Successful Homebuilding: Picking your battles

Builders

One of the things new builders nearly always underestimate is the sheer magnitude of the task of building a plane. The two parts they really get off track on are: 1) learning new skills, and 2) Saving money.  Successful homebuilding involves making many choices, but it is particularly critical that builders pick these battles carefully. The fundamental issue is that they must make this choice, when they don’t yet have a personal understanding of the scale of the subjects.

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Above: Powder Tech Plus, Orange Park Florida. It may not be photogenic, but this is a massive facility devoted to just Powder Coating for 30 years. It is, owned, run and operated by one guy, who is an outstanding businessman, and he can personally do any task in his facility as well or better than any person on his crew. He works 6am to 5pm six days a week. He and his wife work side by side and are incredibly pleasant and professional.  If you have ever seen a part from my catalog which has powder coating on it, it was done here. I have never heard him utter a single negative word about any other shop offering powder coating, but in classic American style, he buried many of them with superior product, service and price. Only a very egotistical or foolish person would start a new powder coating shop in this area, as the owner of this one has left nothing on the table and has no chinks in his armor.

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Our EAA chapter meets 18 miles from Powder Tech.  About six months ago, a guy working on his first plane told me he was looking into buying an Eastwood home Powder Coating kit. I stopped him and gave him the paragraph above, verbally. His response was “I can save money by doing it at home”  he started to say something about quality, but something about the face I was making stopped him from finishing the thought.

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I explained to him that to finish a plane, you need to pick your battles. I have 100% of my coating done by Powder Tech because I’m not interested in becoming an expert on that, and it is lunacy to believe that I could do a better job nor “Save Money”, besides, the goal was to build a plane, not save money. I tried to point out that 80% of the people who start a plane don’t finish it, and I have personally met maybe 500 people who have finished a plane, but I have also spoken with say, 5,000 who never finished one, and a common trait of 80% of them was picking the wrong place to try to ‘save money’. I could tell he wasn’t listening, and I politely said “You have a plans built plane which is 10% done, and I have the EAA’s Major Achievement award, do you think there is any possibility I might be right about this?” but it didn’t move him.

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If I sound short with a guy who just wanted to coat his own stuff, you need one more story to get the full picture. The same guy told me at a meeting 4 years ago that he was “Going to learn how to weld” because he wanted to “save money” and not buy the optional steel tube fuselage for his plans built plane. Learning to weld is an OK idea if you want to posses the skill, and are willing to invest a lot of time, with good instruction, to get there. That isn’t the same as wanting to save money. In the end, perhaps he learned it the hard way, because he has never mentioned getting very far with welding.

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Even if a builder did have the correct motivation to learn to weld, few new guys understand that you can learn to play an instrument or converse in a foreign language in the same length of time as you can become a decent aircraft welder. A sour note or a mispronounced word will not affect you as a cold weld on a stressed part will.  There are other skill sets like this in homebuilding, and new builders need to keep in mind that the goal was to build a plane, and the should pick their battles carefully and listen closely to valid advice.

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There is nothing wrong with purchasing parts of the project so that the quality stays high, the project stays on a reasonable time line, and you keep advancing toward the finish line, while learning. It just isn’t a reasonable goal for a guy with a full time job to set out to master nearly every aircraft skill, while making every part the least expensive way, and still get a plane done while he is still healthy enough to enjoy it for a long time. I have seen a lot of builders succeed by making good decisions, and having selected skill goals, and being willing to spend some money to keep the project advancing.

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About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

3 Responses to Successful Homebuilding: Picking your battles

  1. Phil Maxson says:

    You’re BAAaaack! So glad to see you writing again. Thank you for writing this.

    This is the kind of inspiring philosophy that helped me understand what homebuilding was all about. You started teaching me these things when I worked in your hangar for all those hours many years ago. In fact this idea was fundamental to me finishing my plane. Knowing:
    1. When to spend money to save time?
    2. When to spend money to buy skills I don’t want to learn on this project?
    3. When to spend money to increase safety?
    4. When to spend money to keep the momentum of the project going?

    Good stuff! Make us think! Keep it coming.

  2. John Francis says:

    I believe that is the best piece of knowledge you have ever shared with a builder!

  3. jaksno says:

    Wise.

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