The fundamental element of restoring anything from the mechanical age is to bash, cajole and manipulate, metal. Whilst it can be daunting to the novice, with a bit of practice and the right tools it becomes a very satisfying job. We would recommend getting an old wing (fender) or bonnet (hood) or similar panel and just practice patching it all over first. Consider the best solution for each section, they might vary and will depend on the tools to hand. You’ll also get a feel for how welding can distort the sheet metal. A few tips:
Remember the old adage, “The more you grind, the more you find” so don’t be surprised to cut out a small area only to find a box section behind that is in a worse state. Old cars tend to rot from the inside out, not the other way around! Don’t box it back in by covering the hole, open up enough area to work and replace the steel and/or treat the rust as appropriate. ‘Restoring’ a vehicle isn’t about covering up the faults, it is about eliminating them!
Hand shears are fine for patching but can be hard work for larger areas. You can cut long lines and gentle curves with a thin (1mm) cutting wheel in a grinder but please wear protection as the thin discs can be fragile and break up. For tighter curves you definitely need a mini air cutter which uses a smaller cutting disc, although we have known people to beaver away with a Dremel! For large areas and complex cuts a Plasma is just fabulous but its a big investment and trust us, you don’t want to buy a cheapo one. We tried one that literally melted and caught fire behind us whilst we worked! The supplier said “yeah, we’ve had a few do that’!!
When shaping metal note that your general woodworking hammer has a convex face, so you won’t be hammering anything flat, you’ll be encouraging a curve in the opposite direction to the one you are trying to make. Use a flat face metalworking hammer when working on the outside of a curve. If you can find a small anvil at a local auction it will serve you until you pass it on to the next generation. A good vice is also a boon, especially if you get some ‘soft’ jaws for it. A leather ‘shot bag’ is a cheap and useful item and for the more serious a Metal Shrinker, English Wheel or Power hammer will make you a super hero.
To hold the metal whilst welding, there is so much more available than a large screwdriver shoved against the patch with your shoulder ;-) Skin pins are superb and remember Locking Grips are available in different type to suit the task for not much money.
When welding the steel in place please use a good welder. MIGs work the opposite way to most things you buy - a cheap one will weld thick steel but just blow holes in thin sheet. A good one is fully adjustable down to low levels, which is what you need. One final tip is to use a copper block behind the weld when plugging holes for instance, it doesn’t stick and draws the excess heat away from the area.
You’ll soon be so into your metalworking you will be using our punches and dies to lighten your shell race style, then adding footrests and corner stiffeners dimple die’d to perfection!