Training & Education

By the book

By Nick Wright

McPherson College professor publishes guide on sheet metal restoration, aiding students and hobbyists alike

August 2013 - One of the easiest pieces of advice to give a writer is “write what you know.” However it’s interpreted ultimately is up to the mind behind the keyboard, but the results should inspire confidence in the reader. That’s all the more important when the readers are students.

Ed Barr preaches what he practices as an assistant professor of technology at McPherson College in McPherson, Kan., with expertise in automotive sheet metal restoration. He’s channeled his passion as an authority on the subject in a handbook he recently wrote, “Professional Sheet Metal Fabrication,” which is a professional and technical guide FFJ-0805-webex-training-image1on all things sheet metal. Published by Quayside Publishing Group, the book is about 300 pages covering techniques for simple fabrication, cutting, welding and finishing. Barr weaves  anecdotes and suggestions from his experience into the book, striking a conversational tone that’s accessible for entry-level fabricators, seasoned metal mavens, and everyone in between.

Barr admits teaching the finer points of metalworking can be hard to describe on paper. “It’s kind of like learning to play violin by the book. You put your finger here, run the bow across the string and hopefully you get this note,” he says. “I tried to convey information so that anyone who picked up the book could follow the steps in a logical accessible manner.”

For those who want to tap Barr’s auto restoration knowledge hands-on, McPherson is the place to go. A small liberal arts college enrolling about 600 students, McPherson grants the only four-year degree in automotive restoration technology in the country. Aside from getting their hands dirty by shaping sheet metal, welding, rebuilding engines and painting, students take classes in auto history, design characteristics, shop business management and more, depending on where the students want to pursue a career. There’s also a concentration on motorcycle restoration.

“We’ve definitely noticed, in shops who are hiring our grads, they appreciate the depth of knowledge and professionalism that having the extra training and background brings to a shop,” Barr says. Students end up working for restoration shops, auto museums, servicing private collectors or in aftermarket part reproduction.

By learning the nuances of auto history, students bring a well-rounded and comprehensive perspective to whichever industry hires them.

“It makes you, I think, a better employee,” Barr says. “They become more aware, for example, of not using a Phillips head screw on a pre-1936 car because chances are they would not have been used. You just become so aware of historical accuracy that it makes you a better restorer.” The auto restoration program began in 1976 and has since earned recognition, putting it on the map. In 1997, Jay Leno, a classic car enthusiast, established the Fred J. Duesenberg Scholarship and the Jay Leno/Popular Mechanics scholarship at the school. And last fall, the Discovery show “Chasing Classic Cars” featured McPherson’s program.

Shaping not just metal

Barr’s students aren’t always the typical twentysomethings you imagine enrolled in college. One of his recent students, Bryan Brady II, is 59. An adjunct professor of psychology at another junior college, Brady took his first FFJ-0805-webex-training-image2metalworking class during a summer session to help his sons pursue restoration projects.

“I most appreciated the fact that, in his book and in his class, Ed starts at absolute ground zero,” he says. “He takes nothing for granted about the reader’s abilities and explains the basics in such a way as to leave no doubt about the correct procedures and processes of the torch and various styles of electric welding.”

The first lines of the book reveal his sensible approach, beginning with safety: “Although I have reached a point in life where fashion for the sake of being fashionable is no longer a concern, I still make careful wardrobe choices before I enter the shop.”

Brady finds Barr’s sense of humor inspiring, and thus the content more engaging.

“Unlike some technical writers who labor to find something funny to say because they know their writing is boring, Barr’s humor is unforced and always manages to emphasize a point or clarify something for the reader,” he says.

Barr began his career path in the 1990s running the Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan. There, he cultivated an interest in metal sculpture. In 2007, after earning his bachelor’s in automotive restoration at McPherson, Barr restored British cars at Vintage Restorations, in Union Bridge, Md. He came back to McPherson to teach as an assistant professor in 2010. Metal runs through the narrative of the school’s history, as McPherson has one of the original Carnegie libraries, built with the help of the steel mogul’s funding.

He says writing the handbook, which he completed over two years, has helped him hone his teaching methods. In detailing certain processes step by step, he realizes many techniques in sheet metal shaping or dent repair are stumbled upon by accident, such as heat shrinking metal.

“Or, a person who shows you might not be able to explain why a method works, but it does. Once you get it, you might not think about it. But if you explain it in a book, you need to say what’s happening.” 

By writing the way he’d want to be written for, it’s made him a better teacher. “Teaching makes you understand it. You need to give students a good answer,” says Barr.

The answers appear to be the right ones. On, “Professional Sheet Metal Fabrication” has received nothing but five stars. FFJ


Fuller-Book For more on sheet metal fabrication, check out Full-Bore Sheet Metal by Mark Prosser and Bryan Fuller, or the FFJTV Garage Shop Fabricator video with Bryan Fuller.



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