When the Lancaster Style Shrinker Stretchers hit the market it changed the DIY and professional restoration world greatly. Now a guy or gal could affordably shrink and stretch metal without a large industrial sized (and priced) machine. Most of these shrinker stretchers are small and could be slide under a bench and used in a vise. This meant more beginners and home hobbyists were tackling metal fab than before and making patches and panels for their projects. Because of this we’ve found that many buy the tool and aren’t familiar with what can be done with it or how to properly use it. We decided to put together our top five shrinker stretcher tips to help a beginner or hobbyist better utilize their tool.
- Keep the Jaws Clean- Most Lancaster style shrinker stretchers use serrated jaws that “grip” the metal to pull it together or push it apart. Because of that the jaws tend to get clogged up with metal particles and their metal moving ability will slowly decrease. If you’re noticing your shrinker stretcher not working as well as before take the time to remove the jaws and use a stiff wire brush to clean the serrations out. Also remember these jaws are a wear item and they will need to be replaced periodically. Eastwood offers replacement jaws for all of our Eastwood Shrinker Stretchers.
- Take Small Bites- As a rule of thumb; the wider the flange, the harder it is to move the metal. This means that you can’t necessarily go in full depth on a 2″ wide flange and expect the metal to move as easily or as quickly as a 1/2″ flange. If you start on the inside of the flange without shrinking the outer edge first you may see that you will “bulge” the front of the panel more than giving the flange a radius. This is because the outer edge isn’t being grabbed by the shrinker/stretcher jaws it is “resisting” movement. Because of that we suggest to start by working the flange on the outer edge and then come back repeat as necessary on the inside of the flange. From there you can bounce back and forth as you go to get the desired shape.
- Adjust Your Shrinker/Stretcher- If you have a foot pedal or remote activated Shrinker Stretcher like our Eastwood Elite Shrinker Stretchers you may notice there can be some slop/slack in them when you first assemble. That is because there is an adjustment in the rod that goes down to the pedal to set the jaw height and take out any play in the pedal assembly. We’ve found that you can adjust the pedal so that there is a small gap between the upper and lower jaws. We’ve found an easy way to do this is to set a small piece of 14 gauge or 1/8″ steel in between the jaws and adjust the machine until the jaws are pinching on the 14 gauge or 1/8″ steel. This will leave you enough of a gap that you can fit the maximum thickness (16-18 gauge in this case) in the machine without extra loss in slack in the linkage.
- Sturdy Mounting- On the Same thought process as the loss in shrinking or stretching power with loose pedestal linkage you can also loose power on our small versions. If you tend to mount your shrinker stretcher in the vise or a homemade bench mount make sure they aren’t moving when pulling on the handle or there isn’t excessive play in the mounting point. The force you could be putting into the handle could be getting partially lost in the slight movement in the vise or table mount. We decided to make a base plate mount that holds both shrinker and stretcher in the vise and also has a heavy duty flange that can be securely locked into the vise. We’ve found making a secure mount gives a better shrinking or stretching action and saves time not having to swap tools in the vise!
- Number Your Flange- When creating a intricate part or a piece that has a large radius that changes or stretches of a long span you may want to number your flange. We suggest numbering the flanges in 1″ increments so you can keep track of your progress and go back to areas that need more work after check the fit.