Sometime during the evolution of hot rods someone had the idea to ditch the front and rear bumpers. For those into speed, they would argue bumpers were unnecessary weight. For those into aesthetics they'd argue they were eyesores. Whichever the case may be, the fact remains the same; the lack of what was designed to be the preeminent collision protection looks killer. The hobby evolved once again and this time the stock bumpers were put aside to make room for a set of ornamental styled bars; or as we know them today: nerf bars. The nerf bar was the perfect solution to create a one-off look while retaining the "idea" of having some sort of bumper. For whatever reason, early hot rod trucks took to the concept of nerf bars and still to this day they are prominent fixtures in our realm.
When it comes to nerf bars there are all sorts of styles to choose from. Head out to any rod and custom show and you'll see nerf bars in every shape, form, and size. For my particular application, a '40 Ford pickup, the only thing I knew was I wanted something that would stand out. Without a clue as to what direction I was headed I ventured off to the local metal supply house for some inspiration. As fate would have it, I wasn't but 10 paces into the scrap section when I noticed a ton of 12-foot sticks of oval tubing in the remnants section due to surface rust. What normally runs $20 plus a foot was discounted down to $6.75 for 12 feet … so I bought 11 sticks, every stick they had! Granted I didn't need that much oval stock for the nerf bars, but at that price I wasn't passing it up. With the oval stock in hand I set off back to the shop with one thing for certain, my nerf bars were going to be oval.
Like so many things, once you cross that first hurdle everything else just seems to flow into place. Immediately, I knew how I was going to go about making the nerf bars for the Ford. The plan was simple, being that the oval shape was distinctive enough, I chose to make three straight pieces and form some sort of a grille insert look at the rear of the truck. Instead of putting the pieces in a straight line I decided to stagger the three floating bars with the middle bar protruding the farthest. Custom end caps would be added to the ends of the tubes to create a finished look. The last step was to figure out the mounting. Again, I wanted to fabricate everything from scratch, but I also wanted things to go beyond just a simple straight bar style of mount. With plenty of oval stock to play with I decided I would make an I-beam-styled bracket and then insert 1-inch oval fittings inside the I-beam. All-in-all the nerf bars are pretty simple, but with some creative thinking (and a stroke of good fortune at the metal yard) I'll accomplish my goal of distinguishing the Ford.
1. I scored a killer deal on this oval tubing, and figured it would be the perfect metal stock to make some nerf bar-styled bumpers. The first step is to cut three pieces to the desired length.
2. Instead of flat ends to the bars, I’m going to make some convex caps. My first chore is to outline a piece of tubing onto some 20-gauge sheetmetal.
3. With a sandbag and my smallest teardrop mallet I hammered the desired form into the oval pattern.
4. A plenishing hammer will smooth out the convex form to a perfect finish.
5. Here’s a look at the finished product. I’ll use the combination of a 3-inch cutoff wheel and 1⁄4-inch angle grinder to cut out my cap. This method will ensure no warpage or distortion.