Woodwork

Piper PA 18 Supercub clone build

Ever dream of doing something really different – daring even? Here is a prime example of such a dream…

Build a real aeroplane that really flies!

The aircraft of my choice is the Piper PA-18, better known as the Supercub. Well, pretty darned close anyway, as I have ordered complete plans and construction manual for a ‘Light Miniature Aircraft’ clone of the original Piper (one of many clones that exist) on the internet and hope to receive them soon 🙂

I am 65 now and can expect around 2500 hrs of building-time spread over probably at least five years (finances notwithstanding), so whether I ever get to fly the bird is another, unimportant, question. By that time 70 years old, maybe one of my children will finish the project and learn to fly in the cub if I go soft in the head in the meantime; maybe it will be sold on unfinished (I really would expect to finish it, though, as far as finances allow).

Of course, in order to build something like this, there are a few things to consider.

First off on the practical side is the problem of space and the equipment to do it, neither of which I have – yet! On the equipment side, I need a drop-saw, bandsaw, a drill-stand, face-sander and a TIG-welding setup. I have most of the hand-tools, drills, measuring tools and such like already 🙂

The necessary manual skills I believe to have acquired over the years – ‘advanced’ woodworking as a qualified industrial patternmaker to the foundry industry and a few of years of very exacting  TIG-welding for a living (still). I spent years in Australia working in an aircraft museum restoring warbirds, a bit on a P-38, quite a lot on a P-39 and some more on an F4U Corsair. Electrics and avionics shouldn’t be a problem, covering the frame will probably be a challenge.

I also flew everything I had a chance to, as well, while I was there; training mostly in a Cessna 152 Aerobat, but also in a C172 and a “gutless Cutlass”.

Chances to fly taken up notably in a Harvard, PT 17, Tiger Moth, AN-2 and a Trojan, taildragger endorsement in a Supercub. There’s the link!

A lovely little aircraft for low and slow and with excellent manners and short-field capability built in 🙂

So here, as time goes by, I will note my progress, failures and successes. The Start will be SLOW, as there are things at home that have to be addressed as well – particularly Armstrong, who is completely aircraft crazy at the tender age of 14 months and is actually the one who planted the seed in my brain 🙂

 

Ca 1915 Masspacher guitar resto 2

And so it was, that Maryna and I went off to England on a false hope and the belief that we could settle there for my retirement. Well, that didn’t materialise (in retrospect I can only say ‘Thank God!’) and so we returned to Germany in August 2017 to Plön in the north and were there until the work (and the owner of the Boatbuilding yard) I was doing there proved unfruitful and so the die was set to return to the Bielefeld area, where at least three of my children were near. We landed here in mid March, just before lockdown – but that is another story!

Vincent had looked after the Masspacher for me and returned it soon after our arrival here and the original work restarted. It had neither deteriorated nor improved, so I scraped off all the old shellack to allow it to breathe and gave it a regular good soaking, inside and out. After a few weeks, that paid off and the width-dimension of the top and back were very close, but there was another problem: the length had hardly changed at all, so the top was about ⅛” or 3mm too short. Added to that, the cross-spars inside had to be shortened at the ends to compensate for the change in dimensions of the sides and edging, so the top had to be pried free and reglued after shortening the spars. Although it doesn’t show on the photos, the top was not just split down the middle, either.

Here is the back after the scraping – beautiful, even if ‘only’ veneer over ply 🙂

The soundhole after securing the loose pieces…

After carefully fiddling all that together without actually removing the top altogether, that was when the difference in the length of the top (along the grain) became really evident at the bottom and a plan had to made, to make the whole thing go back together playable again.

First the edging/purfling had to be removed as non-destructively as possible to ascertain the exact amount of ‘fill’ required. Thankfully a little gentle heating had the desired effect, even though the ebony had become very brittle and was showing the stress of the original bending around the curves of the body by being unfortunately rather flaky.

I decided to use some 40-year-old old spruce and ebony veneer that ‘I had lying about’ to fill the lost space, carefully feathering the ends and building up to the final dimension at the bottom of the curve of the top. The cut was lengthwise along the grain, as cross-cutting would have been very difficult to keep together and would never have matched the pattern and rhythm of the original grain anyway.

After having done that, it was time to carefully layer it all together while keeping the measurement close enough to put the original purfling back without steps in either direction – not quite always possible, but close enough. The white was celluloid, so easy enough to scrape down – carefully!

The difference can best be seen from the centre to the bottom of this photo, where the ply of the top and the sides is better revealed. That is the space that had to be ‘veneered-up’

Here are the first plies being tried. You can see how the gap at the bottom (on the right) is wider and narrows towards the sides, in this case on the left of the pic.

First one in place (on the other side):

Layered up and ready for the final check with the purfling.

Now have to turn my attention to the top near the fingerboard on each side and the ‘waist’, where the shrinkage of the sides was most apparent

Now pretty much ready to fix the edges back on

Taping the purfling on to double-check dimensions

The purfling at the top has separated, so needed special care when fitting, so as not to lose any of the brittle veneer in-between the celluloid strips

Here it is a bit more obvious, but the top is not looking bad for 100 years old! It can also be seen that the celluloid has lost some ‘length’, resulting in a gap in the middle, which will be covered by the rather nice (and typical of the French guitars of the period) tailpiece – or string-holder – 

Ca 1915 Masspacher guitar resto 1

The story of this guitar as far as my ownership is concerned, goes back about two and a half years. I bought it on eBay ‘for a song’ in France, where it was made – in Paris. As far as I can work out from research, it was made between 1915 and 1920, which makes it about 100 years old 🙂 Masspacher was a retailer and manufacturer, with a shop and workshop and was better known for its accordions. This particular guitar is unusual and quite rare, as they were made in their own ‘artisanal’ workshop and preempted the gypsy-jazz or manouche style, which they also made later on in ‘petit-bouche’ after the Selmer/Macaferri makers in the late 20s and 30s.

It was in a sad state when I received it, damaged from being too long in too dry an environment (centrally-heated?) and as such the wood of the top was split and had shrunk in all directions. I started by stripping it down as far as possible, also removing the frets and the varnish/laquer, so that it could breathe again and the top could take up some moisture from the atmosphere. I made a simple humidifier and hung it in the wash-cellar for months on end in an attempt to humidify it. Here are a few pics of it in it’s condition as I received it back then in 2017? It looks a lot better in the pics than it really was, as the shrinkage was everywhere…

There was a sponge inside the pot which was wetted every day and the whole thing was hung in the wash teller foe a few months, until we left for the UK…