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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.