MetalWorking 101

A Day with Ron Covelle

1: Covelle starts all his classes the same way: talking about how he got started in metalwork doing aluminum dragster bodies in the late '60s.

2: Nasi's shop was the perfect setting for the workshop, with plenty of space and a bay full of in-progress custom bikes to look at.

3: We were going to see an Indian-style fender built. Ron showed up with the sides cut out ahead of time, figuring that watching him cut a shape from the 19-gauge sheetmetal would bore us.

4: While 19-gauge is fairly strong, it's still pretty flexible. Covelle explained that by adding a slight dome or curve to it, the strength would increase. With that thought floating around the room, he gave the flat panel a trip through the English Wheel.

5: As you can see, just one full pass (for each part of the panel) already added quite a bit of curvature to the piece.

6: Just to add some style and dimension to the panels, Covelle ran them through a bead roller.

7: As you can see, the result is pretty cool.

8: Now it was time to add some more curvature to the flat panel. Using a shrinking jaw, he went around the whole panel to ensure uniformity.

9: This comparison shot gives you a better idea of the results of the shrinking process.

10: Then it got loud. Ron got out a post dolly and a hammer and started to add enough shape to let the side panels blend into the top piece he would make to join them together.

11: Then, to add a lot more strength to the side panel Covelle used a handmade tool to bend a hem into the edge. He started by notching the ends and then slowly, patiently ran the bender from one end to another. This procedure exemplifies metalwork: slow and patient. Take your time to get it right instead of fixing a mistake. Once the hem gets past 90 degrees, he used a hammer and dolly to bend it flat.

12: Here is a finished fender panel. Obviously, Covelle had to do another panel before we could move on.

13: A pre-cut piece of metal was roughly bent to the panel to ensure proper size...

14: ...and sent straight to the English Wheel for some shaping.

15: Not satisfied with the slow going that the wheel was giving him, Covelle got out a mallet and sandbag and beat on the fender...

16: ...until it looked like a bag of walnuts. Now it has enough shape in it to shrink the edges in preparation for joining it to the side panels.

17: Then the walnut-shaped dents were smoothed out on the wheel.

18: There is a lot to explain in this photo. Covelle started by making an alignment mark on the fender and the centerpiece. With the position confirmed, he slid a straightedge in to support the panel and got his TIG welder ready. Ron likes to do fusion welds when tacking things together instead of using any filler material. This ensures a better fit overall.

19: Fast-forward past a lot of tack-welding and you basically have an assembled fender. Ron took a minute to ensure everything was to his liking and to assess where he would trim the edges.

20: Covelle marked the shape he wanted with tape and then resorts to basic metal shears to trim the fender edge. Once it was cut, he folded a hem into it just like he did on the side of the panel.

21: With everything tacked together, it was time to drop the welder's hood in place and lay down a continuos bead of material.

22: Using a slap hammer, Covelle set out to smooth the minor imperfections in the welded areas.

23: Cool tools always justify a picture or two. In this shot, Ron pulls out his bull's-eye pick to get to a few hard-to-reach spots. Essentially, the pick has a flat end (similar to a dolly) and a pick (simulates a hammer), and you squeeze the handle to slap them together and work out a dent or imperfection.

24: Starting with a hand file, Covelle started to metal prep the welded area...

25: ...then moved on to an air-powered grinder.

26: At the end of each class, Covelle does a drawing for the part made during the class. The winner of this fender happened to be Kyle Krejci, owner of Independent Gas Tank Company. See, everyone can learn something.

Month after month we feature bikes that simply blow us away with the detail in their sheetmetal. Curves, angles, and shapes that we couldn't even draw -- let alone bend metal into -- seem to get taken to the next level with each new bike we see. We knew these interesting designs were hand-formed and we understood the basics of how metal is shaped, but to be honest, we had no idea what all the actual steps -- from beginning to end -- were.

As luck would have it, Ron Covelle, one of the best metalworkers in the business was doing a steel fender-building workshop at Jim Nasi's new shop in Phoenix, so we signed up instantly.

Prior to the class starting one Saturday morning, we wandered around talking to the 20-some attendees to find out why they were there and where they came from. It came as quite a surprise to find people from all over the country -- some had traveled from as far away as Chicago and Florida -- in attendance. Then, to further our surprise, we found that more than half the class either worked in a bike shop or body shop and had a decent amount of metal-bending experience. The others fell more into our category: those who needed to learn everything.

Covelle runs his class very loosely, emphasizing comfort and encouraging questions. The day flew by, and while we learned a little more than our aging gray matter could comprehend in a single day, we left feeling like the rest of the class: We wanted to sign up for the next workshop.

To get more information on Covelle's classes or to get the schedule for this year, call (800) 747-4631.