Repair of Wood Aircraft Components | Aircraft Systems

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components


Wing Rib Repairs 

Ribs that have sustained damage may be repaired or replaced, depending upon the type of damage and location in the aircraft. If new parts are available from the aircraft manufacturer or the holder of a PMA for the part, it is advisable to replace the part rather than to repair it.

If you make a repair to a rib, do the work in such a manner and using materials of such quality that the completed repair is at least equal to the original part in aerodynamic function, structural strength, deterioration, and other qualities affecting airworthiness, such as fit and finish. When manufacturer’s repair manuals or instructions are not available, acceptable methods of repairing damaged ribs are described in AC 43.13-1 under Wood Structure Repairs.

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 1. A rib cap strip repair

When necessary, a rib can be fabricated and installed using the same materials and dimensions from a manufacturer-approved drawing or by reference to an original rib. However, if you fabricated it from an existing rib, you must provide evidence to verify that the dimensions are accurate and the materials are correct for the replacement part.

You can repair a cap strip of a wood rib using a scarf splice. The repair is reinforced on the side opposite the wing covering by a spruce block that extends beyond the scarf joint not less than three times the thickness of the strips being repaired. Reinforce the entire splice, including the spruce reinforcing block, on each side with a plywood side plate.

The scarf length bevel is 10 times dimension A (thickness of the rib cap strip) with the spruce reinforcement block being 16 times dimension A (the scarf length plus extension on either end of the scarf). The plywood splice plates should be of the same material and thickness as the original plates used to fabricate the rib. The spruce block should have a 5:1 bevel on each end. [Figure 1]


These specific rib repairs describing the use of one scarf splice implies that either the entire forward or aft portion of the cap strip beyond the damage can be replaced to complete the repair and replace the damaged section. Otherwise, replacement of the damaged section may require a splice repair at both ends of the replaced section of the cap strip using the indicated dimensions for cutting and reinforcing of each splice.

When a cap strip is to be repaired at a point where there is a joint between it and cross members of the rib, make the repair by reinforcing the scarf joint with plywood gussets, as shown in Figure 2.

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 2. Cap strip repair at cross member

If a cap strip must be repaired where it crosses a spar, reinforce the joint with a continuous gusset extending over the spar, as shown in Figure 3.

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 3. Cap strip repair at a spar

The scarf joints referred to in the rib repairs are the most satisfactory method of fabricating an end joint between two solid wood members. When the scarf splice is used to repair a solid wood component, the mechanic must be aware of the direction and slope of the grain. To ensure the full strength of the joint, the scarf cut is made in the general direction of the grain on both connecting ends of the wood and then correctly oriented to each other when glued. [Figure 4]

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 4. Relationship of scarf slope to grain slope

The trailing edge of a rib can be replaced and repaired by removing the damaged portion of the cap strip and inserting a softwood block of white pine, spruce, or basswood. The entire repair is then reinforced with plywood gussets and nailed and glued, as shown in Figure 5.

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 5. Rib trailing edge repair

Compression ribs are of many different designs, and the proper method of repairing any part of this type of rib is specified by the manufacturer. All repairs should be performed using recommended or approved practices, materials and adhesives.

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 6. Typical compression rib repair

Figure 6A illustrates the repair of a compression rib of the I section type (i.e., wide, shallow cap strips, and a center plywood web with a rectangular compression member on each side of the web). The rib damage suggests that the upper and lower cap strips, the web member, and the compression members are cracked completely through. To facilitate this repair, cut the compression members as shown in Figure 6D and repair as recommended using replacement sections to the rear spar. Cut the damaged cap strips and repair as shown in Figure 6, replacing the aft section of the cap strips. Plywood side plates are then bonded on each side diagonally to reinforce the damaged web as shown in Figure 6, A-A.

Figure 6B illustrates a compression rib of the type that is a standard rib with rectangle compression members added to one side and a plywood web to the other side. The method used in this repair is essentially the same as in Figure 6A, except that the plywood reinforcement plate, shown in Figure 6B-B, is continued the full distance between the spars.


Figure 6C illustrates a compression rib of the I type with a rectangular vertical member on each side of the web. The method of repair is essentially the same as in Figure 6A, except the plywood reinforcement plates on each side, shown in Figure 6C-C, are continued the full distance between the spars.

Wing Spar Repairs

Wood wing spars are fabricated in various designs using solid wood, plywood, or a combination of the two. [Figure 7]

When a spar is damaged, the method of repair must conform to the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations. In the absence of manufacturer’s instructions, contact the FAA for advice and approval before making repairs to the spar and following recommendations in AC 43.13-1. If instructions are not available for a specific type of repair, it is highly recommended that you request appropriate engineering assistance to evaluate and provide guidance for the intended repair.

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 7. Typical splice repair of solid rectangular spar

Shown in Figure 8 is a recommended method to repair either a solid or laminated rectangle spar. The slope of the scarf in any stressed part, such as a spar, should not be steeper than 15 to 1.

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 8. Typical splice repair of solid rectangular spar

Unless otherwise specified by the aircraft manufacturer, a damaged spar may be spliced at almost any point except at wing attachment fittings, landing gear fittings, engine mount fittings, or lift-and-interplane strut fittings. These fittings may not overlap any part of the splice. The reinforcement plates of the splice should not interfere with the proper attachment or alignment of the fittings. Taper reinforcement plates on the ends at a 5:1 slope [Figure 9].

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 9. Tapered faceplate

The use of a scarf joint to repair a spar or any other component of an aircraft is dependent on the accessibility to the damaged section. It may not be possible to utilize a scarf repair where recommended, so the component may have to be replaced. A scarf must be precisely cut on both adjoining pieces to ensure an even thin glue line; otherwise, the joint may not achieve full strength. The primary difficulty encountered in making this type of joint is obtaining the same bevel on each piece. [Figure 10]

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 10. Beveled scarf joint

The mating surfaces of the scarf must be smooth. You can machine smooth a saw cut using any of a variety of tools, such as a plane, a joiner, or a router. For most joints, you need a beveled fixture set at the correct slope to complete the cut. Figure 11 illustrates one method of producing an accurate scarf joint.

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 11. Making a scarf joint

Once the two bevels are cut for the intended splice, clamp the pieces to a flat guide board of similar material. Then, work a sharp, fine-tooth saw all the way through the joint. Remove the saw, decrease pressure, and tap one of the pieces on the end to close the gap. Work the saw again through the joint. Continue this procedure until the joint is perfectly parallel with matching surfaces. Then, make a light cut with the grain, using a sharp plane, to smooth both mating surfaces.

Another method of cutting a scarf uses a simple scarf-cutting fixture that you can also fabricate for use with a router. Extend the work piece beyond the edge so the finished cut results in a feathered edge across the end of the scarf. [Figure 12]

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 12. Scarf cutting fixture

There are numerous tools made by individuals, and there are commercial plans for sale with instructions for building scarf-cutting tools. Most of them work, but some are better than others. The most important requirement for the tool is that it produces a smooth, repeatable cut at the appropriate angle.

Local damage to the top or bottom edge of a solid spar may be repaired by removing the damaged portion and fabricating a replacement filler block of the same material as the spar. Full width doublers are fabricated as shown and then all three pieces are glued and clamped to the spar. Nails or screws should not be used in spar repairs. A longitudinal crack in a solid spar may be repaired using doublers made from the proper thickness plywood. Care must be taken to ensure the doublers extend the minimum distance beyond the crack. [Figure 13]

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 13. A method to repair damage to solid spar

A typical repair to a built-up I spar is illustrated using plywood reinforcement plates with solid wood filler blocks. As with all repairs, the reinforcement plate ends should be feathered out to a 5:1 slope. [Figure 14]

Repair of Wood Aircraft Components
Figure 14. Repairs to a built-up I spar

Repair methods for the other types of spar illustrated at the start of this section all follow the basic steps of repair. The wood used should be of the same type and size as the original spar. Always splice and reinforce plywood webs with the same type of plywood as the original. Do not use solid wood to replace plywood webs because plywood is stronger in shear than solid wood of the same thickness. The splices and scarf cuts must be of the correct slope for the repair with the face grain running in the same direction as the original member. Not more than two splices should be made in any one spar.

When a satisfactory repair to a spar cannot be accomplished, the spar should be replaced. New spars may be obtained from the manufacturer or the holder of a PMA for that part. An owner-produced spar may be installed provided it is made from a manufacturer-approved drawing. Care should be taken to ensure that any replacement spars accurately match the manufacturer’s original design.

Bolt and Bushing Holes

All bolts and bushings used in aircraft structures must fit snugly into the holes. If the bolt or bushing is loose, movement of the structure allows it to enlarge the hole. In the case of elongated bolt holes in a spar or cracks in close proximity to the bolt holes, the repair may require a new section to be spliced in the spar, or replacement of the entire spar.

All holes drilled in a wood structure to receive bolts or bushings should be of such size that inserting the bolt or bushing requires a light tapping with a wood or rawhide mallet. If the hole is so tight that heavy blows are necessary, deformation of the wood may cause splitting or unequal load distribution.

For boring accurate smooth holes, it is recommended that a drill press be utilized where possible. Holes should be drilled with sharp bits using slow steady pressure. Standard twist drills can be used in wood when sharpened to a 60° angle. However, a better designed drill was developed for wood boring called a lip and spur or brad point. The center of the drill has a spur with a sharp point and four sharp corners to center and cut rather than walk as a conventional drill sometimes does. It has the outside corner of the cutting edges leading, so that it cuts the periphery of the hole first and maximizes the chance that the wood fibers cut cleanly, leaving a smooth bore.


Forstner bits bore precise, flat bottomed holes in wood, in any orientation with respect to the wood grain. They must be used in a drill press because more force is needed for their cutting action. Also, they are not designed to clear chips from the hole and must be pulled out periodically to do this. A straight, accurate bore-through hole can be completed by drilling through the work piece and into a piece of wood backing the work piece.

All holes bored for bolts that are to hold fittings in place should match the hole diameter in the fitting. Bushings made of steel, aluminum, or plastic are sometimes used to prevent crushing the wood when bolts are tightened. Holes drilled in the wood structure should be sealed after being drilled. This can be accomplished by application of varnish or other acceptable sealer into the open hole. The sealer must be allowed to dry or cure thoroughly prior to the bolts or bushings being installed.