Q I need to repair this 1933 Ford pickup grille. I have a donor grille, but I can't use it entirely because it's from a different year vehicle, and only the bottom half matches. The customer is very concerned with originality, and he wants to save this grille. This was a one-year-only grille, and they are almost impossible to find.
My concern is controlling the distortion where I splice each vertical bar. I am familiar with using a hammer and dolly to correct the distortion caused by welding on sheetmetal. My first thought was to make a number of "V"-shaped solid bars to insert behind the grille bars to act as alignment and clamping fixtures, and possibly to act as a dolly for hammering on the individual bars.
I realize this is not an easy task, and it will be tricky to hammer in-between the bars. Where would you suggest making the splices?
My metal shaping journey has been fantastic, thanks to you, and guys like Ron Fournier and Kent White, and all the books and videos that are available. Thanks for all your contributions. Do you have any plans for coming back to the East Coast again? I would love to attend another workshop.
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A The strategy I'd use is to cut the bars where they are the skinniest. This is right at the transition between the straight grille bars and the little radius at the bottom of each bar. You'll have to be an expert welder to make a good weld in such a tiny area, and I'd only recommend TIG welding for such delicate pieces. Nevertheless, that's far and away the best place to put a weld, and the easiest place to file or sand the welds to perfection.
Trying to put a weld midway on the bars will be extremely challenging—and any welded joints away from the end of the bars will be very difficult to fit, weld, and blend invisibly, so I would minimize splicing any bars midway as much as possible. Trust me on this one!
If you absolutely have to splice a bar up from the end, I'd keep the joint as low as possible. Your idea of putting a form inside the two pieces right at the joint has some merit, and I'd make this from a material like copper or brass that won't get stuck to the grille bars when you weld them. If this form is long enough to be held in a vise, it will offer a surface that can be hammered against on the leading edge, but like you say, you'll have only limited access to the sides of each grille bar, so most of your cleanup work will be done by sanding or filing. That means achieving perfect alignment is crucial.
If you have small, pitted areas to fill, you might consider TIG welding them using silicon bronze wire—it will cause much less distortion than steel filler rod will. You can get bronze filler wire in sizes down to 0.045 inches, and this tiny rod is ideal for delicate work like this. Bronze rod isn't quite as strong as steel, so I'd use steel rod for the structural joints.
If the grille will be painted, you can do the final finicky work with a little plastic filler. If the grille will be chrome plated, I'd suggest getting the metal smoothed as well as you can, and then have the grille copper plated. If there are any scratches, waves, or pits you want to remove at this stage, you can carefully fill them with soft solder, and then block sand them before the grille is finish plated. For a perfect finish, you may need to repeat the soldering, sanding, and copper plating steps a few times. The top chrome shops will do this for you, but of course it's expensive, and you can save some money if you want to do it yourself, and then you will have control of the quality of the finished job.
I will have a workshop at the Eastwood Company this year, in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
You can email you questions to Professor Hammer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to Covell Creative metalworking, 106 airport Blvd Ste 105, Freedom, CA; you'll receive a personal reply! Ron Covell has made many DVDs on metalworking, and he offers an ongoing series of workshops across the nation. Check them out online at covell.biz, or call for a current schedule of workshops and a free catalog of DVDs. Phone (800) 747-4631, or (831) 768-0705. You'll also enjoy Ron's YouTube channel; youtube.com/user/covellron.