Repair of Wood Aircraft Structures – Suitable Wood (Part One)

in Aircraft Wood and Structural Repair

The standard for any repair is that it should return the aircraft or component to its original condition in strength, function, and aerodynamic shape. It should also be accomplished in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications and/or instructions, or other approved data.

The purpose of repairing all wood structural components is to obtain a structure as strong as the original. Major damage probably requires replacement of the entire damaged assembly, but minor damage can be repaired by removing or cutting away the damaged members and replacing them with new sections. This replacement may be accomplished by gluing, glue and nails, or glue and screw-reinforced splicing.


Several forms of wood are commonly used in aircraft.

  • Solid wood or the adjective “solid” used with such nouns as “beam” or “spar” refers to a member consisting of one piece of wood.
  • Laminated wood is an assembly of two or more layers of wood that have been glued together with the grain of all layers or laminations approximately parallel.
  • Plywood is an assembled product of wood and glue that is usually made of an odd number of thin plies, or veneers, with the grain of each layer placed 90° with the adjacent ply or plies.
  • High-density material includes compreg, impreg, or similar commercially made products, heat-stabilized wood, or any of the hardwood plywoods commonly used as bearing or reinforcement plates.

Suitable Wood

The various species of wood listed in Figure 6-10 are acceptable for structural purposes when used for the repair of aircraft. Spruce is the preferred choice and the standard by which the other wood is measured. Figure 6-10 provides a comparison of other wood that may be suitable for aircraft repair. It lists the strength and characteristics of the wood in comparison to spruce. The one item common to all the species is that the slope of the grain cannot be steeper than 1:15.

Figure 6-10. Selection and properties of wood for aircraft repairs.

Figure 6-10. Selection and properties of wood for aircraft repairs. [click image to enlarge]

All solid wood and plywood used for the construction and repair of aircraft should be of the highest quality and grade. For certificated aircraft, the wood should have traceability to a source that can provide certification to a military specification (MIL-SPEC). The term “aircraft quality” or “aircraft grade” is referred to and specified in some repair documents, but that grade wood cannot be purchased from a local lumber company. To purchase the material, contact one of the specialty aircraft supply companies and request a certification document with the order. The MIL-SPEC for solid spruce is MIL-S-6073 and for plywood it is MIL-P-6070B.

When possible, fabricated wood components should be purchased from the aircraft manufacturer, or someone who may have a Parts Manufacturer Approval (PMA) to produce replacement parts for the aircraft. With either of these sources supplying the wood components, the mechanic can be assured of installing approved material. At the completion of the repair, as always, it is the responsibility of the person returning the aircraft to service to determine the quality of the replacement wood and the airworthiness of the subsequent repair.

To help determine the suitability of the wood, inspect it for defects that would make it unsuitable material to repair or construct an aircraft. The type, location, and amount or size of the defects grade the wood for possible use. All woods used for structural repair of aircraft are classified as softwood. Softwood is typically used for construction and is graded based on strength, load carrying ability, and safety. Hardwoods, on the other hand, are typically appearance woods and are graded based on the number and size of clear cuttings from the tree.

Defects Permitted

The following defects are permitted in the wood species used for aircraft repair that are identified in Figure 6-10:

  1. Cross grain—Spiral grain, diagonal grain, or a combination of the two is acceptable if the grain does not diverge from the longitudinal axis of the material more than specified in Figure 6-10 column 3. A check of all four faces of the board is necessary to determine the amount of divergence. The direction of free-flowing ink frequently assists in determining grain direction.
  2. Wavy, curly, and interlocked grain—Acceptable, if local irregularities do not exceed limitations specified for spiral and diagonal grain.
  3. Hard knots—Sound, hard knots up to 3⁄8-inch in diameter are acceptable if: (1) they are not projecting portions of I-beams, along the edges of rectangular or beveled unrouted beams, or along the edges of flanges of box beams (except in portions of low stress); (2) they do not cause grain divergence at the edges of the board or in the flanges of a beam more than specified in Figure 6-10 column 3; and (3) they are in the center third of the beam and not closer than 20-inches to another knot or other defect (pertains to 3⁄8-inch knots; smaller knots may be proportionately closer). Knots greater than ¼-inch must be used with caution.
  4. Pin knot clusters—small clusters are acceptable if they produce only a small effect on grain direction.
  5. Pitch pockets—Acceptable in center portion of a beam if they are at least 14-inches apart when they lie in the same growth ring and do not exceed 1½-inches in length by 1⁄8-inch width by 1⁄8-inch depth, and if they are not along the projecting portions of I-beams, along the edges of rectangular or beveled unrouted beams, or along the edges of the flanges of box beams.
  6. Mineral streaks—acceptable if careful inspection fails to reveal any decay.

Defects Not Permitted

The following defects are not permitted in wood used for aircraft repair. If a defect is listed as unacceptable, please refer to the previous section, Defects Permitted, for acceptable conditions.

  1. Cross grain—unacceptable.
  2. Wavy, curly, and interlocked grain – unacceptable.
  3. Hard knots—unacceptable.
  4. Pin knot clusters—unacceptable, if they produce large effect on grain direction.
  5. Spike knots—knots running completely through the depth of a beam perpendicular to the annual rings and appear most frequently in quarter-sawed lumber. Reject wood containing this defect.
  6. Pitch pockets—unacceptable.
  7. Mineral streaks—unacceptable, if accompanied by decay.
  8. Checks, shakes, and splits—checks are longitudinal cracks extending, in general, across the annual rings. Shakes are longitudinal cracks usually between two annual rings. Splits are longitudinal cracks caused by artificially induced stress. Reject wood containing these defects.
  9. Compression—very detrimental to strength and is difficult to recognize readily, compression wood is characterized by high specific gravity, has the appearance of an excessive growth of summer wood, and in most species shows little contrast in color between spring wood and summer wood. If in doubt, reject the material or subject samples to toughness machine test to establish the quality of the wood. Reject all material containing compression wood.
  10. Compression failures—caused from overstress in compression due to natural forces during the growth of the tree, felling trees on rough or irregular ground, or rough handling of logs or lumber. Compression failures are characterized by a buckling of the fibers that appears as streaks substantially at right angles to the grain on the surface of the piece, and vary from pronounced failures to very fine hairlines that require close inspection to detect. Reject wood containing obvious failures. If in doubt, reject the wood or make a further inspection in the form of microscopic examination or toughness test, the latter being more reliable.
  11. Tension—forming on the upper side of branches and leaning trunks of softwood trees, tension wood is caused by the natural overstressing of trying to pull the branches and leaning trunk upright. It is typically harder, denser, and may be darker in color than normal wood, and is a serious defect, having higher than usual longitudinal shrinkage that may break down due to uneven shrinkage. When in doubt, reject the wood.
  12. Decay—rot, dote, red heart, purple heart, etc., must not appear on any piece. Examine all stains and discoloration carefully to determine whether or not they are harmless or in a stage of preliminary or advanced decay.