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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.