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Metal Fabrication Equipment

In the world of modern car restoration and custom building, there are many steel reproduction panels available for the more popular collector cars. If a replacement panel is available for a damaged area of your particular car, the task is relatively straightforward. But what happens if there is no pre-fabricated piece available for your particular application? You could search for a used section at a salvage yard specializing in collector cars, but that's not always the easiest answer. The only solution is to make it yourself.

You may think that since the original part was created in a huge press at a stamping plant, this is impossible, right? Fortunately, tools and equipment are readily available to create just about any shape in metal you could imagine. Keep in mind that in the early 20th century, before modern stamping equipment was developed, automobiles, locomotives, airplane and marine panels were all fabricated by hand. In fact, many exotic European sports and race car bodies were created entirely by hand as recently as the 1950s and 1960s. Many of today's one-off customs have bodies fabricated by hand.

Tools and Equipment for Custom Panel Fabrication

English Wheel – This device has been around for a long time and the early versions were somewhat basic and constructed with extremely large and heavy castings. This was a requirement when fabricating airplane radial engine cowlings and especially heavy gauge steam locomotive panels. The English Wheel functions by passing a sheet of metal between the upper flat "Wheel" and lower radiused "Anvil", with a slight adjustable tension applied. The anvils of course were interchangeable with a choice of radii based on the final contour desired. Sounds simple right? Actually, this was one of those skills that required a great deal of practice that, once mastered, was a source of immeasurable pride and accomplishment.

With all the advantages of today's machining and welding technology, as well as metallurgy science, modern wheeling machines are available at a relatively low price, offering a high degree of precision and quality. Eastwood offers a comprehensive array of English Wheel sizes and accessories designed to help form virtually any metal item, ranging from intricate artwork pieces and motorcycle components (such as tanks and fenders) to large automotive panels (such as hoods, roofs and more). Eastwood has the right machine for the work you wish to do.

Planishing Hammer – The term "planish" means to smooth. The basic idea is to first shape a piece of metal by rough-forming it with forming tools or mallets, then smooth out the surface by planishing it with a planishing hammer. Before today's modern pneumatic designs were available, these were generally manually foot- or hand-powered. This was quite effective to be sure, but very time consuming and tiring. With precision pneumatic components and controls, this step can be accomplished quickly and accurately with very little effort. The planishing hammer essentially functions by passing the formed piece between a reciprocating "hammering" hammer and a stationary "die". The dies, like the anvils of the English Wheel, are interchangeable with various surface radii which are chosen to most closely match the contour of the finished project.

Shrinker/Stretcher – These tools are invaluable when there's a need to create those impossible-to-buy pieces such as auto body windshield/rear glass openings, wheel-opening lips, door-opening doglegs, headlight openings and much, much more. You can produce any combination of curves, and in any direction you need, when you start with a piece of metal of any length having a 90° bend, where each side is an inch or so. You only need to cut a strip of metal about 1-1/2" to 2-1/2" wide in any length, bend it 90° along its length about the center line, and with the help of some easily made cardboard templates to follow, make your parts.

The Shrinker functions by actuating a set of jaws which draw the edge of the metal inward from opposite directions, causing it to "shrink" and generate an inward curve in the piece.

The Stretcher is the opposite of the Shrinker in that it functions by actuating a set of jaws that spread the edge of the metal outward in opposite directions, causing it to "stretch" and generate an outward curve in the metal.

See our Eastwood Shrinker/Stretcher Combo Set, and our Heavy-Duty Shrinker/Stretcher.

We're very enthusiastic about sharing your interest in the "lost art" of metalworking. We're pleased to offer all the tools and equipment you need, as well as being available to provide advice on the selection of the right tools for your project and their uses.