First finished assembly

Today I finished the T03-01 horizontal stabilizer main spar assembly. I started by trying to improve my tools for riveting in tight spaces. I ground down the spare (slightly larger) tip of the rivet gun to have an angle and also ground down some of the nose piece. The EAA has some helpful videos on this topic:

At first I ground the angle too steep and found the rivet stem would break off too high, at the point where if bent round into the nose of the gun. With a shallower angle I got more consistent results. There were still a couple rivets where the stem broke above the normal point but still below the top of the head and the shop side looked well set. I’m still at the stage where I’m worrying every little detail is going to kill me so I’m planning on getting some feedback on the rivets and what is acceptable.

IMG_0994  IMG_1004IMG_1005

I also noticed that sometimes the stem wouldn’t be pulled as deep into the rivet. This didn’t seem to correlate with the ones where the stem broke too high though. Again, I plan to get some advice on whether this is acceptable.


I also had time to up-drill and deburr the forward spar assembly (T03-05). This went much faster than the main spar now I had most of the techniques down. I found the blue surface conditioning discs in the die grinder made quick work of the hole deburring. I started with the vixen file to get the machining marks out of the spar but found the Scotchbrite wheel or the maroon pads did as good a job with less effort and less finishing work. I used a needle file and Scotchbrite pads on the detail areas. One note on the Scotchbrite wheel – I was initially trying to avoid the parts cutting a groove in the wheel by running them at an angle. I found the groove is actually very beneficial and lets you finish the face and corners of long straight edges in one pass.

IMG_1012 IMG_1016

Time: 7 hours

First rivets

Today I pulled the my first rivets! The Sonex is built from 6061 alloy which doesn’t need to be primed for corrosion protection, however the blind rivets used are made from stainless steel which raises the question of galvanic corrosion. Sonex say they have never seen a problem with galvanic corrosion but because I live by the coast I decided to add extra protection and use Duralac, a jointing compound that is designed to prevent galvanic corrosion, on each rivet. This product contains Barium Chromate (so wear gloves) and is popular for riveting stainless fittings to aluminium boat masts. Its also been recommended by a number of other Sonex builders.

This builder has posted some tests that show it is effective:


I just put a thin coat on each rivet before inserting. These rivets heads are going to the polished so I tired to avoid getting too much around the head but in the end it was easier to just wipe off the excess with some mineral spirits than try to be too precise applying it.


Some rivets on this part are very close to the edge, too close to get the pneumatic rivet gun in there. I’ve seen that people bent the stem so you can get the gun in at an angle and then used a wedge of material to help the rivet set properly. One half of my simple dimple die seemed like it would do a good job as a wedge but about one in three rivets would set with the head not flush with the part. Next steps are to improve my tools for riveting close to the edge, drill out the bad rivets and finsh riveting the spar.

Time: 2 hours

Surface prep discs

Today my friend Niels came over and we cleco’d together the forward spar. I received some very fine (blue) and super fine (white) surface prep discs from Pan American Tool and we tried blending out the scratches from using the medium (maroon) discs. They were pretty deep and I was worried about removing too much material blending them out so I decided not to polish before riveting and just did a pass with the blue and then the white discs.

In the future I’m going to stick with the blue ones for deburring and only use the maroon ones for deep machining marks. The white ones are overkill for deburring but probably great for fine blending before polishing.

Time: 1 hour

Starting Building


Over the past few months I have been slowly clearing out space in the basement below my office in San Francisco. It looks like it used to be an artist’s studio with multi-colour paint spatters on the floor. I’m really excited to have such a great space to begin my build – the only downside is that the only entrances involve a narrow doorways and steep steps. I’m pretty sure I can get the wings out of there but the fuselage is hopeless. Right now my plan is to build the major fuselage sub-assemblies there and do the final assembly in the hangar.



I’ve slowly been amassing the tools to start my build. I picked up a compressor from Craigslist, its a 30 gallon Sanborn. I’m planning on using air tools so its probably marginal but about as good as you can do on a 110V outlet. I picked up an air rivet gun, an air drill and a die grinder from Harbor Freight and so far I’m quite impressed with the value. I’ll probably upgrade the chuck on the drill at some point but the quality is better than expected. I got one of their carts to try and slow the inevitable diffusion of tools across all surfaces in the workshop.

Tool cart

My local Home Depot had good quality Wiss aviation snips for a good price!

I ordered a Cleco kit, drill bits and surface conditioning discs from Pan American Tool. For the items they stock they have the best prices I’ve seen anywhere online.

I also picked up a box each of the two different grades of 1″ deburring wheels from Nebraska Surplus for a fantastic price.

On Saturday I took another trip to Harbor Freight to pick up some tools – files, vice grip style C-clamps and some storage boxes. I also picked up a digital buffer which claims to have speed control like the expensive Makitas – we’ll see how it holds up. They also had some great parts storage boxes with removable compartments which made great boxes for rivets and clecos.

Cleco organisation Rivet organization

Starting Tail Kit

My tail kit was delivered in mid September but with family visiting from England it was only this Sunday that I was able to start the build. I started by laying out all the pieces of the horizontal stabilizer. Despite all the images I’ve seen in other people’s blogs, it was exciting to see vaguely airplane shaped parts laid out on the workbench in front of me for the first time.

The quality of the laser cut parts was great with hardly any flash or burrs. I decided to start with the T03-01 main spar assembly. The parts cleco’d together in no time, I just used a one in every other hole. The most challenging part was removing the little while part number labels from the factory but I found flux remover spray released the adhesive instantly so they could easily be peeled off.

T03-01 clecoing T03-01 clecoing 2

I did notice one small issue with the assembly – the T03-03 attach angle wasn’t sitting flush against the spar as it was riding up on the radius of the extrusion. There is a chamfer on the part to prevent this but it was not deep enough. I decided it was important to have good contact between the the surfaces for shear strength so I filed down the chamfer a small amount until the part sat flush.

T03-03 issue T03-03 filing

After clecoing I up-drilled to #30. I’m really glad I decided to get an air drill, its really small and light compared to an electric drill of the same power. There is nothing like a brand new drill bit through aluminium. With the high speed air drill it cut amazingly cleanly and easily, despite me being bit nervous to do the first irreversible operations on the parts.

Next I got to try out all the various deburring tools I had amassed. Some of the holes had a slight ridge that would have required quite a lot of material removal with the speedy hole deburr tool. I found the Pan American Tool medium surface conditioning discs in the die grinder made quick work of all the burrs around the holes and I followed up with a single turn with the speedy deburr tool, applying almost no pressure, just to make sure any chip inside the hole was cleared. The medium discs were quite aggressive and left fairly deep scratches that I’ll smooth out with a Scotchbrite pad. I ordered some very fine and super fine discs which hopefully will do a better job.

On the edges I experimented with the 6″ Scotchbrite wheel in the bench buffer as well as the 1″ general purpose wheels from Nebraska Surplus. The 6″ wheel was good on the long straight edges but was quite aggressive on the corners. The 1″ wheel was very soft but left a great finish without removing too much material. For the details around the corners I found a combination of a needle file and the 1″ wheel worked great.

The plan next is to rough polish the inside of the spar channel under the rivets to make it easier to polish up later.

Time: 5 hours