Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Some simple but effective restoration tips by request

Since starting this blog, I have received numerous private messages inquiring on various techniques I use that I may not have detailed appropriately.  The two that seem to come up most often are: 
A. Undercoating removal
I had a rather funny but serious inquiry from a buddy asking why I never seem to complain about undercoating removal like so many other restorers.  At that point I realized I never covered that phase of my work because I just don’t struggle with it as a result of some sage advice from a fellow hobbyist and Studebaker restorer friend who was kind enough to recommend the undercoating removal procedure I use.  However, before I get to the details, I am going to warn you that what I am about to describe kinda runs against logic when you see the tools involved, but trust me, the process works and works very well (it’s super quick too!).
Quite simply, the way I remove the old crusty undercoating from any area is with a pneumatic air hammer.  Now, before you fall off your chair laughing at the thought of using an air hammer on your delicate sheet metal, take a second to follow along.
The two critical things in making this whole idea work is a good, quality air hammer that has an on board air adjustment and LOW air pressure.  I use a nice Craftsman adjustable air hammer that came in an air tool set I got several years ago (see photos).  With the air pressure dialed to no more than 20psi, and a slightly dull, broad blade chisel, the old undercoating practically jumps off the metal in fine pieces, leaving a very clean surface that can easily be cleaned up with a bit of solvent.
The technique is to lay the chisel edge at a relatively shallow angle to the surface and let the low pressure hammer blows “shock” the undercoating off the surface.  You can use your hand to direct the chisel head to help in removing undercoating from quite intricate areas.  With just a little practice, you can strip an entire wheel well in about 15 minutes.  My front fender aprons were heavily coated in undercoating when I started my resto.  Using this little trick, I managed to strip each side in less than a half hour each!  What little residue was left was easily removed during the sand blasting process in preparation for panel replacement (see earlier blog installments).
B. Chemical paint/goo stripping
I am a firm believer in using just about any means at your disposal to remove paint and other goo from your car during a restoration.  Also, while I like sand blasting for almost all rust and paint removal around the car, I do NOT like sending a car to a media blaster to remove paint/rust from the external body surfaces.  I’ll take care of that myself, thank-you.  I have seen far too many issues with the media and pressures used by most media blasters on the “beauty” surfaces of cars that I much prefer using my small, low pressure sand blaster to condition these surfaces AFTER using a D.A. sander and chemical paint stripper to do the bulk of the work head of time.
I am a big fan of products and tools that do more than one thing well.  I consider such things as nifty little bonuses and love when something works really well.  One product I really like for its multi-use features is a chemical paint stripper available at your local Home Depot (and other locations that carry the “Klean-Strip” brand of products, and it’s called Klean-Strip Premium Sprayable Stripper and is effective on paint, epoxy and polyurethane as well as powder coating, undercoating residue and seam sealer.  This stripper is better than any of the “aircraft” strippers I have ever used and is cheaper to boot. 
A word of caution is in order:  This is some of the nastiest poop you can get over the counter and will jack you right up if treated carelessly.  It will blister skin almost on contact and it stinks like death in a can, but work it certainly does.  Consider yourself appropriately warned and READ THE BLOODY INSTRUCTIONS AND PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES!
Aside from being a fantastic paint stripper, one of my favorite “bonus features” of this product is its ability to strip seam sealer and undercoating residue from just about anywhere.  As many of you will attest, old, dried seam sealer can be just as hateful (and often even more so) to remove than old undercoating.  This stripper will penetrate even the toughest seam sealer and lift it cleanly off with just a little scraping.  The accompanying photos will show how I used this stripper to remove the bulk of the paint, undercoating residue, spray adhesive residue and seam sealer from the cowl boxes on my Boss.
Another very important feature of this product is that it is neutralized and rinsed with odorless mineral spirits and NOT water.  Why on earth would you use water as a rinse agent on a restoration project where bare metal surfaces are regularly created?  With rust an ever-present enemy, any effort to avoid a moisture infusion is a worthwhile exercise.
I hope you find these two small tips useful in your restoration work.  As I come across other useful tidbits, I will try to document them here.  If you have any requests for information that I may not have covered appropriately, please feel free to drop me a note and I will do my best to document the information here.
Next time, I will cover more of my cowl panel replacement efforts!
Here is my favorite Craftsman adjustable air hammer that I use when removing stubborn undercoating.

And important feature is the adjustment knob in the handle of the air hammer.  This allows quick regulation of the impact force.

The trick is to use low air pressure to the air hammer.  Never go above 20psi when using this technique to remove undercoating.  If an adjustable air hammer is not available, adjusting the air pressure at the regulator works as well.

By keeping the chisel at a shallow angle to the surface, you run little risk of damaging the metal surface.  Also, note the wide, slightly dull chisel blade.

If you look closely at the trailing edge of the chisel, the undercoating is cleanly removed.

Another shot of the cleaned strip that results from just a few seconds with the air hammer.  At the low pressure used with this technique, the chisel is very easy to control and can even be "steered" by hand into very intricate places.

Here's a look at the same area after about 2 minutes work.  The residue that remains is very easy to remove with solvent or chemical paint stripper.

Here's a look at the undercoating on the drivers side cowl saddle area.

Another look at the drivers side cowl saddle area at the corner of the firewall.

After about 5 minutes work with the air hammer, the undercoating is gone.

A light residue is all that remains of the old undercoating and cleans up easily.

Here is a look at the outboard side of the passengers side cowl box.  The clean  bare metal is just as it appears after removing the undercoating with the air hammer.  No additional cleaning has been done here in an effort to show how cleanly some of the coatings come off the surface.

As chemical strippers go, it doesn't get any better than Klean-Strip Premium Sprayable Stripper.
Here, I have coated the entire inside cowl box with stripper.  Of particular interest is the inside corner of this panel which is completely sealed with old seam sealer.  No amount of scraping would make a dent in this stuff.

You can see the old undercoating residue that was left over is liquefied along with the old paint.

On the inside surfaces, the stripper tackles everything at once:  paint, undercoating residue, adhesive residue and seam sealer.

After two treatments of stripper, the seam sealer is gone along with the primer and paint.

Here is a look at the drivers side cowl box as well.

Here is a look at the undercoated areas that we previously stripped using the air hammer.  Note the clean bare metal that remains after the paint stripper was used to remove the undercoating residue.  I think we can work with that!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cowl Panel Replacement - Episode 1: The Ugly Truth

Have you ever heard the comment:  “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it”?  Well, consider cowl panel replacement in a 69-70 Mustang to be the poster child for that statement.  Exhaustive research across the far reaches of the internet as well as through the archives of all of the Mustang magazines will produce annoyingly little helpful information on tackling this project on a 69-70 body car.  The tricky thing here is that the pre-69 cars, while similar, do not require the same repair techniques as the 69-70 and the differences between the jobs is significant in many ways.  Perhaps most significantly, the 65-68 cars have no outer cowl enclosures in their structure, making access to all of the critical structural weld areas much easier.  On the surface, this may seem like no big deal, but when you carefully evaluate the repair in a 69-70 car, you will quickly note there is no pleasant “path to paradise” in the proper replacement  of the cowl assembly and a lot more work will be required than what the available 65-68 repair articles will show.  With that in mind, I intend to document the details in the process of cowl panel replacement on my 70 in hopes it may help others contemplating the same work on their cars.
Here goes:
To begin, I must reinforce how critical it is to avoid getting in a hurry when performing this replacement and to understand that there will likely be a large volume of tangent repairs that will have to be made to achieve a proper overall repair.  Trust me, once the original rusty, crusty cowl has been removed, the number of other areas that will demand attention will be magnified exponentially.  After many days of studying this job from every conceivable angle, I determined this single project, while apparently simple in concept, will likely take me the bulk of the winter to complete.  Secondly, do not spare any expense on acquiring the proper tools for this repair!  Three essential tools you absolutely must have to do this job are: a Blair Premium spot weld cutter (the rotabroach variety), Cleco fasteners (the high clamping force type), and a variety of vise-grip type welding clamps.  Of course, the usual complement of hammers, dollies, drifts, punches, angle grinders, chisels, MIG welder, Band-Aids, Oreo’s, barley pop, etc. will also be required as well.
One thing that proved very deceiving was the perceived “advantage” of having a cowl that is already welded together and e-coated.  On the surface, this gives the impression of a part that is “ready-to-bolt-in”, but the painful reality of this is that is the farthest from true.  First, the car was never built with a pre-assembled cowl because it was (and is) impossible to properly weld the inner cowl flanges on the 69-70 body.  Secondly, there is absolutely no seam sealer on any of the interior cowl seams and these areas simply cannot be left unsealed with any expectation of long-term durability.  Unfortunately, unless you have arms like Kate Moss (ewww) and can contort the rest of your body to the shape of an ampersand, the task of sealing an assembled cowl is a mess to say the very least.  Third, in order to install the panel as an assembly, you must remove the outer cowl enclosures whether you like it or not.
The flip side is to take apart your brand new, beautiful pre-assembled cowl and install it like you would a 65-68 cowl.  This was impossible for me to justify as I just couldn’t bring myself to violate such a nice part by hacking it apart, but for some it may be the easier option, albeit with more risk involved.  Besides, once I removed my old cowl, it was painfully obvious that a lot more work was required to get the whole works into proper shape, if for no other reason than to soothe my conscience when the job is done.
The following photos document the start of the removal process for the old cowl and a bit of information showing several points of interest along the way.  There will be several more “episodes” to follow.
Before even the first spot weld is drilled out, I marked the exact location of both upper fender mounting tabs so the new tabs could be placed in the exact same location as the originals.

I like to use a wire brush in a drill to run around every seam so it is easier to identify spot welds that require drilling.

Here's a look down the front edge of the cowl with many spot welds visible.  Once I have them all located, I give each one a good center punch and I'm ready to drill.

Removing the old cowl requires that the top is removed first, then the bottom.  Here I have all of the spot welds drilled through the upper panel and have separated the seam around the front and sides.

Here, the top panel is clearly separated from the lower panel.

With the original top panel removed, you can see the extent of damage to the original lower cowl.  Also note how little corrosion protection existed in this cavity.  The vast majority of the enclosure is actually bare metal!

With little more than a bit of overspray to protect the steel, it is no wonder these areas are so vulnerable to the elements.

Here is the driver's side panel.  Rusted through as well.

There is a lot to be said about the next two photos.  First, you can see the interior of the cowl end enclosures are no better protected from corrosion than the rest of the cowl enclosure.  Unless these end enclosures are removed, there is little hope of effectively cleaning and treating these areas properly and absolutely no possibility of properly welding in the cowl along the inner cowl ledges.  Also, a particularly disappointing discovery is that everywhere the factory seam sealer was applied is covered in rust.  And I do mean EVERYWHERE!

The spot weld locations from the top panel supply the blueprint for drilling out the lower cowl welds as well.  I center punched each weld a second time and removed each one with my Blair Premium spot weld cutter.  After a bit of careful prying with a heavy putty knife blade, the lower panel was lifted away cleanly........only to reveal more rusty flanges where the factory seam sealer was.
Once the lower cowl panel was removed, I removed the outer cowl enclosure panels.  Here is a look at the passenger's side cavity.  Notice how little overspray the actually is in this area.
The same can be said for the driver's side cavity as well.

Here is a look at the inside seam of the new cowl.  Notice anything missing?

Absolutely no seam sealer of any kind exists in the new cowl, even around the base of the "chimney" pipe.  I plan to use a paintable 2-part urethane seam sealer on every seam, but applying it is going to be a real trick.

Note the nicely e-coated surfaces inside the new cowl, but the lack of any seam sealer.

Of course, a test fit of the new cowl was a must.  As good as this may look here, the fit was actually quite lacking and I was able to identify MANY areas requiring attention in order to get the fit as good as possible.

Primary alignment of the new cowl is achieved by using two steel drifts in the firewall brace holes.  This keeps the panel properly aligned and makes repositioning quite easy.

Here, you can see how poorly the initial fit-up was on the passenger side.  The gap seen in the middle of the frame is approximately 3/8".

Fore-aft alignment of the panel was pretty good, but will improve with more flange work.
That's where I am for now.  I have started the tedious work of honing the fit of the panel and will document the many hours involved in removing rust, identifying and repairing hidden damage, and applying rust preventive coatings and seam sealer to the various areas of concern before the panel can be actually welded in.  Stay tuned for Episode 2!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Adjustable chassis supports fabricated

The last week has been annoyingly lacking in productivity due to unmerciful and tactless intrusion of the “day job” into my Boss restoration play time.  The nerve!
Anyway, I did manage to fabricate a pair of chassis supports that will allow removal and replacement of the cowl panel assembly with the car in the rotisserie.  Now, these rather rudimentary creations are far from stylish, but they should work quite well for the relatively short time they will be required.  Further to that, I made good use of a spare basement jack post I had kicking around.  I figured if it could hold up the floor of a house, the Mustang body would be no sweat.
The idea in all of this was to use the spots formed into the lower torque box area known in certain circles as the “buck” pad locations.  These are flat pockets formed in the chassis where the lower pieces of the unibody structure are located in the body “buck” as the car starts to take shape along the production line.  These points are generally strong and flat and make good places to support the body when doing work like this.
The first step was to make some simple wooden “shoes” that fit the contours of the buck pads neatly.  Then it was a simple matter of measuring to the ground on both sides, adding the measurements together and dividing by two to get the exact length each post would need to be.  Of course, one side could be fixed length and the other made with the screw adjuster to add a bit of preload.  I cut down the width of the mounting plates to match the wooden shoes and welded one to the top of the fixed tube (driver’s side) and the other to the top of the adjuster screw.  Normally, these plates just sit on top of the post/adjuster screw.  However I felt it better that they were welded to ensure a small margin of safety.  This presented a small challenge where the top of the adjuster screw was concerned, but the solution I came up with was to weld a large washer to the top of the screw pilot.  This allowed the plate to be retained securely, yet still allow the adjuster screw to turn freely.  Simple and effective.
To the bottom of each post, I welded a 7” long piece of 2.5” square tubing to act as a stable “foot” for each post.  Once all the welding was done, I simply screwed each mounting plate to the wooden shoes and set each post in place.  With a little twist of the adjusting screw, the body firmed up quite rigidly in the rotisserie and I can now move toward the task of replacing the cowl and addressing the firewall, inside and out.
Diver's side wooden "shoe" fitted to buck pad.

Passenger's side shoe with jack screw.  Easy to adjust preload with an adjustable wrench.

To keep the adjuster screw freely rotating within the mounting plate yet still secured, I welded a large flat washer to the top pilot of the screw in the location indicated.  This allowed the freedom of movement that was required and the security of a welded assembly.

I added a broad 2.5" square tube "foot" to each post.

It ain't pretty, but it seems to work just fine.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Front radius arm brackets & torque box gusset done and in primer

The past week has been a busy one.  Building on the momentum of the successful repair of the driver’s frame rail, I set out to structurally finish the car from the firewall forward with the installation of the front radius arm brackets as well as the driver’s side torque box gusset.
I picked up the radius arm brackets from NPD and as expected, these turned out to be Dynacorn parts, and very nice I might add.  These brackets come completely welded up out of the box and the fit was very good from the off. 
The torque box gusset, on the other hand, was not as easy to find and needed a good bit of massaging to make it fit to my satisfaction.  I stumbled across a reproduction gusset in only one place; CJ Pony Parts.  I scoured all of my other supplier catalogs and they were the only place that I could find that had them.  Having just received my new catalog from CJ Pony Parts two weeks ago, I figured this part would be a good smoke test as I had never done business with CJ Pony Parts before.  As it turns out, I have mixed feelings about the whole experience.  Simply put, I was a little miffed at the price I paid ($17.95) when I ordered it online versus what the catalog price was ($16.95).  I know, I know…….I being a cheap, nit-picking sh*t, but this is the kind of stuff I hate.  Anyway, when I place my online order, I note the discrepancy in the notes attached to my order and request a price correction to reflect what my (then) week-old catalog shows.  Well… dice.  Not even a token “get bent” note as a response.  Figures…
Before I started working on the front end repairs, I took quite a few measurements of various original features of the car before cutting the damaged pieces out.  As such, I had reference dimensions that clearly defined the position of the radius arm brackets on the chassis.  After about an hour of carefully laying out several reference marks, I mocked up the brackets and traced around them with a permanent marker once I was happy with their position in the car.  These reference lines make lining them up again much easier work.  Next, I marked the location of each spot weld with a paint pen and headed to the drill press to drill the holes for each plug weld.  Once that was done, I cleaned up each hole with my air grinder and prepped each surface for welding by removing the primer from the areas that required welding.  Once that was done, I clamped the brackets into place using my reference marks, quickly checked the dimensions with a tape measure and set off to weld them in.
It’s worth mentioning again how well these brackets fit the chassis.  The mating faces clamped up nice and tight and the welds penetrated very nicely on all locations.  Using my body assembly manual as the reference, I added 16 spot welds and 8 short stitch welds to each bracket.  The results were quite impressive as the strength of the assembly is apparent.  Finally, I ground all of the spot welds smooth and touched up some of the nastier factory spot welds on each bracket to help avoid unnecessary future blood loss as I work on the car.
Next, I moved on to the torque box gusset installation.  As I mentioned before, this part required quite a bit of massaging to get to fit as it should.  Once I had the fit nailed down, I marked the spot weld locations and drilled them in the drill press.  I dressed the holes with the grinder and at that point, decided the “coating” that was applied to this part was anything but e-coat, so off to the blast cabinet I went to remove every trace of it.  With a nice, bare metal part in hand, I clamped it into place and welded it in, again using the body assembly manual as the reference for weld number and location.  A few minutes after the welds had cooled, I ground them all flush as a final operation before the prep work and priming could begin.
As you might expect, weld heat will damage the primer in the immediate location of the welds.  To remedy this, I lightly scraped the loose material off with a putty knife them wire brushed the surrounding area with a cup brush mounted in my hand drill.  Then I lightly sanded every surface that would be primed to remove any gloss and prep the surface for primer.  With all of the sanding complete, I wiped everything down with DX-330 cleaner and let it dry.  Next, I recruited my Dad to help with mixing the DP-40LF primer while I tacked off all of the surfaces.  I decided to try the faster curing DP-402LF catalyst this time (thanks Alex!) as it has been a good bit cooler lately and I wanted something that cured quicker and that didn’t require the 30-minute induction period that DP-401LF catalyst requires.
Using my nifty little 8-ounce touch-up cup attachment on my turbine HVLP primer gun, I set off priming all of the sanded surfaces.  Although this was my first time shooting primer catalyzed with DP-402LF, I have to say I preferred its spray characteristics over the DP-401LF for this type of work.  I thinned this mixture exactly the same as I had done before (about 10% reducer) and it really flowed out nicely.  There really is a certain satisfaction that comes from having everything in one solid color. 
With this work complete, the next series of steps will address making a bracing structure for the body to allow the cowl to be replaced while on the rotisserie, replacement of the cowl structure itself, and to tackle the repair of the trans tunnel/firewall damage caused by an apparent clutch explosion (maybe two) sometime in the car’s history.  Lots of work that should carry me deep into the dead of winter.  Thank God for a heated shop!
Mock-up installation was referenced against measurements I had taken from the original brackets.

Once the position was determined, I marked around each bracket with a red permanent marker to make repositioning the brackets easier after the weld prep was completed.

Spot weld locations are cleaned up with the sanding disc in preparation for welding.

Weld locations marked.

Each bracket is welded in using the Ford Body Assembly Manual as a reference for the location and type of welds required.

One down, one to go!

Clamped into place and ready for welding.

Second bracket welded in.

Radius arm brackets welded in and ready for grinding.

Welds ground smooth on each end.

Another look at the flush-ground spot welds.

I had to dress a number of the factory spot welds to remove a number of very sharp burs.

Same for the other side.

Driver side torque box gusset after quite a bit of massaging to achieve a good fit.  Here, I have marked the location of the spot  welds with a paint pen.  Off to the drill press to make some holes!

I was really unimpressed with the black coating on the part, so after grinding the holes smooth, I ran the part through my blast cabinet to clean it up.

Here is the gusset welded into place.

Welds ground smooth and ready for primer!

While dad stirs the primer, I tacked off all of the surfaces we planned to prime.  What a team!

Here is the bottom view of the repaired frame section before the primer was even dry!  I am very happy with how this repair turned out.

Right front radius arm bracket in primer.

Left front.

Here is the outer view of the repaired frame section and torque box gusset.