Tools for Removing Dents
by Wray Schelin
As promised to the XK self-restorers, who are about to get to the paint stage.
How smooth are your stripped body panels? That is the question you need to know before you advance to the primer stage. If they're not smooth you can fill them with bondo and heavy primer- but if you do so you run a high risk of a early paint failure and all your work will be in vain- or you can smooth them by accurately working the panel back to a smooth condition. If you rub your hand over the metal and feel low spots or high spots, you can be sure that they will show . Before you get your spray gun out you should be able to rub a panel in any direction and feel nothing but smoothness.
If you choose smoothing instead of filling, I'll share with you the technique that I use and some of the tools needed.
First the tools:
All body tools should have smooth working surfaces; hammers, slappers, and dollys are like printing presses, they will transfer the imperfections on their working faces to the metal over an over. Its best to take the time and smooth your tools first , because any imperfection transferred to the panel can make itself known later in the topcoats,as a paint shrinkage depression.
The higher quality body tools are made of heat treatable steel. You should have at least one hard hammer and one hard dolly- for hammering welds. The reason for this is the welds are harder than the surrounding metal and if you flatten them with a non hard hammer you will mark the hammer and then you will have to keep smoothing it. The working faces of hammers and slappers should have a very slight crown to them and the edges should be radiused. With the edges smooth and the center crowned slightly, you will not mark the panel if you inadvertantly strike with the edge of the tool.
The slapper is the most important smoothing tool. You can make a slapper out of a old rear leaf spring. Car springs are harder than welds, so they will not mark up. My slapper has a working face of 2.250" by 5". The thickness is .250" and the unbent starting length is 14". You can also get a single spring leaf new from your local truck spring rebuilder. You can cut it to shape with a cuttoff wheel or a torch, but cool it quick so you don't anneal it. I bent mine with an offset of 1.625" . The offset allows you to affix a wood handle and provides the clearance for your fingers. Heat with a torch to bend the offset and then narrow the handle end to a width of 1.375". The narrowed part is 5" long.
This slapper will smooth all body panels except for concave areas. For concave areas you will need to make a special slapper or use hammers. Once you start to use a slapper you will retire your hammer.
You will also need a few dollys. I found most of my dollies at flea markets for a few dollars each. Three or four dollies will be more than adequite to deal with all the different shapes and contours that you encounter . Each dolly usually has several different contours and crowns. As long as you have a straight edge , a low crown, medium crown, and a high crown you will be able to smooth any panel. Don't hesitate to alter the dolly to fit a need ,grind them with a body grinder, to rough shape then use a DA sander- with finer and finer sand papers- in rotary mode to achieve a fine polished finish.
Next you will need a body file and holder. The holders have a turn-buckle on them to allow you to flex the file to a concave, flat, or convex shape. The file that I use I was able to order from my local welding supplier. They are a dealer for a German company called Pferd. I got a Pferd catalog, an found that they offer a 12 tooth per inch body file , which is considered a fine cut body file. Most of the files that I had seen previously were 8 or 9 teeth per inch which are coarse body files. I like the fine file because I can use it on aluminum , steel, or body solder. When I use it on aluminum I load the teeth with a candle wax, this allows you to skate over the aluminum without digging in and making gouges. This type of file is 14 inches long and has cutting surfaces on each of its sides. On one side I grind the edges smooth in effect killing them so they do not dig in as you skate the file sideways. Pferd also sells the holders and a mutitude of different style files and abrasives, all are of the highest quality available anywhere. Pferd has distribution centers all over the world. In the USA they can be reached atPferd Inc 30 Jytek Dr. Leominster, MA 01453 Phone 508 840-6420
In Australia:Pferd Australia (Pty) Ltd. Moorabbin, Vic. 3189 8 Capella Cresent (03) 5531946+5531933
You can also try your local welding supply house and they might have a catalog.
Another item I use is a large magic marker or felt marker. The ones that I use are called magnums and they mark a swath about 1/2" wide with a tenacious ink that dries very quickly. I like red ink the best.
A heavy duty 9" body grinder is the most expensive item needed. You can use a lighter duty 7" grinder but it won't work as well as the 9" in all cases.
Also a 9" 120 grit grinding disc. Grinding discs when they are new are very sharp when you run your finger over them , after grinding a heavy peice of steel for a few minutes you will dull the disc. This is how I prepare my discs, purposely dulling them to make them suitable for use.
Lastly you will need the Amazing Shrinking Disc. I mentioned this tool before in another post, it is a 9" disc of .050" stainless steel with some ruffles pressed into the outer working surface. This tool is most effective when used with the heavy duty 9" body grinder. I can't say enough about how good this simple tool works. They are available from one source only:Sunchaser Tools 3202 E. Foothill Blvd. Pasadena, CA 91107 626-795-1588 (Voice) 626-795-6494 (Fax)
I will take some pictures of these tools and send them to Dick so he can post them on the website.
In my next post I will explain the process that I use in conjunction with the earlier mentioned tools. For many years I haphazardly removed dents with a method which always left the panel in a improved state, but not perfect. I frankly didn't believe you could restore the damaged metal to a state were no filler other than primer would be neccessary. Like most things once you master them they are quite simple, all you need is the determination and the correct method.
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