In the previous article we looked at ways to repair rust on your car body panels. One of the techniques involved welding in a repair patch that the person made themselves, so in this article we are going to look at some ways to make your own car body repair panels.
If you haven’t yet seen the previous article, you can check it out here: How To Fix Rusted Car Body
The Basics To Shaping Metal
I’m going to ahead and assume that either you can sufficiently weld thin sheet metal, or that you have someone who can do this for you, so in this article I am just going to focus on making the repair panels rather than welding them in. If you would like me to do an article on car body welding, please let me know in the comments section at the end of this article.
Okay, so let us get down to basics here, really basic: a repair panel is simply a shaped piece of metal. Just like any shape, it can contain curves, or straight lines, or a combination of the two. All you have to do is look for the straight bits, and everything else must be a curve. It really is that simple. So one of the first things you will need is a good straight edge, anything will do, a steel rule, spirit level, back of a saw blade, just as long as it is straight. You don’t actually need to measure the curves as such, providing you can access the area you are repairing relatively easily, you can just keep comparing the part you are making to the area it will be fitted to. If you want to make a template, I find a thin piece of rod works well, such as a 3mm welding rod with the flux knocked off. You want something that is easy enough to bend by hand, but not so soft it will lose its shape.
Next you want the tools you will be using to actually shape the metal. There are many a hammer out there, but generally anything will do, so long as it is not too light and not too heavy. If you have a copper or plastic faced hammer, use that, if not just use what you do have. You will also need something hit against, and this is actually the most crucial item in all this, as your “former” is the part that does all the work. It’s probably about 50/50 between making a former that can be used for many jobs, and making one that is specific to one particular repair panel. So, befriend your local metal stockist and start accumulating various bits of pipe, flat bar, square bar, angle iron, etc. Exactly the sorts of bits you will need will become evident as you work through this article, so make a cuppa and lets keep going.
Making Folds In The Panel
Grab some bits of scrap sheet metal, nothing thicker than 1mm, and do some practice parts. Anywhere that you have a sharp corner, such as where the sill panel meets the floor, is called a fold. This is very easy to make. Take your piece of metal, mark a line 15mm from one edge, tighten it up in the vice along the line, give it a small push with your hands to get it started, then start tapping it as close to the fold line as you can. Don’t do too much too soon or you’ll stretch it and this can be tricky to get out. Just keep working along the line bit by bit tapping it down. As it gets close to 90 degrees, look for the areas that need the most work. You want it all to be a nice even fold, so pick out the high spots and tap them down. Keep doing this until you have a nice, crisp, flat fold. If you drill a series of holes along the 15mm tab you can now puddle weld it to your floor or sill. There you go, you’ve just made your first repair panel!
Making More Complex Shapes
Now I know that car body panel shapes are more complex than that, but if you can make the basic panel as above, you can build on that to make more complex shapes. Like I said at the beginning of this article, you’ve got straight lines and curves, and you’ve just nailed straight lines, so lets move on to curves!
This is where it gets really interesting, and where you will begin to really learn the craft. You will also need to make some special tools to suit the shape that you require. Due to the nature of what needs to be explained here, I am going to provide you with what I have found to be among the best videos on YouTube that will teach you how to make your own repair panels. Let’s start by building on the very basic panel we made above by looking at a video from Trev’s Blog as he makes a larger sill repair panel:
Now as you will have seen in the video above, part of the process involves shaping the metal around a curve. Let’s go deeper into this process by looking at how to make a curve with a flange on it and a tension recess, this is very representative of many panels that are likely to be replaced when restoring an old vehicle:
As you can see, with the correct use of a wooden former and some basic hand tools it is possible to create a repair panel that I’m sure is of superior quality to most mass-produced pattern parts.
Multiple Steps, Folds, and Curves
Sometimes the part you need to make can have multiple curves and folds and to make it out of one piece of metal would require specialist sheet metal working tools which many of us just don’t have. If this is the case for you, don not despair! We have seen how to make a panel with two “features” such as a curve and a fold, so if you need to make a panel with three, four, five features, you just make it in a few parts and weld them together. Let’s head over to Ireland now to see Fritzee explain how we can do this:
I think you will agree that the end result there is something we all would happily use to repair our rusty cars, and be extra proud that it is something you made with your own hands.
Just Get Stuck In
Like I said near the start of this article, find your local metal stockist and start gathering various pieces of steel that you can use to at the very least practice with. Why not make some repair panels the same as those that have been made in the videos above, as practice runs, before you start making the panels for your car. That way if you mess it up, it doesn’t matter, it wasn’t going on your car anyway. Sheet metal work like this really is a case of getting in the hours on the craft, so just start. Grab some sheet and a hammer and get stuck in! Before you know it you will be getting on down the road to repairing your car using metal repair panels that you have skilfully crafted yourself, your enjoyment and satisfaction will grow as you see your car coming back to life using very parts that you have made.
I hope this article has been of help to you, if you would like me to cover any other areas of vehicle repairs, please let me know in the comments section below.