, and even though tools were apparently randomly arranged on his workbench, he never had trouble finding what he needed when he needed it. On the other hand, I would spend more time looking for tools than using them.

That’s no longer possible facing the intensive-building phase of the Cascadia Cruzer project. It would add many hours to the build if it’s necessary to dig around for the right drill. It’s all behind me now.

In large part I’ve been influenced by the fantastic aerospace lab at Renton Technical College, where I’m learning about machining and building aluminum airplanes. It’s amazing how much faster and enjoyable it is to work in a well-organized and well-equipped shop. Amazing for the old me, at least.

Here’s how the tool chests are organized at Tech.

So, in the break after my most recent post, I’ve been acquiring a few specialized tools and upgrading some general-purpose tools, like power tools. (Also, I’ve been knocking off a bunch of small projects around the house on the backlog, which will help me focus on the airplane.) And I’ve overhauled the workshop to accomodate what’s coming. All redundant tools are now stored away, and only “live” ones are in the toolbox. The airplane tools — pneumatic cleco pliers, hand drill-powered rivet puller, deburring tools and the like — are in their own drawer. Other drawers are for socket sets, SAE wrenches, metric wrenches, drivers, bits. On the pegboard are shears, hand cleco pliers, hand rivet puller.

About half of the clecos required are in stock — I got a great deal on used pieces from a fellow EAA’er who built a Sonex. They were a little dirty, with light surface corrosion, and an overnight soak in mineral spirits made them as shiny as new. The rest of clecos are coming in a week or so from an eBay seller. Rivets are laid out in a plastic container, labeled and structured. I also made a handy little tool from a dowel that will make it easier to grab and place thousands of rivets I’ll be playing with over the next year.

This need for this kind of organization is pretty obvious, but it’s never been much of a priority for me. Until now.

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Dean Betz

I'm a lifelong journalist and aviation wannabe.