Interview with Ed Barr, author of Professional Sheet Metal Fabrication
What prompted educator Ed Barr to write a book about sheet metal fabrication? Find the answer and more about the book in this Q&A.
Published in April 2013, Ed Barr’s Professional Sheet Metal Fabrication has received rave reviews on Amazon.com. One reviewer said, “[The book] contains a good balance of information on fabricating from scratch and restoration. Both hand shaping techniques and shaping with power tools are covered.
“The thing that I like about all of the ‘how to’ sections is that they're clearly written by someone who is an expert sheet metal worker instead of a writer describing what they've seen someone else do. This really separates this book from several others that I own. In a lot of cases, he describes what can go wrong and how to fix it, which can be really helpful.”
Barr, who teaches sheet metal restoration and the history of automotive design at McPherson College, McPherson, Kan., recently participated in a Q&A with thefabricator.com.
Question: When did you first become hooked on car restoration? What was your knowledge of sheet metal fabrication at the time?
Barr: I first became interested in restoration as a preteenager. I fell in love with the style of the mid-ʼ50s Chevy pickup trucks. My parents bought me a 1959 Chevy truck when I was 13 to get me started. I knew absolutely nothing [about fabricating] except how to read, so I began educating myself through books and magazines.
Question: What prompted you to write the book?
Barr: An acquisitions editor from Motorbooks approached me about writing it because I was teaching automotive sheet metal restoration at McPherson College. I suspect such a project would have always seemed too daunting without a little prodding from someone. I’m glad they asked me to do it.
Question: Can you tell us something about the car restoration community—size, demographics? Do you see interest in it growing?
Barr: I can’t give you any statistics on the number of restoration enthusiasts in the U.S., but I can assure you it is huge, and it cuts across just about every demographic class. I have heard that the aftermarket parts industry is a multibillion dollar industry.
In the last decade, the increased exposure that restoration, hot-rodding, and automotive-related hobbies have enjoyed on TV and in popular movies has introduced younger generations to our field. The information presented for purposes of entertainment isn’t always accurate, of course, but it whets the appetites of people who might not know about old cars otherwise. Fortunately, the interest in restoration seems to be growing.
Question: What about the future of sheet metal fabricating in general in the U.S.? Do you believe it will continue at the current pace, grow, or decline?
Barr: If you think about it, sheet metal seems to have magical properties. It can be made to soar through the air, float on water, conduct heat and electricity, resist corrosion, support heavy loads, resist torsional forces, and do a million other jobs that other materials can’t do as well. While I can foresee an ever-growing use of mechanization in how sheet metal is made into useful products, the inherent properties of metals are just too versatile and too valuable to live without.
Question: What is the most difficult facet of sheet metal fabricating?
Barr: The surface of the metal always looks the same, so there is no obvious indicator of what needs to happen to the metal to make it assume the shape you want. Once you start thinking of the metal like Play-Doh®, however, you are better able to visualize what has to happen to get results. The metal will need to be folded, stretched out, or gathered up.
Question: From your perspective, is sheet metal fabricating a good career path in today’s world? Are the majority of your students finding good-paying jobs upon graduation?
Barr:In the niche of automotive restoration, sheet metal is a good career because the kind of work we do is always in demand. It seems like every old car has corroded metal that needs to be addressed. Fortunately, the students I have had who are passionate about metal have gotten some great jobs, but only because they were the right people for those jobs.
Sheet metal restoration is only one specialty area in the context of our bachelor’s degree in automotive restoration technology, so every student may not end up doing metal exclusively. More often students might end up doing some metalwork as part of a more comprehensive job in a restoration shop. They might also do paint, soft trim, and mechanical work.
Question: Is there anything you would like to convey to the metal fabricating community about fabricating and car restoration?
Barr: I would encourage people in industry to think about ways that the processes they are involved in might carry over into automotive restoration or parts manufacturing. The fact that a person can buy a new ’32 Ford, a new ’57 Chevy, or a new ’67 Mustang® body suggests to me that there is a demand for vintage cars that has yet to be satisfied.
Author Ed Barr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.