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The text following is part of a series of articles written by John S. Henry on the restoration and maintenance of air-cooled Volkswagens. While his experience is exclusively with the Beetle, many of the techniques can be applied to other models.

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Article: Doing a "#4" Restoration, Page 1
Last updated: 10/30/01

Doing a "#4" Restoration, Page 1

Symptom: You have determined that nothing short of a "full" resto will make your Beetle what you want it to be. You are ready to sign your life away and start, but you still don't have any idea what is involved.


Inevitably, I couldn't wait to start writing this article until my own '57 was finished. For a few reasons, but not the least of which is because as I worked on the car I would think "now I have to make sure I mention this...". And, as I expected, the content here grew to be too big for just one page, so I have broken this "article" up into 4 pages, each with the same "Hot Index" you see above.

But let me first take a minute to "position" this article. First of all, the "#4" comes from one of the first articles I ever wrote, General: Dealing with Rust . In this article I talked about four options that you had to deal with rust:

So this is the #4 article. It is a compilation of what I learned in doing a "#4" resto, some procedure specific stuff, some techniques and some, well, just psychological stuff.

Your Approach

It may seem like "#4" has already dictated your approach; you are committed to doing it the "right" way, removing and restoring the rusted or damaged area to new condition. Well, as it turns out, there is some latitude within this area with respect to your methods. It really comes down to just how picky you want to be. While there may actually be no one-or-the-other method (you may be picky in some areas, and not-so in others), let me describe what I really mean:

Like I said above, you don't have to be one or the other, you can apply some of both "4A" and "4B". You can find the correct front apron, but do stitch welds along the rear inner quarter where it will be covered up. But make sure you do give this some thought before you begin. There are many suppliers who sell replacement panels for "to '67" but when you look at them you can see that they are just not right. On my '57, the "to 67" front apron fit, but the "pressing" around the hood latch wasn't right. Maybe no one would notice, but guess what I started looking at on every Oval at the VW shows?? It is a tradeoff: you may spend years looking for a donor car to provide you the correct panel (and still have to "work" it some) or you can just get the functional equivalent and actually be finished with your car in some reasonable time frame. Just be prepared to have to make these decisions and also know that good show judges look for restoration correctness if you are planning a trophy winner.

Psychological Stuff

This may be an area that you didn't expect me to cover, but it is something that was as much a part of my resto as tool and paint. We are all different by nature. One of my personal peeves is unfinished projects. But I found myself asking "Will I ever finish this???" and often felt like I wouldn't. But I triumphed in the end, and success was sweet. Below are some tips for quelling that overwhelming feeling that sometimes looms up.

First, an excerpt from my OK, I Bought a Beetle, Now What? Article. I usually try not to replicate text in articles, I usually like to just offer a link to it, but in this case, I want this article to "stand alone". So I'll change the font color to red in the excerpted text below.

The Tools

Ahhh, the "Tools".   I couldn't write this article without including this. A good place to start. If you've come this far thinking that you can do a full resto on your '63 Beetle with nothing more than you Wal Mart variable speed drill and a few "attachments", you are fooling yourself. If I could offer you any advice on building your "tool arsenal" it would be that it probably won't happen all at once. Yes, you could go out with your "no spending limit" Visa Gold Card and fill up the minivan with everything you need, but that might cost you a relationship, a house, the minivan, a second job, or any combination of those. My wife often says "Oh John has every tool there is." Not true. I don't have a Sawzall. Why? (1) It is a very cool tool, but good one is quite expensive (2)I would use it very infrequently and (3)I have a very good friend who has a very nice one. We are in an unofficial "tool co-op" and borrowing it anytime I need it is assumed. And my gas MIG welder is a time-share with another (non-VW) restoration enthusiast. We share the cost of it swap it back and forth and whoever is unlucky enough to have it when the bottle runs out has to go out and get it re-filled (only has an output flow gauge, very hard to tell how full it is). But I have slowly acquired "specialty" tools over the years. I have a pact with my wife that any major home improvement project I tackle should net me one power tool in the end.

So don't try to tackle the tool dilemma all at once. Build a tool set with the most often used tools first, find "sources" for other tools that you may not be able to buy. Borrow, rent, time share, etc. A bit aside from cars, but when I finished our basement (framed 500 sq. ft, 2 rooms, closets, hallway) I told my wife I had to have a pneumatic framing nailer to complete the job, but I would sell it after I finished the job. I bought a Bosch N80S "clone" from Harbor Freight that would shoot a 3 inch nail. This was an awesome tool. Squeeze the trigger and bounce this huge gun along a stud and "wham, wham, wham!!" it would sink a nail as fast as you could move it. aaerr. arRHH ARRGHHH! I virtually finished the whole basement without ever picking up a hammer. Reluctantly I sold the thing for $50 less than I paid for it months later. I miss it.

Hey! How'd we get on framing nailers? Sorry, I guess I just got carried away. But really, a tool purchase is not always a "sunk cost". It is an investment and may be sold after it is used (No, I'm not going to call and talk to your wife for you). Anyway, below is a table of tools used for body restoration, with pics. Most of these are the "out of the ordinary", body work-specific tools that will make restoration work as pleasant as it can be. Of course it is assumed that you already have the sockets, wrenches, bits, etc. that you need for the everyday stuff.

[My wife came into the office as I was uploading pictures of my tools and laughed and teased me "Oh, is it show and tell on the internet tonight? 'My name is John. This is my drill. I bought it a Sears...blah blah blah'" I forcibly made here leave the office. I hope you appreciate the emotional trauma I went through to bring you these]
Vice Grips

 Ahh, the "Golden Sword" of tools. But you might not immediately recognize the Vice Grips in the picture. These are very common "clamps" used in body shops. You can pick up off-brand "knock offs" for under $10 (I paid $6.99 for those big ones). I managed very well with this set (plus two pair of the common variety) although sometimes I wished I had a pair with a "taller" opening (not longer). These are very important when welding panels together. You need to clamp the panels very tightly together right next to where you are welding. 

MIG Welder

 Almost any bodyman you talk to will tell you that this is the most versatile welder that you can buy. It is also practically the only welder that will do body thickness sheet metal. MIG stands for "Metal Inert Gas". A MIG is basically an arc welder but uses wire, fed by a motor when you squeeze the trigger, to deposit metal. The purpose of the gas is to provide an oxygen free "envelope" around the arc to insure a pure, splatter-free weld. The gas is usually a combination of Argon and Carbon Dioxide.

 There are gasless MIGs available. They use a special wire (flux core) that has a "core" of a type of substance which as it burns, creates the shielding gas. I have one of these welders too. They are easy to use and great for quick "projects" and fabrication. Problem is that the weld is not as clean and more important, the smallest flux core wire you can get is .030" which creates too much heat for standard sheet metal. It is all but impossible to weld sheetmetal without burning through it with these machines (in spite of specifications of metal thickness ranges that you may see listed in ads). Don't buy one of these for body work. Buy a gas MIG, they take wire down to .023" and can do anything that the gasless units can. In fact, a good gas MIG can use the flux cored wire without the gas if you want. For auto body stuff, the 110 volt units are fine. 

You can get a decent gas MIG for around $300. Check out http://www.daytonamig.com/. They sell a wide range of welders and parts for them.

 Neat tip: Make a little wooden cart for yours with swivel casters underneath. Yeah, you can buy them but you can make one a lot cheaper. 

Angle Air Grinder

 This was a late entry to the "Best Restoration Tools of All Time" page. It is a right angle air grinder. I first saw and used one of these in my friend Tom's body shop. They are absolutely awesome. First of all, they are very small. The whole tool body is only 4 1/2" (11.6 cm) tall. You can really get in the tightest of areas with them. Those grinding and stripping wheels you see in the picture are only 2" (5 cm) in diameter. The tool is very fast, but the speed can be feather controlled easily with the trigger, and the Coarse 3M grinding discs (shown, orange) will take welds down just a quick as the heavy 4" electric grinder with much less heat buildup. The tool is available in a rear or front exhaust. I bought the front exhaust kind (a couple bucks more) as it blows the debris away from the work area very well. The grinding discs themselves are just as slick. Look close and you will see a little threaded nub on the backs of the grinding and stripping discs. With just a twist, it screws itself into a threaded hole in the backing pad allowing you to change pads on the fly in about 2 seconds. The brown stripping pad is a super dressing wheel that will literally "polish" the metal after it is ground; as well as strip paint, primers, coatings etc.

 The grinder trigger has a little safety pivot pin you can see protruding out if you look close, that won't allow it to start up if the trigger presses up against something unintentionally. You have to nudge the little pivot up as you grasp it. So where do you get this little wonder? Well get a load of this, I bought this one from Harbor Freight out of a sale catalog, with free shipping and no tax for $19!! It only uses 4 cfm at 90 psi so the smallest of compressors will run it. Their model number is 52848. The rear exhaust one is 52846. The discs and backing plate I got a Home Depot for around $12 for all you see here plus one more of each kind of disc.

 I have used lots of power tools over the years for working metal and paint, but I swear I wish I knew about this little gizmo about 7 years ago. If you have air, you have GOT to get one of these. (I sound like a salesman, huh?) Don't forget the eye protection. 

Scotch Brite Disc

 These 3M pads have been around for many years and used in most body shops. You can get them at Home Depot and they also come in a "double thickness" size. They create virtually no heat and will strip just about anything off metal. They are also good for final dressing of welds previously ground down. The only time these things have ever failed me is trying to strip off a fairly thick undercoating. It just got warm and gummed up the disc. I ended up scraping it off with a stiff putty knife then using solvent to clean it up the metal.

 You can get little 2" versions of these (about 3/8" thick) for the twist on backing plate shown above. My Home Depot didn't have those, but my friend Tom gets them at his auto body supplier, made by 3M. They are super on the air angle grinder above.


 You may have thought that you would never need one of these, that a stone on the 'ole drill would do just fine. Let me tell you, you must have one of these. You do more grinding in body restoration than you might ever think and these puppies are built just for that. You can get this grinder from Harbor Freight for around $25, Home Depot sells the grinding wheels. These things will take metal down FAST. But be careful; use eye protection with side guards and don't lean on the grinder too hard, especially on thin metal. The disc can create enough friction to actually heat up and melt metal! Just watch the area you are grinding, if you see the metal "bluing", back off on the pressure a bit.. 

Hammer and dollies

 You might have seen pictures of my friend Tom using these on my '57 resto pages. There is a real art to using them, but a novice/newbie can do a lot with them too. Especially just straightening out edges of panels. I had these things for a year or so and never touched them, then I started playing around with them a bit (after seeing Tom use them). Real quick I built confidence that I could straighten stuff with them and now I grab them almost every time I'm doing something with metal. See page 3 of the resto series for some more text on the use and technique behind these tools.

 I bought this cheapy set from Habor Freight for around $15, they work fine. 

Die Grinder

 (That's German for "the grinder") To be fair, there is another "tool" implied behind this one. An air compressor. (see the "Tour My Garage" page for some pics of my compressor and how it is set up. This air tool can be purchased for around $25, but you can spend more and get a better quality one. I use it most with the thin cutting disc that you see here. I use it both for cutting and light, delicate, precise grinding using the flat surface on the outside of the disc. 

Dremel Tool

 "Dremel" is a brand name, and there are other similar tools made under other names. But everyone calls it a "Dremel" tool. It is a high speed (although newer ones are variable speed) drill with a 1/8" collet that takes a variety of attachments like gutting discs, grindstones, metal cutters, etc. The thin cutting discs are most often used in body work, with grindstones being a close second for "dressing" tight areas for welding. A name-brand Dremel runs around $70 and has many uses. It is basically a much more precise version of the die grinder with a disc. 

Air Chisel

 Yes, this needs a compressor for "power" too, but the tool itself is actually quite inexpensive; around $25 for a cheap but usable one. You can see a few of the chisel attachments for it to, these are called ".401 shank" attachments. They slip in and are held on by that spring looking thing. This tool is not for precise cutting of metal, it is very hard to control. But it is good for quickly removing large sections of a damaged panel.

 Actually, the tool itself is sometimes referred to as an "Impact Hammer" as you can use many non-chisel attachments in it. Ball joint and tie rod separator forks are available, as well as just flat "snub" noses good for rattling stubborn bolts. No air tool set is complete without one. 

Drill Bits

 In the How How Beetle Bodies come apart section of this resto series, I talk about the importance of the good sharp drill bits to drill out spot welds. I talk about the importance of a good "flat" bit, this picture shows the 3/16" ones I use. Read on... 

Tin Snips

 These are a pair of well used tin snips that I got a Sears. The plastic coating has been beat off the handles from my whacking them with a hammer while holding them upright on the floor when trying to cut a thick piece of metal. But they still cut sheetmetal very well. Useful for cutting and trimming "patches". Buy a good quality pair. 


 I debated not including this, I consider it an "ordinary" tool that all (men) should have. But as I was snapping pictures of my tools, I saw this drill that I had placed one of these right angle drives on and thought I would take a picture. Often, there is not a lot of room where spot welds are located. I had just finished drilling out that louvered panel underneath the slotted vents under the back window in my '57 and needed this rig to get the bit on the welds. Yes, that is a "custom" handle on the right angle drive, thanks to my MIG welder. 

Little Wheels

 Huh?   That's right, little swivel casters. I counted the other night, there are at least 24 of these little guys on my garage floor right now. Anything that is relatively heavy and needs to be moved periodically is a candidate. The '57 chassis, both of my MIGs, my big wooden "scrap wood blocks" bin, the kids toybox. Think about this, these things make moving stuff around your garage sooo much easier, and they are really cheap and can be re-used. 

Those are the "specialty" body work tools. Of course you need all the "normal" stuff too, like screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, etc. etc. But most of this stuff is pretty cheap and you will use it for a long time. Only the MIG welder and a compressor are big ticket items in my book. You might be able to get by without the compressor and you might borrow a MIG somewhere and the rest is pretty much peanuts. But keep in mind if you do borrow, you might need to "borrow" for a long time....

Copyright© 1998; John S. Henry 

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