When it comes to shaping metal, especially compound curves, there are various methods and techniques that range from grassroots DIY rigs to full-on metal-crafting outfits. On one hand you have the low-buck style of John Henry, or, in layman's terms, hammering with your hands, utilizing dollies, anvils, hammers, and really anything lying around the shop with the proper shape to form pieces of metal to a desired contour. On the other hand, there is the upscale version of forming metal with specialized tools such as shrinkers, stretchers, plennishing hammers, and English wheels. In the end, the common denominator is the same: to form a flat sheet of metal into a shape suited for the job-both methods will get the job done. Depending on your skills, budget, and other factors, your poison of choice may vary from your neighbors. However, if one is budget-minded, then Eastwood Company has a product for you.

Although English wheels and such are effective and nice, let's face it: not all of us have the coin to fork over for one. Therefore, when it comes to forming compound curves we must find alternative means to the answer, which usually come in the form of our hands and various miscellaneous objects. In previous years, a common practice to form compound curves in panels was to lay the panel over a hollowed and shaped tree trunk. Then, by beating the panel down in the trunk, the curve was formed. With that philosophy in mind, Eastwood has developed a product that acts like a tree trunk, only portable and capable of reshaping on the flip of a dime, the Panelbeater Sandbag.

The Eastwood Panelbeater Sandbag is a stitched leather bag filled with sand that can be hammered on to form sheetmetal. The double-stitched, adhesive-bound 18-inch square bag is filled with dry sand through a 1-inch opening in the bag. Once filled, the bag supports sheetmetal, yet at the same time 'gives' under blows to allow the metal to stretch into shape. The bag is used in conjunction with Eastwood's blue, ultra-high-molecular-weight plastic mallets. Ordinary body hammers will nick and gouge the metal if used with the sandbag-due to the fact the bag isn't a stout enough backing surface. The Eastwood mallets solve this problem-they form deep shapes in the metal without nicks or gouges.

To get a better understanding of the system, Eastwood sent us out one of their Panelbeater Sandbags with a set of six mallets-three round mallets and three teardrop mallets. Remember when we said budget-minded? Here's why: In all, a setup like this is going to put you back around $175. Not bad for such a versatile tool to have around. Eastwood also sells stands, but the bag can be placed on anything firm enough to support the beating and banging that will follow. Enough already, it's time to beat it.