The sheetmetal brake is a foundation tool that anyone serious about building their own parts will need regularly. The point is very simple; the clamping jaw and swinging plate create a clean bend in sheetmetal at any degree from 1-120 degrees or so, depending on the machine. A finger brake, such as this one, has a clamping jaw that is split into several smaller sections. This allows the ability to easily alter the position of the brake’s “fingers” to accommodate different styles and sizes of bends or boxes not possible with solid jaw.
Depending on the scope and scale of your projects, you may not need a large freestanding bandsaw such as this, but a small tabletop one can make life much easier. Bandsaws are most useful in fab shops not only for basic cuts, but also roughing in shapes, curves, and contours that can be cleaned up afterward with more precise means. The rounded end of the sheetmetal shown here is a quick operation on a bandsaw; it’s easy to maintain consistency.
Shrinker & Stretcher
The basic principle of shrinking and stretching relies upon squeezing the metal together or pulling apart to stretch. Shrinkers and stretchers accomplish this with a pair of ribbed jaws that bite into the metal and then slightly move either inward or outward. If the arc is too great, stretching along the same path will open it back up. Hand-operated tools are always the cheapest, but foot-activated ones will speed your work and control since both hands are free to guide the metal. The result in this case is a piece of 90-degree angle sheetmetal that curves fluidly. Note that the marks are only on one side of the 90-degree stock; this technique is handy for making custom parts and patches as well as flanges for joining panels, or even templates for cloning existing parts.
Bench grinders are useful, but for cleaning up edges after cuts, nothing really beats a disc sander. Not only can they quickly deburr and smooth the edges of metal, they can also be used to clean up the fluidity of a cut.
The slip roll is essentially a movable set of rollers that you can crank either sheetmetal, or small-to-medium diameter round bar through, to create curvature. It’s always best to sneak up on the shape you need, so you always begin with a mild clamping load that creates a slight bend, then tighten the rollers a little closer together and run the material through again. Arcs like this piece of sheetmetal are ideal for beginning patch panels on curved areas.
Pro Tip: You can get a three-in-one machine with slip roll, metal shear, and sheetmetal brake capabilities from Harbor Freight.
There are several variations on the clamping or flanging pliers design, but they all have basically the same dual-purpose function. On the most basic level, these are perfect for clamping and holding pieces together when welding or fitting sheetmetal. They are also useful for making quick breaks in small pieces of sheetmetal—though the result will not be as crisp as a sheetmetal break without some additional work. The flanging/shaping tool to the right provides an easy way to make a custom piece, and the crew at Hollywood Hot Rods uses it regularly. The small bite allows bending around a curve on sheetmetal, but will require work with the shrinker to smooth out the bend as the sheetmetal will naturally buckle and fold.
Here’s the tool that makes it possible to create perfect strengthening ribs in panels, such as a floorpan, or even body lines in sheetmetal. Bead rollers operate by using two sets of round dies with complementary shapes to stretch the metal and create beads. There are literally thousands of possible die combinations that can create innumerable effect, limited only by your imagination. In any case, the beads are always formed in multiple stages with each pass exerting a little more force on the material by cranking the dies closer together. This version is hand-crank operated, but much more convenient versions driven by electric motors are available as well.