When it comes to classic trucks short beds rule the coop for desirability and resale value. Most enthusiasts turn their nose up to a long bed truck. What's slowly happening though is that nice, clean examples of short beds are becoming few and far between and when they do pop up you're going to pay a premium. Recently some guys have started shortening the beds and chassis of long bed trucks to get the same look but without the price gouge of a short bed truck. Our friend Sean Ramáge of Empire Fabrication recently took on the big job of taking an original-paint set of long bedsides and repairing the damage and shortening them, all while keeping as much of the original finish as possible. He shared the process with us and gave us an insight into what it takes to tackle a job like this.
The first thing you need to do is lay out the cuts that you want to make on the bedsides. Ideally the cuts should be made in a place that is a simplistic as possible. Avoid making cuts over compound curves, fender arches, multiple body reveals, or where you can't get behind the panel. Sean decided to make clean cuts in front and behind the wheel openings where he could easily work the weld seams. He explains once the cut lines are marked out you need to make sure that there aren't any dents or damage surrounding the seam as they will alter how everything fits back together. If there is any damage you must repair them first before you proceed with welding OR cutting.
Sean first located and marked all the dents and worked them out by hammering off-dolly (hammering directly next to the dolly to release the damage). In this particular instance he also had to use the panel beating bag and a plastic mallet to repair the bottom lip of the fender. Once he had the major dents roughed-out he came back and used the bulls-eye picks to smooth out any minor small dents or imperfections.
With the panel straight once again he was able to cut the bed into two pieces and remove the excess material needed to make it the desired length. Sean then fit the panel back together and made sure there were no gaps between the butt weld seam. This is because he would be TIG welding the panel back together and unlike MIG welding, you want a tight fit when TIG welding sheet metal.
After tack welding the panel back together Sean checked to make sure the panel was straight and true. He then used the Eastwood TIG 200 AC/DC welder with the #9 Mini Torch attached to carefully weld the seam back together. He made sure to keep the welds as small and cool as possible along the way to minimize the shrinkage in the heat effective zone. Once the panel was fully welded Sean came back with a flat faced hammer and dolly to planish the weld flats and relax the panel to cure the shrunken areas around the welds. Sean comments that you need to be very careful to make sure that you ONLY hammer on the heat effected zone (the discolored area around the weld) to avoid over stretching the area.
From here Sean hits the repair area with an 80 grit abrasive disc to reveal any low spots in the repair area. From here he delicately uses the bulls-eye picks to bring up those low spots and repeats the process with the abrasive disc to check his work.
The result is an invisible weld seam that is as straight as it left the factory. This process isn't a quick one and it will take a good portion of a day to complete, even for a professional like Sean. Hopefully this gives you an idea of what it takes to shorten your bedsides and start converting your truck to a short bed.