Trade Secrets – How to re-shape dented metal


MOST CLASSIC TRUCKS have been used and abused. Our precious pickups lived rough lives earning their keep, and after decades of hard work, they’ve earned the right to be treated like family members. Once they’ve contributed 50 to 80 years of reliable service, classic trucks usually need a little love, and getting them back in shape means dealing with a load of dented metal.

Don’t despair; we have the answer for what ails your truck. Gather a few hand tools and follow our tips and you, too, can achieve excellent results to get your hardest working family member in better-than-new shape. Although we used a ’54 Ford as our example, thick metal is thick metal and these techniques will work on your truck whether it’s a Chevy, Dodge, Studebaker, International, etc. Classic truck bodies were built tough, so get ready for another century’s worth of use from your pickup.

A familiar foe is the front fender of a 1954 Ford F-100. The mega dents make it a perfect example to demonstrate our favorite techniques. The average person might think this fender is too rough to use, but we know how difficult it is to get good sheet metal, and since it’s mostly rust free and our metal meister can easily repair dents, the decision to fix rather than scrap is clear. We marked the fender for hammer and slap-file work and pindent removal.
Using a straightedge, we determined the depth of each dent in order to choose the correct dolly and hammer to use. Hammer weight and how much metal needs to be moved, along with gauge thickness, are important considerations.
This one is shallow so a lighter hammer and/or less strike force should be used.
We started at the back of the fender using a high crown dolly and medium weight hammer. We flipped the fender upside down to show the exact location.
We placed the high crown dolly directly on the highest point to demonstrate, and then we flipped the fender back over to perform the techniques.
Holding the dolly as previously instructed, we tapped with medium pressure, making sure to contact squarely with each blow. We did this in a circle all around the perimeter on the outer edge of the dent. We held the dolly in the center of the backside and the metal started to release and return to its original shape.
Once the dent was roughed out, we repeated the process using a slapping spoon. This tool allows more surface contact than a hammer with less strike force, so it’s great for finishing smaller imperfections.
We continued working from the outer perimeter in a circle towards the center using the spoon slapper.
Once all of the dents were worked out, we blasted the surface then block sanded it with 80 grit to remove any remaining spots. We checked for the right contour and were pleased with the results.
Using an oval dolly we worked out the little details.
The slapping file pulls the dent out by allowing the metal to release into the file teeth as it strikes the surface. “Reverse shrinking” is what the old-timers call it. This is a slow but sure method that you can master with a little practice.
A close-up shows the serrated teeth were making contact on the high/level spots, indicating that the low, untouched areas needed further attention. The key is to hold the dolly in the low, untouched section as you tap it with the file and the action will pull out the dent.
This spot is smaller, so we used a round dome dolly, which is excellent for placement in tight areas and for working out small imperfections.
We’re almost finished.
DA sanding and a final check are the last steps. The fender is primer-ready with no filler needed.
Another dent removal technique deploys a stud welder, which is useful when you don’t have access to the back of the metal.
We found the center and welded on a stud to begin the process.
The fender was ready for a pull.
The baby slide hammer made short work of the job.
Using the hand tool, we tapped around the perimeter while pulling 5 pounds of pressure and the dent began to work out.
Once the dent was removed as much as possible, we simply cut off the pin and ground it flush.
We also used a long-handled dolly for hard-to-reach areas.
We placed the long-handled dolly in position and began to tap out the dent.
We used the slap file to raise the surface.
The fender was looking good after it had been thoroughly touched by the serrated file teeth.
Finally, we sanded it smooth and made a final check.
We’re ready to rock! With time and patience you can get great results by banging out dents.



• Jeff Lilly Restorations
11125 f.m. 1560
Helotes, TX 78023


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