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The Key to Metal Bumping ‐ 4th Edition

Book Review

by Ryan King

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I like to share great things I find to make the automobile enthusiast's life better and I can honestly say this book has to be one of the best-kept secrets in the automotive world.

I've read many books on auto body repair intended for both the enthusiast and professional, and nowhere have I learned so much about the art and science of metal shaping with a hammer, dolly, and more. While this book is nearly 70 years old (it will be in November, 2009) it was recently updated in 2006 and quite frankly – like any great body of information – is just as relevant now as it was when it was originally written.

The real beauty of this book is that the author REALLY knew what he was doing, spells out in explicit detail how to remove all types of dents and creases, and explains that if you know how and where to hit to adjust a panel, it actually takes little work to straighten a dent, and that can greatly reduce the chance of work hardening (which, in reference to modern panels, is even more important as they are made from stiffer steels that become brittle much more quickly).

Follow along and I'll give you an idea of what you can expect from each chapter.

The Book

Chapter 1: What is a Damaged Panel

The title of this chapter seems like a simple question with an equally simple answer. It isn't. As the book explains there are two major aspects of damage – areas and characteristics, and it effectively uses the eight short pages of Chapter 1 to describe these aspects, as well as how to recognize the different elements that make them up.

Chapter 2: Methods of Repair

Two methods of panel repair are described in Chapter 2 and are referred to as the preferred and elegant "Fairmont Method," and the less desirable "Rough-'em-out, Smooth-'em-out Method." The bulk of the chapter is spent comparing and contrasting them, explaining the characteristics of each, as well as the finished results you can expect from both techniques. The chapter is completed with an explanation of the process that goes into the Fairmont Method.

Chapter 3: Analysis

Chapter 3 defines what diagnosis is in regards to straightening body panels. It also explains in detail what steps are taken to damage and plan an approach to repairing it.

Chapter 4: Making the Analysis

This chapter takes you through the diagnosis of two different types of damage so that you can get a practical idea of the theories explained in Chapter 3. The book continues to use these two examples throughout so that you get a firm understanding of how to approach panel straightening.

Chapter 5: Origin of Body and Fender Repair Tools

Although this chapter is just a short two pages, the information is fascinating. It outlines the development of hammers and other body tools from those used by metalsmith to create various everyday items, to those used by bodypeople to straighten damaged body panels.

Chapter 6: Metal Bumping

This is it, the theory behind the book – or, rather, the theory behind the Fairmont Method – explained in detail. It covers the basic tools and methods used to execute a panel repair. While Chapter 2 looks at the approach of the Fairmont Method, this chapter explains how to use the method to execute a repair with the different kinds of damage you'll encounter in body panels.

Chapter 7: Metal Bumping Procedure

Chapter 7 returns to the two examples used in Chapter 4. It shows you how to pragmatically use the Fairmont Method to remove panel damage, carefully building on the information provided up to this point.

Chapter 8: Metal Finishing Tools and How to Use Them

The next step is to smooth the minor imperfections left after panel straightening. Unlike today's speedy use of body filler, this chapter explains how to take a panel back to perfect straightness. It explains the use of pick hammers, body files, and power sanders to get the smooth finished surface necessary for a good paint job.

Chapter 9: Metal Finishing Procedure

Again, the book refers to the two examples used since Chapter 4 to give you a practical look at applying the metal finishing techniques explained in the previous chapter. It takes you through the proper metal finishing procedure and shows you what to look for in a finished panel, ready for paint.

Chapter 10: Alignment

This chapter is short and explains the use of body jacks during the process of removing metal damage in areas that are too strong to repair with hand tools alone.

Chapter 11: Frame Straightening and Panel Repair

Chapter 11 is even shorter than Chapter 10, but gives useful advice on how to approach frame straightening, including the use of an air hammer on the thick metal used in frame construction.

Chapter 12: Shrinking

This is a very helpful chapter as shrinking seems to be a dying art. It's important to note (as it isn't noted in the book) that heating new high strength steels will destroy their inherent strength and thusly ruin the part – not to mention the structural integrity of the vehicle as well as risk the safety of the passengers – but shrinking non-high strength steels is a valuable skill to have. It's one of the key steps to creating smooth panels without body filler.

Chapter 13: Torch Soldering

Torch soldering is another dying – if not nearly dead – art form, which is still valuable for restorations, or where the metal is not accessible for bumping, and requires a thicker surfacer applied than plastic filler is able to do without cracking. It's important to note that if the lead solder is heated too high, it will form a toxic gas that can cause serious health problems both immediate and over time, but there are newer lead-free body solders that make the process safer and more accessible to everyone.

Chapter 14: Welding

Welding isn't covered in depth in this chapter, but it does give some great tips for using an oxyacetylene welder for body repair.

Chapter 15: A Chapter for Beginners

Essentially, this chapter explains what to shoot for as an experienced bodyperson and it gives an idea about how to get started learning to do body work.

Chapter 16: Hints, Short Cuts, Time Saving Tricks

Chapter 16 is comprised of some 76 tips that run the gamut of the information provided throughout the book, which includes glass, metal work, body alignment, tools, torch work, door repairs, trim, and other miscellaneous odds and ends.

Chapter 17: Body and Fender Repair Tools

The last chapter describes what to look for in a tool as well as those available from the publisher of the book, Martin Tool and Forge.


While the Key to Metal Bumping is small, you will find more information packed into it about shaping metal than you will in any enthusiast-focused book or professional text I've ever read. If you want to learn how to straighten fenders and shape sheet metal with hand tools, not only would I recommend reading this book, but would go so far as to say that this is THE book to read.

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For more information contact Martin Tool & Forge on the web at or by phone 1.817.258.3000.

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