Tools and equipment that I use to build a Cozy Mark IV

Tools... Tools... Tools!

Building a composite homebuilt aircraft does not require a lot of special tools or equipment. Actually, almost all of the jigs, fixtures, and special tools are things you will build yourself by following the airplane construction plans.

With that being said, however, even though you do not need a lot of tools to build a composite/canard aircraft, these tools listed here are really useful. This page of tools, fixtures, and equipment is a bit long and may grow over time, but do not be fooled into the mindset of needing a bunch of tools in order to get started.

All of the cutting could be done with a utility knife and a hack-saw. A regular carpenter's level is exactly how the designers of these aircraft took their measurements. Some of the fixtures that I list are not necessary at all, and most certainly not necessary to get started. As a matter of fact, you do not need a table any bigger than a piece of solid plywood on top of a couple of sawhorses to complete all of chapter 4 (the bulkheads). This page just makes suggestions of things to consider when your spouse asks what you want for your birthday!

The Fein Multimaster is my favorite tool in the shop. I use it every single time I am doing any work. It cuts through cured fiberglass like a sharp utility knife cutting cardboard. Pictured below are the two accessories that make the Fein Tool a valuable fiberglass tool, the flush cut HSS (high speed steel) blade and the segmented HSS blade. The tool and the blades are expensive, so get them all at once so that you can suffer one big heart-attack rather than three heart attacks. Current price via the same online tool reseller I purchased mine from (as of March 2007) is about $340 for the Fein MultiMaster XL Kit which includes the two blades I recommend, a nice metal case, and a bunch of other accessories. These tools are now being advertised on infomercials with a schedule of payments. This is the only thing I have ever seen on an infomercial that was worth buying. I wouldn't want to be building a composite airplane without one of these. Burt Rutan did it. Nat Puffer (designer of the Cozy) also did it. But I wouldn't want to, and this is the very first tool that I would suggest new builders get.

Fein MultimasterFein MultimasterFein Multimaster

Long after I started using mine, I started seeing the Fein Multimaster advertised in hour-long television infomercials. I was surprised to see that because typically the only thing on those kinds of "shows" is junk. The Fein Multimaster is the only thing I have ever seen on one of those broadcasts that I would ever consider buying.

The SmartTool digital level made by MD Building Products is a high-tech version of a regular spirit level or carpenter's level. This tool gives you the ability to measure angles down to 0.1 degree or use it as an audible level-finder. There are a few versions. I have the full size long version, but a smaller one would certainly be suitable. You can just get the electronics as a separate unit and attach it to any level you want. . This would be the way to go. It is easily calibrated and easy to use

smarttool digital level

A cloth storage cabinet and fold-down cutting table is a very useful fixture for the shop. It is easily constructed (but you wouldn't think so if you saw my first one) and you will use it every day. The cabinet is designed to keep your fiberglass cloth clean and dry while providing a convenient way of cutting on a table. In the photo to the left, you can see the closed cabinet has two pieces of plywood that are actually the legs of the table. When I open the box, the legs extend by themselves due to the hinges at the top. Inside, I have added a few dowels for a variety of material along with some shelves. Inside the cabinet, I put a power strip so that my Dritz Electric Scissors is always charged up right where I will use it. On my table area, I have markings drawn out for cutting BID at a 45 degree angle along with several lines used for convenient measurement. Today, this cabinet is organized with bins for clean and usable scraps of UNI, BID, and peel ply.
Fiberglass storage cabinetFiberglass storage cabinet and cutting table

A worktable is an important part of the project. This is a photo of my table taken after completion of Chapter 5, fuselage sides. The curved items to the right of the table are the fuselage sides. Following completion of the fuselage sides, I removed the legs of my table and installed very short legs and cut full width holes in my table with the circular saw so that the fuselage could be installed upside down with the instrument panel and firewall sticking through the holes in the table. My full size table legs will be re-installed later when I need the full height in later chapters. My shop floor is not as level as I would like, so my table required some adjustable feet for perfect leveling. Chapter 5 makes a mess of the table with Bondo, epoxy, flox, and other things, but after a few minutes with the belt sander and some very coarse abrasive, the table looking brand new just before I start cutting holes in it. Overall size is 12 foot 4 3/8 inches in length by 3 foot 4 inches wide.
Aircraft building workbench Workbench table legs with leveling feet for building an experimental aircraft

Stanley makes a tape measure with both standard fractional-inch markings on one side and decimal inch markings on the other. The plans specify this particular tape measure as a requirement due to the fact that 90% of the measurements in the plans are called out in decimal-inches rather than fractions of an inch. I have about 8 tape measures in the shop, but when I misplace this one, it drives me up the wall. Besides that, I like sticking with the same measurement tool for every measurement. Any inaccuracies in the measurement tools will be matched in every area of the plane. This tape measure is not carried at typical DIY stores. Wicks and Aircraft Spruce carry this product.

A belt sander is only a marginally handy tool. I only find myself using it in two ways- to clean my worktable clear of Bondo, flox, epoxy, and micro, or as a stationary sanding station. In order to use as a stationary sanding station, I take a few clamps and mount it to my worktable and use to clean up aircraft parts. A regular belt-disc combo sander would be a much better purchase. I really want a stationary belt/disc sander. (And, yes... my workshop is partially carpeted believe it or not, but I don't worry about ruining it.)

If you are thinking about getting a sander- get a Porter Cable (or similar brand) palm sander rather than a belt sander like shown here. You will use the palm sander a lot more.

Porter Cable belt sander

A band saw is a pretty useful tool. I originally had a small tabletop band saw made by Craftsman, but it really was not any good due to its size. This particular band saw is the Harbor Freight, cheap-Chinese-special, but it does the trick. This particular item goes on sale often and many Harbor Freight locations will allow you to apply the discount coupons available by e-mail to their periodic sales. I added a nice band saw table, made by Rockler Woodworking, to my Harbor Freight band saw to make a really nice and affordable combination. I paid around $140 or $150 for this saw brand new by watching for the sale and using coupons.
Harbor Freight band saw

Epoxy Hot Box / Warming Oven

Below are photos of my epoxy oven, often called a hot box, epoxy cabinet, or epoxy warming box. My epoxy box began its life as a piece of bedroom furniture, but when I was done with it, the interior had been lined with styrofoam insulation from the local Home Depot DIY store, with some of the interior further lined with aluminum foil attached with spray glue. I mounted it to the wall with a set of French Cleats so that it is easily removable, and later added a shelf to the bottom of the cabinet. Using a light bulb on a thermostat, the epoxy cabinet interior is generally kept at a nice toasty 100 deg F to keep each shot of epoxy at a nice low viscosity for super EZ layups. I took these photos a long time ago... the caution tape was only there for a short while after a little accident with the corner of the shelf.

  1. Start with a retired cabinet and optionally line the interior with insulation.
  2. Create a thermostat controlled heating element comprising the following: power cord, fuse and fuse holder, line-powered baseboard heater thermostat (available at your local hardware store), light bulb socket, low-wattage light bulb, and a piece of plywood.
    1. Wire the power cord to the baseboard heater thermostat
    2. Wire the light bulb socket to the thermostat.
    3. Mount everything on a piece of wood and place into the cabinet (or just mount everything to the cabinet itself).
    4. Plug it in and adjust the temperature to your liking.
    5. If you have a well-insulated box like mine, you will need a very low wattage bulb to maintain the temperature.
    6. Install a thermometer to monitor your temperature.
    7. Use common sense... don't create a shock hazard, fire hazard, or melting hazard. Remember- wood and styrofoam can burn, chemicals can catch fire, and electricity can hurt or cause sparks. Do not put any combustable material in the box.

My workshelf shelf on the bottom of the hot box has a removable lip of plywood to hold down some plastic sheeting and keep cups of epoxy and my digital scale from falling off the cabinet. Inside the cabinet, my epoxy pump is housed in a way that it is convenient to place a cup on the shelf, pull the handle of the pump for a 1.3 oz shot of epoxy, and verify my ratio on the digital scale if necessary.

The epoxy pump that I work with is the Portionator MBT Jr. made by Glemnarc. I chose this pump in part because of its all-metal construction and stainless steel tanks. If you use this pump, please note that you easily can rebuild this pump with new seals using basic hand tools. Detailed photos of the teardown and rebuild are available here (opens in a new window). One thing to think about when using an epoxy ratio pump is your epoxy system choice. I have been building with MGS epoxy which has a nasty tendency to crystallize, causing problems with the hardener side of the epoxy ratio pump.
epoxy warm box / ovenepoxy warm-box and pump made by Glenmarc Portionator MBT Jr Epoxy Pump

Other important tools and fixtures include:

Cool tools that are nice to have, but you don't need

* = Highly suggested

I welcome your comments on this page.

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