Project Pile House- Shaving the Door handles

Now that the major fabrication work is done on Pile House I’m now working on the fine details that I’ve been putting off for a while. One of these is to address removing the factory door handles. Since guys have been customizing cars, shaving the door handles has been one of the most common modifications to make the car look as smooth as possible. This process can be a pretty simple process, but there are a few things that can make it go smoothly. I decided to show the process on Project Pile House.

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I decided to shave the handles, but make a cut-out that you could pop the door by a button inside the door jam. Once the fabrication for the door latch was done I had to shave the holes from the door handles. In this case the body panel had a stamped, raised portion around where the handle mounted that I needed to cut out around and replace.

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Most any older car (especially from the 1950’s) doesn’t hardly have a flat surface on it and Pile House was no exception. This meant that I had to make a patch panel that matched the curvature of the door in that location.

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I started by putting a piece of cardboard behind the area I removed and tracing the opening. I then carefully cut out the cardboard piece until it was a tight fit in the opening. I made a little loop out of painters tape to use as a handle to test fit each time. I then used a scribe to transfer the shape to a 14″ X 12″ piece of 18 gauge steel. I avoided using a sharpie marker here as I wanted as exact of a tracing as possible. Tracing with a worn out sharpie can cause yo to be as much as an 1/8″ off!

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Because this patch panel needed to have a curve to it I traced the patch more to the center of this large panel. This was so I could have room to hold the panel while I formed it in the English Wheel. I put a 6″ lower anvil in the Eastwood Bench top English Wheel and rolled the panel in the wheel with light pressure. I only wanted a mild curve to the panel, so too heavy of pressure would have formed the panel too much.

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Once I had the shape of the patch panel transferred onto the metal and a curve rolled into it, I used the Throatless Shear to rough cut the shape out. I then “snuck up” on the panel by slowly cutting it to a more exact fit with a pair of Aviation Snips. At this point I had a panel that fit the opening but was VERY tight in the opening in the door. I wanted a tight fitting patch panel, but too tight could cause the panel to have a high spot when you weld it together. This is because there’s literally too much metal present and it puts tension on the panel. I solved this by carefully using a half round metal file to take small amounts of metal away exactly where I needed to allow the patch to fit perfectly in the opening. I was planning to TIG weld this joint so I wanted as little of a gap as possible.

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Using panel clamps I held the patch in place and put small tacks around the panel adjusting the panel as I went to assure it was aligned and flush with the existing panel.

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I then slowly worked around the panel laying short, quick welds with the TIG 200, the mini WP-9 torch. As I welded the weld seam started to sink (all welds pull in towards themselves) and I began hammering on-dolly to stretch the weld seam back out while it was still hot. I like doing this hot for two reasons; the weld is softer and you can planish the weld flat with the panel and the metal moves easier when hot allowing you to reverse the shrinkage more easily. While you could weld the panel completely, then hammer the welds afterwards, it takes a little more work and skill to fix the warpage evenly. I find working a little at a time controlling the shape of the panel is easier for me.

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Once the panel was welded and the majority of the warping was reversed, I used the pneumatic angle grinder with a 36 grit sanding disc to knock any proud welds down. The idea isn’t to grind the metal surrounding the weld too much as you can easily grind the metal thin. Once the welds are knocked down I lightly hit the entire work area to give it all the same texture.

I then start using my hand to feel the panel for any low spots and use the reflections on the panel to read where there are low spots in the panel. I then use the appropriate hammer and dolly to match the curvature of the panel to raise the low spots.

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Eventually I was left with small low spots directly next to the weld seam that I couldn’t easily hammer up. I used the bullseye pick to raise these spots and check my progress with the medium cut slapping file. The nice thing about the bullseye pick was that the body was slim enough to allow me to fit the tip into the inner door opening (with the window and regulator removed) and work the metal where I could never swing a hammer. This process can be repeated until the panel is completely perfect, but I’m ok with a skim coat of body filler on Pile House, so I dressed the panel with 120 grit paper on the palm DA for a “finished” look. Since I have more work to do to this panel I’ll primer the repaired area until I’m ready for a coat of body filler on the door.

With one side down we can see it really cleaned up the side of the truck with the subtle cutout in the door giving a little hint to the custom work done to the door. The next step will be tackling the process of removing the ugly upper door hinge and dialing in the gaps on the door. We’ll be sure to share the process as we tackle that job.

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16 thoughts on Project Pile House- Shaving the Door handles

  • Thanks Joe,

    I will be showing that process on the other side as this side took a bit of figuring to get it working how I wanted. We’ll have an article on that published hopefully next month. Thanks for following along!

  • I don’t have access to the backside of the panel on my door for hammering. Would fish plating reduce the amount of shrinkage?

  • I didn’t in my case either, I ended up cutting a square out of the inner door skin so I could get a dolly in behind the area I was working. I then welded the access panel back in place once I was finished with the job. I would avoid fishplating or overlapping metal as it won’t stop the warping and you’ll have a tough time straightening and warpage out.

  • Matt good timing on this demo as I will be shaving my door handles soon. If not Tig but Mig welding the patch panel how much space do you reccomend around the patch. I assume you will be using door poppers if so your imput to that process would be really helpful.

  • Ive shave door handles on a ranger truck, had warpage with a mig, even though ive done alot of auto metal work over the yrs, even with small welds and letting it cool. i notice when guys make bike gas tanks they tack with mig, and weld with tig. dose tig actualy put out less heat then a mig ? and how long of weld at a time were you doing? letting cool a bit and then returning to weld a bit more?

  • Hi Don,

    One thing that is a common misconception is that pretty much all welds on sheet metal will pull or shrink in around the weld. This is just the nature of the beast due to the heat involved in welding. You can reduce or limit the shrinking by welding near corner, seam, or body line, or you can reverse it by “hammer-welding” the seam (if its Oxy-Acetylene or TIG) to stretch the weld back out.

    The reason many people use a MIG to tack something together is because you’re left with a free hand to hold a piece in place and it’s quick and simple to zap something together. TIG is used to keep the heat effected zone down, produces smaller, flatter, welds, and gives you more control over the weld puddle. Another positive is that the welds are softer which allows them to be hammered and dollied and they require less heat to sand down.

    The length of the weld all depends on the project and personal preference. It also depends on your metal bumping skills as some high end guys weld a panel completely in one pass and hammer the weld afterwards, while I prefer to go only 2-3 inches at a time and then hammer the weld flat and stretch the metal back out as I go to keep the panel in shape.

  • Hi Jim,

    The panel gap really depends on your welder setup. If you’re able to set your machine so that it is on the “hot side” you can butt the panels up with zero gap and your weld will penetrate 100%, while a small about the thickness of the metal you’re welding can be used to allow the weld to penetrate and fill the void, it just requires some skill to avoid burning the edges of the metal away. I always practice and set my MIG up on a scrap piece of metal or test panels to assure I am happy with how well the welds penetrate and look.

  • I need to widen my fenders on a 38 Packard 3″ to fit on the new frame. Any suggestions Pat

  • Gene Winfield would just sculpt it with lead and make it pretty.

    Nice job , and thanks for the write-up.

  • I like the hinge look JMO shaved handles are cool but the hinge shows you its not a kit car….

  • Hi Pat,

    It all depends on the look you’re going for, but the most common way to do that is to split the fender in half and use round bar to extend the fender to the width you’d like. You can then make a a pattern and transfer it to sheet metal for your filler panel to fill the space in the center. You may need to roll the filler panel in an english wheel to give it the same shape as the existing fender. If you make the filler panel a little larger than you need you can lay it over top of both halves of the fender and slowly tack weld it in place to hold the shape you need. You can then use a thin cut off wheel to cut the excess off on each side and then pull the filler panel flush the existing metal and tack welding. Do this process jumping around until you have the entire panel trimmed and sitting flush with the existing metal. Then slowly weld the seams up, stopping to hammer each set of welds flat to control the heat warpage.

    Hope that helps,

    Matt/EW

  • Any update on the other side and the products used for your shaved handles? I’ve been checking back weekly to see what was used to actually open the doors and the mechanics of it…
    Thanks,
    Stan

  • Matt,
    Any insight on when we’ll be seeing the next article about the other side and the workings of the doors hidden release… What it consists of and how it works?! I’ve been checking back weekly and haven’t seen an update! Have I missed it?!

    Thanks,

    Stan R.

  • Hi Stan,

    Sorry about the delay, I’ve had a busy summer and haven’t tackled the other side just yet. With show season winding down, I’m prepping to start kicking butt on this project again here soon. Stay tuned thanks for watching!

    -Matt

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