On a Roll- How to Use a Bead Roller to Make Patch Panels
Do the groceries fall through the trunk floor on the way from the store? Can you stop your classic using the Flintstone method because the floorboards are shot? Are there no aftermarket reproduction panels for you to use to make the repairs? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you are in the company of many other owners that are desperate to find a solution. Sure, you could just weld in some flat sheet metal and it would work, but it would not look right. If you are in the middle of a restoration, then it needs to match the original design. How do you get those intricate ribs and corrugations into flat sheet metal without stamping it, you ask? With a bead roller in your garage, that’s how.
We had the same problem with a 1961 Chevy Impala. The trunk floor was useable, but it had some rust holes and was very thin, not something you would want to sit a suitcase in, much less a heavy spare tire. The guys at Ramsey Autobody had been charged with the restoration of this classic, and were in a bit of a pickle. Reproduction trunk pans are available, but had been backordered for 6-months, and the delivery date was fast approaching. The decision was made to shape their own floor using a bead roller from the Eastwood company.
A bead roller is a simple gear-and-crank driven tool that uses male and female rolling dies to press form the metal into shape. There many different dies, from 1\8” to 3\4” round beads, flangers, cutting shears and even louver dies. To match the corrugations in the Impala floor, a set of 1\4” dies were selected and the process began. The roller used here is a manual roller, meaning it has a hand crank ($300 from Eastwood). This is not easily operated by a single person, two people makes it much easier. There are powered versions, which use a foot-controller, though these units cost a fair amount more.
Toby Ramsey and Jordan Lewis worked a piece of 18-gauge steel to match the original trunk floor. While not an exact reproduction (the drain plugs were not incorporated), you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the stock floor and an original. The entire job took about 2 days, but the bead rolling only took an hour. You can get as creative as you want, recreating factory shapes to custom designs, it’s up to you. Follow along and get some ideas for yourself.
The stock floor has seen better days. Flat sheet metal would work, but it just wouldn’t look right. The corrugations in the floor not only look good, they provide a tremendous amount of strength so the floors does not “oil can”.
Using a body ripper, Toby cut a piece of 18-gauge steel to size. The sheet metal was then cleaned up with a die grinder and wiped with degreaser. The metal needs to be clean and smooth for the bead roller to operate correctly.
The bead roller was set up in a large vise. You could mount the roller to a stand, but it is not necessary.
The dies must be installed on the roller arms in alignment, you don’t want them offset or the beads will come out funky. The upper block moves up and down to increase the depth of the bead. This is adjusted by the bolt at the top and a bolt on the back of the unit sets the block so it doesn’t move while operating.
The sheet metal was laid into the trunk and marked to match the corrugations. This needed to be accurate to a proper look.
Using a straight edge and a square, the marks were transferred down the entire panel. These serve as the guide for the bead roller. Make sure you wear gloves like these Fabricator gloves from Mechanix Wear. Sheet metal work is a great way to lose a finger or worse, so be careful.
The jaws on the roller are 18” deep, just barely enough for this floor job. If the panel had been wider, we would have had to make two panels. We started in the middle of the panel, because the metal curves during the process.
It takes some practice to get the depth and angle of entry just right. We made 4 passes per bead, down and back.
Once the entire panel was done, the panel had a serious curve. Laying it flat and standing on it does not work, but there is a trick. Flipping the panel over and opening up the depth on the dies, we ran the panel through again, two passes on the outer edges of each bead group (there are technically three bead features per group, two inners and the center rolling outward). This flattened the panel and accentuated the beads.
Once the beads had been rolled out, the panel was placed in the trunk to check the alignment. Everything came out right the first time with a perfect reproduction of the original corrugations.
The new floor was trimmed out to match the size and shape of the trunk floor.
Using a marker, the old floor was marked where the new panel will install. Never cut the old floor before matching the new patch panel, doing so could result in a larger opening than you intended.
The old floor was removed using a cut-off wheel and a body ripper for the corners.
Both the car and the new panel were treated a coating of weld-thru primer. This protects the underside of the weld where it can’t be reached later. This is an often forgotten step that is critical to rust prevention.
The panel was placed into the trunk and positioned. Toby had made some alignment marks so that everything would match up after the original floor was removed.
A series of stitch welds were made to secure the panel. By making small spot welds, less heat is put into the metal, which reduces warping and burning through.
Once a few welds were in position, the floor was secure enough to stand on. We actually stood on the panel before it was welded in and the beads added so much strength, it didn’t flex. There is barely a 1\4” overlap between the original floor and the new panel, flat metal would have bowed out of shape and dropped right through.
The entire perimeter of the patch panel was fully welded. Next it was ground clean and wiped with degreaser.
Jordan Lewis sprayed the trunk with a coat of primer sealer to etch the metal. This is the first barrier coat to protect the new steel.
Once dry, the repair is more obvious. You could leave it like this, but we have a few more tricks up our sleeves.
Using some 3M seam sealer, the edges were coated and a chip brush was used to clean up the edges. This will also fill any pinholes in the welds. You can do this step before the primer as well, but it really does not make a difference on the order.
Next, the trunk was taped off and sprayed with Duplicolor trunk spatter paint. This process takes some practice to get just right. Holding the can about 12-inches from the surface allows the paint to dry a little in mid air, reducing gloss and adding texture. This is as close to a factory finish as you can get.
Once the spatter paint is cured, Ramsey likes to clear coat the spatter paint. This may not be factory, but really makes the trunk pop and looks great. Unless you knew the exact factory original trunk pan design, you would never know this wasn’t original. Not bad for an hour’s work on a $300 tool.