Southern California may be a hotbed of hot rodding, but we have our share of questionable craftsmen, too. I found that out the first time I was assigned to do a bodywork story for a magazine. The bodyman I was working with took a few minutes to size up the dent in a quarter-panel, then went crazy drilling holes in it so he could use a slide hammer to pull out the dent. All told, he must have punched 25 holes in that panel. Worse yet, he didn't even bother welding the holes shut--he just smeared 'em over with body filler!
Now I'm no professional panel-beater, but drilling that many holes in a car's body seems kind of counter-productive. Most of the true craftsmen I've talked to say that good, ol'fashioned hammer-and-dolly work is still the preferred method for smoothing damaged sheetmetal. But in some cases it's extremely difficult--if not impossible--to access a dent from the back side of the panel. Such instances call for creative solutions, and often require the use of specialty tools. One such tool is a stud setting gun like the one we tried out from HTP America.
Those of you who are professional bodymen (or experienced novices) are probably already familiar with stud-setting guns. But for those who aren't, here's a brief introduction: The stud setter is a portable tool that electrically welds short studs to body panels with a quick pull of the trigger. A slide hammer can then be used on the studs to help pull metal back into its proper shape. Each stud provides about 500 pounds of pulling strength, and can easily be ground off after the panel has been worked. In addition to pulling dents, accessories are available that allow you to use the stud setter to install trim rivets, or use its heat to shrink stretched metal.
The Entry Level Stud Setter Kit we tried included the stud setter (which plugs into household outlets) with tip, a slide hammer, 100 studs, and instructions. Fellow Super Chevy staffer Jim Rizzo and I quickly found scores of uses for it, though we also discovered that it takes a little practice to learn how to use it properly and effectively. After a few experiments, however, it quickly became an indispensable weapon in our metalworking arsenal. But don't take our word for it--check out the photos and see what you think.