Metal airplanes take a whole bunch of specialized tools, most not likely to be found in the average tool box. I have a basic workshop already, but taking inventory of what I already have against the Sonex recommended tool list, only the following tools really apply to this project:

  • Bench-top drill press
  • 4" Belt sander
  • Saber saw
  • Fly cutter
  • Basic drill bit set, including one UniBit and Ĺ"-1" large diameter drill bit set
  • Clamps (need more though)
  • A few clecos and cleco pliers
  • Other basic carpentry and misc small tools

My tool strategy starts like this: Buy low cost hand tools to start with. This included hand sheers and snips, fluting pliers, hand seamer, drill bits, debur tool and ScotchBrite wheel, files, and the rubber faced hammers. I shopped around and came up with a list of tools to buy from each supplier (based on best price, but trying not to buy just one tool and have to pay shipping). I call this the initial mail order tool list, or essentially what I need to reasonably get stated.

Next, buy locally the power tools that I need. Since I already have a drill press and belt sander, this just leaves the bench grinder for the ScotchBrite wheel, the bending break, and maybe the "Nice to Haveís", like the compound miter saw, table saw and the router. More on those in a minute.

I will purchase the power tools as needed, or as "targets of opportunity" when browsing the sale flyers!

Talking to other builders, there are multiple ways to attack the same part. For example, skins can be cut with hand snips or Andy shears, air tools like nibblers and air shears, band saw with a waxed blade (I have heard of using everything from 6 TPI wood cutting blades to 18 TPI metal cutting blades, with varying results for each), table saw with a metal cutting blade, and most recently the Sheet Metal Cutter from Grizzly Tool (very promising and cheap!).

Angle stock can be cut with a hack saw, hand miter saw, compound miter saw, saber saw, band saw, or table saw, and are commonly shaped using a band saw and file, or with a router and a ball bearing flush cut bit. Each method has positive and negative aspects, but it seems that the major negative is just the need to purchase another expensive tool that you may not already own (maybe not so bad after all).

Ultimately, I decided on the following:

  • Use the band saw for the majority of the metal cutting.
  • Shop around for a good deal on a Compound Miter Saw for the angle stock. (In retrospect, this really wasn't necessary.)
  • Use hand shears or the Sheet Metal Cutter for the larger pieces and skins.
  • Purchase an inexpensive grinder and bending break (Harbor Freight).
  • I donít own a compressor or air tools, so unless I find a good deal early on a compressor, I will rely on electric drills and hand shears.
  • I will eventually need a pneumatic rivet puller, but I will defer that (and the compressor) until later.

Using my strategy, I developed my own recommended tool list (updated after finishing the plane).

I estimated (and later verified) the cost of tools to comfortably and efficiently build the Sonex at around $1000 - $1200. This is still very reasonable in my opinion (compared to upwards of $2500 for an RV).


NOTE: If you do not see a menu frame on the left, click here to reload the full page.
Updated: 20 Apr 07