I was sitting under a shade tent at a giant-scale fun fly recently when someone asked me where I got the longer-than-standard-size materials I use to build my big airplanes. I didn’t know what the fellow meant. He told me that his local hobby shop carried only 36-inch lengths of balsa and spruce, and that 48-inch-long sticks were available only by special order. I said that I regularly splice my stringers and spars and think nothing of it. “But how do you do it safely?” he asked.
These tips show some common construction techniques and how wood splicing should be done.
When you want to turn two pieces of wood into one, you can’t simply glue them together. Some cutting and fitting is necessary so that the splice will bear as much stress as the original wood pieces. To accomplish this, you have to increase the gluing area for the splice by cutting the two mating surfaces in a diagonal line.
The weakest, least supported joint you can make is a simple butt joint. Gluing two pieces of wood together end to end provides very little surface area for the glue. Overlapping the two pieces is a much stronger way to join them, but if you want to use the part as a stringer or a spar, the overlap isn’t practical because the pieces are not attached in a straight line. A diagonal splice keeps both pieces in alignment. As a general rule, I make the length of a splice at least six times the thickness of the material being glued together—roughly 3 inches across for a 1/2-inch-square spar.
To make the two pieces match precisely, I first tack-glue the two parts on top of each other with a few drops of thick CA while making sure the edges of each stick are flush. I then draw a straight diagonal line at the ends to be joined (see photos). I use my band saw to make the cut, and I make certain it is square to the top edge. I then sand the cut surfaces (still glued together) smooth with a belt sander. When the two parts are separated, the two angled surfaces match perfectly.
To keep the two pieces aligned when I glue them together, I use a simple, wooden alignment jig. The jig is made with a flat base and two guide pieces (rails) glued on top that form a space between them that’s the same as the thickness of the pieces being glued together. For the jig shown here, I used pieces cut from an old yardstick to act as rails. I also use a piece of Great Planes’ Plans Protector material to prevent the parts from being glued to the jig when the adhesive oozes out of the joint.
To form the glue joint, I place one piece in the jig and spray it with a light mist of kicker. I then apply CA to the second piece and slide it into the jig and up against the first piece. After the glue has set, I use a sanding block to sand the face of the joint smooth. I then turn the part over and sand the opposite face smooth as well. That’s it. No magic—just a very strong joint.
Here’s a sheeting joint using similar thinking, from my Balsa USA Fokker Dr.1 Triplane. All according to the instructions.