YOU CAN DO PRO-LEVEL BODYWORK AT HOME WITH THESE 13 HAMMER AND DOLLY TIPS FROM EXPERT GEOFF GATES.
You can do pro-level bodywork at home with these 13 hammer and dolly tips from expert Geoff Gates.
For some guys, the temptation is too great. You finagle a new project car, get all excited about the possibilities, and slide it right into the paint booth. That might have worked in the ’90s, but a lot has changed in the last 20 years. Gone are the creampuff examples hiding out in little old ladies’ garages. Your fresh Mopar project is no cream puff. It’s been wrecked, dinged, and repaired improperly, sometimes multiple times. That shiny new paint may be hiding all that damage from view, but it still looks like a mess.
When you see a perfect paintjob, what you don’t see is all the prep work ahead of the spray booth. A lot of effort goes into those laser-straight paintjobs you see at places like Barrett-jackson. Show-quality paint looks so perfect you’d think it was out of reach for the average budget. The secret is that it’s not out of reach, as long as you have a few key tools, a space to do the prep work, and some expert tips from a pro.
The difference you see between wavy paint and glass-smooth paint — hammer and dolly work — is how the metal is worked prior to any body filler, skim coat, build primer, or paint. The temptation we spoke of earlier is when — in the interest of time — large amounts of body filler are used to make panels appear smooth, when in reality they are wavy. Body filler may be acceptable for collision repair on a ’94 Honda, but it’ll have your classic Mopar looking like a mess when parked next to a perfectly restored machine that has been properly metalworked.
One such shop that knows a thing or two about metalworking is Alloy Motors of Oakland, California. Proprietor Geoff Gates has been building high-end Mopars and
other muscle cars for many years, and he insists on doing the job right, starting from the beginning with hammer and dolly work. “Hammer and dolly work is where it’s at,” Gates says. “Don’t just fill dents and dings with body filler, get them closer with just a little bit more work. Proper hammer and dolly work isn’t a mysterious lost art, it’s just a bit of trial and error. At the end of the day, the metal wants to move back to where it was, you just have to learn how to talk to it with some tools.”
Even if you don’t plan on painting the car yourself, doing this stage of the work can save you thousands—and that’s money you can spend elsewhere on your pride and joy. The tools themselves aren’t very expensive—harbor Freight is a great place to start—and you can practice on an old throwaway piece of bodywork before you jump on your Mopar. Gates is working on our ’68 Plymouth Valiant at Alloy, and here he shows you some of his favorite techniques — 13 in all if you’re keeping count — for restoring metal to its original shape!
Here are the tools we’ll be using. This is about half of Geoff’s collection of hammers and dollies. He says you can never have enough, and he’s always looking for more. (You can grind them and modify them for different uses.) He even has some old construction hammer heads to use as dollies or to knock body lines back in to shape. Also pictured is a sand bag, bull’s-eye pick, grinders, and some plastic hammers.
Here’s one of Geoff’s favorite heel dollies (bottom) and body hammers (his pop’s hammer). It’s light with a wood handle, which absorbs some of the shock of hammering. He’s using the flat face of the heel dolly to work a flat plane on the fender.
Geoff marks the same lines on the inside of the panel with a pencil. Use a ruler for really straight lines, but a freehand technique for curves. It all helps to see what you’re working with and to keep any character lines in the body where they belong.
On straighter lines, use a simple metal ruler to get the line straight.
Geoff is hammering near — and on — some body lines, so the first thing he’ll do is take a soft pencil or china marker and draw out those lines so he has something to sight against to keep them crisp and clean.