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How to Emboss Lettering Into Sheet Metal

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Tom Griffin

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#1
When I was restoring my Chevelle I decided to paint it black instead of the original and very common Mulsane blue. Since I brought it back in black, I figured why not name it that and set off to replicate the AC/DC album cover "BACK IN BLACK" on the trunk lid.

Having some experience in the tool and die industry, I was familiar with the technique of using urethane rubber as the female half of a forming die and figured that would work well for my application. With the curved shape of the trunk lid and lack of access behind it, I decided that it would be easier to emboss the letters into a piece of sheet metal and weld that into the trunk lid rather than try to emboss the letters into the lid itself.

The first step was coming up with a pattern that did justice to the logo on the album cover. Luckily, I actually had a copy of the BACK IN BLACK album that I had picked up at a garage sale to use as a guide. I did some searching through the many fonts in Word and found one that was nearly identical to the one used on the album. I typed it out, adjusted the size and spacing to suit, and printed it out.

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Next, I needed to duplicate the letters in thin sheet metal to as a male die to press or emboss their shape into another sheet. The easiest way I could think to do it was to glue the paper letters to a piece of sheet metal then saw and file them to shape. I used 24 gauge sheet metal for the letters for what I felt was the right amount of relief for the subtlety I was looking for. Thicker or thinner material could be use for more or less relief although thicker would have made the lettering less crisp.

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Once the letters were created, I taped them to the back of the sheet metal to be embossed, made a sandwich of hard urethane sheet (90 durometer), the sheet metal to be embossed and the letters in between two thick steel plates and squeezed the whole mess in a hydraulic press. This forced the letters into the piece of sheet metal backed up by the urethane. My 40 ton press couldn't handle doing all of the letters at once so I gradually pressed them in a little at a time, one at a time. The pics below show a trial run of the process on a single letter.

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[IMG[http://photos.imageevent.com/tomgriffin/1972chevelless/metalwork/large/IMG_0063.jpg[/IMG]

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The view of the back side shows that the sheet was pushed down until flush around the letters.

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Once the letters were formed, I folded a hem on two of the edges and put the curve and body line of the trunk lid into the sheet with a brake and by bending it over a piece of pipe. Then I laid it on the trunk lid, scribed a line around the outside and cut it out using an abrasive wheel and aviation snips. The piece was then welded in using lots of tack welds to prevent warping. The letters embossed so cleanly that the only filler required was along the weld line. I used 22 gauge sheet metal for this panel, the same thickness as the trunk lid.

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Before some wise guy points it out, yes the letter "A" is backwards in the photo below. At least I figured it out before welding it in!

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Here is a photo of the embossed logo after paint. Black is tough to photograph: I didn't notice the tree and basketball hoop reflections when I took the photo. rolleyes.gif

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This technique could be used to emboss literally any shape or logo anywhere on a car. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. If anyone uses this technique in one their own projects, I would love to see the photos.

Have fun!

Tom
 

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hq308

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#2
That is really cool!

I'd love to see some more pics of the Chevelle. :drool:
 
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Tom Griffin

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Thanks guys.

It is a '72 and although I have no documentation to prove it, it is an SS. It had all of the necessary upgrades and when I bought it it had been sitting long enough that there would have been no reason to fake it.

Rather than post a bunch of pics, here is a link to my web page showing construction from start to (almost) finish:

1972 Chevelle SS

Tom
 
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Tom Griffin

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Lots of good things were made in 1972 Tom!

I have just read all the pages on your web site and that is a very nice job you have done there. I am working through the same process with an old pick up that belonged to my Dad. I'd love to get a '68 Camaro but they are becoming rare, especially here!

I'll be in MI next year, so I'll keep an eye out for you cruising past. With that trunk lid you should be easy to spot.

Thanks Mayhem.

You should come to Michigan in August during the Woodward Dream Cruise. This past year there were around 30,000 classic cars and over a million enthusiasts. Camaros are quite common around here. It seemed like a third of the cars at the cruise were Camaros or Firebirds. Corvettes are common as well. At one event last years there were over 400.

Good luck with the pickup restoration. Be sure to post some pics of your progress.

Tom
 
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Tom Griffin

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Nice work Tom,

It's amazing what can be done with a sheet of urethane a press and some sheet metal, another use for urethane is using what can only be described as a skateboard wheel on a rotary swage to emboss converging lines into sheet, it's a similar concept but a lot more free hand, I haven't any photos of my practice pieces, but if you look up "Lazze, skateboard wheel" on youtube you can see where I got the idea http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EU1TG1YDIWQ if you've got a bead roller have a go, it doesn't have to be a flashy powered one like the one Lazze uses, mine is a simple hand cranked unit and it works fine.

Best Regards
Rick
Thanks Rick.

I've never seen a bead roller used, but I have seen similar work done on an English wheel. An English wheel is still on my "tools to acquire" list or I would have used it to emboss the letters instead of a press. One of these winters I'll get busy and build one.

Thanks for the link.

Tom
 
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Tom Griffin

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Hello again Tom,

I've got an english wheel on my "slow burner" it uses a multi purpose c frame with wheels, planishing hammer, shrinker/stretcher dies and a louver tool, it'll be finished one day, all it really needs is some finish welding and a stand.

I also have a Trumpf which is basically a German "Pullmax" I did a lot of experimenting with "thumbnail dies" with some good success, I can knock out a motor bike fuel tank top in about ten minutes, it is lumpy but easily planished with another set of dies,

The big thing is I can do it all without swinging a hammer, Which is handy, since I broke my back.

I also use an old school flypress with regular domed dies over a donut shaped anvil to create regular domed shapes, like you might use for a fuel cap, or even an air cleaner,

As you can tell metalworking and toolmaking is my obsession,

Best Regards
Rick
Rick,

My passion as well.

I picked up a set of John Glovers English wheel plans and have been gathering materials, but I haven't actually started building it yet. My goal when I can go full time at this hobby business is to build one of the Bill Thomas Cheetahs. It's always been a favorite car of mine and since I'll never be able to afford a real one, the only way I'll get one is to build it myself. Most of my sheet metal experience is aircraft related but I got a lot of automotive sheet metal experience building my Chevelle.

That's a good idea putting multiple tools on one stand. They take so much floor space, you might as well make it multi-function. I haven't heard of the Trumpf but have always wanted to try a Pullmax. It looks like a pretty efficient way to shape metal.

Tom
 

goldenchips2

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#7
That is too cool !!!!

Not too many tool and die guys down here in the south.
That is just what I have been thinking about for for quite some time!!
Can't wait to try it out on a few backburner projects...
Thanks so much for sharing and please feel free to show some more !!!!!:D
 
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Tom Griffin

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Thanks!

I have lots of projects to share but so far have only posted a couple that were already written up. There will be more to follow as time permits.

Tom
 

ddmunroe

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Hi
That is a very cool custom thing you did, and no ripples !
Expands my horizons now :)
dd
 

barlow l

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Wow that is the cat's meow! Where do you get the urethane?
 

CoopVA

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#11
That is very cool! Thanks for sharing!
 

Kwikfab

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#12
that's awesome, never thought to do it on a car before!
 

hdskip

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#13
That's really nice work and also exhibits great patience. I'm jealous.
 

Kwikfab

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#14
how thick was the urethane??
 

astjp2

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#15
I have a 1000 ton trapped rubber press at work, we use it for forming aluminum aircraft parts, but it would bee cool to make something like that. I have an old niagra bead roller, but I need to get some more rolls. harbor freight has one that works ok but I prefer the one by mittler brothers. http://www.mittlerbros.com/mittler-bros/bead-rollers.html
 
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