The English Wheel
This tool is the gold standard of metal shaping and is a must-have for creating panels with complex curvature. The wheel works by passing the sheetmetal between two roller wheels. In most cases, the large, flat-top roller is constant, but the smaller lower wheel is switched for varying degrees of curvature, depending on how much shape needs to be created. Wheeling is a very slow process when done correctly, since the goal is to make the steel flow and conform to a new shape. Trying to put too much shape in too quickly will only buckle the metal and ruin the panel. Large freestanding versions like this one allow working large panels, but small tabletop versions are available as well.
Sandbags are filled with various media depending on the company and intent for the bag, but all are used for stretching. To work metal, such as this piece of brass, start at the center and work outward. Not all areas will receive equal attention and most of the hammering will be concentrated toward the center, since it needs to be stretched the most. As you hammer, the moves underneath the blow force the metal to stretch and bend.
Dollies are the most basic form of metal shaping tool and are chosen to complement the shape needed, or oftentimes simply what will fit into the location needing to be dollied. Sheetmetal is actually fluid, and hammering on-dolly is used for stretching. Hammering off-dolly is used to equalize highs and lows—like working out dings and waves in sheetmetal. The exception is with a wooden dolly, or forming block, which will form without stretching the sheetmetal. Clockwise from the top left we have a toe dolly, heel dolly, comma dolly, a wood forming block, general-purpose dolly, and a teardrop dolly.
This highly versatile hand shear can make simple straight, complex, or curved cuts in light- and heavy-gauge sheetmetal. They’re very useful in that they allow the material to be turned in any position while cutting, and are ideal for getting the basic shape of a piece started.
The type and style of sheetmetal working hammers is nearly as limitless as dollies, but these four are a good basis to start with. The main consideration when choosing which hammer to use is the type of work that needs to done and where. Some hammer heads will just suite a location better than others. Specialized tips, like the two picks shown, are used for dents or reaching into bends or tight areas. The leather hammer is a deadblow style that is used for shaping without stretching.
We saved our favorite for last: the stump. Occasionally referred to as the “old Italian method,” since it’s been long rumored that early Ferrari race cars were crafted this way, stump forming holds a great deal of possibilities with very little expense. To begin, find a solid stump from a hardwood tree that doesn’t hold a lot of sap—southern pine trees typically aren’t a good choice, for example. There’s no strict guideline on how large or deep the hole needs to be, and in truth, it doesn’t really need to be symmetrical either. The metal is placed over the hole and the hammer strikes fall in and around the hole. Wood and plastic mallets with rounded heads are usually the weapon of choice. Whereas sandbags work more slowly and subtlety, stumps can create a lot of shape quickly.
Where To Get ’Em!
Don’t have room or can’t afford the professional-level tools like Hollywood Hot Rods uses? The good news is nearly all of these tools are readily available in budget-friendly home garage versions from either Eastwood or Harbor Freight Tools. Find what you need and start building your sheetmetal-assaulting arsenal today!