A Guide to Metalworking Tools and Welders
There is just no denying the fact that metalworking is a form of art and we’re not talking about giant sculptures and pieces in museums. We’re talking about invisible welded seams, custom firewalls and engine surrounds, chopped tops, frenched headlamps, and other custom metal crafting that you see (and don’t see) on hot rods of all shapes and sizes.
Building or even restoring a classic car or truck is going to require some sort of metalwork at some point, from replacing rusted panels to making custom touches. Whatever sort of metalwork is needed, it is going to take special skills and tools to finish the job right. The skills are one thing that are developed through experience, trial and error, but the machines and tools available to help you along the way are just as important.
There is no shortage of metalworking tools available and the cool thing is that there are options to fit every budget. From useful metal forming hammers, to cutting dies and bead rollers, English wheels, welders, and more. As the craft has grown in recent years, manufacturers have also developed more tools that fit the home workshop budget, so it’s really up to you as to what you want to be able to accomplish.
We talked with a number of companies that specialize in machinery, tools, and the craft of working metal to see what’s new and what tools they recommend for a home shop. Judging by the specialty equipment available these days, we’re looking forward to seeing a lot of handmade parts, panels, and custom touches on the cars and trucks at our events in the next few years!
Summit Racing Equipment
Replacing a door skin with smooth, clean sheet metal is a common practice and Summit Racing can help you get the job done like a pro with the Malco Turbo-X Tools Door Hemming Tool. This pneumatic tool features an offset design for easy one-hand operation and accepts any quick-connect hose adapter equipped with a male ¼-inch NPT thread.
The anvil of the tool is made of an ABS polymer so it will not scratch or mar the replacement door skin. A narrow seaming wheel fits flush against the anvil fence to produce a tight, clean hemmed door edge. It is solvent-resistant and can be easily cleaned if an adhesive is being used between the door skin and panel.
A tubing bender is a great tool to have if you’re planning to work on a custom chassis, crossmember, or rollbar. Speedway Motors offers an easy-to-use hydraulic bender that you’ll find extremely useful in the shop.
The versatile bending machine handles up to .110-inch wall thickness mild steel or .096-inch wall thickness chromoly round tubing. Its powerful hydraulics will bend round tubing up to 90-degrees and there are incremental marks cast into the aluminum die to make reproducing precision bends easy. The bender includes one aluminum die of your choice, from 1- to 1-3/4-inch and Speedway offers additional 7-inch bend dies separately. The tool weighs in at under 50-pounds so it’s easy to move or store when not in use.
If you’re doing a lot of metal work from repairs to customizing, a Plasma Cutter will make your life a lot easier by saving time while producing accurate cuts. Snap-on’s PLASMA30i is a compact yet powerful tool that is ideal for cutting a variety of metals up to 3/8-inch and severing materials up to ½-inch thick.
The PLASMA30i accepts 115- or 230-volt power supplies and features inverter technology that makes it flexible for all sorts of different jobs. It has an adjustable amperage range to minimize distortion on thinner materials as well as a depth-of-cut adjustment which is ideal for panel removal around spot welds. An air filter and regulator are built-into the cutter, allowing for use with compressed air or nitrogen and there is an LED warning system to alert you to low pressure, high temps or system blockages. Snap-on supplies a power supply, ground cable, torch assembly, and spare torch consumables to get you started cutting!
Covell Creative Metalworking
Looking to finish your new sheet metal panel with a rounded or radiused edge? Covell Creative Metalworking offers a set of trick Round-Over Dies that are designed to uniformly curl the edge panels to any angle up to 45-degrees. This added detail is perfect where a rounded edge is needed such as wheel tubs, engine compartment panels, tanks with rounded corners, and many other applications.
The Round-Over Dies fit most beading machines and are available in four sizes: 5/16-inch, ½-inch, 1-inch, and 1½-inch radius. The dies are precision machined from high-quality, heat-treated steel so they’re up to rigorous everyday use on aluminum up to .090-inch and steel up to 16-gauge. For more details and other Covell tools, check out Trick-Tools.com.
If you’re doing any sort of sheet metal fabrication in your garage or shop, it’s time to step up to a professional cutting shear. The nice thing is that Woodward Fab offers a number of ‘throatless’ cutting tools that will help you do the job right without breaking your budget.
The scissor-like action is smooth and produces precision cuts while an offset-designed frame allows it to be used with nearly any size work piece. As you pull on the handle and advance the material it will automatically self-center, making laser straight and dimple free cuts on up to 3/16-inch thick steel. Woodward offers blade lengths from 5- to 12-inches to fit the needs of beginners to professional fab shops.
If you’re looking to tackle some welding projects in your shop, Harbor Freight can get you dialed-in with everything you need to make some sparks! Their Chicago Electric Flux 125 is a versatile flux-core arc welder (FCAW) specifically designed to use self-shielding flux-cored welding wire. This eliminates the need for gas and regulators that standard MIG welders require. The Flux 25 can weld mild steel from 18-gauge up to 3/16-inch thick and has a variable speed wire control and thermal overload protection.
Once you have a welder selected, Harbor Freight offers a number of accessories to get your shop set up including welding carts, a welding table, auto-darkening welding helmets, and a wide selection of welding gloves, aprons, rod holders, and other accessories.
Multi-tasking is a common thing that we all share these days from communicating during our workdays with email, Zoom meetings, and more. Some people are capable of successfully multi-tasking while others might drop the ball here and there, but when it comes to shop tools, such as Trick-Tools’ Multitool Belt Grinder, multi-tasking is a piece of cake!
The Multitool Belt Grinder provides four different grinding surfaces to cover almost any need. The most used surface is the front contact wheel which has a serrated surface to make grinding and de-burring very controllable and smooth. The top can be used for straightening or profiling longer edges, and the underside of the Multitool has a slack belt area for blending and finishing. Finally, the 7-inch disc on the side can be used with or without the optional miter table for beveling and profiling or final finishing. The belts can be changed in seconds depending on the job at hand and Trick-Tools offers a number of belts to match your needs.
When it comes to working on hot rods, who knows what challenges you’re going to face when it comes to metalwork and fabrication. That’s why Miller offers a series of multi-process welders such as their Multimatic 220 AC/DC welder which is capable of MIG, flux-cored stick, DC TIG, and AC TIG capabilities for steel and aluminum.
Miller’s QuickTech technology makes the Multimatic incredibly easy to use as it automatically determines the polarity and switches to the right process so a MIG gun and TIG torch can be connected at the same time. Their Auto-Set Elite provides predefined settings for all processes and multiple materials, eliminating the guesswork when setting the many weld parameters for AC TIG and stick in the manual mode. The Multimatic 220 AC/DC unit operates with 120- or 240-volt power and weighs in at just 56-pounds.
Got Your Back
The team at HammerFab knows what it takes to create rolling metal sculptures and they also understand the tools required to do the job right. That’s why they offer quite a number of specialty tools including dimple die sets, tipping dies, hammers, and other useful fabrication tools such as their high-quality backer pads.
HammerFab’s backer pads are designed for precision metal work by keeping the disk flat where inferior pads flex and bend. By keeping the abrasive disk flat, the user can focus on a consistent technique and feel for the abrasive to achieve the best finish. Plus, you’ll find that the abrasives last longer when they’re not rolled over or distorted. HammerFab offers 1-, 2- and 3-inch backer pads for angle grinders working with Roloc-style abrasives. They also have 3-inch gappers, flex backers, and radii backs (to create a perfect radius).
No Gas Welding
If you’re looking to get started with some welding work in your home garage, JEGS offers a number of affordable MIG and TIG welders. A case in point is their MIG 100, which is powered by a standard 110-volt household outlet and provides you the ability to cover a number of different welding projects.
The MIG 100 is a no-gas welder and is supplied with a 0.035-inch flux-core wire so it is ready to get busy right out of the box! The simple controls make it ideal for beginners or pro use and weighs in at just over 30-pounds, making it easy to move from one project to the next. JEGS also includes a handheld mask and wire brush and backs up the welder’s quality with a 1-year warranty. Be sure to check out jegs.com for more welders and accessories.
You can easily fill your dream garage with all the cool metal working tools available from Mittler Bros. Machine & Tool, so we asked them to recommend a useful entry-level tool for a home shop. Without hesitation, they brought up the usefulness of a Beverly Shear all-purpose metal cutting tool.
Mittler acquired the well-known Beverly Shear company last year and now manufactures the proven, durable cutting tool. Their B2 throatless sheer can handle mild steel up to 10-gauge, stainless up to 14-gauge, and has a blade length of 4.375-inch. These blades are positioned to provide a clean, knurl-free cut to help save you time and get the job done correctly and consistently.
TMG Metal Shaping Tool Company
Shape with Speed
The process of smoothing, straightening, and shaping a body panel can take hours with a hammer and dolly. With the number of hand-fabricated projects coming out of Tin Man’s Garage, they wanted a better option so they developed their own pneumatic Planishing Hammer. The TMG-183 Planishing Hammer allows you to bring the hammer onto the vehicle to help speed up the metal finishing process to straighten out damage as well as stretch weld seams and remove distortion to obtain professional results.
The TMG-183 features a quick-release ratchet head allowing for fast die changes during the operation. It is also versatile to easily change from a hand-held tool to a pedestal-mount planishing hammer, allowing you to shape and straighten panels off of the vehicle as well. The TMG Metal Shaping Tool Company offers eight different kits to help fit your goals and budget with multiple hoop configurations as well as upper and lower die sets, which are the key to obtaining beautifully finished metal surfaces.
Stretch & Shrink
When it comes to crafting curved corners such as fender lips, window channels, and more, the tool of choice is a shrinker-stretcher. This useful piece of shop equipment does exactly what its name implies – it stretches metal and/or shrinks it, which helps you create perfectly contoured curves.
Baileigh Industrial offers a wide range of shrinker-stretcher tools, from garage-friendly models to a heavy-duty hydraulic model. Their most popular is the MSS-16F which handles up to 16-gauge mild steel, has a generous 6-inch throat, and offers foot pedal control leaving your hands free to work the panel. Baileigh includes two sets of quick-change rounded jaws to keep marring to a minimum (optional jaws for aluminum are also available). The tool is secured to a cast iron stand finished with rolling casters to easily move the machine when not in use.
Dare to Weld
It cannot be stressed enough to protect your eyes when working with metal, especially when it comes to welding. Lincoln Electric understands the importance of safety and offers a number of different welding helmets including their top-of-the-line Viking 3350 series for the ultimate blend of optics, comfort and safety – and in this case, super cool daredevil looks!
The 3550 series features Lincoln’s 4C lens technology to create the clearest view of the base material, arc, and puddle while working. The helmet features a large 12.5-square-inch viewing area and is designed with an even weight balance to reduce pressure, improve balance and add comfort. And of course, Lincoln backs up its quality with a 3-year hassle-free warranty.
SIDEBAR – Learning from the Pros
Working metal is just not something you can learn from a textbook. Sure, there is plenty of information one can glean about the makeup of different metals, their best use, drill speeds, and joining metal pieces, but the best way to learn the craft is by getting your hands dirty in the shop and by using the right tools. Better yet is to find a class at a local community college or continuing education course. If you really want to learn hot-rod-specific lessons from the pros, however, there are several custom builders that offer workshops and classes.
Tin Man’s Garage and HammerFab, both of which have produced award-winning hot rods, offer innovative, hands-on seminars to improve your metal working skills whether you’re a hobbyist or professional. Ron Covell is another metalworking guru who has long offered workshops and seminars about the art of working metal. Most of these workshops are based on very small groups, so it is a very personal training exercise with a lot of one-on-one guidance.
Seminars typically include the theory behind the project, best practices, and the usage of machines along with tools of the trade. You’ll be in the shop, measuring, planning, selecting the materials, and working the machines that help produce cool, custom pieces of metal. There’s just no better way to learn by doing – especially with a professional sharing their experience and guidance.