How to Repair Rust With a TIG Welder- Rusty Door Skin Repair

    There's a handful of ways you can tackle repairing rust in your vehicle and all of them have their place. The most common would probably be cutting out the metal and MIG welding a patch panel in place. While this method is the easiest to accomplish, it can be difficult to blend the weld seam into the surrounding metal. I've done repairs this way for many years and they've turned out ok, but I've always wanted to master TIG welding patch panels and metal finishing the area for a seamless repair. I've recently begun switching a lot of my welding projects on Project Pile House to TIG and I've been having decent results. I decided to take it one step further and show how to repair a thin-gauge rotted lower door skin on a VW Scirocco door.

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    I'm currently juggling a LOT of projects at once AND I'm limited on space in my own home garage, so I opted to send my 1977 Scirocco restoration project to a friends shop for them to do the final dent repair, panel fitment, primer, and paint on the car. When they were stripping the old paint off of the car they found that the passenger door had some pretty substantial rust damage that someone had just laid fiberglass and body filler over. I decided to let the guys keep rockin' on the car and I'd repair the door skin myself.

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    If you haven't noticed, early VW Sciroccos aren't exactly the most popular classic cars, and they aren't growing on trees in the salvage yards either. Because of this I had to make up the patch panel from scratch. I first marked out the repair area with painters tape and used the angle grinder with a cutting wheel to cut along the straight tape edges. I then used the flap disc to carefully sand the top layer off at each spot weld and separate the outer skin along the bottom.

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    Since the bottom of the door has little to no curve to it, making a patch panel was pretty simple. I first made a paper pattern out of chipboard to match the damaged metal I cut out of the door. I then cut the pattern out of matching 20 gauge sheet metal. I took the flat panel to the metal brake and bent the bottom "pinch weld" area of the door. I left a little extra on that edge so I could trim it to match the original (left room for minimal errors on the brake).

    Up to here most of the process has been the same for any method of welding, but when fitting the patch panel it changes a bit. When MIG welding a patch panel you want to leave a small gap between the patch panel and the original metal. This is so a little bit of the weld puddle can fill the small gap and the entire weld isn't ground away when finishing the panel. With TIG welding it is the opposite, gaps are the enemy. I like to use a file and slowly "sneak up" on the fitment of the panel. Test fit the panel and use a double cut file to take away a little at a time until all gaps are gone and the gap is tight and even around the patch. I then go over the entire panel with a sander and acetone to remove any grease or residue for a clean weld seam.

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    When TIG welding thin sheet metal you need to make sure you have a fine, sharp tip ground on a 1/16" electrode for as small of an arc as possible. I switched the standard WP-17 torch on the TIG 200DC to the WP-9 Mini TIG torch. This torch is MUCH smaller and lighter which makes it easier to control when running short, quick welds on sheet metal. The torch is rated up to around 90 amps, but I set the pedal to weld in the 20-60 amp range. I also like to use filler rod that matches what I'm welding. I ran some solid core .030 MIG wire off of the spool and used that to run my welds.

    Any type of welding causes extreme heat that causes the weld seam to shrink and cause a low spot in your panel. The nice thing about TIG welding is that the weld seam is softer than MIG welding and it can be easily planished or hammered on-dolly to flatten it out and stretch the seam back into shape. I like to stop after each short weld bead and hammer the weld to relax the panel back to its natural shape. This also allows you to let the panel to cool a little in between each weld to avoid overheating the entire panel.

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    Slowly as you weld and hammer the seam you will connect all of your short seam welds and have a fully welded panel. From here you can use a body file or a sander with 36-40 grit to sand the panel and highlight any offensive high or low spots and work them into shape. Once the panel is satisfactory you can use the 36-40 grit to smooth any imperfections and work your way up to 80-120 grit on the DA sander. This should leave you with a finish that's acceptable for primer or a light coat of body filler. This method should require little to no grinding and is much more controlled. I have begun to prefer it over MIG welding a patch panel, but it isn't always quicker or more efficient.

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    With seam all welded how I wanted I rolled the corner edge of the door over and drilled holes in the patch panel matching the OE spot welds on the bottom of the door using an Eastwood Pneumatic Drill. I used the MIG 175 to lay the spot welds and a flap disc on the angle grinder to smooth them out. The result was a door that needed very little filler and weld joint that's nearly invisible on the inside as well as the outside of the door.

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    17 thoughts on “How to Repair Rust With a TIG Welder- Rusty Door Skin Repair”

    • Hector Rios

      Very, very educational. Will do it on my 1970 Nova door skin. Need more items like this for everybody.

      Reply
    • Fred

      The tip about leaving no gap between door skin and patch panel was best part.
      You didn't say how to work the weld seams if the body part is on the car and you can't get a dolly behind the patch. How would one do that?

      Reply
    • Larry g

      Try to use rounded corners on patches wherever possible. Welding to a square corner has a tendancy to form a buckle.

      Reply
      • MattM

        Very true, I knew better and didn't do it on this panel! It took a bit of work to massage that corner back into shape and I was cursing myself along the way!. Thanks for pointing that out! -Matt/EW

        Reply
    • Chris

      Now what steps are you taking to ensure 5 hat rust doesn't come back? Epoxy brushed on the back side? Body cavity wax? Internal frame coating?

      Reply
      • MattM

        The backside was etched, then primered and internal frame coating to be triple sure it doesn't come back.. oh and storing it in a garage storing it! -Matt/EW

        Reply
        • Charlie

          Hey Chis, Making sure that all the drain holes are clear, open, and even adding/enlarging more would help keep the moisture out. As well for the future check and clean them regularly with whatever fits up in the hole, i.e. screwdriver. Good Presentation.

          Reply
    • Trent

      I have a very small area not much . less than a half inch maybe a quarter inch near the bottom of the door should I try too fill our cut out what is the best way to do the job. 1978 datsun 280z very clean 38.000 miles.

      Reply
      • MattM

        It all depends on how bad it is. Often times if you see rust at the bottom of the door, that is just the tip of the iceberg and once you start sanding or grinding you will have a larger area you may have to cut out and replace metal. If it is just light surface rust you could sand around the area and get the metal bare then you can use rust encapsulator or our fast etch to neutralize and seal the rust, then apply primer and repaint that portion of the door. If there are areas that are rusted through than I'd suggest digging deeper and probably replacing metal.

        Reply
        • Trent

          Thank you for your response . I grind it down to the metal that's when I discovered as I got to the bare metal a small hole was exposed if it would help can send photos. very small area not bad at all but do not know the best way to repair first timer but good at any thing I do because it may take weeks studying how it's done before I try. But looking for good advice

          Reply
    • Rob R

      Your use of mig wire sort of defeats your desire to have a soft wokable weld. The mig wire suffix is likely s6 which is a harder metal base than common tig wire with an s2 suffix. The s2 wire is much more mallable than the mig wire. Try it in .040. You will find it grinds easier and qucker which keeps the heat warpage under control. And if you need to run a shrinking disc or other shrinking method over it it will shrink the same as the panel metal.

      Reply
    • Edgar Hansen

      Very helpful video and text. Going outside after writing this to second coat bondo, then skim and finish driver's side jumpseat door on wife's 2000 Ranger. MIG all the way on this project, but maybe Santa will come early with TIG for other side and for 1994 Voyager.

      Reply
    • gary vandergrift
      gary vandergrift July 30, 2014 at 8:01 am

      Just got 200DC and the patch panel. Panel came with 90Deg. corners. I will grind them round based on comments here. I was going to use butt clamps for this, sooo glad you made this article as I'm new to TIG. Keep up the great work.

      Reply
    • Randi Kremer

      Please do not ever use MIG wire when TIG welding, you loose much of the softness of the weld. MIG wire is hardened so it is strong enough to be pushed by the wire feeder through the liner to the gun, ALWAYS use 36" TIG wire, E70 S type 2 would be perfect for this type of door welding task. Now you will really find out how much softer a TIG weld is compared to a MIG weld and how it will be easier to hammer out your welds. Heck, a coat hanger with the varnish sanded off would be a better option than MIG wire. Try it, you will love welding with real TIG wire and Eastwood sells plenty of it!

      Reply
    • Derick

      Tig welding is the best way to weld thin material and it requires less heat on the materials causing less metal distortion or movement.

      Reply
      • Ed

        Don't you mean MIG requires less heat? I've been a welder for 32 yrs., and TIG has more heat input since you are actually heating your base metals to a liquid state to add your filler metal. With MIG, your wire is the heat source.My own experience is MIG is better for thin meal welding when you have long panels and little accss to the back to hammer weld.

        Reply
    • Terry

      If possible, it is helpful to use a copper or aluminum backup block as a heat sink when welding. This will help minimize warpage.

      Reply

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