The Fine Art of Metal Shaping

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Kent White's skill with sheet metal is legendary. Metal and mallet at lower left are resting on a section of tree trunk that makes a heavy, solid and very useful pounding base. When desired, a sand bag can be placed on its top surface. Shiny object at bottom center is a button-head ``stake." In his right hand, Kent's holding a little-known but key tool called a ``slapper" . By his left elbow is a skeletal wooden form used to check for fit when shaping the pieces that are fitted together to form a wheel pant.
The Fine Art of Metal Shaping
by Bob Whittier
Experimenter Magazine, March 1999

When wandering about the vast EAA AirVenture grounds at Oshkosh, one sees thousands of people. But there's no way to tell who a particular person is by just a glance. He or she might be a total newcomer to aviation or could just as easily be a very experienced person, even an authority in some aspect of this broad field of endeavor.

Take Kent White for example. Since 1994 he has been giving demonstrations in the art of forming sheet aluminum in the Workshop section of FAA's annual Convention. In years past we had watched him briefly and then moved along and didn't realize his significance!

But, having noticed that large groups of obviously very interested people were always clustered around him and his workbench, last summer we decided it might be a good idea to spend some time watching his demonstrations. Turned out to be an excellent one.

Aircraft mechanic textbooks cover sheet metal forming superficially. They typically show a simple chiseled-out form, above, used for hammering sheet aluminum into a simple, streamlined fairing by hammering on it as below. This leaves the metal full of hammer marks, and one typical book of this kind then leaves readers dangling by saying, ``When hammering has been completed, smooth up and polish the metal."

It didn't take long to realize that he's a master of the art of hand-forming sheet aluminum into things ranging from parts for antique automobiles and modern racing car bodies to airplane cowlings, fairings and wheel pants. A person does not have to be present very long at one of his demonstrations to realize that he is extremely talented at coaxing flat sheets of aluminum into all sorts of compound curves, while simultaneously explaining in a clear and interesting manner what he is doing to the metal and why.

He started his sheet metal career doing automotive body work in 1970. At the now defunct Harrah's Auto Collection in Reno, Nevada, he was fortunate to be able to study this subject under veteran sheet metal workers from Brewster Body, Boeing, Rolls Royce, Lear Aviation and California State Aircraft. He studied metallurgy with an emphasis on how sheet aluminum and steel behave when being worked. At Harrah's in 1976 he achieved the status of Master Technician in sheet metal work. His skill went into a large number of restoration jobs on rare and famous cars.

In 1989 he started his own company, TM Technologies. While many folks speculate that TM stands for Tin Man, a nickname that predictably has become attached to Kent, in fact it stands for "tools and methods" for better metal working the focus of his business. In your road atlas, turn to the northern California section and find Sacramento. Then, to the north-northeast of that city find Grass Valley. Immediately to the northwest of there you'll find the small town of Nevada City.