Working on vintage cars can be delightfully easy sometimes, where a fix is often as simple as removing a part, cleaning it, and reinstalling it. Those quick projects are a nice surprise sometimes, but the really rewarding work to many home mechanics comes in the form of larger projects that require planning and fabrication to make a system work again—from making brake lines from scratch to creating entire sheet metal panels that cannot be purchased. If you want to tackle a project like that, here are a few tips to get you on the right track.
Make a template
I was fabricating a brake line over the weekend for my winter beater pickup that rusted out a steel line. The line left the ABS sensor on the driver’s side inner fender and snaked around to the front crossmember. Rather than waste line by simply winging it and putting some bends in and trying to install/uninstall multiple times, I grabbed some electrical wire left over from when I wired my garage for power.
After pulling just a single copper wire from the sheathed Romex, I had something that I could bend and form much easier than brake tubing. One thing to be cognizant of when using this technique, however, is that the wire will take shape that the brake tubing (or whatever material you are working with) may not be able to conform to. Use this wire to create your template, but keep in mind what you are asking your final material to do and consider if that is beyond its capability.
Use the right materials
It is tempting to finish a project by using something you have hanging around, but the convenience of using what you have will likely be overshadowed by the pain of doing the job a second time—this time properly. While fabricating a taillight mount for a Honda SL125, I drew out the plans of what I wanted to do and realized I would need some new metal to accomplish the task.
I could have used some steel I already had in my small selection of materials, but it would not have been the right stuff and, in addition to looking goofy, it would have likely failed. So I made a template from a pizza box and determined what I would need prior to making a purchase. This allows purchasing efficiently, which my bank account thanks me for. It also allowed me to pick out the proper material for the bend I would need in addition to selecting something I would be able to work with the tools I own.
Don’t be afraid to start with something that already exists
This initially sounds like a description of tools and how they should be used, but it also applies to creating custom parts. On that license plate bracket for my Honda, I knew I wanted a small taillight and a license plate directly underneath it. I could build all of that from scratch or I could take something that is pretty similar to what I want and modify it to fit my needs.
There are a few benefits to this one. First, the end result has a 50/50 chance of looking more professional than if I made it from scratch. It could end up looking like a cobbled together piece of junk, or it might work out perfectly and make me look like a pro. Plus, it is much easier for many of us to look at something that already exists and see how it should be changed to fit our needs than it is to look at a conceptual drawing.
In my case, I cut apart a taillight sourced from a website that specializes in chopper parts. The holes to mount the license plate were not far enough apart, and the bracket for mounting the whole operation was not even close to workable. Cutting it apart and building a new mount was significantly easier than creating the entire piece from scratch. The result? Looks pretty good to me.
These are just a few tips to keep in mind if you reject the option of buying parts that are made to fit. That’s a boring life to lead.
If you have some tips like these, be sure to share them in the comments below.