We’re big fans of fabrication; it truly is the hot rodder’s ultimate artistic expression. Mastery means you can make whatever you want, limited only by your imagination. After all, you don’t take on an ambitious project car like our own Max Effort ’67 Cougar without embracing the fact that you’ll be building a lot of stuff from scratch.
While we’ve wowed you with the wondrous ways Ryan Kertz of Kertz Fabrication and Norm Archer of Archer Metalshaping have bent and shaped steel to create highly advanced pieces of metal art that will make up the mettle of Max Effort, we’ve not delved too much into how you can get started in fabbing and shaping. Well, we’re going to fix that starting now.
However, rather than dive in, we figured it would be good to take a moment to familiarize you with some of the most commonly used tools in any fab or metal shaping shop. While many of these are professional-level tools, nearly all have home garage counterparts. We’ll even tell you where you can get reasonably priced versions. You certainly don’t need to run out and get all of them at once, but you’ll have a good wish list.
So, to get a primer on some of the basic tools commonly used in any fab shop, we headed over to Hollywood Hot Rods in Burbank, California. Troy Ladd’s shop hosts a multitude of intimidating power-shaping machines, but we zeroed in on 16 tools that the shop simply couldn’t get by without. Some may be more than your particular project needs, but we guarantee that the deeper and more passionate you become about making your own parts, the further down this list you’ll find yourself going.
The shear is really just a large-scale version of tin snips or metal scissors. Those will work for small jobs, but if you plan to work with sheetmetal of any real size you’re going to need a way to make clean, consistent, straight cuts. Hollywood Hot Rods and most fab and metal shaping shops will use a large pneumatic shear like this Tennsmith, but smaller, manual versions are available.
Speaking of tin snips, a good set of these is one of the most valuable metalworking tools you can have for fabrication since their precision is unequaled. Properly sharp snips can cut a line the width of a human hair. Troy Ladd at Hollywood Hot Rods has sectioned whole cars using little more than these. Also, note the can of Dykem Steel Blue; this is the blue layout fluid used by fab shops for creating a surface to lay out designs and scribe clean lines that are easy to cut.
Pro Tip: In the fabrication world, there is no such thing as “left” and “right” shears; the cut of the blades is designed for one clean and one waste side, and differ to accommodate the location and direction of the cut.
We’re not aware of anyone who sells these Ts, but they’re extremely simple to make using round bar and a piece of flat stock. Plus, making them yourself allows custom tuning of the arc to your project. After deciding the size and arc needed, the T is clamped down in a vise and the sheetmetal is laid across the top, according to where the roll is to be started. Tapping along the edge of the sheetmetal that hangs past the T begins the roll; hammering on top of the T will result in stretching and deformation. Along that same line, be aware of your hammer choice; a dead blow or leather hammer is best as these will control stretching better than steel. This technique is handy for numerous projects, such as making panels where a rolled edge would be more aesthetically appropriate than a sharp fold.