If you want to get better at anything you need to practice and push yourself to try things a little out of your skill/comfort level. Metal Shaping is 100% one of those things that you need to practice and work to get better at, even if it means wrecking a piece of metal or wasting hours of work. It's extremely frustrating, but each time you learn something new or what doesn't work and you can learn to correct it. Recently Mark R. and I decided to make a rear quarter panel from scratch. I've watched some videos and seen pictures of "panel beaters" rough forming a rear quarter panel in a really short period of time and it crazy the transformation the panel takes as they beat it with hammers slowly smooth it back into shape! So we decided to make up a rear quarter panel similar in shape to that of many cars from the 60's-70's.
We started with a pattern of the outside perimeter of the panel cut to shape. The first step was to shape the fender flare detail around the wheel opening. Mark drew out the area in which the flare metal needed to be stretched in. He then proceeded to use a teardrop mallet on the panel beater bag to pound out the rough shape of the fender flare. He tried to keep his hits all close together so the area was stretched evenly.
As you can see above, the area that was hit with the hammer was pretty sad looking, with lumps and waves all around the edge of the panel. We then put it into the english wheel with very little pressure on the wheels as we rolled the panel around the lumpy, stretched area Mark hit with the hammer. After a few passes the exteme high spots and lumpy areas slowly began to flatten out and the shape of the fender flare became more obvious.
As you can see in the last picture above, the lumpy hammer marks were mostly smoothed out but there were some wavy areas of excess metal on the edges that needed to be smoothed out. These areas needed shrinking to tighten up the metal before we could move forward. We used the HD Shrinker Stretcher to tighten up the metal by doing small, light shrinks. Too heavy of a hand when shrinking could actually cause more damage than help, so we took a few light passes instead of doing a single heavy pass.
Once we were happy with how smooth the fender flare area was we decided to lock the shape in and give the panel a little rigidity by creating the bent fender lip. We started by using a tipping die and soft bottom wheel in the bead roller to slowly tip the edge over while we followed the radius of the wheel opening. This took a few passes to get it to about 70 degrees. Mark then used a Fairmount Hammer and Dolly to tip the edge to 90 degrees.
With the fender flare becoming fairly smooth and the lip now formed, we needed to move on to getting the flare detail fully stretched away from the panel to where we wanted it. We achieved this by flipping the panel over and rolling the panel in the english wheel around the wheel opening just above the fender flare. This moved the metal the opposite way around the flare to make it more pronounced from the fender. You can see in the photos we're using a prototype rubber sleeve over the top wheel to control the amount of stretch we're getting and for a smooth linear stretch in only the direction we want.
At this point the fender flare portion was about 80% done and needed just some fine tuning and smoothing to get it perfect. We decided to move on to putting the overall shape into the panel. No automotive fender is 100% flat and our practice piece wasn't going to be either! We started by rolling with medium pressure in the english wheel across the top of the panel until we got down to the fender flare. We then worked the sides before and aft of the flare with the wheel in the same direction. Once we got close to the bottom quarter of the rear of the quarter we changed the direction of the wheel to give it some "pinch" in and down to meet up with the rear pan of the car.
Finally Mark tipped the edges on the ends of the panel and cut out the marker light opening. He then finished by smoothing and tuning the shape up with the english wheel and hammer and dollies. With the shape all locked in Mark took some time with a DA sander and some 220 grit paper to take out the shrinker and hammer marks to give us a panel that was ready to install!
The tools used for this type of project won't cost you another mortgage on your house and can be fit even in a small shop, it's all in the time to learn how to use them correctly. We didn't have a particular fender in mind when making this, but this shape and process would lend itself to MANY cars through the 60's-90's.