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.

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