Monday, September 23, 2013

Fender Apron & Firewall Hole Filling, a Few New Tools, the Intricacies of Life and a Little Adventure Mixed In

Though I may wander, do not think me lost”………..One of my favorite, and rather self-descriptive sayings.  As the extended time between blog entries will indicate, in recent weeks I have indeed wandered.  In fact, my recent wanderings have been in MANY different directions and all in the most positive ways.

Vacation:  Start with Dessert, Cuz’ Life is Too Short
As fate and our Lord would have it, I come from a very small branch of a rather divided, even fragmented family tree.  Truth is, where this frail twig of a lineage is concerned, I am the end of the line.  The caboose on the train.  The last of the Mohicans.  The tail of the dragon.  Land’s end.  The short story is: my family name dies with me and only recently has the weight of it come to shove its way into my thoughts and has given me pause to consider those things that matter most, and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t matter at all.

To begin, in the few weeks following my last update, I was ramping up for a once-in-a-lifetime experience I enjoyed beyond words.  Sparing the raw details of the how’s and why’s of time and the cruelty that so often accompanies it, my uncle and I, for the first time, had the extraordinary experience of sharing our common love of beautiful cars during the Street Rodder Magazine Road Tour from San Antonio, TX to Pigeon Forge, TN and the Shades of the Past Rod Run tucked into the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains.  Over the course of 8 days, we covered 2531 miles in his glorious 1932 Ford 5-window coupe hot rod.  It was hot, wet, humid, bumpy, smooth, fast, slow, up, and down and altogether a PERFECT trip that I will never forget.  In so many ways, I discovered we were more the same than I ever knew.  After 45 years, this was the first time he and I spent this much “quality time” together and to enjoy it from the same side of the windshield was absolutely priceless.  It is truly a treasured day when you realize you are blessed.  I very much am, and THAT realization is one of those things that really matters.

New Tools:  New to ME anyway!
Sometimes, you have to make moves when the opportunity is right, and just before leaving on vacation, opportunity knocked LOUDLY and I managed to answer the “door” for a change!  A very good friend and his bride have been frantically making their last preparations to make their move to Florida permanent.  In doing so, he needed to down size his blast cabinet and offload a band saw and a utility “cart” he had under foot.  As fate would have it, I was looking to up size my blast cabinet and the band saw was another tool I had on my “to get” list.  And then there was this “cart” he described, with large heavy duty wheels, tie-down rings and a large flat surface that would support a few tons.  Hmmmmmm, I thought to myself……that might be just the ticket.

Anyway, just a few days before I left on vacation, we struck a deal and I delivered my smaller blast cabinet, which was much more manageable for his new work space.  Then he dropped off my “new” blast cabinet, band saw and the cart.  As twists of fate often are, the cart was like a gift from the auto restoration gods!  Here I was, staring at a large 6’ x 8’ diamond plate clad, steel framed, iron-wheeled, industrial strength platform that would make a perfect body dolly to set the car on once it was off the rotisserie!  With a few simple stand-offs mounted to the cart frame, the body would sit quite nicely and securely on this cart and allow the bulk of my future work to be accomplished on a nice stable platform.  And coupled to that, I had a blast cabinet that would serve me for years to come and a band saw that I would eventually need as well.  I felt like I hit the jackpot!  And if there was any shade of a “down” side, it was only that I required a few weeks after I returned from vacation to rearrange the shop and get the new cabinet plumbed for use.  Not bad at all!
This blast cabinet was a great upgrade to the shop and just in time.  It's about a foot wider, a foot taller and about 6 inched deeper than my old cabinet and should work great for the foreseeable future!

Although it doesn't look like it now, this industrial strength cart will become an awesome body cart work platform for the work to come this winter.

Back to Work:  Filling the holes in the fender aprons and firewall
With the shop back in workable shape, I was finally able to re-engage the project where I left it.  Having earlier identified all of the holes in the fender aprons and firewall that I wanted to fill, I was ready to sit down and begin the tedious process of sanding away the surrounding primer from each hole, fitting each individual steel “plug” as tightly as possible, and TIG welding each one in place with little or no filler material required.  To ensure the fitting process was accurate and subtle, I used a tapered reamer to very gently enlarge each hole as required while keeping it round.  Often, this means only a turn or two of the reamer to get the desired fit.  Then, I fit each plug flush with the “beauty” surface and tacked it into place.  With a little hammer and dolly work to ensure everything was nice and flat, I welded each plug into place using only small amounts of filler metal as required. 

Pretty quickly, I was kicking myself for being a tightwad as the #17 air-cooled torch head I have is very large for this kind of work even with the stubby Pyrex gas lens kit and short quill installed.  On my Christmas list will be a new #9 flex head torch head and gas lens kit for sure!  Otherwise, after a few dedicated days of work, the aprons and lower half of the firewall were fully filled and waiting for a fresh coat of primer for protection.
After returning from my brief sojourn across the lower US, the time had come to prep and prime the bare metal spots to protect them and allow plenty of time for the primer to cure before moving to the next phase of work.  Since Fall is just around the corner here in Michigan, I have been prioritizing my further work on the upper half of the firewall to a later time as I need to get the car off of the rotisserie and on the body cart before the cold, nasty weather socks me in for the season.  This means I have to scuff and seam seal the outer aprons and then get the car on the body cart so I can sand blast the front frame extensions where the rotisserie brackets bolt to so they can be primed as well.  Once I reach this point, I can get the outer aprons and lower rails coated in Raptor spray bed liner material to match the undercarriage of the car and move the attention to completing the firewall work and on to genuine body work.  More to come!
A taper reamer is used to carefully enlarge each hole to fit the steel plug tightly.  This makes for a much cleaner and easier time welding the plugs in to fill the many holes in the fender aprons and firewall.
Here you can see how tightly and flush the plug fits before welding.

Each plug is tacked in at four or more locations.
This shot shows how ridiculously huge my TIG torch is for this kind of work, but it works just the same.  Here, I am using a length of .030 MIG wire for a tad bit of filler material on this weld.
In most cases, filler material is used very sparingly, if at all if the fit is just right.
The battery of tools I use for this work is rather straight forward.  The copper plate at the bottom is used to back up the weld to help prevent blowing through the metal.

Left front apron with all the holes filled and smoothed.
Left shock tower and rear apron filled.

Right shock tower and rear apron filled.

Right front apron filled and smoothed.
In this shot, I am finishing up the lower firewall hole filling.  Awkward, semi-squatting welding position is tough on the back!

Lower firewall holes filled under the heater box area.

A small touch-up in the trans tunnel.

All of the weld areas have been sanded and feathered in this shot in preparation for spot-priming with PPG DPLF primer.

Not obvious in this picture is the fact that I welded up the original upper control arm mounting holes and left only the "Arning" drop holes.  When this area is smoothed and sanded, you will never know these weren't the original holes.

Left outer apron scuffed and prepped for primer.

Right inner apron shows the extensive amount of work done to get these pesky holes filled.  Lots of bare metal that will need to be primed!

Lower firewall filling is less intense, but the effect is quite noticeable.

After spot priming, the right outer apron looks good.

The left outer apron also looks very clean after spot priming.

From the inside, the spot priming on the right apron really starts to show how much smoother the apron will look when finished.

Again, on the left apron, the priming shows how clean the filled apron will look.

Even with only a few holes filled, the firewall also shows a nice clean trend.  The remaining yellow circled holes still require filling.