Super Project '71 Part Eight: Bodywork Equals Homework
Part Eight: Bodywork Equals Homework
From the March, 2009 issue of VW Trends
By Ryan Lee Price
Photography by Ryan Lee Price
So far, on this project we have concentrated on thing specific to Super Beetles, but the last part and this part of the series can be used on most any Volkswagen, even Buses and Ghias. Even though the car changes, the principle is same. This month we will tackle the ins and outs of bodywork, specifically bodywork in your own driveway or garage. It is a lot easier than you think, and the next time you collect a dent or a deep scratch in your car, you'll feel slightly more confident to remove and repair it without writing a fat check to your local body shop.
If you've just wrapped the front of your Beetle around a telephone pole and you've staggered home to find this magazine in your mailbox thinking that reading this article is your first step to a better front end, then you're going to be sadly disappointed. Major damage and seriously twisted parts--like if your deck lid resembles a taco and your passenger door has more holes than a Pauly Shore movie--then you're going to have to consult a professional body shop to straighten out your life. However, if your problems consist of a fist-sized dent on your hood or a SUV-door-crease in your rear quarter panel, then this is for you.
Our first step in transforming you from a simple Volkswagen enthusiast to a Volkswagen enthusiast who can shape a body panel with some degree of confidence is the right set of tools or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. Because nobody is expected to have a financial backer to front the money for a fully-stocked tool chest (especially in such a specific area), we're going to show you the basic tools for the job. However, tools specific to body repair are crucial and, because a claw hammer and a few scraps of sandpaper aren't going to cut it, you're going to have to invest in a few items.
We've got a couple of dents in our beloved little project Super, and they're one of a few things stopping us from applying a new coat of paint and moving on to more fun aspects of this project. In our arsenal are a some tools that will aide us toward our goal. First off is a "As Seen on TV" dent puller kit, and the second tool is a slightly more serious apparatus designed for professional results, Eastwood's Magna Spot Studwelder complete with a heavy-duty slide hammer, T-puller and a collection of pins, rivets and electrodes. Thirdly, we'll finish up with a set of dollies and hammers to smooth out the rough spots, so hopefully we can avoid using Bondo (though most projects will need some amount of filler).
There are two types of steel used in building cars, hot-rolled and cold-rolled. Hot-rolled steel is made at temperatures exceeding 1472-degrees Fahrenheit and usually has a thickness of 1.6 to 7.9mm (for frames and cross supports), while cold-rolled steel is hot-rolled steel that's been acid rinsed, cold-rolled thinner than annealed, which means that it's been reheated and control-cooled for strength. Cold-rolled has a consistent thickness, better workability and higher quality than hot-rolled steel. Like all materials, steel is made of atoms, and these small particles are arranged to form grains that can only be seen with a microscope, and these grains form a grain structure. The grain structure in a piece of steel determines how much it can be bent or shaped (For a little demonstration of this, take a piece of scrap steel and bend it back and forth several times. The fold will be hot because of the internal friction caused by the grains rubbing together). To change the shape of flat steel, you need to rearrange all of the individual grains in and around the damaged area.
On most steel, the grain pattern will determine how it reacts to an applied force, but the actual strength of a body panel comes from its shape. Pounding your fist on the roof of your Sedan will have significantly different results than a blow to the A-pillar. Since the roof panel is flat, it will bend more easily under the pressure, and by contrast, it will pop back into shape easier than a curved or shaped panel. These same properties apply during a collision, but there are two kinds of deformations that can occur to metal: kinks and bends. Kinks have sharp ends with small radii, usually more than 90-degrees, which can't be straightened without using heat because there are permanent tears in the metal. A part is bent when the changes in shape from the part that's damaged and the part that's not is smooth and continuous. The damage done to our Super are bends, not kinks.
Now that all of the physics are out of the way, there are a couple of things you need to do to make sure your project goes smoothly (no pun of course). The crucial first step to any bodywork is keeping the surface clean. Move your car into a shaded area or set up an EZ-Up if not only to keep you out of the sun, but to keep the temperature of the car to a minimum. We left a fender out in the sun for a couple of hours of 100-degree heat and the surface temperature of the fender peeked at 172-degrees. That's not something you can easily work on. After exposing the bare metal of the area to be repaired by removing the paint and primers, clean the area thoroughly with a wax and grease remover. Keep it handy as you'll want to maintain that level of cleanliness until you apply the first coat of primer.
Before we begin our process, let's discuss safety. Remember to use gloves and glasses when working with chemicals and paints, and since we'll be performing a kind of welding, keep a fire extinguisher handy just in case. Let's start:
Conclusion: With our easy dents, we lucked out in that our methods worked quite quickly. Remember that the contour of the dolly must fit the contour of the damaged area. If the wrong surface hits the panel, like a sharp edge of the dolly, for example, you will cause further damage to the panel. Start with light blows and gradually increase the force of your blows to raise the damage. It is always better to use many well-placed smaller blows than a couple of hard ones. This will give you better control. As you hit the panel, the dolly tends to rebound slightly (and the panel will rebound on its own). This creates a secondary lifting, and to combat this, release pressure as soon as the hammer hits the panel or use a slightly larger dolly.
Next time we're going to take a closer look at removing the final pieces of the car (window sill chrome and vent windows) and finally get completely ready for paint. Meanwhile, stay Super.
Wanting to clean up the front...
Wanting to clean up the front end a little, we sanded smooth most of the rusty spots on the hood and front apron and gave them a protective coat of primer.
This is the best shot we could...
This is the best shot we could get of the first dent, a fist-sized bend technically called a "low spot," a recession below the surrounding surface, on the passenger side of the hood, conveniently over the hood's structural frame underneath. The only way out is to pull it, as the spaces underneath is a little too tight for spoons (used to pry out damage in tight spots) or dollies.
The second dent is this crease...
The second dent is this crease on the front apron formed from hitting a boulder 15 years ago. Since this is another low spot, more like a valley, we'll have to raise out the bend.
The first step for us is to...
The first step for us is to clear the area of the paint and primer. Though this isn't totally necessary, we wanted to see how the metal was underneath the affected areas. We used an easily-found paint stripping chemical and waiting until the stripper did it's work.
Here are the two bends without...
Here are the two bends without paint. Bare metal looks nice and clean, but make sure so with the wax and grease cleaner. Dry it with a lint-free towel and refrain from touching the metal excessively.
Our first thought was that...
Our first thought was that we could simply pull out the dent with an over-the-counter suction cup puller, but because of the curves of the hood and apron, it wouldn't create a suction. Perhaps if the dent had been on the roof or the door, this would have worked.
Next up is the "As-Seen-On-TV"...
Next up is the "As-Seen-On-TV" dent puller from the Ding King. Simply clean the area again with the supplied cleaner (in the bottle) and apply the glue to the metal.
Once the glue sets up for...
Once the glue sets up for a few minutes, press down the center piece and twist it back up. Does it work? Yes and no. It pulled out the dent slightly, but there is so much spring back (the ability of metal to return to its original shape, dented or otherwise) that the dent wouldn't come out all the way.
Time to bring in the big guns....
Time to bring in the big guns. This is Eastwood's Magna Spot Studwelder, with a heavy-duty slide hammer, T-puller and a collection of pins, rivets and electrodes. Though it's roughly $300 for the kit, it is surely worth it if you've got several dents on several cars (compare that with the bodyman's bill).
The electrode (the small angled...
The electrode (the small angled tip) comes in several shapes and sizes, but we used 2mm studs and this is the appropriate electrode. The cylinder surrounded the electrode is the insulator that covers the electrode and the pin.
Simply place the electrode...
Simply place the electrode at the low point of the dent, press in the insulator and push the button for approximately one second. The pin is welded to the panel.
To test the waters and find...
To test the waters and find out how resilient our dent is, we started with the supplied "T" puller, a compact tool that clamps onto the pin and is used for lightweight dents. It prevents overpull, and you could end up with a high spot instead of an even panel.
With the results of the "T"...
With the results of the "T" puller not exactly what we needed, we attached the slide hammer, a polished steel bar with a rubber grip handle and a cast-iron slide. According to the manufacturer, it provides up to 500lbs of pulling strength, definitely plenty of power.
It worked so well on the apron...
It worked so well on the apron that we used the Studwelder on the hood dent. We didn't just use one pin, however, needed approximately four on the hood and six on the apron.
This is to show you that you...
This is to show you that you don't have to weld them in straight and that they can be welded to whatever angle you might need to pull the dent smooth.
After you are done with the...
After you are done with the pins, simply grind them off and smooth with any angle grinder. Be careful not to cut into the metal and you're back to square one.
If shelling out $300 for a...
If shelling out $300 for a stud welder isn't in your project's budget, many local automotive stores offer knockdown versions of the same thing. The drawback is that you need to screw the pins into the metal, leaving quarter-inch holes that need to be filled. This slide puller was approximately $8.
After a few of hours of pulling...
After a few of hours of pulling and welding and grinding and pulling, this is the results (after a coat of primer). It isn't perfect, but after some sanding and perhaps a thin layer of filler, we'll be ready for paint.
For the apron, we broke out...
For the apron, we broke out the hammers and dollies to "bump" out the dent. Remove all dirt, undercoating and paint/primer from the backside of the panel as well before beginning. The reason there are so many different types of dollies is so you can match up the shape of the panel with the surface of the dolly. One side of the hammer is rounded for bumping concave surfaces while the flat side is for high spots.
There are two methods to bump...
There are two methods to bump dents: off-dolly and on-dolly. The hammer-off-dolly is used to raise low spots and lower high spots simultaneously. The hammer-on-dolly is a method used to apply a concentrated force on a small area. Place the dolly against the top of the damaged spot. The hammer blow exerts a pinching force on the metal, and a small amount of metal is crushed and flattened between the hammer and the dolly. Each blow should overlap the last and no two blows should be on top of each other. A correct hit will create a high-pitched "ping" noise, while a miss will give you a dull or dead sound.
After an hour of properly...
After an hour of properly placed hammer blows (always starting with light blows to correct for aim and tension), the panel had worked its way out. Some spots reversed and became high areas that needed to be battered back down.
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