By Guy Lautard
August 13, 1999
Master sheet metal man Kent White of TM Technologies, Inc. has come out with a new video. This is not a
heavily edited presentation. Rather, it is a "fly-on-the-wall" video, where you get to watch Kent
work on a real job. This tape will be of interest to anyone wanting to learn to form sheet metal into
complex shapes for automotive or aircraft work.
In the video, Kent is working with another sheet metal man by the name of Richard Ufheil, who has brought him
a job, and said, in essence, "I've been at this type of work for 30 years, but this job is a toughie - I
would like to watch you do it, because I think I would learn some things."
The "job" is to make new pieces to repair a pair of 1935 Packard front fenders. The area to be
repaired is the edge of the opening around the wheel - i.e. that part of the fender that would appear
nearest the rubber tire if you were looking at the axle from the side of the vehicle. This area has
rusted away and some parts of it never were quite right, even when new.
Kent's discussion of how these fenders were originally made in the factory is interesting - he explains why
one should not expect the left and right front fender off such a car to be a perfectly symmetrical pair,
and to be perfectly shaped. Kent and Richard measure and compare the two fenders while they discuss
the job, and you will learn from this discussion too.
Work then gets underway, beginning with developing a cardboard pattern for the pieces that must be made and
welded in. It is interesting to see this being done, particularly when you consider what is
required - a pattern that can be transferred to a flat piece of sheet steel, which can then be
transformed into a 3-dimensional shape to be welded into a car fender made nearly 65 years ago, and look
good when done. Now just seeing one pattern made won't make you an expert. But - this
being a fly-on-the-wall video - you do get to see it being done, and you can learn something from what
Work progresses, and you get the benefit of finding out what goes on in Kent's mind as he works on the job,
because he is talking to Richard much of the time. I think this is one of the better or more
valuable aspects of a presentation done in this manner: it's all very fine to have the opportunity to
watch a master tradesman at work, and you should expect to watch and study, and learn from what you see
being done in front of your beady little eyes. However, if the guy doesn't tell you anything about
what is going on in his head, and why he is doing things, and how he decided to do this versus that, or
do it here versus there, and what will happen, or be done next, then you will not get anything like as
much out of the opportunity.
Kent talks and explains the how, what, why, and where as he works. The fact that he is able to express
his thoughts clearly makes it that much better yet. He shows how to avoid certain difficulties that will
inevitably arise if you don't know the right little tricks. Sometimes just wiping the piece of
sheet metal with an oily rag, or with wax, will help a lot - as Kent explains.
One interesting aspect of the job is when Kent explains some changes he has made to a set of Pullmax dies
Richard had made for this job, and has brought with him to Kent's shop. Although we do not see the
dies being altered, we do hear Kent's discussion with Richard as to why Richard had problems with the
dies in their original form, and what he has done to the dies, in terms of welding on extensions and so
on, to overcome those problems.
Shrinking and stretching sheet metal is routine business in most work of this type, and it is required in
making the panels created in this video. Kent demonstrates his own interesting cold shrinking methods,
using hammers, dollies etc. The results are eminently satisfactory, and may in fact be worth the
price of the whole show. Certain minor fitting problems arise in the further course of the work; Kent
deals with these adroitly, explaining the how and why of his methods as he does so. And remember,
you are watching a master at work, while he teaches new tricks to another guy with 30 years
experience. At one point Kent does something in about 5 minutes which Richard says would have taken
him 45 minutes.
One unfortunate aspect of the video is that Kent's camera operator is a little "backward about coming
forward," as my mother used to say. He is perhaps too inclined to hang back and stay out of the
way. Sometimes this manifests itself in a view of the wrong thing (e.g. the bare bench top, or
Kent's back), while Kent looks at what we would like to be seeing. This is a shortcoming of this
video, but it definitely does not relegate it to the junk box. No doubt this aspect of future
fly-on-the-wall videos from Kent will improve.
At times the picture gets out of focus. Having made some videos myself (and heard the same criticism
about certain spots in them!), I will tell you my own thinking on the matter, as it relates to a serious
technical how-to video (whether from Kent, or from yours truly): you can't always re-shoot scenes that
don't go exactly as you might like. Sometimes, a less than super expert camera operator (such as
myself) doesn't switch to manual focus and fix the problem fast enough, or anticipate it, and fix it
before it occurs. But the footage, although blurry, may contain useful or vital comments.
So long as you do eventually get to see what you NEED to see in sharp focus, my feeling is that you should
not complain, and that you are expected to participate with your head on straight, pay attention, listen,
and make as much sense out of what you are seeing/hearing as is possible.
Or, to put it another way, "Quit yer belly achin' and pay attention. This here is serious business -
it ain't no Star Wars movie. You're not gonna die 'cause it's outta focus for 5 seconds."
For someone who aspires to learn more about forming sheet metal into smooth curves and beautiful shapes, I
think there is more than $40 worth of info here - it's just another way to increase your knowledge of
what it is you want to get better at. It is unlikely you could get a master tradesman to come to
your own shop, and teach you as much as you can learn from this tape, even for 5 or 10 times as much
A friend of mine who does auto body restoration work watched the tape. Within a week, he called to tell me he
had used some of the stuff he learned on the tape in making a new set of dies for their power hammer,
using some of the tricks Kent explained to Richard Ufheil on the tape. When tried, the new
die worked better than any others they had.
Way ta go, Kent. Do another one!!
from TM Technologies
P.O. Box 429
North San Juan, CA 95960