What its all about

What its all about

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bumping metal

Beginners guide to body hammers.

So you’ve got a dent and want to work it out instead of filling it up with a half a can of bondo, but don’t know where to start. I’ve been there, and still need a little bit of filler now and again!

Go pick up a set of cheapo body hammers from Harbor Freight or any of the other fine Chinese junk retailers. You want a few smooth face hammers, and a few pick ends looking bit on the end, one with a small square point, and one with a square head (Shrinker/bumping hammer.) Along with the hammers grab an assortment of dollys. They come in all shapes and sizes, get as many different ones as you can. A slapper is a plus, as well a few good pieces of wood. A small vice with an anvil back, as well as a seam making pliers are good for flattening out small parts after the hammering is done.

The key is to go slow, no big swings. Let the weight of the hammer do the work, and choke on it as you get started. Big hits leave dents, and that’s what we are trying to remove. Hit only hard enough to see a very slight change in the metal, its like eating an elephant a lot of small bites and then the dent is gone.

This is the splash pan off the bus, I already beat the dents out of the front... oops.

Keep the piece clean, knock off as much paint, dirt and undercoating as you can. Keep the hammer faces and dollys free of pits and rust. Don’t use brake cleaner if you are going to do any welding, as it makes phosgene gas… nasty stuff. I like a twisted wire welding brush for knocking off the dirt, a can of carb cleaner and a razor blade for scraping paint off windows to take off the undercoating.

Start with the easiest, flattest part of the problem area. The flatter you can get the surrounding metal, the easier the big creases disappear. When you first start out flattening the metal, keep the sharpest curve of the dolly under the dent or ding. Work the metal with a small face hammer in concentric circles around the center of the ding… while holding the dolly directly under the lowest point. This gives the metal somewhere to go while it shrinks.

Start here:

#1 is pictured above. Then go to two, three and four.

How To:
Stretching: Hammering with a metal hammer, on sheetmetal backed up by metal. This makes the sheet metal thinner.
Shrinking. Hammer on metal backed up by wood. Any hammer, any wood and the metal sucks towards the hammer blows making it thicker.
Shrinker, a tool that makes shrinking faster. It leaves little pits in the metal however.

This is how it all starts out. This is the section marked #1 above. When you hammer, the dolly will be under the piece held firmly. Hit gently and work up and down along the x's while moving the dolly either not at all, or evenly with the hammer. Not moving, shapes metal faster... so long as the hammer doesn't get far enough into unsupported metal that the metal starts bouncing back. Moving evenly gives more control.
Choke up on the hammer as you start, to see how little force is needed to move the metal.

With picks, do not hit hard or the tip may go through the piece. Don’t hit the center of dents as when you roll the top inside out it makes a hard spot, that takes forever to shrink down. They are good for smoothing out the sides of “mole hills” on the sheet metal.

After picking, the dents will have a flat spot around the sides. Now switch to a small headed hammer and a steel dolly and work around in circles till they flatten out. When they look like pancakes, go to a larger hammer, when almost flat switch out and shrink them with a block of wood or a shrinking hammer. They will disappear like the picture below.

The crease is a tough one, as once a hard line forms and the metal has "Bent" it becomes hard to hammer. It is like trying to flatten out an angle iron, go slow to avoid this. Once the crease is flat switch over to the next detail.


The beginning:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Life in the slow lane.

So often words fail, leaving only over used phrases to convey the desire to find beauty, to search out moments and places that take our breath away. Stop and smell the roses, while saying something redundant of the true nature of humans.

Some times the beautiful moments in life are found in unexpected places. Taking life in the slow lane gives an added appreciation, and opportunity for such events. After an afternoon spent humming along the super slab of interstate 40, worn and weary... theres nothing quite like watching the sun set.

Words fail, but at 55 a camera still takes a steady shot.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Beach trip!

Early this week the bus and I made a mad dash down to the coast for a check of the boat. She still floats...

The bus ran great most of the way down, until the drivers side rear axle nut started backing off. Generally I keep this monster 1 13/16ths socket in my tool bag, but forgot it this trip... murphys law. Ended up pulling in to a parking lot outside Clayton, NC to jack her up and diagnose the squeeking noise right as she started rolling. When I set her down to hunt for a socket, I noticed that both Sears and Fastenal were a few doors down! (Neither had the tool, but how often do you break down that close to potential...)

I ended up pulling into Car Quest back tracking a mile or so and the fellow behind the counter was a fellow VW nut, lending me the socket and 3/4 inch ratchet to tighten her up. Thanks Peter!

It was windy... the high top is not much different from the pop top until the wind is on the nose. One big gust slowed me down a few miles an hour! I might be going nuts, but the big trucks seem not to knock her around as bad... who knows!

New seats are a topic of discussion, at the moment I'm thinking about going with a set of Vanagon seats... though since mine is a '71 it will require welding in new tracks. The stock well worn seats leave a lot to be desired, leaving some waffle print cheeks. The splash pan under the pedals that I bought down in Georgia will be installed this week. Currently she lacks the little belows around the clutch and brake pedal as well, so on the drive home when the temp dropped from the 60's to the 30's I made a mental note to remove the "Crotch A/C."

The ancient Sasanyo radio continues to amaze. It picked up 100.7 "The River" just out side of Newbern and carried the signal all the way to Raleigh... and 101.1, the best Jazz in North Carolina from Raleigh to Greensboro. I've got it hooked up to a cheap "hideaway" type antenna thats tucked up under the dash. When she gets repainted the outside antenna is getting frenched along with the shore power hooked.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Road Trip

Greensboro - Savannah - Greensboro... in two days.
Drove down and the bus did great, kept the speedo between 55 and 63 depending on the hills. Hummed along in the right lane and only got bogged down with traffic when I got onto 77 in Charlotte. Left around 2 and got to my camp site around 9, Skidaway Island State park.

Spent a few minutes staring up at the stars, as back home they are hidden behind all the light pollution. Savannah's night sky is better than Greensboro. Unfolded the bed, unrolled a sleeping bag and passed out.

I woke up, sat up and looked out the window to see a palm tree. It was still pretty chilly, and I was looking forward to a hot shower... no such luck. After breakfast I headed out, exploring around 8... some other campers unzipped the fly on tents and gave signs of the disapproval of my rumbling about at early hours. Never did make it down to the water front!

Pulled up to the gate and deposited my 23 dollars... and went on to get lost! Pulled out and made a left taking the Spur 204 to the western end. I soon realized this wasn't a place for a bus with a piece of cardboard duct taped over the roof... and turned tail in search of Bill Todd's stash of Volkswagens. Soon enough I rolled down a little two lane road barely above sea level, with hanging moss and viney wild flowers on both sides. After a few passes I found the driveway and met Bill.

Great guy! He parts out VW's and has for years and years. The type that has forgotten more about cars than most of us will ever know. Back in the back was an orange baywindow with a fiberglass hightop... walking back was pretty cool. Old buses, bugs, ghias and square backs... fiberglass bodies, wheels and stacks of parts... its a places thats a little like heaven amongst the trees and pine needles.

Walking back and checking out how the top was attached was a little disheartening. It was attached with sheet metal screws that once had hex heads. They were rusted and no socket fit their heads... vice grips crumbled them. I started running extension cords and getting a drill ready, when Bill said, "hold on let me try something." Off he went and came back with a chisel and a hammer. With a quick rap of the hammer on each, the top was loose in minutes. Wow!

I had to make a run to go grab some ratchet straps, and found Home Depot in Savannah on that particular Saturday morning to be quite the place to be. I think everyone from the surrounding zip codes had the same idea!

Once back to the bus, I wasn't the only one standing around. Two guys from Ohio were there parts hunting and one from Washington state picking up a Vanagon... and me from North Carolina! Who knew the continental proportions of this place!

After sliding the top across to my bus, and strapping down the top it was time to go. Down the road I went, picking up I95 and crossing in to South Carolina in short order. It took some time to get used to the different road handling with the top, but the throttle position was about the same for highway cruising!

Left around noon and got back at 8. Determined that the bus needs new seat cushions and heat! Cruise control may be in the cards as well... my right leg was set to 55 till the next day! Grin.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


I've found a fiberglass hightop for sale. Standing headroom and a huge sail locker will be the benefit. I'm curious as to how it will affect highway driving in crosswinds, and the ever present blast of big rigs passing. It will be replacing the poptop and perhaps allow for a decent bed up top instead of the folding cot.

Preparing for the roadtrip to go pick it up, I've been going through all the little stuff I've been putting off and accumulating the spares that have been depleted. I think she'll do fine, 350 miles each way.

If you see a white beast lumbering along I95, smile and wave when you pass...


Tuesday, January 29, 2008


I'm Zach.

This is my page for the restoration of my 1971 VW Bus. Its a Westfalia Camper.

I bought it in August of 2006, and trailered it to my driveway. She barely rolled after airing up the tires, and had no engine. I found her on thesamba.com, in the classifieds section. Bought her out of a barn, covered in dust. The wiring was shot, I pulled a pile of lamp cord and speaker wire out of the dash. When I jacked her up to check the suspension, she had no brake calipers! Her shocks were in such bad need of replacement, the rubber had shrunk and the shock absorbers were hanging beside the lower mounts. Her windshield was broken, and needed a fair bit of welding to the channel in which it sits. After much work, she made it back on the road last Marh 2007.

It has been a great project, and I love driving her in the slow lane cruising the highway. Theres nothing quite like an aircooled Volkswagen!

The VW Bus

The VW bus as a daily driver.
Forget... forever onward what you consider the definition of transportation.

You are about to journey down the path of enlightenment, and learn the curious nature and language of a mechanical being. The Volkswagen is a peculiar beast, fed a steady diet of oil and gasoline it will move slowly from place to place.

Buses mark their spot. They pee on you when you least expect it. Like a foreign customs agent, it takes time to figure out where they want the grease. They take a little tweak here and there, when something not quite right they tell you if you listen.

When you hop behind the wheel of a bus you've got the best seat, as you'll soon experience she's a low flying slow air plane. Flying high enough off the ground to do an oil change, swap master cylinders, and cv joints without jack stands. Head and tail winds effect speed over ground, your steering wheel at speed is more for yaw, in the end she goes where she wants, or doesn't.

Buy her quality parts, or she'll spit them back at you. Your bus is half truck and half home; sometimes a magic carpet to distant places… other times a squatter. Wandering down the road with a smile on her face, the grins and thumbs up from those on the same path make her day. If you wish to show off your wrenching skills, she'll humble you. Trust her, lover her... and she'll be one happy camper.

You've got to love her deep down or she'll leave you stranded, half the battle is the will to keep her on the road. If you don't think she will, she'll know it... scratch her rattles, lube her squeaks. Never forget she’s an aging mistress; her joints aren't what they once were... if its cold it takes a little bit longer to get motivated. One day you will too.

You've had your fair warning. Spend your time cuddling and she'll fire up when you need her, but if you've got other projects you've got to give an offering. When she humbles you, give a prayer to the gods of speed and give the bus in question a shot of oil. Mostly problems come from not driving her, buses get sad… some more than others, and if you don’t drive them they question your love. Miles are the VW anti-depressant.

Give her a pat on the dash and thank her for the trip at the end of the day.