Sheet Metal Holding Devices for Aircraft Structure Repair

In order to work with sheet metal during the fabrication process, the aviation technician uses a variety of holding devices, such as clamps, vises, and fasteners to hold the work together. The type of operation being performed and the type of metal being used determine what type of the holding device is needed.

Clamps and Vises

Clamps and vises hold materials in place when it is not possible to handle a tool and the workpiece at the same time. A clamp is a fastening device with movable jaws that has opposing, often adjustable, sides or parts. An essential fastening device, it holds objects tightly together to prevent movement or separation. Clamps can be either temporary or permanent. Temporary clamps, such as the carriage clamp (commonly called the C-clamp), are used to position components while fixing them together.


The C-clamp is shaped like a large C and has three main parts: threaded screw, jaw, and swivel head. [Figure 1]

Sheet metal holding devices for aircraft structure repair
Figure 1. C-clamps

The swivel plate or flat end of the screw prevents the end from turning directly against the material being clamped. C-clamp size is measured by the dimension of the largest object the frame can accommodate with the screw fully extended. The distance from the center line of the screw to the inside edge of the frame or the depth of throat is also an important consideration when using this clamp. C-clamps vary in size from two inches upward. Since C-clamps can leave marks on aluminum, protect the aircraft covering with masking tape at the places where the C-clamp is used.


Vises are another clamping device that hold the workpiece in place and allow work to be done on it with tools such as saws and drills. The vise consists of two fixed or adjustable jaws that are opened or closed by a screw or a lever. The size of a vise is measured by both the jaw width and the capacity of the vise when the jaws are fully open. Vises also depend on a screw to apply pressure, but their textured jaws enhance gripping ability beyond that of a clamp.

Two of the most commonly used vises are the machinist’s vise and the utility vise. [Figure 2] The machinist’s vise has flat jaws and usually a swivel base, whereas the utility bench vise has scored, removable jaws and an anvilfaced back jaw. This vise holds heavier material than the machinist’s vise and also grips pipe or rod firmly. The back jaw can be used as an anvil if the work being done is light. To avoid marring metal in the vise jaws, add some type of padding, such as a ready-made rubber jaw pad.

Sheet metal holding devices for aircraft structure repair
Figure 2. A utility vise with swivel base and anvil

Reusable Sheet Metal Fasteners

Reusable sheet metal fasteners temporarily hold drilled sheet metal parts accurately in position for riveting or drilling. If sheet metal parts are not held tightly together, they separate while being riveted or drilled. The Cleco (also spelled Cleko) fastener is the most commonly used sheet metal holder. [Figure 3]

Sheet metal holding devices for aircraft structure repair
Figure 3. Cleco and Cleco plier

Cleco Fasteners

The Cleco fastener consists of a steel cylinder body with a plunger on the top, a spring, a pair of step-cut locks, and a spreader bar. These fasteners come in six different sizes: 3⁄32, 1⁄8, 5⁄32, 3⁄16, 1⁄4, and 3⁄8-inch in diameter with the size stamped on the fastener. Color coding allows for easy size recognition. A special type of plier fits the six different sizes. When installed correctly, the reusable Cleco fastener keeps the holes in the separate sheets aligned.

Hex Nut and Wing Nut Temporary Sheet Fasteners

Hex nut and wing nut fasteners are used to temporarily fasten sheets of metal when higher clamp up pressure is required. [Figure 4]

Sheet metal holding devices for aircraft structure repair
Figure 4. Hex nut fastener

Hex nut fasteners provide up to 300 pounds of clamping force with the advantage of quick installation and removal with a hex nut runner. Wing nut sheet metal fasteners, characterized by wing shaped protrusions, not only provide a consistent clamping force from 0 to 300 pounds, but the aircraft technician can turn and tighten these fasteners by hand. Cleco hex nut fasteners are identical to Cleco wing nut fasteners, but the Cleco hex nut can be used with pneumatic Cleco installers.