Santa Cruz Metal Meet 2014

While I’ve been working only with wood for the past year or two (well, and some stained glass) I’ve always been more of a “metal guy”.  I got hooked on customized cars as a kid, and growing up in the rust belt it made sense to be able to fashion patches for cars and weld them in.  My buddies were all “engine guys”, so I gravitated to metal fab — probably to annoy them.

Over the years I’ve done bits of different kinds of metal work, but my main focus was always forming shapes in sheet metal.  Today there was a local meet up of similar minded folks and I decided to join in.  It was a fun day, with some interesting demos, and it helped detox me from the Powerpoint presentation I was up until midnight completing for my boss.  If anything is the absolute opposite of creative endeavors, it’s Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint decks.

The event was hosted by John Forbes.  Interestingly, John is a renowned stained glass artist, his business is Bonney Doon Art Glass.  His shop space is really interesting, it uses bits of architectural salvage in it’s construction.  I was able to see the metal shop and some of the glass shop, but not the tower addition.  Maybe another day.

The host's workshop, I love the tower!

The host’s workshop, I love the tower!

One of the houses on the property

One of the houses on the property

There were easily 50 people at the event, probably twice the number since the last time I attended one of these.  That made it a little over-subscribed for my tastes, but there were some great demos during the day and a nice lunch was provided.  I ran into several friends.

Part of why I was drawn to attending this year is I have a metal project in mind that I will probably start on soonish.  I’ve always been fascinated with the hammered copper Arts & Crafts lamps like those fashioned by Dirk van Erp in the early 1900s.  I’d like to recreate one of those.  That a project for another day though, I’ve got my hands full for the moment.

I’ll post pictures from two of the demos.  The first demo was by Don Houseman, who owned a metal fab shop in Watsonville for many years called Mercury Metals.  Don has a commission to create six accurate reproductions of an air cleaner from an early Alfa Romero.  He demonstrated some good techniques for making patterns and hammer forming parts.  He also talked about making press forming dies using a special low-temperature melting metal called Kirksite.  It melts at a bit over 700 degrees and can be easily cast.  When cooled it has incredible strength and can be used to produce “short run” tooling.  In this context, “short run” is tens of thousands or more impressions.

Don hammer forming an end cap for the Alfa air cleaner

Don hammer forming an end cap for the Alfa air cleaner

Various parts and dies for producing the replica air cleaners.  The silver dies are cast in Kirksite using a sand mold produced directly from the original part -- which is the black unit in the center of the photo

Various parts and dies for producing the replica air cleaners. The silver dies are cast in Kirksite using a sand mold produced directly from the original part — which is the black unit in the center of the photo

Another demo was done by my pal Ron Covell.  Ron demonstrated shaping an aluminum sheet to fit a wooden “buck”.  When doing prototype or one-off car body fabrication you need a “target” to work to.  Something that represents the shape you want to produce.  In this case, Ron has a form made from plywood that represents the major contours of the part he wants to produce.  This is a “track roadster nose” for a hot rod body, something Ron’s made many variations on over the years.  This one ends up being six separate aluminum parts that are individually shaped and fit to the buck, then welded together and the seams hammered and ground.  When completed it looks like it was stamped from a giant sheet.

In the demo Ron showed making a pattern for the top middle piece of the shell, and forming the part using a mechanical shrinker and an English wheel.

Wooden "buck" for the track roadster nose.  This is used as a template to check the shape of each part as it is formed.  The red lines indicate the areas of greatest curvature, this is where the panels will be seamed together.

Wooden “buck” for the track roadster nose. This is used as a template to check the shape of each part as it is formed. The red lines indicate the areas of greatest curvature, this is where the panels will be seamed together.  The paper is used to make a pattern for the sheet metal before it’s cut out.

Ron shaping the top panel on the english wheel.  The part is about half way complete here, when finished it will have a perfectly smooth and shiny surface.  It took Ron about an hour to shape this piece from start to finish, including answering questions.

Ron shaping the top panel on the english wheel. The part is about 25% complete here, when finished it will have a perfectly smooth and shiny surface. It took Ron about an hour to shape this piece from start to finish, including answering questions.

Finished track nose.  The seams are welded, hammered to smooth out warpage, and filed to remove imperfections.  Ron will make mounts and a custom grille for the opening in the front to complete the job.

Finished track nose. The seams are welded, hammered to smooth out warpage, and filed to remove imperfections. Ron will make mounts and a custom grille for the opening in the front to complete the job.

The event really gave me the “itch” to do some metal projects.  I’m finish the Greene & Greene cabinet (and finish re-growing my fingertip), and then try and work some metal jobs into the plan with the bookcase for my wife and other projects I want to do.

Of course a metal meet wouldn't be complete without a bunch of home built hot rods.

Of course a metal meet wouldn’t be complete without a bunch of home built hot rods.

 

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3 thoughts on “Santa Cruz Metal Meet 2014

  1. That track nose is absolutely stunning.
    I couldn’t agree more on the Excel and powerpoint being the opposite of creativity.
    A funny thing is that powerpoint isn’t even that good for making a presentation. it is just easy.
    SOmeone with a bit of character can make a much better presentation just using a blackboard and a piece of chalk, or an old fashioned overhead projector. But that’s a different story.
    Thanks for sharing the pictures.
    Brgds
    Jonas

  2. I was scrolling through your pics and recognized Ron right away, his welding DVD is excellent, it’s very cool that you know him. I sometimes wish I wasn’t interested in metalworking almost as much as woodworking- I do a little blacksmithing and TIG/stick welding and they take up a good chunk of my shop time/space/money. Luckily my brother has a full size metal lathe and mill so I’m not tempted to cram those tools in…

    • Ron is a great teacher, if anyone wants to learn about metal shaping techniques his DVDs are excellent. He explains thing in a clear, understandable way and generally shows several way to accomplish the same job so you don’t need elaborate or expensive tools. http://covell.biz

      He and Don Houseman have been building a pair of 27 model T roadsters from scratch in Aluminum, it’s beautiful work. I try not to look, because it gets me spun up on too many projects. Maybe I’ll clean out my metal shop today and make a start on my Studebaker custom…

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