How To Do Classic Car Body Work | Beginners Restoration
A lot of times, we prefer to do our own work on our classics. Not out of a deep-seated distrust of our body guys, but more of a reflection of the fact that we want to be able to say, “I did that.” With that in mind, I went back in time a few years(or so) to when I was a young pup working in a body shop. Now I get to share with you a few tips and tricks I learned from the old hats that had spent so much time behind a sanding block they had their own layers of filler.
Dents: Set up a light to reflect down the body panel you want to check. The light will help to identify dings and dents. Your hands will also work well for this. Go slow, close your eyes and your hands will feel most small dents before you can see them. Pick up a set of hammers and dollies, like this Performance Tool set that Speedway Motors offers. These are a must for every beginner, as well as the experienced body workers. Don’t get worried if you get a little overzealous with the sandpaper either, remember; you’ll be painting the area anyway. Watch how much filler you put on also, you’ll never want more than 1/8 inch of filler on a repair.
Guide Coats: These are absolutely the cat’s meow. The two main styles of guide coats are a powder and just a standard light mist coat of paint. Guide coats work by depositing a thin layer of either dust or paint across the surface of the primer. Essentially what they do is help you identify low spots as you sand down to a smooth, even, primer coat. This makes a perfect paint job come that much closer. I used guide coats in conjunction with wet sanding, as the constant flow of water kept the panel clean, and kept my paper from piling up with sanding residue. Most powder guide coats are waterproof, and well, so is the mist coat of paint.
Sanding: Simple. Never, ever, ever, use a bare hand to sand. Always use a sanding block, sponge, or something to support your sandpaper. Sanding with a bare hand will create shallow groves from your fingers pressing harder than your palm. Let’s face it, no hand is flat. A sanding block will ensure that your job goes smoothly (pun intended). Also, a light touch is all that is needed. The sandpaper will do the job without your full weight behind it.
Straight Edge: Great tool to have on hand when you are roughing in some body work with a dolly and hammer. I have found that a 2 foot strip of steel or aluminum with a straight edge is the favored tool in my garage. When you are working down a wide dent, the straight edge allows you to spot lows easily. Hint: run some masking tape the length of the edge to protect against scratches in the paint outside the working area.
DIY Welding Clamp: Also known as a sheet metal screw. You won't believe it until you try it, but this is the best tool I have found for panel replacement. Get your panel in place, drill a pilot hole and run a screw through (or use a self-drilling screw like shown here). It will hold the panels in place while you weld them in, and once you are done a small spot weld is all that is needed to fill that hole in.
Buffing/Polishing trim: Use some spare pieces of wood to hold the small trim pieces. You can use the factory mount holes and screw the trim to the wood. Gives you a big handle to hold on to, and helps combat the potential warping due to the heat generating by buffing/polishing.
Remember: There is no substitute for real experience. However, $20 for a dinged up fender from your local salvage yard and some patience will go a long way towards getting you comfortable. Speedway Motors also offers several books that are a fantastic resource for the beginner, as well as the expert.