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Contributed Article

Fabricating Sidesheets

The easiest and best first-time project for wanna-be sheet-metal workers like myself is flat or nearly flat metal cut and drilled to be a tractor's sidesheet. A sidesheet is sheetmetal to cover either the engine as in the case of early Oliver's, Massey-Harris' and many crawlers or the wiring and electrical components as in the case of the Massey-Harris Pony, Allis Chalmers' D Series (D-14, D-15, D-12, D-10, D-17, and D-19). The need for fabricating becomes obvious when you go to buy any of these machines. The sidesheets are nearly always gone. It is not difficult to imagine out why. Having the sidesheet on and in place when you do even the most minor maintenance can be a major irritation. For example, to simply check my wiring or change the solenoid on my D-14, I have to remove about 15 bolts, remove the choke knob, and heavily tweak and twist the sidesheet to pull it off (all the while scratching the paint on the tank, sidesheet, and torque tube). Because of scenarios like this, full-time farmers in earlier days would pull these off once, set them along side the barn and never think of them again. So... we in the future are stuck with recreating a long-"not serviced"-by-the-manufacturer part if we want to put our machines back to original condition.

Oh yes... I forgot to mention the other reason that sidesheets are often missing! The enclosures the sidesheets create make comfy cozy homes for every imaginable rodent who just love to chew up any wiring or hoses that happen to also be enclosed in the resulting space. After rewiring and cleaning out nests a couple of times, we start to realize that the protective sidesheet may be causing more harm than good and off they come. Still, if you are showing your tractor or just want it to be complete, you need the sidesheet, so here are some tips in fabricating them.

Since we have made numerous sidesheets for the D series Allis', we will start with this one. For one thing, it is flat with no bends, for those in need it is impossible to find and requires the absolute minimum of tools. While actually easy to make, expect to put a total of 6 hours into a job like this since you will want the finished product to be as perfect as possible. To make this you basically need the following:

Sturdy but flexible Paper Pattern Angle Grinder 1/8 inch width cut-off wheel Drill Hole Saw Bit 1/4 inch Bit Flat and round File (can be the same you would use to sharpen your chainsaw chain)

The metal to use is 22 gage sheetmetal. This does not match any of the original sidesheet stock used on the tractors mentioned above but it is imperceptable from the original when completed and is much easier to work with. Especially on the Allis D-series, using the original 16 gage makes the sheet impossible to install or remove without permanently bending and damaging it. The 22 gage is more flexible and thus more resilient to bends. You should look around for a sheet that is much smaller than the 3x8 or 4x8 sheets nomally available. Often, a sheet metal company will have cut down a sheet for someone else leaving a fragment that you can pick up for nearly nothing. The size necessary for the D-14 sheet is 20 by 36.

Making your pattern can be difficult if you dont have an original to start with. Try your best to find someone that will let you use theirs as a tracing template. If you can't find one you will have to resort to the difficult process of measuring each section and then approximating it on paper. This will be quite tedious as you will need to repetitively cut out one pattern, test it, then use it to make another pattern with modifications. If you are really good you could do it right the first time. For me, it takes two or three and don't be disheartened if it takes a bit of cutting and remeasuring. Make sure the paper stock is thick enough to stand up to the project but flexible enough to not be damaged when twisting it into place. A good choice is construction paper like that used in childrens art projects. We have also use large manilla envelopes taped together to make patterns and this stock works great. While you are working out the pattern, keep in mind that it is much easier and cheaper to rework your pattern than it is your sheetmetal.

Once the pattern is perfect, trace it out on the sheetmetal. I like to use a marking pen so I can see very clearly where the cutting is to be done. If you are using an angle grinder, it can be difficult to see a pencil line through the flying sparks. With your pattern clearly marked, you can begin your cuts. Remember to wear safety glasses and be vigilant with handling the grinder. Depending on which side of the wheel you are using there is a tendancy for the grinder to fly back at you which can easily injure or kill you. Cut the line on the inside edge of the line you drew on the metal remembering that you after you are done cutting you can remove material but you can't add it. Still the tendency will be for your part to be slightly large if you have traced an existing part, cut the pattern and once again traced outside, just don't go overboard making allowances for this. One last tip in cutting is to cut on the back or inside so if you do wander a bit the groove won't show up in the finished product.

There are always several areas that are difficult to cut with the grinder such as the indentation for the steering wheel, the hydraulic sump tube or the sediment bowl. For these you will have to resort to other tools to remove most of the material in the hard to reach spots, run the grinder in as far as is safe and finish off with either a flat or round file. Drilling out the material in the hard to reach places is not a simple chore and while sheetmetal references suggest to link many drilled holes together, in practice this is extremely difficult to do without having a drill press and the workpiece held rigidly in place. Do your best to take out what you can but realize that you can always get the real tough spots by applying the files and healthy dose of good old time and elbow grease. A good example of one of these tough spots is the slot that must be cut for the choke knob.

Once you have all the rough cutting and drilling done, go over every surface with a file. These edges are extreme sharp at this point and must be made smooth not only for a quality job but to keep from cutting yourself when you handle it.

For other machines such as the Massey Harris Pony, you may be wondering what to do about the bends? The sidesheets on this machine are decidedly simpler than the D-14 sheet described above with one exception. They have two bends to gently wrap around the protrusion of the fuel tank. Normally these would be best handled by a specialized machine called a roller but it is hardly worth purchasing such a device for one or two side sheets. I found that by using a 4 section of pipe (in my case this was the frame of a tube style loader) and a hammer, I was able to slowly curve the sheets. To do this, draw a line from top to bottom at the middle of the bend that marks the center of the curve. Then work up and down the side sheet on both sides of the line slowly working outward. You will find that a slight amount of pressure is required to cause your hammering to be effective (something that is best accomplished with more than two hands). Work the front curve first so you can fit the sheet to the tractor every so often and make sure that you aren't bending the curve too far or at the wrong angle. When you have the right curve you will be left with pein marks from the hammer that you must remove. Using your hammer and a heavy chunk of steel (or a cheap dolly) gently pound these back taking care not to change your curve. You can finish the smoothing with a file and finally sandpaper.

These are extremely fun and low effort projects that will benefit your tractor and restoration efforts but more importantly will take your skills and self-confidence up another notch.

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