In the past we've presented metal-shaping articles that proved the average inexperienced Joe can create just about anything from a flat sheet of steel, provided he has access to the right tools. The problem is that many of those "right" tools are large, expensive, and really more fitting for someone planning to do a lot of shaping on a regular basis. For most projects that you'll be taking on in your garage, just a few of the most basic tools will take you a long way.

We plan on revisiting this topic from time to time, but to begin we'll start with the simplest machines of them all: hammers and dollies. It's hard to get more basic than beating something with a blunt object, right? But there's so much more to it than that; to really make good use of hammers you need to know the proper techniques metal shapers use to turn those swings from random strikes to targeted blows. And once you know what those basic principles are, and allow yourself time to master them, there's an astounding array of projects you'll be able to tackle with nothing more than the knowledge of how to effectively bang two hardened pieces of steel together.

For example, did you know that there is a big difference between hammering "on dolly" and "off dolly," and that most people use the wrong method for trying to work out dings or waves in sheetmetal? It's true, and not knowing the difference will have you chasing a never-ending low or high spot. Or why it's important to keep your metal-shaping hammers separate from all of your other hammering activities? We'll tell you exactly why, plus more important tips that could be holding you back from making the step from shoddy to shaper.

To demonstrate some of these essential elements, we enlisted Yannick Sire of Sire Custom Performance. Sire a metal-shaping madman with striking speed when inspired, (we were blown away by how fast he and his fabricator Vlad Chioreanu formed the floors for project Max Effort elsewhere in this issue) so we asked him to show us the beginning basics of how he makes the custom pieces he needs to finish off the unique hot rod projects his shop handles regularly.


Basic Hammering Technique
Similar to driving a nail with a claw hammer, always grip toward the end of the handle for leverage. Unlike hammering a nail, you'll be doing zero swinging with your arm; it's all in the wrist. The correct method is to go with the natural rhythm of the hammer as it bounces off the dolly. If your arm is getting tired, you're putting far too much effort into it. Some prefer to extend their thumb or pointer finger up the hammer's handle for increased control and feel, especially in delicate situations.

Remember that sheetmetal is actually fluid, and hammering "on dolly" is used for stretching. For correct technique, the face of the dolly and the hammer should sandwich the metal creating a sharp ting sound upon impact. The hammer should bounce quickly off the face of the metal if the contact is solid.

Hammering "off dolly" is used to equalize highs and lows. This is the technique used for working out dings and waves in sheetmetal.


Forming An Edge
Forming an edge is one of the most valuable skills to have for adjusting seams or gaps between panels. Note how the bend in our repair panel here tapers upward away from the guide tape. Bending the edge is simple, but keeping it clean requires proper dollying. Instinct says to tap the top first, but to get the metal to bend at the tape line, tapping begins on the bend itself with the dolly placed on the inside of the lip to avoid distortion and moving the edge outward.

After rolling over the bend, the hammering switches to the top side of the lip to flatten out the lip and sharpen the bend.

note how the edge has moved in line with the guide tape without losing the original crispness and without any deformation in the panel.

The bend in our repair panel had too much radius to is, while the spot requires a sharp 90 degrees. With the bend now moved where we want it, we can use the hammer and a sharp-edged dolly like the Toe or Hell to begin hammering on the top and side of the bend until we get the crisp bend we need.