When I started modifying my old Samurai I had a 3/8" chuck electric drill and
that was about it. The first must have was a 4.5" grinder. This
versatile tool can both cut and remove material using an assortment of discs.
My favorites are some .045 thick cut of wheels for cutting and either a 60 or
120 grit flapper wheel for material removal. The flapper wheels are much
nicer to work with than the stone style wheels because they flex and give.
Lehigh Valley Abrasives has the best prices on these wheels that I have
One trick I employ to save time is to keep two grinders on hand and ready, one with a cut off disc
and one with a flapper wheel.
Band saws are quieter and less messy but you can't argue with the speed of a
chop saw. Just make sure you have plenty of ear plugs!
I used to just use a sharpie but the marks were prone to getting rubbed off
and it was hard to make a uniform mark around the tubing. I ended up
picking up a larger tubing cutter from Home depot and lightly score my cut or
bend start lines before working on the tube. The really nice thing is the
marks make for good reference points down the road so you may want to take the
time and mark the center of any cross braces to mark the chassis centerline.
I am using a JD2 model 3 tubing bender. I modified the bender to use a cheap
air over oil hydraulic ram to do the work. This modification was
detailed here. For dies I prefer to use the smallest bend radii
available for space reasons.
There are all sorts of tabs and gusset you will need to make and a myriad of
tools to accomplish the task. I use the cut off disc in my grinder for
small or thick stuff. For sheet or tabs up to .50" thick I use a plasma
cutter (which requires an air source). A band saw is also handy and can
take the place of a plasma cutter but it cannot do large sheets. FWIW the
plasma cutter also works great on thin aluminum, you just have to file down the
edge afterwards to clean up the slag (I have found the faster you drag the less
slag there is on the thin stuff). I cut my hood and all of the aluminum body
panels on my buggy with my plasma cutter.
The next step is a welder. I went with a 220v mig over a tig because it
is hard if not impossible to get a tig torch in some areas of a chassis. I
also wanted speed which the mig has in spades. I will eventually buy a tig
but it would be used mostly for small aluminum parts like interior panels.
Obvious I know, but I keep a bunch of tape measures, angle finders and square
on hand. It seems like you can never have enough. Sometimes with the
angle finders the trick is to find a way to measure an oddball plane. I
have made tube clamps with a flat or used a sheet that spanned a bend in a tube
to figure out some of the more common angles you find in a chassis. If possible
a digital angle finder is even better since it takes the angle of view out of
A digital protractor is also handy to check angles between tubes and to
confirm angles after using the tube bender.
I bought two Harbor Freight tube notchers. One is setup in my drill
press as shown. The more expensive versions out there are basically the
same but with sturdier bases and actual bearings as opposed to bushings in the
spindle holder. For the price ($29 on sale) the HF notchers work pretty
good after a little bracing and replacing the hardware on them with grade 8
The other tube notcher is a floater and gets mounted to whatever can
accommodate the big tube that won't fit on the drill press setup. For the
most part it stays attached to my tube bender frame. There are also times
where the floater gets attached to a tube on the chassis itself. For really
difficult notches like where 3 tubes converge I usually resort to sketching the
notch with a sharpie and grinding the pattern out with a flapper wheel.
It goes without saying the notchers use bi-metal hole saws. I have
found I can get a chassis's worth of notching out of a hole saw if I brush it
with cutting oil as it is being used. The second picture shows how to line
up a new notch so it matches the first notch.
Having a big, heavy and moveable table would be the best thing, but if you
don't have the room even a simple rolling platform like the one I use can save
you a ton of time and make your project much more uniform by giving you well
defined surfaces to measure from.
You can also temporarily clamp things to the jig to help align parts.
Here are the plans I used to build the simple jig
shown above. I built this out of some small scrap tubing, ideally some
2 x 4 x .120 wall steel tubing would work better if you want it to also serve as
a weld jig. Another nice thing is keeping the chassis mobile so you can adjust
the work area to suit the task at hand.
You will eventually get to making body panels and a bead roller allows you to
use thinner material but roll a bead into it to make it more rigid and also
eliminate any oil canning. Shown above is another Harbor Freight tool that
with a little love can be quiet effective. In this case I had to added the
bracing around the main plate to keep it from flexing. the right hand
picture shows the business end, the HF roller comes with about 8 different dies
making it a bargain after a little effort.
The above panel has the path I want to follow with the bead roller laid out
onto it. Afterwards you can see the center part is indented which makes
the thin panel nice and rigid along with giving it a nice look.
Dimple dies are small two piece die that go into a standard size hole and
when tightened or pressed together cause the edges of the hole to flare inward
or outward. The above press is a home brew unit I came up with, the dies are
hanging to the right.
Here are some panels where I used the dimple dies. Again the goal is to
be able to use really thin material yet make it rigid so it won't vibrate.
Misc Cool Stuff
I picked up these tube positions from
Van Sant and they are
worth their weight in gold. I also tried out some of the Pipemaster
contour gauges but didn't find them very useful.
One use I found for small tube scraps is to create a set with different notch
angles. These come in real handy when trying to figure out what angle to
set the tube notcher as well as when mocking up stuff.