Who wouldn’t enjoy having a complete metalworking shop full of tools at their disposal? Being able to form, shrink, stretch, and manipulate raw steel into works of art has been the work of craftsmen for centuries. The techniques are the same, and while there are many companies manufacturing specific tools of the trade, even the home enthusiast can fabricate the tools to make the most of any metal.
Steve’s latest full-fabrication project was this streamlined pedal car that was fashioned after a vintage land speed racer. The entire project was built by Steve and the team at Pro Metal Shop.
We visited Steve Mercurio at Pro Metal Shop in Danville, Pennsylvania. Steve has built hot rods and street rods for decades using many different disciplines such as paint, fiberglass, and metal fabrication. He now focuses mainly on metalworking, and holds seminars throughout the year and at various events, showing others how they can make their metal-based imagination become a reality.
No fabrication is necessary for our first tool. A lot of folks like to use metal from old appliances for body panels and such. Steve says, "The only thing good to use from an old refrigerator are the magnets from the doors." These things have a myriad of uses. They hold paper onto body panels, they can be used as a straight-edge and, you can work out curves for drawing a line on a panel. Put two or three together for specific thicknesses!
During our visit, we noted a vast array of machinery that one would expect to find in a shop with the capability to create almost anything.
There are two ways to work metal, by shrinking and by stretching it. How you do it makes all the difference! – Steve Mercurio, Pro Metal Shop
What caught our eye, was the number of hand-made tools that were designed by Steve. These versatile tools carry out a broad range of very elemental tools that are a necessity for anyone wanting to work metal properly. We asked Steve about some of them, why he chose to make them instead of purchase them, and most of all, how he made them.
Steve admitted that just about any tool necessary is available online and through suppliers. But, he also reminded us that equipping a full-blown shop by purchasing everything can get quite expensive. While there is great value in buying the proper, quality tool, sometimes, making it is just as good, and will put a little coin back in your pocket.
You can be very "tank-ful" for this one. If you happen to have an empty (make sure it's empty) gas cylinder you don't know what to do with, you could fabricate a handle for the cap and a base (and perhaps handles) for the tank. This makes for a great starting form to begin stretching various metals into curves.
Steve says, “I like building stuff!” Which doesn’t surprise anyone that has seen the extent of work that rolls out of his shop. The fact that he likes building even the tools he uses just serves to confirm that. Having built cars for so many years, he’s had opportunity to know what his needs are and how to satisfy them using ordinary objects around his shop. Now, Steve spent some hours of his day, showing us how he did it. Follow along as we share how you can help stock up your shop without breaking the bank.
Steve showed us how a curved lip can distort a flat panel and how shrinking the material around the lip (especially the curve) will help remove the strain on the rest of the panel.
Steve breaks it down quite simply, “There are two ways to work metal, by shrinking and by stretching it. How you do it makes all the difference!” Many enthusiasts know a bit about metalworking thanks to various TV shows and programs. They serve to give a glimpse into the creative world of metalworking and introduce us to some of the terms and techniques. Steve reports that the English Wheel, the holy grail for many metalworkers, is actually called a “Raising Machine” and the world-renowned bead roller, the favorite of louver lovers is actually referred to as a “Rotary Machine.”
This tool is as natural as you can get! Steve took some chunks of local hardwood and formed some divits of varying sizes as a form to pound metal. He finish sanded everything smooth and keeps them stored under his workbench.
Using any tool to get the desired response is dependent on knowing how metal moves. Stretching or shrinking an area of the metal will have an effect on the entire panel, and knowing how to counter or prevent distortion in undesired areas is just as important as having the right tool. Steve spent some time showing us this phenomenon using a small piece of sheet steel that he had laying around the shop.
Also, just like painting a vehicle, some of the earlier phases of working metal can be quite abrasive, but then things get finer and finer grained until you eventually wind up polishing the finished product.
By using various common items, Steve has fabbed up some very useful tools. Here, he made a simple, yet effective hammer he uses around the shop.
Making A Hammer
Let’s face it, you’re basically starting the process by hitting things with a hammer! But, as work progresses, you should begin to coerce the metal with a finer grain. Ever notice that finishing hammers and dollies are usually pretty smooth? That’s because the finish on the tool is also transferred onto the material that it works.
Steve used a banister rail and a small baseball bat from a gift shop.
So, if you’ve got a rough surface on the tool, it will be evident in the panel that you’re working. That’s fine for when you’re making big changes, but as the level of detail increases, the surface imperfections should be decreased. By having a smooth, and even polished finish on the tools you use, many imperfections infused by earlier tooling can be eliminated before the working is even completed.
Having a lathe, he turned the shortened handle and drilled a hole in the hammer head for the handle.
By using some of the hand-built tools that Steve has, he quickly put a raised edge on the curved sheet of metal, much like you would have on a wheel opening or lower body panel. He showed us how by working the metal around the edge, it also created a “tin-canning” effect on the other part of the panel.
He sanded the wood to the finish that he wanted.
By shrinking around the curved and raised section of metal, the forces were equalized on both sides of the raised edge and the panel would again lay flat. Of course, there’s more to understanding how various materials of varying thicknesses will react to being worked into shape, but this helped to illustrate the general principle of metal shaping.
A little J-B Weld and voila! He now has a double-sided hammer for working metal with a different radii on each end.
Saving Cash And Building Up Your Tool Supply
With a basic understanding of how metal reacts to working and a few tools that Steve showed us how to make, it wouldn’t take long for anyone to begin banging out repair panels or creating detail pieces to complement their build.
While Steve didn’t build this tool, he did make it more versatile. He made a handle to hold this old shrinker/stretcher rather than have it mounted to a stand, so that he could hold it up to a panel still attached to a vehicle and work the metal. This is a huge benefit when working a car’s body panels.
Sure, there’s more to it than hammers and a few hours in a weekend, but the first step is getting in there and getting your hands dirty by doing it. And to do that, you’ll need some tools. Thanks to Steve at Pro Metal Shop, we’ve learned there’s a way to build up your toolbox, while saving that hard-earned cash for other parts of the project.
When it comes to hammers, Steve has a variety of pounders and slappers. He's made wooden hammers out of baseball bats and the slap hammers are made from old F-250 leaf springs. Notice the different finishes on each one. The smoother finished slap hammers are used further along in the process to help smooth out the surface.