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Old 02-19-2011, 05:49 PM
Joe Hartson's Avatar
Joe Hartson Joe Hartson is offline
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Location: Pass Christian, MS
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Default What you need to get started in metal shaping

One of the questions asked by new members wanting to learn metal shaping is what tools do I need to get started. To me there is no real single answer to this question. It all depends on what you want to do. There are many different ways to make the same shape depending on what you have to work with and what you are going to do with the completed panel.

It is important to understand that there are only four things you can do to sheet metal. You can cut it, bend it, shrink it and stretch it. If you cut it in small pieces and weld it together to get the shape you want you are really fabricating and not shaping.

If you are going to learn metal shaping you have to know what the metal is going to do when you apply force, psi, to the sheet metal. The best way to learn this is by using simple hand tools and trying to make something. Most people start by making a bowl shape. Making a shape that doesn’t fit anything is fairly easy while making it fit something is a lot harder.

Welding sheet metal is an important part of metal shaping because it allows you to create large complex panel out of smaller shaped panel. You do not need welding equipment to start learning metal shaping. You will need to be able to weld when you try to create a larger more complex panel or attach a panel you made to something you are working on.

You also need to understand shape and arrangement before you can create a panel, large of small. That is the subject for another time and would include pattern making.

So what tools do you need to get started learning metal shaping? You have to be able to shrink, stretch, bend and cut the metal.

Cutting sheet metal can be done with hand shears. You need a left cut and a right cut set of hand shears. There are many different brands available. These will let you cut the sheet metal to match a pattern so you can begin changing its shape.

There has been a lot of discussion about who make the best shears, mine are an old set of Wiss shears. They have served me very well, I don't think the quality of the ones made today are as good. Midwest shears sold by Sears and other seems to be very good and reasonable priced.

Shrinking sheet metal is probably the first thing you should master. It can be done using a stump with a depression cut into the top, Tuck Pucks and a hammer, with tucking forks and a hammer, or one of the machines designed for shrinking, like the Lancaster style shrinker/stretcher. To begin with forget about any of the machines.

Here is a link to a thread on Working With A Stump by TheRodDoc.

Picture of high crown and low crown Tuck Pucks

Here is a link to Tuck Pucks made by Mr. C

Pictures of my tucking forks.

Here are some pictures on my Lancaster shrinker and stretchers. Both sets have GitZit stippled dies in them made by Neil Dunder. They work much better than the standard die and don't mark the metal as much.


Harbor Freight

Stretching sheet metal can be accomplished by using a beater bag and a hammer. The hammer can be made out of an old baseball bat. Beater bags can be purchased or you can make one yourself. You can even use and old leather purse filled with sand. The purchased beater bags come in several different shapes and sizes. The bags can be filled with dry sand, lead shot or steel shot. Most people use sand because it is cheap and works well.

Here is a link to some home made tools.

Hammers and dollies are also needed to help with bending sheet metal and stretching. Good quality hammers and dollies are a good investment. Cheap hammers and dollies are soft and will become marked up quickly. These marks will transfer into the sheet metal as you work it.

There are hundreds of different styles of hammers. These are the three that I use most.

Likewise there are many different sizes and shapes of dollies. There are the ones I use most.

You will also need to learn how to smooth out the metal to make it smooth once you have put the shape in the panel. This is called planishing. It can be done in many different ways depending on the metal you are working with and the shape of the panel. A slapper and dolly or hammer and dolly can be used to planish the metal. Steel slappers are normally used for steel, wooden slappers with a leather facing are used on aluminum.

Here are some pictures of a couple of slappers. The red one is the one I use most and is made by Dutch and Marty Comstock. The other two are Harbor Freight.

Here is a wooden slapper made by Rick Tucker and it gets used a lot.

Here is a picture of one that is a work of art and too pretty to use make by Dan Shady.

If you have no experience or very little I would recommend you first buy a couple of DVDs that help explain metal shaping. Take a look at this thread
This is some of the best money you can spend to get started. These DVDs will teach you more about the basics of metal shaping in a short period of time than anything else.

There is also a book available called Key to Metal Bumping that can also be very useful. Here is a link for Eastwood that has reprints for sale.

You are going to make scrap as you learn, no way around that. Until you learn what the metal is going to do when you hit it with a hammer or other object you are just beating on metal and making scrap. If you try to learn metal shaping using machines you will make more scrap faster and won’t learn as much as if you do it by hand first.

You can find a lot of useful information of the site that will help you get started. Go to the section called General Metal Shaping Discussion scroll down to Resources and have a look at the information there. For the basic tools discussed above visit the vendors site to see what they offer. The ones in Red have been long time supporter of the metal shaping community and offer excellent products.

Hope this has been useful for the new members and helps answer some of the initial questions that you have.
Joe Hartson

There is more than one way to go to town and they are all correct.
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Old 02-19-2011, 06:22 PM
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jhnarial jhnarial is offline
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One of the best threads I have ever read.
Johnny Arial

This forum is dedicated to Metal Shaping.
Please stay on topic.
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Old 02-19-2011, 07:34 PM
ShawnMarsh ShawnMarsh is offline
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Location: Newark, CA
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Very nice, thank you for taking the time to write all that info up.
__________________ - My metalshaping portfolio as I get started in the world of metal.
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Old 02-19-2011, 09:21 PM
nella nella is offline
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Location: Raleigh, NC
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Thank you for putting this together.
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Old 02-19-2011, 09:30 PM
Join Date: May 2009
Location: Madera,Ca. Home of Yosemite
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I don't have to ask you what you did today Joe!
thanks for the time and effort to put this together!!!!!!!
Rick Scott
The second mouse gets the cheese!
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Old 02-20-2011, 04:36 AM
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Ben Ben is offline
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Great Job Joe,


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Old 02-20-2011, 09:25 AM
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Marty Comstock Marty Comstock is offline
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Location: East Herkimer NY
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Thare are also a few more things that help.




Willingness to learn.

An open mind.

Humility. (sheet metal will give you plenty of this)


I have looked for these at wally world and other suppliers, but to no avail. seems to come from within. Seems too some days I have more of one than another. I guess these traits (and more i cannot think of right now) are needed for any venture in anything.

Results = (Effort X Determination2) + Time
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Old 02-20-2011, 10:10 AM
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Gene Olson Gene Olson is offline
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Location: central, mn, USA
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Originally Posted by Joe Hartson View Post
To begin with forget about any of the machines.
AMEN ! ! !
You need to feel and understand what is happening.

Machines, well until you you can see where the high ground is you are apt to drive them directly into the bog (but you will have succeeded in getting there fast)

These guys, the stump and the puck are great for shrinking shallow curves, working from the inside of the panel.

When you get to a high crown area the edges of the panel start getting in the way.
You can shrink by putting the hammer inside and hitting it with the puck.

I mean use a post dolly of appropriate size like the one below and hit the work just off the point of contact with a wedge shaped soft hammer (wood or plastic) the plastic hammer in the pic has one wedge shaped end.

Minn. Metal Mangler.
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Old 02-20-2011, 06:29 PM
Joe Hartson's Avatar
Joe Hartson Joe Hartson is offline
Join Date: May 2009
Location: Pass Christian, MS
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Thanks for the compliment on the thread. I had started this a long time ago but never finished.

Marty you are dead on with your comments. Without those you can't learn metal shaping.
Joe Hartson

There is more than one way to go to town and they are all correct.
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Old 02-20-2011, 08:27 PM
Gando Gando is offline
Join Date: Feb 2010
Location: Concord N.C.
Posts: 109

By far I would strongly say that attending a metalshaping gathering or visiting shops of other members is a great way to shorten the learning curve. I have learned much of what I have gained from this community just leaning on a work bench watching, listening or participating in discussions and made some great friends along the way. The sharing of knowledge and hard lessons learned is invaluable and generously given. The demonstrations and the chance to get some machine or tool time on equipment you would otherwise not have access to also enhances your understanding. I do not wish to take anything away from any classes the masters of this craft offer and hope to attend some when my finances permit, but if those opportunities are out of your budget then I would encourage you to spend a few days at a "Meet". Most offer camping or lodging suggestions that are affordable and some hosts provide some of the meals. To stay on topic, you may find help on making your own tools, purchasing some starters from folks that are upgrading as their skills improve or you might even luck up on a generous gift. That will get you started nicely and keep you interested until you skills get closer to where you wanna be.
Just me talkin'
David Gandy
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